April 1, 2012 is a day that all Razorbacks fans want to forget because on that day their quest for a SEC Championship was ruined. Bobby Petrino’s scandal, and subsequent dismissal from the university, left a gapping void that interim coach John L. Smith has been unable to fill so far this year. Arkansas has gone from BCS Title contender to maybe managing to get bowl eligible in a matter of three weeks. The Razorbacks have lost three straight games including a 52-0 home loss to SEC West rival Alabama. Even if Arkansas can turn things around it is highly doubtful that Coach Smith will return as head coach next year. So, who should Arkansas hire as their next head coach? Maybe Arkansas will steal Mike Smith from the Falcons the way they stole Petrino. Or maybe they go out there and hire Jody Sears, the interim coach at Weber State. While these are two unlikely candidates, there are several strong coaches that Arkansas should seriously consider hiring, and here is a short list of possible future Razorbacks coaches.
It was rumored that Coach Fulmer would be the next head coach at Arkansas after Petrino was fired. Sadly for Razorbacks fans it was just a rumor, but maybe the two sides can work something out in time for next year. Fulmer spent 17 years at the University of Tennessee and is one of the most accomplished coaches in SEC history. He has two SEC titles, five SEC Championship game appearances, and a SEC record of 92-34. His teams almost always finished the year nationally ranked (ranked in the AP top 25 13 of his 17 years) and he also has a National Championship. Hiring a coach with the accomplishments and accolades of Fulmer would ensure the Razorbacks stay nationally relevant, and help them as far as recruiting is concerned.
Son of former Arkansas head coach Lou Holtz, Skip Holtz was another name rumored to be in the mix for the head coaching job at Arkansas when Petrino was let go of. Holtz is familiar with the area spending his middle and high school days in Fayetteville while his dad was the head coach of the Razorbacks. Hiring Holtz would certainly rejuvenate the Razorbacks fan base and he is more than capable of getting Arkansas back to where it was when Petrino was coaching. However, there is some cause for concern with Holtz. While he does have 12 years of head coaching experience and a record of 87-64, he is struggling at South Florida going 4-11 in Big East play in his three year tenure at the school.
The one bad thing during Petrino’s tenure at Arkansas (other than the motorcycle accident) was the defense. Arkansas put up some spectacular offensive numbers during his tenure, but their defense was mediocre at best. As the old saying goes “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships,” and right now there is not a better defensive mind in college football than Kirby Smart. He has spent the last six seasons at Alabama learning (and winning) under Coach Nick Saban. In his four years as the Crimson Tides defensive coordinator, his defenses have finished in the top five nationally in total defense and scoring defense three times. Also, he is the 2009 Broyles Award winner for best coordinator in the nation. Hiring somebody with knowledge about how the Alabama program works is another plus for Smart, especially since Arkansas is 0-5 against the Saban led Crimson Tide.
If Kirby Smart is the best defensive mind in college football, Mark Stoops is not too far behind. Stoops has nine years of defensive coordinator experience, and he has spent the past three seasons at Florida State, transforming the ‘Noles defense into one of the nation’s best. The Seminoles finished last year ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in the nation in rushing defense. So far this year the Seminoles are the second best team in the nation in total defense, a credit to Stoops’ coaching ability. While Stoops does not have any head coaching experience, it would be a mistake for Arkansas to not consider hiring a coach with the resume that he has.
Few Arkansas fans knew who Todd Berry was before this season started, but they all know who he is now. His Louisiana-Monroe squad upset the Razorbacks three weeks ago and started this Arkansas free fall. Coach Berry is in his third year as the Warhawks head coach and has a record of 10-17 while there. He has ten years of coaching experience at smaller schools (Illinois State, Army, and UL Monroe) amassing a woeful 39-77 career record, but do not let the record discourage you. His team’s performance so far this year has been eye opening and he will garner significant attention this off season. Last year the Warhawks finished eighth in the nation in rushing defense and 21st in total defense, an impressive feat considering the disparity in facilities and talent UL Monroe has when compared to bigger FBS schools. All Berry needs is an opportunity to coach at a school with the resources Arkansas has and he will be able to win games.
Good luck with that one.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.
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