Arkansas football: Razorbacks' next coach should be a 'no-name'
Now that the inevitable has happened and the Chad Morris debacle is over less than 2 years into it, what should Arkansas look for in its next head football coach? What are the expectations, realistically speaking?
Sure, everyone wants the big name “home run” hire like a Mike Leach, but the reality is that no currently successful Power 5 head coach is going to make the lateral move to Arkansas. It just isn’t going to happen. The best that folks with that mindset could hope for is that Auburn loses to both Georgia and Alabama, and influential folks on The Plains run off Gus Malzahn.
There would be a chance to “bring him home” under those circumstances. After playing high school and college football in Arkansas, where he also started his coaching career, Malzahn might just be open to returning to the state where it all started for him.
Still, accepting the head coaching job at Arkansas would be a last resort move for Malzahn, who has probably accumulated enough coaching equity to land a job that offers a much better starting point than what he would potentially be stepping into at Arkansas. But lose to Georgia and Alabama and Malzahn could be standing next to Morris in the unemployment line, albeit with a larger buyout.
Had former LSU head coach Les Miles not accepted the job with fellow “Ohio boy” Jeff Long at Kansas last year, he might have been the top name on the list. Ironically, it was rumored that Long nearly lured Miles to Arkansas when he was the AD there. But that ship has sailed.
Other “name” coaches being tossed around include Leach, Lane Kiffin, and even Hugh Freeze.
Likely, somebody in that group will have 1 of 2 things in common: Either they are unwanted in their current situation, or they are trying to prove that they can still coach. Some might have both. And that’s not a mad hat from which any program should be drawing from.
A name that keeps popping up in the conversation is Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach. Like Malzahn, Norvell is a native Texan who played college ball and got his coaching start in Arkansas. In 3 years at Memphis, Norvell has 1 10-win season and 3 bowl appearances. He has the Tigers at 8-1 so far this year and in the running for a New Year’s 6 Bowl.
But like Malzahn, Norvell is proving himself to be a quality coach and could choose from a much more palatable program than the mess that Arkansas finds itself in.
Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek is going to have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a rising young star to resurrect this program. Before coming to Arkansas, Yurachek took the easy road in his first head coaching hire at the University of Houston, promoting Major Applewhite from within. In 2 seasons, Applewhite took over a very healthy program from Tom Herman and posted a very pedestrian 15-11 record that included back-to-back bowl losses.
It seemed like the right move, much like it seemed like the right move to bring in Morris. The model appeared sound: Bring in an up-and-coming coach with an exciting innovative approach to his offense (that always puts fannies in the seats) and infuse enthusiasm into the program.
It will once again be the right model to guide Yurachek through this very important hire. No, it won’t go over initially with most Arkansas fans starved for an immediate winner. This is a total rebuild and will take some time to do it right. But with the right coach, a young, enthusiastic, workaholic, it can be done.
Yurachek, you’re on the clock.