Lining Up The Candidates

Coaching search expert Pete Roussel was the speaker at Wednesday's Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club and seems certain that Arkansas is now a top 15 job nationally and will land a great coach some four to five weeks from now.

Arkansas's football head coaching job is a top 15 spot nationally and should have a head coach in the next four to five weeks.

That was the assessment of Pete Roussel, the founder of CEO of Coach Search Consulting, Inc., who was the guest speaker Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club.

"You have got to make sure you have the right guy at the right time and he is going to mesh well with the community as well," Roussel said. "…If you can get a guy that can rally people together and win and smile at the same time, that's the home run. That's what athletic directors are trying to find – who is that next guy."

Roussel – a former assistant coach at Stanford, Ole Miss, Memphis and Samford – also runs, which puts him in a prime position to know what is going on in the college football world.

"There is no pro team in this state, you have a chance to uplift a lot of people, you got a chance to be the face of the University and uplift not only the Fayetteville community and the University of Arkansas, but the entire state and the fan base," Roussel said. "I absolutely think that when you combine that with the resources and the facilities that they are building right now, (Arkansas) is a top 15 job in the country."

Roussel shared his thoughts before and after the speech on several candidates such as Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville, TCU's Gary Patterson, Boise State's Chris Petersen, Vanderbilt's James Franklin, Lousiville's Charlie Strong and up-and-comers such as Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart, Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes and San Jose State's Mike MacIntrye.

"They could go in a bunch of different directions," Roussel said, "whether they choose to talk to a experienced head coach like Tommy Tuberville, an up-and-coming head coach like Willie Taggart of Western Kentucky. Or do they go the coordinator route to a guy like (Texas defensive coordinator) Manny Diaz?"

The one thing he is sure of is that Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long will have is plenty of options and thinks the support of the AD is a big factor in that.

"An athletic director like Jeff Long is an enabler, he doesn't say no to his head coach very often – if ever – and that is very, very important for any head coach," Roussel said. "That is very important for any head coach – is the athletic director on our side? Is he doing everything to allow us to be successful?

"The guys that I have talked to on this current (Arkansas) staff and the guys who have been on this staff and have left, they all speak the world of Jeff Long," Roussel added. "I think that is really, really important and that's what head coaches really want to know."

Roussel believes Long is looking to hire a guy with head coaching experience to replace John L. Smith, who was hired on a 10-month contract for this season after Bobby Petrino was fired in April.

"I think he is probably focused on ‘let's get a guy who has done it before' but you never know," Roussel said. "He did talk to (then Auburn defensive coordinator) Will Muschamp before hiring Bobby Petrino so it's not like that is out of the realm.

"So he could go a bunch of different routes, but four to five weeks from now, they are going to have a new head coach here at the University of Arkansas and this fan base is ready to rally behind whoever it is," Roussel said.

One reason Roussel expects a good coach at Arkansas is that Long has had since April to do background on coaching candidates.

"I think Jeff Long is going to do a great job throughout the process," Roussel said. "He has had so much time to research candidates, to listen to the agents, to anybody that is selling their client – whether it is a head coach that is sending a head coaching manual to Jeff Long to allow him to see what this coach is all about and what he could do for the University of Arkansas or an agent.

"I just think four or five weeks from now, Arkansas is going to have a new head coach and everybody is going to be happy," Roussel continued.

He also does not think that Petrino will have a head coaching job next season.

"I just think that the athletic directors around the country respect the decision that Jeff Long made," Roussel said. "I think they may look back on what Jeff Long did and I think it is going to be another year before he is a head coach again. I don't think that Bobby Petrino this off-season will get a Division I head coaching job."

Like many other national pundits have said, Arkansas is not going to land current Monday Night football analyst Jon Gruden, the former Tampa Bay and Oakland NFL coach per Roussel.

"It is amazing Jon Gruden – according to all kinds of inside sources at several universities – has been spotted on campus recently," Roussel said jokingly.

"I do think he is going to be an NFL coach and he is going to get back in this year," Roussel added. "I think if you really watched that Monday night football game a couple of weeks ago – Denver versus the Chargers – he was ready to coach that night. He was so intense, speaking that coaching lingo. I think he is going to get back in, but it will be in the National Football League."

Roussel does believes that Tuberville, the current Texas Tech and former Auburn head coach, is a very legitimate candidate and that the Arkansas native is certainly a fit.

"You look at Tommy Tuberville and if the Arkansas job is offered, he is going to take it," Roussel said. "There is no question about it. It's the opportunity at Arkansas to get back into the SEC. He has already won in the SEC. He knows how to beat Nick Saban, he knows how to beat Les Miles and that is something they haven't been able to do at Arkansas. He is a terrific recruiter and he is also one of the smartest coaches in the country at putting a team together. They have always had great team unity and great staff chemistry.

