Potential replacements for Petrino at Arkansas

52 Comments

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, CBSSports.com‘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

Late heroics save No. 9 Oklahoma on the road at Kansas State after wild second half

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just before the end of the first half, everybody was wondering if Baker Mayfield was 100 percent healthy. Just before the end of the second half, it became pretty clear he was doing just fine. The Sooners’ star quarterback was dazzling once again to power a last minute comeback on the road, leading No. 9 Oklahoma to a 42-35 win against a pesky Kansas State squad that was looking to pull an upset before some late heroics on the final drive.

The signal-caller appeared to get injured during a scramble late in the second quarter and was taken out in the red zone on the ensuing possession, used only as a decoy on a few wildcat snaps. As it turned out, that seemed to be a coaching strategy as OU rotated in backup Kyler Murray several times on ensuing possessions. Mayfield eventually wound up with an efficient 32-of-41 for 410 yards and two touchdowns passing while rushing for two scores and 69 yards as well.

Most importantly, he also got the win after perfectly executing a two minute drive that led to tailback Rodney Anderson (147 yards, two scores) hitting the corner for the game-winning touchdown.

That was all despite the best efforts of his counterpart Alex Delton, who was making just his second start behind center for the Wildcats. While he was solid as a passer (144 yards, one TD, one interception), the dual-threat was incredible on the ground and ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns. That led to quite the combination in the backfield as Alex Barnes managed 108 yards — 75 of which came on a touchdown run on the second snap of the game.

The close victory on the road keeps Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff race, even if the effort was less than impressive given the early struggles. The meeting between the youngest and oldest coaches in FBS proved to be quite the thriller in the end too, as Lincoln Riley claimed the ‘W’ over the Wizard himself Bill Snyder in what will surely be a memorable game for both sides.

WATCH: ‘Bama ‘bros brawl in stands during woodshedding of Tennessee

Getty Images
1 Comment

Tennessee didn’t put up much of a fight on the field Saturday in Tuscaloosa, so a couple of fans decided to make up for it in the stands.

Alabama entered Saturday’s game against as a 36.5 point favorite over “rival” Tennessee.  When the dust had settled, the top-ranked Tide left with a 45-7 woodshedding that featured one Vols player showing the UA student section exactly how many wins his team has over FBS opponents more than midway through the 2017 season.

Also in the stands, there were these two knucklehead ‘Bama fans who decided to “throw down” for whatever reason.

The mixture of pregame alcohol (presumably) and in-game testosterone (undoubtedly) is indeed a potent mixture.

No. 8 Miami escapes at home vs. tough and gritty Syracuse

Getty Images
1 Comment

Even the best teams in college football have to gut out a close call along the way to a possible conference championship. For No. 8 Miami (6-0, 4-0 ACC), today may have been that day. A week after Syracuse (4-4, 2-2 ACC) knocked Clemson from the ranks of the unbeatens, the Orange made Miami work for a 27-19 victory in Florida on Saturday afternoon that was much tighter than even that final score may indicate. Struggling to deliver a knockout blow, Miami finally got the decisive blow with a  33-yard touchdown run by Travis Homer to push the Hurricanes closer to victory.

Miami quarterback Malik Rosier passed for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Ahmonn Richards and Christopher Herndon IV each came close to 100-yard games, and Travis Homer rushed for 95 yards with the decisive touchdown run late in the game.

Syracuse never backed down against Miami and still managed to make a game of it despite having four interceptions thrown by Orange quarterback Eric Dungey. It was a poor day through the air for Dungey and the Orange (Dungey was 13-of-41 for 137 yards and four interceptions), but Syracuse made up for it on the ground by working their up-tempo style. Dungey rushed 20 times for 100 yards and was beat up throughout the night. After the game, Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz made it a point to seek out Dungey on the sideline to seemingly offer his respect for an incredible effort.

For another week, Miami is undefeated and remains in good position to potentially reach the ACC championship game for the first time in school history.

