State of the Hogs: Still Early

Here's a look at the Arkansas coaching search. There's some smoke and fire out there, but it looks to be early in the process.

There is not a lot concrete out there as far as the coaching search to replace Bobby Petrino as head coach at Arkansas. It's been one full week and there is no real concrete information, mainly speculation.

UA athletics director Jeff Long is conducting this alone. He is keeping things close to the vest.

I expect that it's going to be like this for a bit, too. I would guess that it's going to go into next week without clear definition.

I believe Jeff is just gathering facts and working through second parties. Hence, you will not see a clear point where a school gets asked for permission to talk to their coach. That's the way I would do it. You can get more done and don't endanger anyone's spot. It allows you to talk to more people if they feel secure. You mess up with one, you have reduced who you can talk to real fast.

I'll give you some of the highlights of the search in the form of fire and smoke. Because in some cases there is a little of that, but not much.

There is interesting smoke around Garrick McGee, but not enough for me to feel like that is about to happen. No one I've talked to in Fayetteville thinks that is close. Some even are firm that it won't happen.

I've been around too long to see some of the things that I've read today from the coaching rumor websites to believe it's completely dead. But it would surprise me a little if it was Garrick based on what was said earlier in the process.

McGee worked four years at Arkansas and was involved in much of the recruiting. He was also involved in the development of the quarterbacks on campus and all are pretty good. That's a big part of what has happened in the Petrino era - development of quarterbacks. He's good at it.

He did serve as offensive coordinator at Northwestern in the Big 10. So he's got a background of calling plays. He's good in front of a Razorback Club. He has some PR skills and is a nice prospect as a head coach. He just doesn't have the head coach background yet. He's only been head coach at Alabama-Birmingham for a few months.

It is clear that former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer has let it be known that he would take the Arkansas job and would do a formal interview. That doesn't appear the direction the school wants to go now and I doubt that changes.

Tommy Tuberville has reached out with a third party. I don't know how serious either side is in that. But there is a little smoke there, though I'm not sure how much fire. Certainly, there is enough smoke to keep Tuberville in mind.

Jon Gruden likes to flirt in the press, but I don't think there is any real fire here and very little smoke. Those close to him think he is extremely happy with his job at ESPN, almost the perfect job. He likes to break down film more than anything else and he gets to do that in this job.

Those that know him don't believe he really wants to recruit. That's a lot of work and it's the life blood of coaching in college. The smoke signals are so faint here that they break up on the horizon and are not distinguishable.

Butch Davis is available and interested. But his troubles at North Carolina would seem to be a major drawback at this point. He was not named in NCAA violations, but he hired the coaches that brought down the football program. Certainly, he was not able to manage the situation when it did unravel.

I will say that North Carolina brass didn't show a lot of support for football during that time. It was obvious that they wanted to flush Butch for fear that football put basketball in a bad situation. It's sometimes funny how things work at North Carolina.

Gary Patterson (TCU), Chris Pedersen (Boise State) and Art Briles (Baylor) have solid contracts and are happy. They are not the type of coaches that would make a move after spring practice is already done. It wouldn't appear that any of those three are the type that would move at this time of year and not take their current coaches with them.

All are in such good shape that even flirtation wouldn't be needed to improve contracts. Sometimes that's what flirtations are about. I see no smoke with any of these three.

The interim route is still a real possibility, although that's not where Jeff Long is right now. He's in a big-time search mode and trying to see exactly what could be done to make a big splash. The top options on the staff are easy to see. That would be Paul Petrino and Tim Horton. If I had to guess which way Long might go -- and it would be only a guess -- I'd say Petrino. Again, that's only a guess.

There have been no indications from anywhere that Long has made a pick. I say that because he hasn't settled that interim is the deal. So there is no smoke there, not even one little puff.

Why would you go with interim now? It would be a setback to recruiting in the short term, but if there was an indication that better candidates would be available in November, it could be a good option.

The good news is that Long has a good reputation with football coaches around the country. Football coaches know that he's helped build Arkansas football, or allow Bobby Petrino to work in a football environment. His reputation at both Pitt (with Dave Wannstedt) and at Arkansas is that Long is a friend of the football staff and gives them the tools they need to win. That is going to help in this search.

The bad news is that this is awful timing. Not many coaches want to make a move at this time. I've seen only a few times that it worked well. This is ancient history, but Jimmy Johnson left Oklahoma State in early summer for the Miami job. He was jumping ship just ahead of the NCAA investigators, so it made sense.

But generally, there aren't those kinds of reasons to make a move for solid, established coaches.

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