Who Will Arkansas Hire to Replace John L. Smith?
One of the headline stories of the 2012 college football season, once it is all said and done, will be the implosion of the Arkansas Razorbacks football program. Preseason, the Hogs were picked to be BCS contenders and the SEC West's only hope of knocking off LSU and Alabama.
Then came the infamous announcement April 10 this year that head coach Bobby Petrino was fired. John L Smith was announced as the new head coach by the Arkansas athletic director. Smith was put on a 10-month contract, and it was announced by the university that by putting Smith on an interim contract, it would allow Arkansas to hire "a head coach for the future of the program."
The 2012 season so far has been a disaster for the Arkansas program, losing to a Sun Belt team and then getting destroyed by Alabama, 52-0. After the game, starting QB Tyler Wilson, who was watching the game on the sidelines due to an injury, suggested his teammates had given up.
Any chances of Smith turning his temporary contract into a permanent one has all been eliminated. In some ways, you have to pity John L Smith. Being an interim coach is much like being a substitute teacher: the authority over the kids on the team has very little weight. In essence, he was set up for failure.
However, Arkansas still has the chance to right the ship to hire a permanent coach. There are some good candidates out there. Who should it hire?
Charlie Strong- Louisville
Before getting into Strong's resume, it should be noted that Strong is a native from Arkansas. He played football for the University of Central Arkansas. Thus Strong has ties to the state which would certainly be a plus for him to consider the position.
Also important is Strong is very familiar with the SEC. He was the Outside Linebacker Coach for Florida from 1988-1989. He served as the Wide Receiver's coach for Ole Miss in 1990 under head coach Billy Brewer. From 1991-1994, he served as Assistant Coach and Defensive Tackle Coach for Florida again under Steve Spurrier.
In 1999-2001, Strong was the Defensive Coordinator for South Carolina when Lou Holtz was the head coach. And once again, went back down to Gainsville, Florida to serve as Defensive Coordinator for Ron Zook and then was retained by Urban Meyer, the only assistant coach from Zook's staff that Meyer keep on staff.
Finally Strong's break came in 2010, when the University of Louisville hired him to be the head coach. Strong has come in and slowly been trying to bring the Cardinal football back to where it was when Petrino was coaching.
After spending three years of .500 and losing seasons under head coach Steve Kragthorpe, Strong has taken the Cardinal football to two bowl games and winning seasons, including finishing in a three-way tie for 1st place in the Big East last year.
Charlie Strong's ties to the state of Arkansas and his impressive coaching resume within the SEC over the years, especially serving under coaches like Lou Holtz and Urban Meyer, should make Strong a no-brainer candidate for Arkansas to consider for the 2013 season.
Gus Malzahn- Arkansas State
Gus Malzahn will no doubt be a subject of intense conversation among Arkansas fans as the hiring process begins for a new coach.
Much like Charlie Strong, Malzahn has ties to the state of Arkansas. Went to high school in Fort Smith, Arkansas. From 1991-2005, Malzahn was a high school football coach within the state. At both Shiloh Christian High School and Springdale High School, Malzahn's teams set records for offense. His Springdale teams were considered one of the Top 10 high school programs in the nation.
Malzahn was hired by Houston Nutt in 2005 to be Arkansas's offensive coordinator. In the one year, Malzahn was the coordinator, Arkansas' offense improved enormously. In one year, Arkansas went from 5-6 in 2004 to 10-4 season in 2005 and Arkansas playing in the SEC Championship.
After leaving Arkansas due to conflicts with Houston Nutt over the direction of the Hogs offense, Malzahn was hired by Tulsa. In the two years as offensive coordinator at Tulsa, Malazhn's offense set a new NCAA record, Tulsa in 2007 was the first school ever to have a 5,000 yard passer QB, three 1,000 yard receiving yards wide receivers and a 1,000 yard rusher at tailback.
Of course most are familiar with the rest, Malzahn was then hired by Auburn and partly responsible for the offense that Cam Newton helped directed to a 2011 BCS National Championship.
Malzahn is currently in his first year as head coach of the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Malzahn was a hot commodity for many programs last year and he choose to go back to the state of Arkansas which suggests he could be open to offers by the flag ship school in the state to be the next head coach.
However, there may be a snag. Arkansas State is getting serious about football. They have stated their goal is to be the Boise State of the South. After losing first year coach, Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss last year, Arkansas State may very will put up a fight to keep Malzahn in Jonesboro and away from Fayetteville.
Art Briles- Baylor
Much like Gus Malzahn, Art Briles came to college football via the high school coaching ranks. From 1979-2000, Briles was an assistant and head coach for three separate Texas high schools.
His big success came in 1988-1999 when he was the head coach of Stephenville High School. The Yellowjackets under Briles won four state championships, his offense one year broke a state record for total offense that had stayed on the books since 1925 and Briles coached several outstanding QB's including current NFL star, Kevin Kolb.
In 2000, Briles joined Mike Leach's staff as the Running Back coach. In the two years at Texas Tech, Briles improved the running game of the Red Raiders from 66.4 yards a game to 99.6 yards a game.
