Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
Well, we’ve all wondered what type of athletic director Hunter Yurachek would be.
I’m not sure if Arkansas Razorback fans actually know yet whether he made a tough but decisive decision Tuesday by firing Mike Anderson as Arkansas’ head basketball coach, or if he set a precedent for bending under pressure to boosters who will continue to push him into uncomfortable corners in the future.
At the moment, it looks like the latter to me, but, hey, I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t think Anderson would be fired.
What will ultimately tell the tale is who Yurachek is able to hire as Arkansas’ next head coach. The guy is going to have to be a winner on par with Eddie Sutton or Nolan Richardson to meet the high standard Yurachek detailed in the press release concerning Anderson’s dismissal.
“In the past eight seasons, we have won a number of games and have made appearances in both the NIT and the NCAA Tournaments,” Yurachek said according to the UA press release. “ However, in my evaluation, we have not sustained a consistent level of success against the most competitive teams in the nation to enable us to compete for SEC and NCAA Championships on an annual basis. That will continue to be the benchmark for our success throughout our athletic program.”
That’s the benchmark for candidates for the job. Only John Calapari at Kentucky has been able to win like that over the last eight years in the SEC. Billy Donovan did it at Florida before jumping into the NBA to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder. No other SEC coach has won at that level for an extended period unless you reach back to Rick Pitino or Nolan Richardson. Pitino might take the job, but I think it would be a hard pass on the other three.
Will Yurachek be able to land a whale or will he get a couple of guys like Texas Tech’s Chris Beard or Houston’s Kelvin Sampson raises, and then end up settling for an up-and-comer like what happened with the football team when whoever was running the program after Jeff Long was fired as athletic director pushed all the chips in on Gus Malzahn only to see him stay at Auburn?
What a great bait and switch that was by super agent Jimmy Sexton, dangling the Gus Bus in front of Malzahn-obsessed Arkansas boosters and then delivering SMU’s Chad Morris on a silver platter.
Morris may well end up being a very good or even great coach at Arkansas, but last season was horrible.
It should be noted that Yurachek had little to do with the hiring of Morris even though he was named A.D. hours before Morris officially accepted the Arkansas job.
So now we wait and watch to see whom Yurachek ends up hiring. If he does go with an up-and-comer, hopefully that doesn’t devolve into another Stan Heath or John Pelphrey situation.
Not only were they mediocre to poor head coaches, but they also drove Arkansas’ program into a pit. It was so bad after Heath was fired that the mess sent current Oregon coach Dana Altman running back to Creighton after a single day on the job. The program remained in a mess after Pelphrey’s tenure. Anderson whipped it into shape in a couple of years, setting up a situation where Arkansas players had a chance to achieve on the court and in the classroom.
Whoever takes over for Anderson will find a much more favorable situation after the dust settles. In fact the program is probably in the best shape internally for a new coach since Sutton took over way back in 1974. Sutton left a mess for Richardson to clean up, too.
Anderson ran a strong and ethical program. That will be a good foundation for the next coach.
While I dislike the move he made today, as a Razorback fan, I hope Yurachek hires the perfect fit for the Razorback job.
It sure would feel good in four or five years to be getting ready for a Razorback appearance in the Sweet 16, rather than wondering about another coach search or possibly a coach and an A.D. search.