"I feel right now that he has his best staff in his three years at Texas Tech," Roussel said. "He brought in (former Baylor head coach) Art Kauffman to run his defense and reunited Art with John Lovett as his defensive backs coach. Those are two guys with SEC experience.

"I think the big decision if Tommy Tuberville gets the Arkansas job is if he brings (offensive coordinator) Neal Brown and continues to run the spread at Arkansas or would bring it back in, play ball control and become a defensive team – more of what he was known for as a head coach at Auburn," Roussel added.

Here are Roussel's assessments of some of the other candidates for the job: • Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy:

""There is a lot of talk right now about Mike Gundy. Is he really happy with his athletic director? I just talked about how important that is. I don't know specifics, but it seems from the outset that he might not be as happy with his athletic director as some other head coaches around the country.

"There are two kinds of coaches – those that have been fired and those that will be fired. I don't think Mike Gundy ever wants to be in a position – whether it is eight years from now or 12 years from now – to be fired from your alma mater.

"There is another great saying in coaching that if you go 10 years at a place, it is time to move. Mike Gundy has had a lot of success. Is Oklahoma State as high as it can go? Maybe so. Does he keep his ears open? I think he probably does. I don't think he is going to try and get leverage on Oklahoma State, but if an offer from Arkansas comes, I think he certainly has to consider it."

• • •

TCU head coach Gary Patterson and Boise State head coach Chris Petersen:

"I think that will be really, really tough.

"Gary Patterson was very influential and instrumental in raising a ton of money to rebuild that stadium at TCU. When you do something like that and become really invested and have ownership in the program, I think it would take a big offer to get Gary Patterson's attention. Maybe Jeff Long has those resources, but it might be where he has to do something really, really big to get a guy like Gary Patterson.

"As far as Chris Petersen, I think if there was ever a year when he was going to leave Boise State, it would have been a year ago. The name of the game is players. He loses Kellen Moore, he loses four or five assistant coaches and that was back-to-back years where he lost offensive coordinators…He had all the reasons in the world last year if he wanted to leave, to leave. He could have gotten a number of jobs, but I think at the end of the day, Chris Petersen is going to be at Boise State four or five months from now."

• • •

• Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin:

"I think he has started a trend. He has done a great job of rallying that city of Nashville and even that region of Tennessee and kind of eying the Alabama program. You have to give him a lot of credit. But you also have to keep in mind that he went 6-7 a year ago. It is not like the guy went 9-3.

"There is a lot of optimism and reasons to believe in the guy and I think he is doing a great job, but you don't take a guy that is just a great marketer, but can't win. The fine art is kind you get both."

• • •

• Louisville head coach Charlie Strong:

"I just think that Charlie Strong is going to end up at Louisville. He really likes his athletic director Tom Jurich, who made a really interesting statement a couple of weeks ago when he said if somebody were to come after Charlie, we are going to try to make him the highest paid coach in the country. You lose a lot of leverage when you say something like that.

"Charlie has done a good job this year at Louisville," Roussel added. "He probably has not had the toughest schedule, but he has done all he can do. He is undefeated right now. His name may surface at a couple of places, but I think three or four months from now when this coaching carousel ends and we pretty much put a wrap on it that Charlie Strong is going to be the head coach at Louisville."

• • •

• Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart:

"He falls under the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree. He served as Harbaugh's running backs coach at Stanford, where they had a lot of success. I think all these athletic directors are starting to see that there is something really special about this guy Jim Harbaugh. He is obviously one of the best coaches in football and Willie Taggart has worked underneath him.

"Not only that, but he has really elevated the program at Western Kentucky. He has held that hat before where he has actually had to be the guy and he's done it. You couple that with the fact that he has a really, really good brand. He does it smiling, he does it in a positive way. They know exactly who they are offensively. They have that Stanford identity…I don't know if that is going to be the first target, but a Willie Taggart is certainly going to have opportunities this off-season at a number of places."

• • •

Louisiana head coach Sonny Dykes:

"You just look at what he has done at Louisiana Tech. He has really built that program off of recruiting the state of Texas, which I think is a big part of the Arkansas program and something you want to continue doing at Arkansas.

"He had a great year a year ago playing in the Poinsettia Bowl and losing to TCU, but he has followed that back up and they have a chance to be 11-1 this year. They have got to end the year at San Jose State."

• • •

San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre:

"He has done a terrific job at San Jose State – 7-2 just two years after going 1-12. He is a guy that worked for Jerry Jones (and Bill Parcells) for the Dallas Cowboys for years, has been with the New York Jets and has SEC coaching experience (with Georgia).

"He is not a geographical guy. He is not a West Coast guy. He is not an East Coast guy. He rallies people together. He is a positive guy. I don't think he would be the first target, but sometimes you don't get the first guy you are after. Maybe when all is said and done, maybe he gets in the mix. Sometimes if a coach gets an interview, there is a likability factor. I like this guy, I want him to be my guy. I trust him. Something like that could happen."

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