Jeff Long

Potential replacements for Petrino at Arkansas


With the ghosts of Butch Davis‘ and Jim Tressel‘s coaching careers looming off in the distance, Arkansas officially announced its stunning decision Tuesday evening: the university has fired Bobby Petrino as the Razorbacks’ head football coach less than five months before the start of a new season.

The how’s and why’s of what led the football program to this point are not pertinent to this post; Ben’s had you covered very, very well on that front for the past few days.  What is pertinent is the future, and what tack UA takes in finding a replacement — interim or permanent — for Petrino.

During the press conference making Petrino’s dismissal official, athletic director Jeff Long announced that interim head coach Taver Johnson would continue in the same role through the end of spring practice, which will conclude with the spring game April 21.  Beyond that?  Long stated that he would commence a search for a permanent replacement “at the end of the press conference”, although he acknowledged, when pressed on the question of whether a permanent successor would be in place before the start of the upcoming season, that it’s possible an interim head coach could lead the Razorbacks in 2012.

Given the timing of the dismissal, it’s highly possible or even borderline probable that Long will take the path blazed by North Carolina (dismissing Davis a handful of weeks before the start of the 2011 season) and Ohio State (dismissing Tressel a couple of months before the start of the same season) — go the interim route for the upcoming season, while simultaneously conducting a national search for a permanent replacement.  In fact, that would probably be the most prudent course of action for the university, keeping as much of Petrino’s staff in place to lend familiarity for a roster full of players that are certainly in a state of uncertainty and could use some continuity.

While that seems likely, there are some quality candidates who could/would have an interest in what is, thanks in large part to Petrino oddly enough, a high-quality SEC coaching job.

Here are thumbnail looks at but a few of the potential replacements who have already been mentioned — or should be mentioned — as potential long-term and “permanent” successors to Petrino:

Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State — The former Auburn offensive coordinator has deep ties to the state — he graduated from high school and coached at that level there, and played football at UA for a couple of years — and will be entering his first season as a head coach at the collegiate level.  It’s highly, highly likely Malzahn would have an interest in the top job at his home state’s flagship university — next year.  Malzahn had previously turned down opportunities at high-profile jobs, reportedly because he didn’t feel he was ready for such a coaching step.  Stepping into the maelstrom that currently exists in Fayetteville likely isn’t something Malzahn would consider at this point in time.  Next offseason?  He would have to be considered one of the prohibitive favorites as a permanent replacement.

Garrick McGee, head coach, UAB — Out of all the possibilities, this one might be the most intriguing for both the short- and the long-term.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. “GM only coach Ark should look at if they wanna win now. … He can win at Arkansas,” Mallett tweeted, adding for clarity, “and not Gus M[alzahn].”  McGee will be entering his first year as a head coach, heading to UAB after spending the past four seasons at UA, the last two as offensive coordinator.  He was — and still is — beloved by his former players, and would lend some much-needed, instant credibility and stability in both the locker room and on the practice field.  Given the very recent and established relationship with the football program, a McGee hiring might be the only choice right now which would trump going the interim route.  Whether he would abandon UAB before coaching a single game remains to be seen, although those who know McGee and swear to his character would profess there’s no chance he would ditch UAB after the school took a chance on him.

Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette — The first-year Ragin’ Cajuns coach has no direct ties to either the state or the university, with the exception of two separate coaching stints at Central Arkansas spanning three years.  His name has, however, already been mentioned as a possibility, so we thought we’d toss it out there into the mix.  I will say this: Hudspeth is widely considered one of the rising stars in the college coaching profession, so he should not be dismissed completely simply over the lack of name recognition.

Skip Holtz, head coach, USF — The early buzz is that, if UA does indeed eschew an interim coach and instead hires a permanent replacement, the son of Lou Holtz becomes an instant front-runner.  In fact,‘s Bruce Feldman tweeted Tuesday night that “Holtz may get in the mix for Arkansas with his dad pushing for it.”  Holtz graduated from an Arkansas high school, attending Fayetteville High while his pops was coaching the Razorbacks in the late 70s and early 80s.  If Longs skews away from the interim approach, he and the football program could do a helluva lot worse than Holtz, who in my opinion is one of the most underrated and undervalued head coaches in the country.

Butch Davis, unemployed — Don’t tell me this isn’t one of the first names you thought of.  Davis played for the Razorbacks in the early 70s before a knee injury ended his career, and the early word is that, obviously, Paul Hilton would jump at the opportunity if offered.  The other obvious part of the Butch equation is his messy departure from the Tar Heels.  Given Petrino’s even messier departure from the Razorbacks, it’s borderline laughable that this would even be an option for Long.  Then again, it was borderline laughable that Petrino.. and Davis… and Tressel… and Paterno would be dismissed over off-field issues, so who’s to know any more given the current state of the game of college football.

Dave Wannstedt, defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills — There’s one reason and one reason only why the former Pittsburgh head coach has been mentioned by a national writer — a previous relationship with Long.  Beyond that convenient tie, Wannstedt makes zero sense and would instantly and literally become one of the worst hires in the history of the game.

Mike Smith, head coach, Atlanta Falcons — Hey, that’s where Long found his last head coach, right?

In the end, and unless they can pry McGee away from UAB after four months on the job, it seems highly likely that an interim head coach from the current staff will be named for the 2012 season — perhaps as early as next week — and Long will begin a methodical, diligent search to find a permanent successor.  And, based on Long’s impressive and emotional performance in the press conference, the Arkansas faithful can feel at ease knowing that the search will be in good hands.

