The future of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is uncertain. Although Petrino sports an impressive 34-17 record in four seasons with the Razorbacks, he could be in danger of losing his job, after lying to athletic director Jeff Long about the details of his motorcycle wreck last week. Petrino did not inform Long that Jessica Dorrell – an Arkansas athletic department employee – was riding with him, despite indicating so in the police report.
Taver Johnson has been selected as Arkansas’ interim coach, but what if Bobby Petrino is fired? The Razorbacks likely won’t hire a full-time head coach until the end of the 2012 season, but it’s always interesting to ponder the possibilities.
If Bobby Petrino is fired, here are 10 coaching candidates Arkansas could target at the end of the 2012 season –
Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Even though BCS programs have attempted to lure Cristobal away from FIU, he has yet to leave Miami. Cristobal inherited an awful situation and the Golden Panthers went 1-11 in his first season (2007). However, FIU has made steady progress since then, winning 15 games over the last two years and making back-to-back bowl appearances. As a Miami native, it will take a great opportunity for Cristobal to leave the state of Florida. However, there’s no question Cristobal is ready for the opportunity to lead a BCS program.
Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois – Doeren did a nice job with Northern Illinois in his first season, leading the Huskies to the 2011 MAC Championship with an impressive 11-3 record. Doeren has made stops as an assistant at Montana, Kansas and Wisconsin and so far, has been a good hire for Northern Illinois. With just one year of head coaching experience, Doeren may be too green for the Arkansas position if it comes available at the end of the 2012 season.
Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Dykes enters his third season at Louisiana Tech with a 13-12 record, with an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. The Bulldogs return much of the core that won the WAC title last season and are expected to begin the year as the favorites to claim the conference title. Dykes has built a solid resume, making stops as an assistant at Kentucky, Texas Tech and Arizona. Inexperience is really the only concern about Dykes, as he hasn’t been a head coach at a BCS program and has only two years of head coaching experience. Dykes has Louisiana Tech on the rise and it’s only a matter of time before he jumps to a BCS program.
Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – The last name Holtz is certainly one that Arkansas’ fans are familiar with. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas from 1977-83, leading the Razorbacks to a 60-21-2 record. Skip Holtz has made stops as a head coach at Connecticut, East Carolina and South Florida and has an overall record of 85-62. The Bulls are just 13-12 under Holtz, but the team could be ready to turn the corner in 2012 with a handful of key players returning. Holtz has the reputation of running a clean program, which has to appeal to Arkansas after dealing with Petrino’s incident.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching ranks and likely won’t be with the Ragin’ Cajuns for much longer. After compiling an 86-21 record in seven years with North Alabama, Hudspeth worked as an assistant with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State from 2009-10. He inherited a Louisiana-Lafayette team that went 3-9 prior to his arrival and led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9-4 record and a victory over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. There’s very little downside to Hudspeth. He’s a proven winner at two different stops, has some experience in the SEC and is only 43 years old.
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Arkansas fans are certainly familiar with Malzahn, but would he want to return to Fayetteville? Malzahn was a successful high school coach at three stops – Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale. Houston Nutt picked Malzahn as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator for the 2006 season, but the pairing never worked. Malzahn left after one season with the Razorbacks and joined Todd Graham’s staff at Tulsa. After two years with the Golden Hurricane, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator at Auburn and helped to lead the Tigers to a national title in 2010. Malzahn is making his first stop as a head coach in 2012 with Arkansas State. After the way his first stop in Fayetteville transpired, it would not be a shock if Malzahn does not want to coach at Arkansas. However, if the job is open, the Razorbacks should do everything possible to lure Malzahn to Fayetteville.
Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Prying Rhoads away from Iowa State won’t be easy. The Iowa native has led the Cyclones to an 18-20 record and two bowl appearances through three seasons. Winning at Iowa State is not easy, but Rhoads has made the Cyclones a tough out each and every week in Big 12 play. In addition to his experience at Iowa State, Rhoads has worked as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Auburn.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart’s name has been circulated on many coaching lists over the last two years, but he has decided to remain in Tuscaloosa. Smart has no head coaching experience, but has worked as an assistant at LSU, Georgia and with the Miami Dolphins. He has also served under college football’s top coach (Nick Saban) for the last five years. Although Smart will get his chance to run a BCS program, the lack of success by Saban assistants Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley could work against him.
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Strong may not be a perfect fit at Arkansas, but he’s pretty close. He was born in Batesville, Ark., and played at Central Arkansas. Strong also has SEC coaching experience, making stops as an assistant at Ole Miss, Florida and South Carolina. Although Strong’s record is just 14-12 in two years with Louisville, the program was in bad shape when he arrived, and Louisville is expected to be the frontrunner for the Big East title in 2012. If the Arkansas job opens up, Strong will probably be near the top of the wish list.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Just like fellow Sun Belt coaches Mark Hudspeth and Mario Cristobal, Taggart did not inherit a good situation. However, in just two years, he has turned the Hilltoppers into a Sun Belt title contender. After going 2-10 in Taggart’s first year, Western Kentucky rebounded with a 7-5 record and finished second in the Sun Belt standings. Taggart worked for three seasons (2007-09) under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and is one of college football’s youngest head coaches.
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter)
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