With the win, Miami retains their spot atop the ACC Coastal Division with a 4-0 record in conference play. The Hurricanes and NC State are the only teams without a conference loss so far. Next up for the Hurricanes will be a road trip to Chapel Hill next week against a struggling North Carolina team that was getting blasted on the road by Virginia Tech. The way things are unfolding in the ACC, Miami’s conference championship hopes may come down to the game against Virginia Tech on November 4, at home. If Miami can stay undefeated after the Virginia Tech game, they’ll host Notre Dame on November 11 with the possibility of perhaps thinking a bit more than just an ACC title run.

As for Syracuse, Dungey and the Orange get a well-deserved week off before getting back on the field. When they return to the field, they will do so in the state of Florida once more for a game against Florida State. As it turns out, bowl hopes could be on the line for each after Florida State dropped another game earlier in the day to fall to 2-4.

No. 1 Alabama matches series record with 11th straight win over Tennessee

Associated Press
1 Comment

Tennessee wasn’t beaten by a cavalcade of big plays, special teams touchdowns and turnovers. Instead it was just a play-after-play-after-play destruction by the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide, resulting in a 45-7 Alabama win that wasn’t as close as the final score.

The Tide jumped to a 21-0 halftime lead thanks to a pair of 1-yard leaps by Bo Scarborough and an 11-yard dash by Damien Harris, and Jalen Hurts got in on the action with a 14-yard strike to Irv Smith, Jr., swelling the lead to 28-0 to open the second half.

Tennessee got on the board shortly thereafter, when Daniel Bituli stepped in front of a Tua Tagovailoa pass and raced it 97 yards for a touchdown. In typical Tennessee fashion, though, the score was immediately tainted by this:

Tagovailoa atoned for his pick-six with a 23-yard scoring dash at the 12:59 mark of the fourth quarter.

Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) moved in position to record its first offensive touchdown of the game — scratch that, its first offensive touchdown in a month — with a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, but a run to the 1-yard line was negated by a false start penalty and Jarrett Guarantano was intercepted by Mack Wilson, who returned the ball to the Alabama 23-yard line. The interception extended Alabama’s streak of consecutive games with at least one takeaway to 35. Tennessee’s last offensive touchdown came with 25 seconds left in the second quarter of the Vols’ 17-13 defeat of Massachusetts on Sept. 23.

Tagovailoa capitalized on the turnover with a 60-yard snatch-and-dash connection to fellow freshman Henry Ruggs III at the 4:49 mark of the fourth quarter.

In a game that amounted to a televised practice for Alabama, the Tide used two quarterbacks, seven ball-carriers and eight pass-catchers. Hurts was 13-of-21 for 198 yards and a touchdown, and Tagovailoa hit 9-of-12 throws for 134 yards with a score and a pick. Harris led all runners with 13 carries for 72 yards, and Calvin Ridley hauled in eight grabs for a game-high 82 yards. Overall, Alabama ran the ball 53 times for 272 yards and four touchdowns, gained 35 first downs and averaged 7.02 yards on its 86 snaps.

Guarantano’s second start was one to forget. Immediately. He completed 9-of-16 passes for 44 yards with an interception and was credited with minus-12 rushing yards on 11 carries. As a team, Tennessee amassed 108 yards of total offense with seven first downs and converted 1-of-12 third down opportunities. The Vols ran only 46 offensive plays and averaged 2.35 yards on those plays.

The result marked Alabama’s 11th straight win in the series — beginning with Nick Saban‘s first season — and matched the record winning streak in a rivalry that dates back to 1901, matching Alabama’s 11 straight victories from 1971-81. Alabama is 32-14-1 against Tennessee since 1971.

Speaking of streaks, the win pushed Alabama to 8-0 on the year and 5-0 in the SEC, giving the Tide 31 straight regular-season wins and 22 consecutive victories against the SEC.