Then again, Long is the one who hired Petrino away from the Falcons in the midst of an NFL season

Lamar Jackson turns in another Heisman-worthy performance as Louisville drubs NC State

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Send Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to New York now. Maybe get the nameplate for the Heisman Trophy ready too. Jackson continued to pad his Heisman profile with another stellar performance, this time against NC State (4-3, 1-1 ACC). Jackson and No. 7 Louisville (6-1, 4-1 ACC) blew out the Wolfpack, 54-13 Saturday afternoon.

Jackson wasted little time in having an impact on the game. On the fourth play of the game, Jackson ripped off a 36-yard touchdown to give Louisville a quick 7-0 lead. The Heisman frontrunner ended his day having completed 20-of-34 pass attempts for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson also rushed for a score and 76 yards before getting an early rest in the second half. Jackson completed touchdown passes to Jaylen Smith, Jamari Staples and Cole Hikutini.

Louisville jumped all over NC State in the first half with a dominating start. The Cardinals led at halftime 44-0. The Cardinals had a little more than a 300-yard advantage in total offense over NC State at the half and that continued in the second half. Louisville was so dominant that even 12 penalties for 94 yards didn’t seem to bother them (although it surely is not to be overlooked). Louisville also had a pair of turnovers, but they also recovered three turnovers.

The Jackson Heisman Tour will take to the road the next couple of weeks. Louisville plays at Virginia next week and at Boston College the following week before returning home to wrap up its conference schedule against Wake Forest. It’s hard not to look ahead to the mid-November game at Houston, but Louisville will remain in the playoff hunt as long as Jackson keeps playing the way he has.

NC State will look to bounce back from back-to-back ACC losses next week when they host Boston College.

Kansas State holds off Texas, 24-21

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Jesse Ertz #17 of the Kansas State Wildcats warms up before the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Wildcats defeated the Wolverines 31-14.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas State (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) will take it. The Wildcats took control of the time of possession in the first half and held off a bit of a second-half push by Texas (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) to pick up a 24-21 victory Saturday afternoon.

Kansas State certainly gave Texas opportunities. The Wildcats had three turnovers, but Texas followed those Kansas State turnovers with two turnover-on-downs and one missed field goal. Jesse Ertz was efficient in the passing game for Kansas State, completing 20 of 27 pass attempts for 171 yards and a touchdown (one interception). Ertz also accounted for two rushing touchdowns and 78 rushing yards.

Despite missing on a number of opportunities, Texas did still manage to push Kansas State to the end of the game with a pair of second-half touchdowns. Shane Buechele‘s six-yard touchdown pass to Dorian Leonard in the back of the end zone was upheld by a video replay and cut the Kansas State lead to three after an extra-point conversion. Buechele completed 17-pf-24 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. D'Onta Foreman led all players with 124 rushing yards, and Tyrone Swoopes added a rushing touchdown. Charles Jones was Kansas State’s leading rusher with 81 yards on 12 attempts.

Texas will return to Austin next week to host Baylor. Entering this weekend, Baylor as undefeated and looking to make a push in the Big 12. Texas stunned a depleted Baylor last year, so Baylor will be looking for revenge. Once again, Texas head coach Charlie Strong looks to be in need of a big win to save his job.

Kansas State hits the road next week for an early kickoff at Iowa State. The cyclones entered this week with a record of 1-6, with a record of 0-4 in Big 12 play.

WATCH: Purdue honors the late Sam Foltz prior to Nebraska game

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Students of the Nebraska Cornhuskers honor deceased player Sam Foltz with a banner before the game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Wyoming 52-14. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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The Big Ten has fully embraced honoring the memory of Sam Foltz, and Purdue became the latest to do as much.

Like Illinois before them, the Purdue captains presented their counterparts at Nebraska with a No. 27 jersey at midfield as the two teams met for the ceremonial coin toss prior to the Big Ten contest.  The coin used, incidentally, featured Foltz on one side and Mike Sadler on the other.

Foltz, who would’ve been Nebraska’s punter this season, and Sadler, a former Michigan State punter, were killed in a July car accident on their way home from a kick camp in Wisconsin. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was injured in the wreck, but is kicking this season for the Tigers and honoring both by wearing special cleats.

Jeff George Jr. will reportedly get the start for Illini vs. Michigan

Illinois athletics

If you’re in the mood to feel old, here ya go.

Illinois has been hit hard by injuries at the quarterback position, with season-opening starter Wes Lunt dealing with a back issue while Chayce Crouch, last week’s starter in place of Lunt, hurt his shoulder against Rutgers.  Neither of those signal-callers are expected to be available for today’s game against Michigan.

So, just who will line up under center against the No. 3 team in the country in the Big House?  According to the Champaign News-Gazette, that honor will fall to Jeff George Jr., the son of former Illini great Jeff George.

The 6-3, 205-pound George was a two-star recruit in 2014 who took a grayshirt that year before enrolling at Illinois in 2015.  He took a redshirt his true freshman season, and has not thrown a pass at the collegiate level.

Obviously, this will mark his first career start, and it will come against a team with which his father had some familiarity.  From the News-Gazette:

George’s dad, who was scheduled to be at today’s game, started twice against Michigan in the late 1980s.

He had 135 yards in a 1988 loss and threw for 253 yards in a 24-10 loss in 1989 at Memorial Stadium.