Potential replacements for Petrino at Arkansas

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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

ESPN analyst: Jimbo Fisher called Texas A&M soft, vowed to change the program

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.