Arkansas started the season 1-4. That pretty much sealed the fate of Razorback head coach John L. Smith, who signed a 10-month contract last spring to replace the recently-dismissed Bobby Petrino.
While Smith still is technically a candidate for the job after this season—at least according to athletic director Jeff Long—it appears that the Arkansas coaching search is picking up steam.
Long confirmed to the Associated Press on Monday that the coaching search is in full gear, and he hopes to have a coach named within two weeks of the end of the regular season.
The short succession plan tells me that while Long may not have had direct contact with any potential candidates, he has made contact with the coaches at the top of his short list—which at this point, is probably pretty short.
That list should begin with Baylor head coach Art Briles.
While rumors of Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher will surely dominate message boards—as they do for every coaching vacancy every offseason—Briles provides Arkansas with two of its most critical needs. He can keep the pipeline to the state of Texas active, and he has successfully rebuilt two programs.
Arkansas currently boasts 21 players on its roster from the state of Texas, including running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and linebacker Alonzo Highsmith. But a coaching switch coupled with the presence of Texas A&M in its own division will put that pipeline in jeopardy.
Job No. 1 for the next Razorback head coach will be to maintain and cultivate those relationships within the state of Texas.
Briles has been a head coach in some capacity in the state of Texas every year since 1979, and Arkansas desperately needs someone that has relationships as strong as Briles has in the Lone Star State.
With all of the talent leaving this season, Arkansas is bound to be a major rebuilding effort for its next coach, and Briles has a proven track record of rebuilding programs as a head coach.
Briles has successfully led rebuilding efforts as the head coach at Houston and Baylor. He's 62-55 overall, and while Baylor has stumbled a bit in the absence of 2011 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, the offense hasn't missed a beat (567.6).
Offense hasn't really been an issue at Arkansas, which is why a candidate like Louisville's Charlie Strong—a defensive-minded head coach and native of Arkansas—is being mentioned prominently for the position.
At age 56, his age may be an issue, and Arkansas may want a younger, more up-and-coming coach. But Briles' ability to keep the Texas pipeline open and continue Arkansas' offensive success should put him at the top of Long's short list for the soon-to-be open Arkansas coaching position.
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