The University of Arkansas has come to the conclusion that most observers already knew, which is that the Chad Morris experiment was not the answer to Arkansas football woes.Focus is now turning to the future for the fans and for the people making the decisions in Fayetteville. After two disastrous hires, the University of Arkansas Athletic Department must get this hire correct.
All of the early names that have been brought up by observers are interesting and these all require a look. A few of the names will be familiar to many of the fans that follow college football while others may not be as well known.
The first name that the Arkansas head coach job vacancy is always connected to in recent years is former Springdale High School coach Gus Malzahn. Malzahn seems to be someone Arkansas boosters are always attempting to bring back to Northwest Arkansas. Malzahn has been successful everywhere he has been from high school to the college game. The Auburn head coach currently has a record of 69-32 in his career. For many Auburn fans, they would have no problem with him leaving the Plains, but the buyout Malzahn would have to pay might be a little steep for him to leave the Plains just yet.
Lane Kiffin is the son of legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and should be considered a candidate for the Arkansas vacancy. Kiffin has seen time in the NFL as coach for the Oakland Raiders and in the NCAA as head coach at Tennessee and USC. Kiffin is currently at Florida Atlantic and has them setting at 7-3 on the season. Kiffin has expressed some interest in the Arkansas position and would be an intriguing hire. Kiffin's teams are noted for having explosive offenses and his coming to Fayetteville would give Arkansas' offense some much needed punch.
The problem with being a team that has not been performing up to expectations is that you have plenty of coaches being connected to the job that may be able to turn things around. This time, however, Arkansas has to find the one coach that can turn things around. Memphis head coach Mike Norvell is another coach that has caught the attention of Arkansas fans. Norvell has led the Tigers to an 8-1 record on the season and has continued to experience success in Memphis. Norvell, quite possibly, has the highest ceiling of any of the coaches that this article will examine. Norvell has ascended the coaching ladder rather quickly after starting out as a graduate assistant at the University of Central Arkansas. Norvell has an advantage of being familiar with the state and knowing just how important the Razorbacks are to the rest of the state. The next coach must be able to recruit Arkansas talent and has to understand that Arkansas lives and breathes Razorback football.
I would be amiss if I did not mention the Pirate, Mike Leach. Coach Leach has done absolutely amazing things at Texas Tech and at Washington State. Leach is one of the architects of the Air Raid offense and is one of the most unique coaches in college football. Leach has essentially rebuilt two programs and has a record of 137-88. Leach has been interested in the Arkansas job several times over the years and it would not shock me for him to express interest in the position this time. Whatever fabricated controversy; that has followed Leach is ridiculous. Much like the mythical Phoenix bird, Leach has risen not one, but two, college football programs from the ashes. The man knows how to win football games, period.
The fact of the matter is Arkansas has to get this hire right. The administration knows this hire will determine whether or not Hunter Yurachek is still here two or three years down the road. I have always been of the attitude that is much easier to replace athletic directors than it is head coaches. Arkansas has had a series of missteps recently and the football program is currently in the ditch. We could argue all day as to why, but the point is the football program is off the road and in the ditch. It is now Yurachek's responsibility to pull Arkansas football out of the ditch. That will be no easy task, but you have to start before you can finish. And it all starts with hiring the right coach.