Auburn head football coach Guz Malzahn / Photo by Wade Rackley, Auburn Athletics
How long can Arkansas wait?
It’s clear Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is, was, and has been the target for Arkansas Razorbacks head coaching search.
Heck, he was the target well before there was ever a vacancy. The Arkansas Board of Trustees didn’t force the firing of Jeff Long from Arkansas’ athletics director’s post just to make way for Malzahn, but it was part of the equation.
Long probably would have fired Bret Bielema as Arkansas’ head coach on his own. The way the season played out, he really wouldn’t have had an option, but boosters and the Board of Trustees wanted it to be an election sure. They also wanted Long out of the way for the hiring of the Hogs’ next coach.
So, those doing the coaching search behind the scenes — interim AD Julie Cromer Peoples, a search firm, and unnamed others — have spent the week putting together a Plan B, while waiting for Gus.
So again, how long can Arkansas wait?
If Alabama had beaten the Tigers last Saturday in the Iron Bowl, Malzahn probably would already be Arkansas’ coach. That’s the conventional wisdom of those “in-the-know,” anyway.
However, Malzahn isn’t in position to make a decision on whether he wants to remain on The Plains or reside On the Hill because his Auburn football team is just too doggone good.
The Tigers are so good that tomorrow’s SEC Championship Game against Georgia in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is seen by many as just a stepping stone to the College Football Playoffs and Championship for Auburn.
With the way the Tigers have played over the last month, manhandling Georgia and Alabama, at Jordan-Hare Stadium, they should be the favorite to win it all in my estimation.
Clemson is rated ahead of Auburn because Dabo Swinney’s team beat Malzahn’s squad way back in September. Auburn is a much better football team now with 12 starts under the belt of quarterback Jared Stidham and a ferocious defense that came into full during the month of November.
I may be dead wrong, but I think Auburn wins the SEC Championship Game Saturday, even though the Tigers are shorthanded at running back.
We Arkies know first hand how well Malzahn can focus and how well he coaches under pressure. He did it as the Hogs’ offensive coordinator in 2006 until the keys were totally taken away from him by head coach Houston Nutt late that season.
Yes, Arkansas lost badly to a supremely talented Southern Cal squad running Malzahn’s hurry up no-huddle offense, and it did take a few games for the offense to mesh under the stipulations Nutt gave him, but the Razorbacks won 10 straight games before others reasserted control of the offense.
Arkansas lost their last three games of the season to Les Miles and LSU, Urban Meyer and Florida, and Bret Bielema and Wisconsin with Malzahn hogtied by his head coach and quarterback Mitch Mustain riding the pine.
Arkansas had an offensive staff meeting during the bowl practices that Malzahn knew nothing about, according to a source.
It’s no wonder he opted to take a step down to become Tulsa’s offensive coordinator so that he could do the job he was paid to do.
Some would argue that stepping away from Auburn to become Arkansas State’s head coach was a step down, too. Malzahn did that so he could call his own shots and not go down with former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik’s ship the next season. It was a calculated and shrewd move.
Certainly Arkansas State fans would have liked to have had Malzahn as its coach for longer, but the Red Wolves went 9-3 and earned a bowl appearance before Auburn hired him away as head coach.
All that reminiscing was to make the point that Malzahn has a history of exiting what appeared to be better situations from the outside for an opportunity that better fits his personal needs and desires.
Malzahn’s time with the Tigers has been up and down. When he’s had a better-than-average quarterback, Auburn has been very good, even playing for the national title in his first season. When the Tigers have been average or worse at QB, the Tigers have been down by their standards.
Rumors say that Malzahn and his family weren’t feeling appreciated by Auburn prior to the Tigers’ upsets of Georgia and Alabama last month. They wanted more stable and secure support from the Auburn boosters and fans, who are notoriously fickle. They are giddy now after the victory over the Crimson Tide, but that high likely won’t survive the next loss.
Who knows if those ill feelings are still present among the Malzahns or if they matter as much after Auburn’s recent successes? Those feelings might be gone, or they might be there even if the Tigers win tomorrow’s SEC Championship Game, maybe even if the Tigers go on to the playoffs and the national title game.
But, how long can Arkansas wait?
Most feel the Razorbacks have to punt on Plan A if the Tigers beat Georgia for the SEC title tomorrow. That is logical. It didn’t hurt to wait a week because several of the other suspected candidates for the Arkansas job have games tomorrow, too.
With the Dec. 20-22 early national signing period looming, it would behoove the Razorbacks to have a coach in place as swiftly as possible. Two evaluation weekends will already be gone even if the Hogs have a coach in place by Monday.
So how long can Arkansas wait?
Can the Razorbacks wait as long as Alabama did to get Nick Saban?
When Alabama was courting Nick Saban back in 2006 and early 2007, the then Miami Dolphins head coach told the Crimson Tide “no” a number of times before he finally said “yes” when the NFL season was over.
While Alabama waited, their brass looked foolish and inept as all the other coaching vacancies were filled, but Alabama knew who it wanted for its next coach and the Crimson Tide waited until he said yes. The payoff for Alabama has been more than worth the wait.
Now, Arkansas isn’t Alabama, and frankly Malzahn hasn’t proven to be the coach that Saban had back in 2006, either. There also wasn’t a December signing period in 2006. This is the first year for that.
But while we are all waiting on Gus, this kind of stuff is interesting to think about.
There are some who firmly believe Malzahn will accept the Arkansas job no matter what, just at the right time.
But will the right time for Gus be too late for the Razorbacks?