Bobby Petrino: 5 Most Likely Replacements as Arkansas Football Coach

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2012

Bobby Petrino: 5 Most Likely Replacements as Arkansas Football Coach

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    With Tuesday's news that Bobby Petrino is out as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, the search for a replacement is on.

    Petrino was fired according because he "negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program," according to athletic director Jeff Long in a statement reported by ESPN.

    Petrino served as the head coach of the Razorbacks for four years, improving the team's record every year of his tenure.

    With Petrino gone, Arkansas must now scramble to find a head coach that can take over right away and limit any damage that the firing may bring about in terms of recruiting. Arkansas is an attractive landing spot for coaches as the program has been strong in recent years and there is a commitment to football common to the SEC.

    With plenty of candidates who would be happy to land the head coaching job in Arkansas, here are the five most likely candidates to replace Petrino.

Butch Davis

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    A former Arkansas player, Butch Davis would make an interesting hire for the Razorbacks. Would he be interested in returning to his alma mater?

    Davis was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an adviser, but his record in the NFL is lackluster from his days as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, which was nothing short of a disaster.

    Davis should welcome the opportunity to become the Razorback coach with open arms.

    Davis makes tons of sense not only because he is an alumnus but because of his ability to recruit. In Davis's previous two stints as a head coach at North Carolina and Miami, he was a highly successful recruiter.

    Davis was able to bring talent to North Carolina that turned the program around from perennial ACC cellar-dweller to a consistent eight-win team. At Miami, Davis recruited most of the team that went on to win the national championship in 2001 without him.

    Davis would definitely be one of the best options to salvage the Razorbacks' recruiting class and would help them remain competitive in the SEC West for years to come.

    However Davis remains unlikely.

    With the off-field issues surrounding Petrino's firing, the Razorbacks will need to try to avoid any controversy in their next hire. Davis was fired as the head coach of North Carolina among the scandal of an NCAA investigation into the program that led to allegations of improper benefits and academic misconduct.

    If the Razorbacks are willing to look past Davis' transgressions at North Carolina, then he could be a good fit at Arkansas.

Gus Malzahn

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    Gus Malzahn's stint as head coach at Arkansas State may not last very long.

    Malzahn was hired by the school in December 2011 but could be a leading candidate for the opening at Arkansas.

    An offensive genius with a strong Arkansas background, Malzahn served as Houston Nutt's offensive coordinator and wide receiver's coach at Arkansas in 2006 after coaching one of the most successful high school programs in the state for four years.

    After one year at Arkansas, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator at Tulsa, where his offenses were ranked No. 1 in the country with his signature no-huddle, wide-open scheme.

    In 2009, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator for Auburn and was an integral part of Auburn's national championship run in 2010 as he was able to accentuate Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton's abilities on their way to an undefeated record.

    Malzahn elected to take the head coaching vacancy at Arkansas State after former coach Hugh Freeze left the school to become the head coach at Ole Miss.

    With Malzahn's offensive genius and reputation as a strong recruiter, it is only a matter of time before we see him as a head coach at a major university.

    Bobby Petrino brought a wide-open attack to Arkansas so the transition to Malzahn's offense could go fairly smoothly. Arkansas could actually be upgrading by landing Malzahn to replace Petrino.

Houston Nutt

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    Houston Nutt is certainly familiar with the Arkansas Razorbacks. He served as head coach for the team from 1998-2007 and ranks second all-time in wins at the school.

    Nutt accumulated a record of 75-48 over his tenure at Arkansas and brought the program back to relevance after the team struggled throughout most of the 90s.

    After Nutt's resignation in 2007, he took over at rival Ole Miss, where he experienced immediate success in leading them to back-to-back 9-4 seasons before suffering back-to-back losing seasons that lead to his firing in 2011.

    With Nutt unemployed and Arkansas's head coaching job now vacant, is a return in the cards? Nutt hasn't been at the center of any controversy, and his familiarity with the university makes him a candidate that could make an impact right away.

Mario Cristobal

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    While Mario Cristobal has no ties to the state or the university, he is a potentially great fit at Arkansas. One of the youngest head coaches in college football, the 41-year-old's name has become very popular anytime a new opening becomes available.

    A high-energy coach, Cristobal has done impressive work as the lead man at Florida International University. When Cristobal took over at FIU, the program was in only its sixth year of existence and its third year as an FBS school.

    Cristobal was hired as the head coach after an 0-12 season in 2006 and only led the team to one win in its 2007 campaign. In only five years Cristobal has built the team up to back-to-back bowl appearances and a share of the Sun Belt championship in 2010.

    It's only a matter of time before the charismatic Cristobal is hired at a larger school. He could be the perfect guy to come in and "circle the wagons" after the disappointing exodus of Bobby Petrino.

Kirby Smart

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    Another of the fast-rising young coaches in college football that makes a lot of sense is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

    The 36-year-old Smart has been behind the dominant defenses at Alabama since 2007 and just received a hefty contract extension to remain with the team as defensive coordinator. However an excellent coach like Smart can't be overshadowed by Nick Saban for long, and Smart seems to be mentioned as a candidate for every opening that comes available.

    While Smart is certainly just waiting for the right opportunity to come along, he might like the idea of taking the job at Arkansas. Smart has coached at Georgia, LSU and Alabama, so he has the experience in the SEC to know what it takes to win in the conference.

    Arkansas would be getting one of the country's brightest young coaches and a decided shift philosophically as Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino have both been primarily offensive minded coaches.

    The added perk of hiring away an SEC foe's brightest assistant isn't a bad idea either.