Updates and Coaching Candidates for Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 15, 2012

Louisville head coach Charlie Strong
Louisville head coach Charlie StrongJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

There are still two games remaining in the regular season, but the coaching hot seat is already kicking into high gear.

Arkansas has essentially been open since April, Saturday's quadruple overtime loss to Missouri in Knoxville essentially sealed Derek Dooley's fate on Rocky Top and unless something changes, Gene Chizik keeping his job at Auburn seems more like myth than reality.

So where could each of these three storied SEC programs turn to find their next head coach? Here are some options.


There is still some doubt on Auburn's situation. Athletic director Jay Jacobs' job is also in doubt, and while it's not impossible, conducting a search for an athletic director and a head coach with Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky in or likely in the market for a head coach would be a tough task.

But assuming Chizik is dismissed, Auburn should look no further than Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

He fits everything Auburn should be looking for. He's a proven winner at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level, is a defensive-minded head coach and has connections to the SEC.

Strong has posted a 23-14 record in his three seasons at Louisville, including a 9-1 record this season. This coming off 2008 and 09 seasons that saw the Cardinals win nine games over the previous two seasons.

He coached in the SEC in 18 of the 22 years prior to taking the gig at Louisville, seven of which were at Florida where he coordinated the Gators' defense. That defense was a big part of why Florida took home BCS National Championships in 2006 and 08.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has stated that he's prepared to give Strong a substantial raise to keep him, so he will cost Auburn or anyone else a pretty penny.

If not Strong, Auburn will probably give former offensive coordinator and current Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn a call. Malzahn is 7-3 in his first season as the Red Wolves head coach, is familiar with the Auburn program and was a big reason why the Tigers won the 2010 BCS National Championship.

Bobby Petrino's name has been tossed around as a possibility as well, but there's a better chance of me getting that job than Petrino.

Administrators will tell you that Petrino's actions, lies and coverup are more harmful than some NCAA violations. Considering Petrino's proven track record of leaving programs and organizations in worse shape than when he took over, any athletic director considering him will tread lightly.

Petrino's airport meeting with Auburn officials in Louisville in 2003 while Tommy Tuberville was still Auburn's head coach was part of the reason Auburn's accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was questioned. 

Consider that a deal-breaker.


It became clear on Sept. 8, when Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe, that John L. Smith was not likely to be retained by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. With a jump start on the competition, you can bet that potential candidates are already aware of Arkansas' interest, even if they've been notified through back channels.

Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville should be at the top of that list.

Tuberville is an Arkansas native, has a 110-60 record as a head coach in the SEC, won the SEC championship at Auburn in 2004, is a defensive-minded coach and coached the last three years in the state of Texas.

The Hogs have finished in the bottom half of the SEC in total defense in four of the last five seasons; and look to repeat the feat in 2012. Arkansas was unable to break through that glass ceiling under Petrino due to its defense, and Tuberville can and would fix that.

Plus, he can keep the pipeline to the state of Texas alive and well, which should be Job No. 1 of any Arkansas candidate. The Razorbacks currently have 21 players on the roster from the state of Texas, but with Texas A&M in the SEC and able to sell itself as "the SEC program in Texas," that pipeline is in jeopardy.

Arkansas may want to aim higher. There's even an online community called Grudenville.com, which is devoted to the hope of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden coming to Fayetteville.

I'm not sure Gruden will be coaching anywhere in 2012, but if he hops on the market, there will be plenty of competition.


Speaking of Gruden, no destination has been more of a focus of this season's Gruden discussion than Rocky Top. As is the case with Arkansas or any other potential landing spot, I'll believe it when I see it.

Instead, the Vols should turn to Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is sure to be one of the hot names on the offseason coaching carousel.

Smart has built a fine reputation for himself in Tuscaloosa, leading the Crimson Tide to the SEC's top defense in each of the last four seasons. His current defense tops the SEC giving up 247.8 YPG, the second-best  mark in the country.

Smart is a natural fit for the Vols.

They currently have the worst defense in the SEC and the 114th-ranked defense in the country. That's unacceptable at Tennessee.

Plus Smart has ties to new Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart. Hart previously served as Alabama's executive director of athletics from 2008-10.

With Kentucky also in the market for a head coach, it could be a busy silly season in the SEC. Between that and impending BCS chaos, there will be plenty to talk about in December.


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