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

S. Miss rolls over LaTech, sets up C-USA title tilt with WKU

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach Todd Monken of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles yells to his team during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Western Kentucky earned one of the spots in the Conference USA championship game on Black Friday.  A day later, they learned who will be their competition on the other sidelines next weekend.

Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech came into their game Saturday tied atop the West division standings at 6-1, effectively turning the contest into a play-in game.  Thanks to a huge day from quarterback Nick Mullens, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 24-10 halftime and really poured it on in the fourth quarter in rolling to a 58-24 win over the Bulldogs.

Mullens passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the win.  It was Ito Smith, though, who put the final nails in the Bulldogs’ coffin as the USM back ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to turn the game into a rout.

With the win, Southern Miss will move on to face Western Kentucky in the conference championship game next Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green.  The Hilltoppers finished a perfect 8-0 in conference play to the Golden Eagles’ 7-1, giving WKU the home-field advantage.

Southern Miss will be playing in its first Conference USA title game and third overall.  WKU is in just its second season in Conference USA, and will be playing for its first conference title.

The division title also continues the quietly astounding turnaround head coach Todd Monken has fashioned in Hattiesburg.  In Monken’s first year, coming off a winless 2012 season, the Eagles went 1-11 and followed it up with a 3-9 2014 campaign.  With two games remaining in 2015, Monken has his team sitting at 9-3, easily the team’s best record since going 12-2 in Larry Fedora‘s last season in 2011.

Report: Toledo HC Matt Campbell likely taking same job at Iowa State

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Six days ago, Iowa State announced that it had dismissed head coach Paul Rhoads.  Less than a week later, it appears the Cyclones have found a replacement.

According to a report from, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell has emerged as the front-runner for the ISU job and is expected to agree to a deal in the next 48 hours.  To put an exclamation point on the report, interviews with all other candidates have been canceled.

The 35-year-old Campbell has gone 35-15 during his four seasons with the Rockets.  UT had a chance to wrap up a spot in the MAC championship game, but a loss Friday handed the West division to Northern Illinois.

Campbell will be taking over a Cyclones team that has gone 8-27 overall and 4-23 in Big 12 play the last three seasons.  ISU has won eight or more games in a season just once since 1978, going 9-3 under Dan McCarney in 2000.  That was just the second season in program history in which the Cyclones won nine or more games, with the other coming back in 1906.

No. 8 Ohio State pounds No. 10 Michigan, awaits PSU-MSU result

Ezekiel Elliott
Associated Press

Whatever Ohio State team that was that took the field last in last week’s debacle against Michigan State, you had to know a different group would make the trip up north to Ann Arbor. Looking like the version of itself many expected the entire season, No. 8 Ohio State thumped No. 10 Michigan 42-13 at the Big House.

Similar to games past in this run of dominance the Buckeyes have enjoyed over the Wolverines — make it four in a row, 11 of the past 12 and 13 of 15 since Jim Tressel‘s arrival in 2001 — Ohio State dominated both lines of scrimmage. Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett combined to rush….

It was enough to leave one believing this Buckeyes team, the team we saw Saturday afternoon, in the second half against Virginia Tech and a handful of times elsewhere, truly is the best team in the country – or at least one of the top four. It was also enough to leave one wondering why last week’s performance was allowed to happen.

The downpour started on the Buckeyes’ second possession when, two plays after a roughing the punter penalty at its own 9 extended the drive, Elliott rumbled 66 yards and Barrett walked in from seven yards out two snaps later. After a Michigan field goal, Ohio State again rumbled 75 yards, with Elliott and Barrett rushing on all but one of the eight snaps, capped by a five-yard Elliott rush.

Jake Rudock hit Jehu Chesson for a five-yard touchdown to pull the Wolverines within 14-10 at the half, but Michigan’s second-ranked rush defense found no answers for Ohio State’s ground game in the locker room.

Ohio State moved 82 yards in eight plays, capped by a highlight 25-yard Jalin Marshall touchdown grab, to push the lead back to two scores.

The Buckeyes put the game out of reach for good with two more lengthy drives — consuming 84 and 75 yards — punctuated by Barrett (13 yards) and Elliott (10 yards) scoring dashes.

Barrett put the cherry on top with a 17-yard touchdown run, ending his day with 19 carries for 139 yards and three touchdowns to go with 113 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-13 passing. Elliott totaled 214 yards and two scores on 30 carries.

As a team, Ohio State out-rushed the Wolverines 371-57, pounding out an even seven yards a carry while limiting Michigan to 2.28.

The win moved Ohio State to 11-1 on the season (7-1 Big Ten) and keeps the club’s faint hopes of a second straight Big Ten championship alive, pending Saturday afternoon’s Michigan State-Penn State result, while keeping the Buckeyes in the mix to benefit in the event Clemson, Alabama, or Oklahoma lose between now and Selection Sunday. At the very worst, Ohio State, which remains unbeaten in true road games under Urban Meyer and 6-2 overall inside Michigan Stadium since the turn of the century, figures to be in line for an at-large berth in the Peach or Fiesta bowl.

Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) now has a month-plus with which to reconcile a season that looked and played much better than a Brady Hoke season, but offers a very similar result. Jim Harbaugh‘s Wolverines had a plan and executed it, but in the end they’re left with another season without a win over Michigan State or Ohio State, another season without a Big Ten championship, and another season ending outside a major bowl game.

No. 1 Clemson survives late push from South Carolina, heads to ACC title game unbeaten

Wayne Gallman, Rico McWilliams
Associated Press

Clemson gave South Carolina chances to pull one of those only-in-a-rivalry-game stunners, but the No. 1 Tigers were too much for the three-win Gamecocks, pulling out a 37-32 win in Columbia.

Clemson lost fumbles near midfield on two of its first three possessions, but South Carolina achieved only a three-and-out and a missed field goal on the two following touches.

The Tigers then broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on their next four non-clock killing possessions, scoring on a pair of Deshaun Watson runs (from five and 30 yards out), a 55-yard Watson strike to Deon Cain and a four-yard C.J. Fuller plunge, turning a scoreless tie into a 28-10 blowout late in the third quarter.

But South Carolina climbed back in the game, first on a 57-yard heave from Perry Orth to Pharoh Cooper and then, after a Clemson fumble, a one-yard Shon Carson run. Lorenzo Nunez‘s two-point conversion made the score 28-25 with 12:19 remaining.

Watson answered by driving Clemson 75 yards in 10 plays, ending the push with his third scoring run of the day — this time from three yards out.

South Carolina (3-9) could not muster a second rally, going three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then turning the ball over on downs at its own 25 with 1:28 remaining to end any hope of a comeback. Greg Huegel added a 36-yard field goal for Clemson with 1:22 remaining, and South Carolina posted a cosmetic touchdown pass from Orth to Deebo Samuel with one tick left on the clock.

Watson closed the day with Heisman-like numbers, hitting 20-of-27 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while rushing 21 rushes for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Wayne Gallman added 19 carries for 102 yards, and the Tigers out-gained the ‘Cocks 515-402 while holding a 26-17 first downs advantage.

The win moves Clemson to 12-0 on the season — its first 12-0 record since claiming the 1981 national championship — heading into an ACC Championship showdown with once-beaten and 14th-ranked North Carolina next Saturday in Charlotte.

The win also ends Clemson’s three-game losing streak at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers beat the cross-state Gamecocks in back-to-back years for the first time since 2007-08 and extended their all-time lead to 67-42-4 in a series dating back to 1896.