Arkansas Football: If Not John L. Smith, Then Who?
It is all but decided that the Arkansas Razorbacks will be searching for a new head coach in the upcoming months.
John L. Smith was always an interim hire, but he still had the potential to turn his temporary position as head coach into a more permanent one if his team was successful this season.
Fans feel that Bobby Petrino left John L. Smith with a team talented enough to contend for a National Championship this season, but Smith has wasted the opportunity.
Arkansas is desperate.
Maybe what the program needs to get back on track is for athletic director Jeff Long to include some unorthodox candidates in his coaching search.
Here are five potential candidates for the Arkansas head coaching position, from the logical to the insane.
The Arkansas Alumnus: Butch Davis
Butch Davis was rumored to be headed to Arkansas in 2007, after Houston Nutt’s relationship with the university and the fan base deteriorated. He remained coach of the UNC Tar Heels instead.
Davis played for the Razorbacks in the 1970s. He would appeal to the fan base the same way the initial hiring of Houston Nutt did in 1997.
Arkansas fans love it when one of their own returns home.
Davis turned around a hurting Tar Heels program during his short time at UNC. He is known as a good recruiter, and understands what the Razorback program means to the state of Arkansas.
He’s also been successful as a head coach in the past.
He has a 63-43 head coaching record, not including wins vacated during the Heels’ 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Hogs fans are longing for a luxury like a prospect with a winning record. They fear Jeff Long will hire a coach with lackluster credentials or an assistant looking for his first head coaching job.
Davis was fired from UNC following the school's academic misconduct scandal, but he has no sanctions against him from the NCAA and was cleared of any personal wrongdoing.
He is currently a special assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has stated that he would welcome the opportunity to coach again at the college level.
The Conference Rival: Gene Chizik
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Gene Chizik is in the hot seat at Auburn.
Despite a 31-12 record for the Tigers since 2009, fans are frustrated with his coaching and recruiting since the 2010 National Championship season.
If Chizik is fired at the end of the 2012 season, the Arkansas job may be a good fit for him.
There would be the appeal of coaching in the SEC against teams and coaches he is already familiar with, and he would not have to learn a new geographical recruiting base.
Chizik would also enter the program with a decent understanding of what the Hogs mean to the state of Arkansas.
Alabama, like Arkansas, has no professional teams. Fans in that state live and die by the Tiger or the Tide.
Arkansas has no other major program to divide fan loyalty, so he may welcome the opportunity to be the head coach of the state’s major program and understand why that role is important.
The University of Arkansas and Razorbacks fans would be excited to have a coach with National Championship credentials. Winning a college football title brings along with it a certain level of prominence the Hogs have not had in their previous coaches.
While he may be having a hard time recruiting in Alabama, that prominence may help him recruit in Arkansas.
The Long Shot: Jim Tressel
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Jim Tressel has a five-year show-cause penalty placed against him, but a university can still hire him to coach football.
The university just has to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to make an appeal.
Jeff Long could make the case to the NCAA that an extensive, nine-month search was made for a head coach, and that there was a lack of qualified candidates able or willing to fulfill the role.
Jim Tressel would get the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of college football fans, and he would be coaching in a major SEC program.
Competitors like to compete, and with no other major programs showing public interest in Tressel, a situation as desperate as the one at Arkansas would give him another "in."
Razorback fans would get the benefit of having a head coach that has a career of winning and plays well in front of the media. Jim Tressel would not call fan concerns “crap,” like John L. Smith did earlier this week.
There would be some who would say that Tressel has already disgraced himself and should not be allowed to coach at the college level again, but let’s remember what caused Ohio State’s troubles.
A few Ohio State players received gifts from a tattoo parlor, an offense so inexplicably horrible that the players in question were still allowed by the NCAA to play in that year’s Sugar Bowl before being punished.
The Underdog: Todd Berry
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Todd Berry has impressed a lot of people this season. He beat Arkansas in Little Rock and he almost beat Auburn a week later.
He took two SEC programs into overtime in back-to-back weeks with a team that plays in the Sun Belt conference.
He is under contract at Louisiana-Monroe until the 2014 season. His annual salary is $175,000, with an additional $25,000 for media appearances.
John L. Smith’s salary this year is $850,000.
The University of Arkansas would be more than able to buy out Berry’s contract and give him a substantial pay raise, all while saving the university the cost of paying a big-name coach.
Berry is accomplishing more on the field with his group of players than John L. Smith is with two (former) potential Heisman Trophy finalists and a team that was ranked No. 8 in the country less than two weeks ago.
That’s what Arkansas needs right now.
If Arkansas recruiting crashes out the way fans think it will after this season, the Razorbacks will need a coach that can build a competitive program utilizing a less-is-more approach.
Berry has shown in the last two weeks he can do just that.
The Big Gamble: Kevin Kelley
Arkansas isn’t finding any success in the current season with quality players.
The school is losing any national prominence it might have enjoyed during preseason. One way to get that prominence back would be to take steps that not only move the football program forward, but move the sport of football forward as a whole.
Kevin Kelley coaches at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas.
His teams always go for it on fourth down. They do onside kicks for every kickoff. They run a lot of trick plays. They do not field punts or kickoffs. Most coaches in this country think he is insane.
Kelley has won three state football championships in nine years.
Kelley backs up all of his coaching decisions with hard statistics. Where other coaches argue that he is being reckless and taking risks, Kelley offers evidence that he may be the only sane coach in football today.
Kelley’s tactics have the potential to do for the sport of football what the tactics in Moneyball did for baseball.
Part of the reason Billy Beane took chances during the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season is he didn’t have anything to lose.
What would Arkansas have to lose if they became advocates for a more progressive style of football? The Razorbacks are already losing on the field with traditional methods and a team that was supposed to contend for a National Championship.
Kelley would need a few years to adopt his methods to the college game. There would be a learning curve. But if he is successful, Arkansas would be at the forefront of a football revolution that would grant the school not only athletic prestige, but intellectual prestige, as well.
Statistics experts are already studying Kelley’s ideas in football and whether they would transfer to other levels.
Remember when basketball analysts picked Duke to beat Arkansas in the 1994 Final Four because Duke players were “smarter?”
Kelley has gained some national attention by appearing on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. The world would watch Arkansas to see if this experiment would work.
College and professional football teams have adopted a number of tactics from the high school level that “wouldn’t work.”
When a program can’t be any worse off than it already is, why not do something crazy?