20 Coaches to Replace John L. Smith at Arkansas

Who will replace John L. Smith at Arkansas?

John L. Smith inherited a difficult situation when he was named Arkansas' head coach in April. After Bobby Petrino was fired, the Razorbacks had an uphill battle to reach preseason expectations. Smith finished his only season at Arkansas' head coach with a 4-8 mark and as expected, the school announced he would not return for 2013. 

20 Coaching Candidates to Replace John L. Smith at Arkansas

Art Briles, head coach, Baylor – Briles is a good example of why records are overrated when judging coaches. In five years at Baylor, his record is just 31-30. However, considering the lack of success before he arrived in Waco, it’s clear Briles is one of the Big 12’s top coaches. Before his five-year stint at Baylor, Briles went 34-28 at Houston. The Texas native has elevated Baylor to three consecutive bowls and has paved the way for a new stadium to open in Waco in 2014. Briles has plenty of recruiting connections in Texas, which is certainly appealing to Arkansas.

Butch Davis, former North Carolina head coach – Despite the messy end to his tenure at North Carolina, Davis’ name has popped up in the Arkansas coaching search. Davis graduated from Arkansas and has experience in the NFL with stops with the Cowboys and Browns. The Oklahoma native went 51-20 in six seasons as a head coach at Miami and went 28-23 in four years with North Carolina. Davis’ ties to the area and ability to recruit have to be intriguing but NCAA sanctions from his last stop have to give Arkansas plenty of concern.

Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois – Doeren doesn’t have any SEC coaching experience but has been a successful hire in just two years at Northern Illinois. The Kansas native is 22-4 seasons with the Huskies and has experience from prior stops at Montana, Kansas and Wisconsin. Doeren would be an odd fit at Arkansas but certainly knows how to coach.

Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Considering how important it is for Arkansas to recruit the state of Texas, Dykes has to be high on the list for athletic director Jeff Long. Dykes graduated from Texas Tech and worked as an assistant there from 2000-06. He also served as Mike Stoops’ offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09, before taking over at Louisiana Tech in 2010. In three years with the Bulldogs, Dykes has a 22-15 record and has played a role in helping to coordinate the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense.

Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin is a rising star in the coaching ranks and figures to make a jump for a head coaching vacancy soon. The former Boise State quarterback worked with the Broncos from 2001-2010 as an assistant, before leaving to take over as Texas’ offensive coordinator in 2011. Harsin doesn’t have head coaching experience but ran one of the nation’s top offenses at Boise State and has brought improvement to the Longhorns’ attack.

Darrell Hazell, head coach, Kent State – Just like Dave Doeren, Hazell has no experience in the SEC or any ties to Texas. However, that shouldn’t prevent Hazell from getting into the mix at Arkansas. In two years with Kent State, the New Jersey native is 16-8 and led the Golden Flashes to a MAC East title in 2012. Hazell also has a solid resume from stops as an assistant at Western Michigan, Army, West Virginia, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth has quietly led Louisiana-Lafayette to back-to-back bowl games and has a 16-8 mark in two seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns. Before his current job, Hudspeth was 66-21 in seven years as the head coach at North Alabama. The Mississippi native has some SEC experience, working for two seasons under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Although Hudspeth isn’t a big-name hire, he has what it takes to lead a SEC program.

Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre has done a terrific job in just three years at San Jose State. Under his watch, the Spartans improved from 1-12 in 2010 to 10-2 and a likely bowl appearance in 2012. San Jose State is MacIntyre’s first head coaching gig, but he has experience as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Jets and Cowboys.

Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Malzahn is a name familiar around the state of Arkansas and is due for a shot at a BCS program. However, is it too early for him to take over in Fayetteville? Malzahn coached at Shiloh Christian and Springdale High Schools and spent 2006 as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. After leaving Fayetteville after one season, the Texas native made stops at Tulsa and Auburn. Malzahn is 8-3 in his first season at Arkansas State and has helped the Red Wolves record one of the Sun Belt’s top offenses.

Garrick McGee, head coach, UAB – Had McGee not left for UAB, it’s likely he would have been named head coach after Bobby Petrino’s departure. Would Arkansas be interested in McGee now or should the school get a clean break from the Petrino era? McGee went 3-9 in his first season at UAB, which was no surprise considering the Blazers were picked near the bottom of Conference USA. Despite the lackluster season, McGee is still considered a rising star in the non-BCS ranks.

Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – Monken has no head coaching experience but has helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. Before coming to Oklahoma State, the Illinois native made stops as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech and LSU. Monken is a longshot but his work with Oklahoma State suggests he is ready to become a head coach.

Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris has no head coaching experience but is one of the hottest names for open vacancies this offseason. Considering Arkansas needs to heavily recruit Texas, Morris’ ties from high school stops at Eustace Independent, Elysian Field, Bay City, Stephenville and Lake Travis have to be appealing. While a lack of head coaching experience is a negative, the Texas native is one of the brightest offensive minds in college football.

Bo Pelini, head coach, Nebraska – Pelini has a good job at Nebraska, but his name has popped up in the rumor mill for Arkansas over the last few weeks. The Ohio native is 49-18 in five seasons in Lincoln, including a Legends Division title in 2012. Pelini has experience in the SEC, coaching at LSU as the defensive coordinator from 2005-07. It may be a minor factor, but Pelini is no longer working under the same athletic director that hired him at Nebraska. 

Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – As an Iowa native, Rhoads is really in no hurry to leave Iowa State. However, he is someone that Arkansas should at least inquire about. Rhoads has a solid resume from his stops as an assistant, working as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2000-07 and Auburn in 2008. Iowa State is a difficult job, but Rhoads has led the Cyclones to three bowl games in four seasons.

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses.

Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart is regarded as one of the nation’s top assistants, working with Nick Saban to coordinate the Alabama defense. Smart is no stranger to life in the SEC, as he played at Georgia and served as an assistant at LSU and Georgia. Just like some other names on this list, the Alabama native has no head coaching experience.

Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops is a rising star in the assistant ranks and is rumored to be in the mix for the Kentucky vacancy. The Ohio native has stops as an assistant at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami and Arizona. In three seasons at Florida State’s coordinator, he has helped to resurrect the Seminoles’ defense back into one of the nation’s best. The only knock on Stoops is a lack of head coaching experience.

Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Although geographical ties are sometimes overrated in coaching searches, Strong is an Arkansas native and played at Central Arkansas. In addition to his ties to the state, Strong has SEC experience from stops at Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina. After going 4-8 in the year prior to his arrival, Louisville went 14-12 from 2010-11 and is on the cusp of a Big East title in 2012. Strong also has strong recruiting ties to Florida.

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart’s stock cooled some after the Hilltoppers lost three consecutive games in November. However, Western Kentucky rebounded to win the season finale against North Texas to finish 7-5, which gives the Hilltoppers back-to-back winning records for the first time since 2006-07. Although Western Kentucky struggled at the end of the year, Taggart is ready for a shot to lead a BCS program.

Tommy Tuberville, head coach, Texas Tech – Tuberville is a name familiar with many around the SEC. He went 25-20 in four seasons at Ole Miss from 1995-98 and 85-40 from 1999-2008 at Auburn. Tuberville is 20-17 in three seasons at Texas Tech and has the Red Raiders back in a bowl after a disappointing 2010 campaign. Tuberville is also an Arkansas native and his time in Lubbock should have helped to build high school connections in Texas – a key state for Arkansas in recruiting.


Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Cristobal led FIU to back-to-back bowl games from 2010-11 but the Golden Panthers slipped to a 3-9 mark in 2012. Cristobal also prefers to stay in Florida.

Jon Gruden, former NFL head coach – Gruden’s name has popped up in a couple of coaching searches but has a pretty good job as a Monday Night Football analyst on ESPN. However, if Gruden is interested in coaching again, he seems more likely to land in the NFL or with the Tennessee Volunteers.

Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State – The rumor mill has placed Gundy’s name in coaching searches at Arkansas and Tennessee in recent weeks. However, would he really leave Stillwater? As a former quarterback at Oklahoma State, it would take a lot for Gundy to jump at another job.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi is an excellent defensive coordinator but would be an odd fit at Arkansas. He has no ties to the SEC and could be more interested in any open vacancies around the Big Ten.

Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU – Just like Chris Petersen, Patterson’s name always comes up with SEC or Big 12 jobs. However, Patterson has elevated TCU from a non-BCS conference to the Big 12 and has a newly renovated stadium in Fort Worth. Bottom line: Patterson isn’t leaving TCU.

Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Petersen’s name is always tossed around with any BCS opening. However, it would take a perfect situation for him to leave Boise State and that’s likely to be a job on the West Coast.  

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