Examining who could replace Chad Morris at Arkansas
Arkansas fired head coach Chad Morris on Sunday after a 2-8 start to the 2019 season. Morris was hired after working as SMU’s coach from 2015-17 but went 4-18 in his 22 games in Fayetteville and did not record a victory in SEC play. Barry Lunney Jr. will serve as interim coach for the final two games of the season. Morris and his staff inherited a rebuilding project from former coach Bret Bielema, but there was very little progress over the last two seasons. The next coach will inherit similar challenges and some roster fixes will only be attained through recruiting over the next couple of years.
Who could replace Morris at Arkansas? Here are 10 names to watch in the coaching search:
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Chad Morris at Arkansas
Bill Clark, Head Coach, UAB
Clark seems entrenched at UAB, but Arkansas should at least inquire to see if he’s interested in the job. The Alabama native had spent his entire coaching career in the state at the high school level or as South Alabama’s defensive coordinator (2008-12) before taking the head-coaching job at Jacksonville State in 2013. The Gamecocks went 11-4 and earned a trip to the FCS Playoffs in Clark’s only year at the helm. UAB went 6-6 in Clark’s first season, but the program was disbanded from 2015-16. Clark rebuilt the program from scratch and guided the Blazers to a Conference USA title in 2018. UAB is 31-17 under Clark’s watch.
Eli Drinkwitz, Head Coach, Appalachian State
Drinkwitz is in his first year as Appalachian State’s coach, so he’s a longshot to get the job. The Oklahoma native has ties to the state from stints at Springdale High School and later as an assistant at Arkansas State (2012-13). Drinkwitz also spent time as an assistant at Arkansas State, Boise State and NC State before taking over in Boone prior to the 2019 season. The Mountaineers are 8-1 and have defeated two Power 5 teams in Drinkwitz’s first year.
Hugh Freeze, Head Coach, Liberty
Freeze is probably a longshot candidate, but he had a lot of success in a previous stint at Ole Miss from 2012-16. The Rebels went 39-25 over five years and played in four consecutive bowl games. Additionally, Freeze went 20-5 as a head coach at Lambuth (2008-09) and finished 10-2 at Arkansas State in 2011. Freeze is 6-4 in his first year at Liberty. There’s no question Freeze has baggage based upon his resignation from Ole Miss prior to the 2017 season. However, he’s a proven winner in the SEC and is regarded for his work in developing offenses.
Willie Fritz, Head Coach, Tulane
Fritz has won at every stop during his coaching career and has brought significant improvement to Tulane – one of the AAC’s most difficult jobs – since arriving in 2016. The Green Wave are 22-24 over the last four years and earned a bowl trip in 2018. After a 9-15 start in New Orleans, Tulane is 13-9 over the last two years with Fritz at the helm. He previously went 17-7 in two years at Georgia Southern (2014-15), 40-15 at Sam Houston State (2010-13) and 97-47 at Central Missouri (1997-09). Fritz is 176-93 overall as a head coach.
Lane Kiffin, Head Coach, FAU
Kiffin was reportedly close to becoming the head coach at Arkansas after the 2007 season. Could there be interest once again in the job? Kiffin is quietly doing an outstanding job at FAU, as he’s recorded a 23-13 record since 2007. Prior to taking over in Boca Raton, Kiffin had a successful three-year run as Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2014-16. Kiffin went 7-6 in his only season at Tennessee (2009) and finished 28-15 before his dismissal at USC during the 2013 season. However, Kiffin has a good track record in developing offenses and his overall record as a collegiate coach is 57-34.
Mike Leach, Head Coach, Washington State
Leach’s name has popped up for Power 5 openings over the last couple of years. He’s 53-45 since taking over Washington State and previously went 84-43 at Texas Tech (2000-09). Leach has previous SEC experience from a stint as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator (1997-98) and has plenty of familiarity with recruiting in the state of Texas (a key area for Arkansas). Leach is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football and would provide a needed boost of excitement for the program.
Seth Littrell, Head Coach, North Texas
Littrell is a coach on the rise since taking over at North Texas prior to the 2016 season. The Mean Green are 27-23 under Littrell’s direction and played in three consecutive bowl games (2016-18) with a chance to get eligible in 2019. Littrell is regarded for his work on the offensive side of the ball and also has stops as an assistant from Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina on his resume.
Gus Malzahn, Head Coach, Auburn
Malzahn’s name popped up in the last coaching search at Arkansas. Will that happen again or is Malzahn content at Auburn? It’s no secret the Texas native has ties to the state of Arkansas. He started his collegiate career in Fayetteville (1984-85) and worked in the state as a high school coach from 1991-05. He joined Houston Nutt’s staff at Arkansas in 2006 but left after one season. Malzahn spent two years as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator (2007-08) before taking over as Auburn’s play-caller (2009-11). Malzahn spent one year as the head coach at Arkansas State and went 9-3 during the 2012 campaign. He was hired at Auburn prior to 2013 and is 60-29 in his tenure. However, while the Tigers have experienced some highs (an appearance in the 2013 national championship), Malzahn’s seat was a little warm after a disappointing 8-5 mark in 2018.
Billy Napier, Head Coach, Louisiana
Napier has pieced together an impressive resume since his playing career ended at Furman in 2002. The Georgia native spent time as an assistant at Clemson working under Dabo Swinney (2008-10) and later at Alabama under Nick Saban (2013-16). Napier also worked at Colorado State (2012) and Arizona State (2017) before taking over as Louisiana’s head coach in 2018. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 7-7 with a Sun Belt West Division title in Napier’s debut last fall. Louisiana is 7-2 through nine games in 2019 and is favored to win the division once again.
Mike Norvell, Head Coach, Memphis
Norvell’s stock is on the rise after an 8-1 start, and he’s likely to come up in searches for any Power 5 opening this offseason. Memphis has won at least eight games in all four years of Norvell’s tenure and claimed back-to-back AAC West titles (2017-18). The Tigers are 34-15 under Norvell’s watch and finished No. 25 in the final Associated Press poll in 2017. Norvell worked as an assistant at Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State before taking over as the head coach at Memphis in 2016. He also played his college ball at Central Arkansas, so this is familiar territory for the 38-year-old coach.