April 10, 2012, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorback athletic director Jeff Long speaks during a press conference at Bud Walton Arena to announce the firing of head football coach Bobby Petrino. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE
Now that Bobby Petrino is out, it's time for Arkansas to find a replacement. As this isn't the usual time of the year for a program to be doing a coaching search and, therefore, viable candidates may be limited, Arkansas AD Jeff Long isn't sure that he will hire a new coach before the season begins. He had this to say:
"It's a difficult time of year to be searching for a head football coach," said Long. "We can command a high level football coach and we are not going to compromise that. I need some time to play out the search and see where we stand."
That's true, so Long likely won't be trigger-happy. At the same time, though, this is a key season for the Razorbacks. With a talented team and a favorable schedule that includes home games against Alabama and LSU, this may be the Razorbacks' best chance yet to challenge for SEC West supremacy, if not more. Therefore, this is a big decision for Long; there is pressure for him to get a staff in place that can take advantage of the team's current strengths and lead Arkansas to a momentous season.
Of course, it may very well be that the best choice is to leave the interim staff in place, led by former LB coach Taver Johnson. Bringing in a new regime with a radically different system might undermine the team's current strengths, and regardless, it would mean a transition period. Leaving the current staff in place, which has been trained to implement Petrino's plans, might be a good way to avoid that problem, although the lack of strong leadership might have its own drawbacks.
Another good option for the Hogs might be to bring in recently hired UAB coach Garrick McGee. McGee worked for four years under Petrino as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, so he would be a likely candidate to lead the offense to a seamless transition. He's also known for being a great recruiter and could thus be a good long-term solution, although one tends to think that the Hogs would like a more experienced coach for that purpose. I would say that McGee's biggest value to the Hogs is the continuity he would provide, including the potential to help the Hogs win big this year.
The other option is for Long to think more long-term and to go for a hotter candidate, regardless of scheme. (This article presents Long's choices as basically deciding between winning big this year and creating a more stable program.) Some of the names that I've seen thrown around that might be good in that regard include Skip Holtz and Gus Malzahn, both of whom are regarded as good coaching prospects and both of whom have Arkansas ties. Arkansas may also may make a play for someone off the radar. Don't forget that the Petrino hire came out of nowhere.
As a USC fan, I'll have to admit that all I really care about is what they do in the short term. Arkansas will be off our schedule after this year, and at that point they'll be off my radar. However, they play a big role in our season this year, as they're likely, or at least they were before all of this happened, our second- or third-hardest game. Considering that we can use all the help we can get if we're to make it back to Atlanta with Georgia sitting on a soft schedule, I would be thrilled if Arkansas screws up this season somehow. After that, more power to them if they get the right guy.