In 2003, the University of Houston hired Briles to be the next head coach. While many think that Kevin Sumlin is responsible for making Houston football relative again, in fact, it was Briles that helped lay the foundation for future sucess. The four years prior to Briles coming to Houston, the Cougars were 8-26.
Briles in four years, directed the Cougars to a C-USA championship(2007), a 34-28 record, a 24-16 conference record and recruited both Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum as QB's for the program.
In 2008, Briles was hired away from Houston to be the next head coach for Baylor Bears. After struggling at first to build the program up, Briles was able to recruit Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III to Baylor, have a 10 game winning season, a school record and winning a bowl game for Baylor, the first time since 1992.
Besides being successful every where he goes, another advantage Briles brings to Arkansas is his Texan roots.
Arkansas has always historically recruited the state of Texas, having a new head coach with lifetime ties to the Texas high school programs, would make sense. Especially now that Texas A&M is now in the SEC, recruiting by SEC schools in the state of Texas will only heat up. Briles would give Arkansas a leg-up.
Mark Hudspeth- UL-Lafayette
Mark Hudspeth is another coach with ties to the state of Arkansas. His first job in coaching was being a Graduate Assistant (G.A.) at University of Central Arkansas. And after a few stints elsewhere, would come back to the Purple Bears program and serve as Defensive Back coach in 1998.
Hudspeth would later serve as Offensive Coordinator for both Delta State and Navy. In 2002, he would get his break as head coach for University of North Alabama, a Division II program.
In the seven years as North Alabama head coach, Hudspeth was 66-21 with five of those seven years winning more then 10 games per season. He would take North Alabama to three different Division II Semifinal games in the football playoffs.
In 2009, he was hired by Dan Mullen to be the Wide Receivers coach for Mississippi State. Which of course, also helps with Hudspeth's resume. He is familiar with the SEC and in particular the SEC West.
After two years as an assistant coach in the SEC, Hudspeth took the head coaching job for the Sun Belt program, UL-Lafayette. In the first year as head coach, Hudspeth directed the Cajuns to an 8 win season and took them to their first bowl game in 41 years.
It is no secret that Hudspeth is interested in getting a head coaching job in the SEC. When internet rumors swirled last year that Miss State's Dan Mullen was considered a candidate for the Penn State job, Hudspeth made it known he would be interested in talking to Miss State if a vacancy occurred.
Also Hudspeth was also a candidate for the Ole Miss position after Houston Nutt was fired last year.
Todd Monken- Oklahoma State's Offensive Coordinator
For those Arkansas fans pining for a high-octane offense again, would not be disappointed if Arkansas hires Todd Monken. He is the guru behind the prolific passing offense of the OSU Cowboys.
From 1993-1999, Monkem served as Quarterbacks coach and Offensive Coordinator for Eastern Michigan.
In 2000, he was hired as Running Backs Coach and then Wide Receivers Coach for Lousinia Tech. In the two years at Tech, their offense would rank seventh in the nation in passing yards.
In 2002, he was hired by Les Miles to be the Oklahoma State's pass game coordinator. During that time, Monken mentored Rashaun Woods who would end up a first round draft pick wide receiver for the NFL in 2004.
When Miles left Oklahoma State for LSU, he took Monken with him. For two years, Monken would serve as pass game coordinator and wide receiver coach for the LSU Tigers. During that time, Monken coached three stand out receivers, Sklyer Green, Dwyanne Bowe and Buster Davis.
Monken left LSU for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
He would return to Oklahoma State in 2011 when hired by head coach Mike Gundy. Monken was hired to be the Offensive Coordinator.
Last year, the Cowboys offense, was 2nd in the nation in scoring and passing offense. QB Brandon Weeden set school records for scoring, passing, completions and TD's. The Cowboys would score more then 50 points in six games last year.
If not for the loss to Iowa State last year, the odds are OSU would have played either LSU or Alabama in the BCS National Championship game.
Monken has SEC experience and would give the Hogs the offense they loved so much from Petrino.
Jim Heacock- Former Ohio State's Defensive Coordinator
Jim Heacock is one of the most highly regarded defensive coaches in Division One. When Urban Meyer came on-board at Ohio State, Meyer did not retain the 15 year Ohio State defensive coordinator and choose to retain Luke Fickell instead (Fickell was the head coach in the 2011 season).
Heacock would be the Anti-Petrino. He is a very modest man with a focus on defense. Defense has always been Arkansas' Achilles Heel under Petrino, including losing a Sugar Bowl game to Heacock's defense.
Since 1973, Heacock has been coaching college football. Among his long resume, includes defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, defensive line coach for Washington and head coach for Illinois State for seven years.
In 1996 he was hired by John Cooper, then head coach for Ohio State to be the Defensive Line Coach for the Buckeyes. A position Heacock would retain till 2004, surviving Cooper's dismissal and staying on with Jim Tressel. In 2005, Heacock was promoted to Defensive Coordinator.
Heacock's Buckeye defense would help contribute to the 2003 BCS National Championship win over Miami (Fl).
