After Blowout vs. Alabama, Where Does Arkansas Go from Here?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 18, 2012

Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson
Arkansas QB Tyler WilsonUS PRESSWIRE

It isn't rock bottom, but the Arkansas Razorbacks are getting dangerously close to that point after getting trounced 52-0 at home by the Alabama Crimson Tide last weekend.

To make matters worse, head coach John L. Smith didn't have an answer for his team's poor performance after the game.

“Well, I really don’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say to our team as well," Smith told after the game. "That’s about as bad football as I can ever remember.”

He didn't know what to say? It's his JOB to know what to say.

If it wasn't clear that Smith's 10-month contract at Arkansas was going to be his last before, it is now. 

So where does the Arkansas program go?


Head Coach

We're going to assume that athletics director Jeff Long spend Saturday night developing a very long short list of potential candidates. That list probably contains names like Gus Malzahn, Butch Davis and Tommy Tuberville, each of whom will probably be considered but won't surface as serious contenders for a variety of reasons.

The name that should top that list is current Baylor head coach Art Briles.

Briles is 27-25 in Waco, which isn't overly impressive. But he built the Bears program to a 10-win program last season under the guidance of Robert Griffin III at quarterback, and their 2-0 start in 2012 in the post-RGIII era shows no sign of a drop-off.

Plus, given the current landscape of college football, and the SEC West in particular, he'd be a home-run hire.

Arkansas currently boasts 21 players from the state of Texas, including running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and cornerback Tevin Mitchel. Now that Texas A&M is in the SEC, the Aggies can sell themselves as the in-state program in the SEC, which will have a direct impact on Arkansas' ability to recruit.

Briles has been a coach in the state of Texas since 1979. Under his leadership, Arkansas can keep that pipeline to the state of Texas intact and negate the impact of Texas A&M.

He has successfully led rebuilding efforts at Houston and Baylor, and he can bring with him a spread offense that would differentiate Arkansas from SEC West powers Alabama and LSU. Considering Arkansas doesn't have the built-in talent base in high school like those two teams do, being different isn't a bad thing.

If it's not Briles, I'd turn to Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

Prior to his current stint as the Cardinals' head coach, Strong had spent 18 of the last 22 years coaching in the SEC at Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina. He knows the landscape and, more importantly, is familiar with his competition.

He also has Arkansas ties.

Strong played at Central Arkansas and was born in Batesville.

He has developed Louisville into a top-25 team with a very good chance at winning the Big East and making a BCS bowl.

I know, I's the Big East, and it's not exactly difficult to win in that division.

That's exactly why he may be attainable for Arkansas.

Strong has proven to be a successful defensive coordinator in the SEC. His Florida defense finished third in the SEC in total defense in 2008, giving up just 285.3 yards per game, and he improved upon that in 2009 when the Gators finished second in the SEC at 252.4 yards per game.

If there's anything we know about Arkansas, it's that it needs help on defense.

The Big 12 flirted with Louisville during the expansion bonanza of last season but chose not to invite the Cardinals in favor of West Virginia and TCU.

The Big East is getting elbowed out of its spot as one of the "Big Six" conferences in the new postseason structure, which may push Strong to look for bigger and better jobs—Arkansas being one of them.



One factor for Arkansas will be whether or not to go with a spread offense or a more conventional offense. 

Bobby Petrino was successful with his hybrid pro-style offense, but if three games are any indication, his leadership is sorely missed.

So should Arkansas stick with it?

I say no.

In my argument for Briles, I mentioned that he would bring his spread offense to Fayetteville to differentiate Arkansas from the SEC West powers. That should be the goal.

If Arkansas is going to be successful, it needs to be just a little bit different. With the way that LSU and Alabama recruit, it's unlikely that Arkansas can routinely beat those two on a consistent basis based on athletes alone, so giving them something different to game-plan for would work.

I'm not necessarily saying go the Georgia Tech direction with the triple option, but mix it up a bit.

Make yourselves different. Stand out.



Winning the SEC in 2013 shouldn't be a goal.

Whether the head coach is John L. Smith, Bobby Petrino or somebody else, 2013 is going to be a rebuilding year. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright will all be gone, and junior running back Knile Davis may be as well.

That's too much for any team to overcome, much less one that's going to undergo significant staff upheaval.

Arkansas has made three SEC Championship appearances, and making another within the next four years—even with the LSU and Alabama machines going full-steam ahead—should be the goal of whoever takes over the program.

It's a lofty goal, but one that should get the program going in the right direction sooner rather than later.

Don't worry about national championships or SEC championships.

You need a lot of luck to win a national championship, most of which is out of the control of any team.

Focus on winning the West and get within 60 minutes of the SEC title. 

If you can get that far, bigger and better things are usually in store.



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