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

USC cruised to win over a ‘tired, beat-up’ Cal team as Sonny Dykes chastises scheduling ‘travesty’

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Running back Ronald Jones II #25 of the USC Trojans scores a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead over the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at Los Angeles Coliseum on October 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 schedule makers started the final nail in Cal’s Week 9 coffin. USC’s offense proceeded to drive it all the home.

Behind a career night for both Ronald Jones and Sam Darnold, the Trojans jumped out to a 28-10 halftime and ultimately cruised to a 45-24 win. Both Jones and Darnold set career highs on the night, the former with 223 yards rushing and the latter five touchdown passes.

Those two players were part of an offense that rolled up a season-high 629 yards of offense.  It was the schedule, though, that saw a significant amount of the focus on the game, especially in the days leading up to it and the immediate aftermath.

Cal’s last game was Friday, Oct. 21.  USC’s last game?  Oct. 15, meaning the Bears, on five days rest, were facing a team coming off a bye, and facing them on the road no less.

“It’s one of those deals where you go, ‘How in the world could this ever happen? How could somebody let this happen?'” head coach Sonny Dykes said in the middle of the week. “It has been a disaster, it’s been a mess. … It’s incredibly hard on our kids.”


“We looked like a tired, beat-up football team. I think it’s a travesty whoever scheduled this game. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do that again to any other school. It’s not right for the kids.

“Everybody talks about student-athlete welfare, but they need to put their money where their mouth is.”

Leave it to the esteemed Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News to sum up what most non-USC fans are thinking about the situation the Bears were placed in.

Hopefully this player safety issue — and that is, ultimately, what this is all about — is rectified by the Pac-12 and, as Dykes alluded, never repeated. For a conference that’s been (rightly) praised for their initiatives in the past, they certainly dropped the scheduling ball on this one.

FSU will be without Bobo Wilson, too, for Clemson

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 01: Jesus Wilson #3 of the Florida State Seminoles runs the ball during the game agains the North Carolina Tar Heels at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)
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Derwin James isn’t the only starter Florida State will be missing when they take on Clemson in a huge ACC Atlantic matchup.

Thursday night, Jimbo Fisher confirmed that Bobo Wilson has officially been ruled out of Saturday’s game because of a foot injury. The wide receiver suffered the injury in the Week 7 win over Wake Forest.

As FSU was on a bye last weekend, this will be the first game the senior has missed because of the injury.

As the school noted, Wilson being sidelined will open up the opportunity for additional playing time for a trio of sophomore receivers: Nyqwan Murray, Da’Vante Phillips and Auden Tate.

“You’re talking about a guy who’s played a lot of games, played a lot of ball, done a lot of things, and played in a lot of big-time environments and atmospheres,” Fisher said of Wilson in quotes distributed by the team. “That all sounds good on paper.

“Now, do I think [these younger receivers] can go out there and play? Yes. Do I think they can be really good players? Yes. Have they practiced well? Yes. [Tate] has done more in games so far, but they have a chance to be really good players. I’m hoping they go out there and play.”

Tate leads the Seminoles with four touchdown receptions, and he’s done that with just eight receptions. Murray has five catches for 46 yards this season, Phillips four for 33.

Wilson, who is 10th in school history with 133 catches, is currently second on the team with 30 receptions for 390 yards in 2016. His 26 career starts are the most of any current Seminole offensive player.

Offense won’t be the only place where Wilson’s loss is felt as he is fourth in the nation heading into Week 9 with a 17.2 yards average on nine punt returns. One of those punts he returned 89 yards for a touchdown in the Week 2 win over Charleston Southern, the third-longest in school history and the program’s first of any length since 2012.

Starting Northwestern CB ruled out vs. Ohio State

Michigan State tight end Josiah Price, left, catches a pass for a touchdown against Northwestern's Trae Williams during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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Struggling mightily in the passing game, Ohio State may have caught a bit of a break as the Buckeyes look to rebound from just their fifth in the four-plus years under Urban Meyer.

On Northwestern’s official injury report, cornerback Trae Williams is listed as out for the Wildcats’ Week 9 matchup with the Buckeyes in Columbus. Williams is dealing with an injury that the school has not specified.

The redshirt freshman also missed the Week 8 win over Indiana because of the injury.

Prior to that, Williams had started the previous four games, the first four starts of his collegiate career. This season, Williams has been credited with 20 tackles and has one of the Wildcats’ seven interceptions.

With Williams sidelined, Alonzo Mayo will get the start opposite Montre Hartage. The redshirt freshman made his first career start in place of Williams last weekend.

Louisville, WKU announce three-game series

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 06:   Louisville Cardinals cheerleaders perform during the game against the Murray State Racers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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A pair of FBS schools from the state of Kentucky will be getting back together on the gridiron after a sabbatical of nearly two decades.

Louisville and Western Kentucky announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement on a three-game series that will actually be played in the not-too-distant future. Two of the games will be played at the U of L’s Papa John’s Stadium in 2018 and 2020.

The third will be played at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium in 2019.

“It’s great for both schools that we were able to resume this series against an in-state school of Western Kentucky’s caliber,” U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement. “Because of the proximity of both schools, I think it’s a tremendous win for the state of Kentucky and each fan base. I’m thrilled we were able to lock down a three-game series versus WKU.”

“We are excited to begin a football series with the University of Louisville,” Jurich’s WKU counterpart, Todd Stewart, said in his statement. “These three games will be exciting for both fan bases and good for college football in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We continually try to develop strong non-conference schedules each year while also focusing on regional match ups that enable our fans to attend games outside of Bowling Green. A series with Louisville checks all of those boxes, and we appreciate Louisville’s administration and football program for their efforts and cooperation.”

The two teams have met 31 times previously, with the first coming in 1922 and the most recent in 1998. The Cardinals hold a 19-12 advantage in the series.

The Hilltoppers are currently coached by former Cardinals quarterback Jeff Brohm.