In 2007, Buckeye defense would be ranked # 1 in total defense, pass and scoring defense. Heacock would win the Broyles Award for that season for his defense. During his time as the Buckeye Defense Line coach, Ohio State would send over 25 defensive linemen to the NFL.
Interesting enough, Heacock during August of this year was found to be hanging out at Arkansas practices.
Could be Heacock has his eyes on a return to the college ranks. Heacock would bring a strong resume and defense philosophy to Arkansas. And as the Hogs' SEC West competitors, LSU and Alabama, are well aware of, defense, not offense, wins championships.
Butch Jones- Cincinnati
Butch Jones had a tough act to follow, coming in to replace Brian Kelly, the most successful Bearcat coach in history. So far, Jones has done an admirable job.
At Cincinnati, Jones has already had a 10 game winning season and tied for 1st place in the Big East last year. Jones also was 2011 Big East Coach of the Year. Bearcats defense would be ranked # 3 in the nation in sacks and # 6 rushing defense.
Before coming to Cincinnati, Jones was the head coach for Central Michigan in the MAC conference.
During his three years as head coach for the Chippewas, Jones won two MAC championships (2007, 2009), responsible for the first time in the history of Chippewas football to go undefeated in MAC play in 2009.
Prior being head coach for the Chippewas, Jones briefly served as Wide Receiver coach for West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez. Before that, serving for Central Michigan as the Offensive Coordinator, helping to significantly improve the running game and the overall offense.
Butch Jones should certainly be on Arkansas's short list for coaching candidates.
Manny Diaz- Texas Defensive Coordinator
Manny Diaz is poised for a head coaching job, it is only a question of when and where. Diaz is a protege of great Mickey Andrews, the former Florida State defensive coordinator. As a Graduate Assistant (G.A.), Diaz was Andrews' assistant during the time Florida State won the National Championship in 1999.
Diaz would then move on to N.C. State and serve first as the Linebacker Coach and Defensive Back/Special Teams coach. During the time Diaz was with N.C. State, the Wolfpack defense was solid. Helping the Wolfpack acheive an 11-3 season and holding Florida State and Notre Dame to zero offensive touchdowns.
In 2006, Diaz got his chance to be Defensive Coordinator, for the Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raider defense under Diaz lead the Sun Belt in several defensive categories.
In 2009, the Blue Raider defense would finish second in the nation in tackles for loss. Also over 17 defensive players from the Blue Raiders squads under Diaz would become All-Sun Belt conference leaders.
In 2010, head coach Dan Mullen would hire Diaz away from Middle Tennessee State to be Mississippi State's Defensive Coordinator. Diaz would remain only for one year at Miss State before being hired away by Mack Brown from Texas.
Primarily because in 2010, Mississippi State finished 22nd in the nation in scoring defense and 17th in rushing defense. A vast improvement before Diaz got there, when State finished in 2009, 71st in scoring defense and 62nd in rushing defense.
Last year in his first year as Defensive Coordinator for Texas, the Longhorns defense was ranked the best in the Big 12. And would finish 11th nationally in total defense.
Diaz is only 38 years old, so he would bring youth to Arkansas. Because of his short stay in the SEC with Mississippi State, Diaz is already familiar with what to expect.
Coaches Not Included and Why
Kirby Smart- Defensive Coordinator for Alabama
Smart has had several opportunities to take head coaching jobs in the last couple of years. I think it is a safe assumption that he is being groomed by Nick Saban to be his successor when Saban retires.
Mike Leach- Head Coach for Washington State
Pirates in Arkansas need to forget about this. Leach is not coming to the SEC. He already knows how brutal the SEC is when he was the offensive coordinator for Hal Mumme at Kentucky. Leach is in his first year at Washington State(WSU) and in a perfect situation. WSU has never been really good in football, so Leach only needs to win six or seven games a year, take the Cougars to a December bowl and they will be happy campers.
Butch Davis- An Advisor for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Davis is very good coach; however, I don't see Davis jumping back into the college ranks just yet. While it is true that Davis was not personally found to be at fault for the misconduct discovered by the NCAA at the University of North Carolina, he still has a cloud over his head because of it, right or wrong. Davis will have to wait out this and probably come back to the college football once the NCAA stigma blows over.
Skip Holtz- Head Coach for South Florida
Skip does have ties to Arkansas, going to high school in Fayetteville while his famous father, Lou Holtz was the head coach for Arkansas. Skip is considered a very under-rated coach, performing well at Connecticut and East Carolina. However, since taking over at South Florida, Skip's teams have not been performing as expected. Currently he is 15-14 and an embarrassing 4-11 in Big East conference games.
Garrick McGhee- Head Coach of UAB
Garrick was Petrino's Quarterback coach and Offensive Coordinator for Arkansas from 2008-2011. He is well thought of by many of Arkansas' players including QB Tyler Wilson.
The fact that he was part of Petrino's staff may be his undoing for consideration. Many consider Petrino the guru behind the high octane offense at Arkansas and after the John L Smith experiment, Arkansas may be gun shy about promoting another Petrino assistant to the head coaching position.