Next Arkansas Head Football Coach Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 4/13/2012
So you are an athletic director at a potential National Championship contender in football, the sport that pays all the bills. Your school is 21-5 in the past two seasons, and its only two losses last year were to the two teams that played for the national title. You bring back arguably the SEC’s best quarterback in Tyler Wilson and a Top 10 in the country running back in Knile Davis. It’s potentially the best team your school has had since the mid-1960s when some guy named Jerry Jones was your captain and your team went 11-0 under the legendary Frank Broyles.
OK, said athletic director is then lied to by his head football coach. That coach, a married father of four, made you look like a fool because he lied about a motorcycle crash that didn’t actually involve just him but also a woman 26 years his junior with whom he was having an affair. Oh, and he had just hired that woman as a member of the football staff and had given her not just preferential treatment in the interview process but also $20,000 in cash. And the coach only came clean minutes before the police report on the crash was issued to the public – and he probably wouldn’t have come clean if not for the fact one of his buddies on the police force gave him a head’s up that the report was about to be released.
Seems like an easy firing, right? Yet it took nearly a week for Arkansas AD Jeff Long to can Bobby Petrino, the school’s best head coach since Lou Holtz. Clearly Long was looking for reasons to keep Petrino, who is arguably one of the Top 5 coaches in college football and was helping the school rake in money from boosters. But when Long kept digging, it was clear that Petrino’s relationship with Jessica Dorrell was subject to lawsuits from those who applied for the job she got, among other issues. Lying is one thing – Nick Saban said he never talked with Alabama a few days before leaving the Dolphins for Tuscaloosa – but potential litigation is another.
So the search is on at Arkansas for someone to take over a team that very well could be a National Championship contender in 2012 (18/1 to win it all) – both Alabama and LSU visit Arkansas this year. With that said, Bovada has released a few props on the Hogs and Petrino.
So what will happen next to Petrino? Will he be a member of an NFL coaching staff? That’s at -200. Will he be a member of an NCAA football staff? That’s at +150. I love the NCAA one. Petrino bailed on the Atlanta Falcons after 13 games in 2007 and was named the Arkansas coach literally hours later (so maybe Long got what he deserved). Do you think some NFL owner will trust this guy? Yes, he’s an offensive guru, but clearly not worth the headache.
However, some NCAA school will no doubt roll the dice on him – maybe Petrino has to go to I-AA for a few years to rebuild his reputation. But take the college prop.
And who will replace Petrino? Linebackers Coach Taver Johnson, a former Ohio State assistant who was hired in the offseason, will serve as the interim coach for at least the remainder of the spring. But I highly doubt he is the full-time guy.
The favorite at Bovada is Gus Malzahn (5/2), another offensive guru and a former Arkansas offensive coordinator under Houston Nutt. Malzahn would be a perfect fit, honestly, after leading Auburn’s offense the past two years, including molding Cam Newton into a Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick. He also was a former head coach at the top high school program in the state. The only problem is that Malzahn recently took the Arkansas State head coaching job (not sure why). Does Arkansas really want another guy who bails on one job shortly after taking it? I doubt it. The Hogs need a character guy right now.
That brings me to Butch Davis (15/1). He would also be a terrific fit as he had success at Miami and North Carolina and he’s currently unemployed. Davis also graduated from Arkansas. However, UNC had major NCAA sanctions under his watch, although Davis wasn’t implicated in any of that. Davis also worked for Jerry Jones in Dallas, and I guarantee you that Jones will have a say in the next coach as he is one of the school’s biggest benefactors.
How about Lou Holtz’s son Skip (7/2)? This makes a lot of sense as Skip Holtz is considered a high-character person and is really in a dead-end job at South Florida. Holtz has already denied any interest in the job, but what is he supposed to say? Plus, USF hasn’t really been that good under Holtz – the Hogs likely will aim higher.
The second-favorite is Garrick McGee at 3/1. Probably only those living in Alabama or die-hard college football fans know that McGee is the head coach at UAB. McGee was on Petrino’s staff all four seasons at Arkansas and served as offensive coordinator the last two years before taking the Alabama-Birmingham head coaching job Dec. 4.
Mario Cristobal (5/1) seems ready to take the next step after turning Florida International from arguably the worst job in Division I to a bowl team. He could have had the Rutgers job after Greg Schiano left for the Bucs but turned it down. It seems like the Miami native doesn’t want to leave the Sunshine State.
Kirby Smart (6/1) would be a coup for Long. The Alabama defensive coordinator reportedly turned down the Tennessee job, but he knows the SEC as well as anyone. But does he really want to go up against Saban once a year on the field and also in recruiting?
I would love Gary Patterson (10/1) for this gig if TCU hadn’t just joined the Big 12. Otherwise I would consider him the favorite.
The two other betting options are Louisville Coach Charlie Strong (15/1) and former Arkansas player Jimmy Johnson (20/1). Strong is from Arkansas but really hasn’t done quite enough yet at Louisville to warrant a move to the SEC, although he certainly knows the conference from his Florida days. Johnson obviously would be a grand slam hire for Long, but he’s not leaving the Florida Keys for a college job – Johnson could have almost any NFL job he wanted but loves his freedom. He won’t coach again.
I think McGee will be the choice. Knile Davis already had said he thinks McGee would be the best guy for the job because he knows the offense. And reportedly McGee already has been contacted. It would be basically a seamless transition and UAB couldn’t possibly blame the guy for an upward move. I know I said the Hogs wouldn’t hire a guy who just took another job like Malzahn, but in that case Arkansas would be stealing from its little brother. Here there wouldn’t be any backlash.
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