Wommack Firing Out Of Bounds

FAYETTEVILLE -What do you get when you rub two coaches (especially when one is an athletic director) together?

Apparently, a firing.

It's all the rage these days as fires are spreading across NCAA football fields all over the country.

Tyrone Willingham was burned at Notre Dame's stake on Tuesday, well after Florida's Ron Zook, East Carolina's John Thompson (the former Arkansas defensive coordinator), Stanford's Buddy Teevens and San Jose's Fitz Hill (another former UA assistant) were smoked.

On Wednesday, Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe was fired because he refused to sacrifice some of his assistants.

But let's get closer to home.

We've all heard - as, unfortunately, have his wife, Leslie, 17-year-old son, Kane, and 14-year-old daughter, Hayley - that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack would soon be roasted for the Hogs' 5-6 season.

That happened Tuesday and the case of arson finally came to light on Wednesday, when Arkansas officially joined the rest of those firing squads.

Here's the sequence:

• Arkansas is smashed, 43-14, by No. 14 LSU on Friday.

• Asked about his staff on Sunday, Nutt refuses to speculate until after his seventh-annual meeting with Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles.

• Nutt and Broyles meet for "about 45 minutes" on Tuesday morning. Broyles says any staff changes are totally up to Nutt.

• By 1:30 on Tuesday, Nutt meets with Wommack in the Hogs' defensive team meeting room, dismissing him emotionally.

This doesn't add up to a Nutt decision. You do the math. Nutt still hasn't commented on the record, which he should soon do. You can read into that as easily as we.

So there in the interview room of the bottom floor of Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday afternoon was a red-eyed Wommack, head up, dressed appropriately in black.

"Hey, it's hard to find anything not Razorback in my closet!" he said.

No doubt, he's taking this like a man, much better than most of us would.

Wommack said he was "disappointed," but not shocked at his firing because he knew better than anyone his defense had to get better. But he also knew he wasn't playing on a level field.

Wommack wouldn't speculate on whether his firing was the decision of Nutt or Broyles. He doesn't know what he'll do now, or if other UA assistants will follow in his wake.

It was impressive, sad and sickening.

Anyone who expected great things from Arkansas this season was smoking too many corn shucks. One of the biggest parts of Nutt's renegotiations last January while being courted by Nebraska centered on his stability and control as the Arkansas cupboard was awful bare following NCAA sanctions and junior defections to the NFL.

The insane pressure seemed finally to be off Nutt as his demeanor (on the sideline and behind closed doors), clear eyes and play-calls illustrated.

So if Nutt got a free pass as far as great expectations go, why in the name of the burning bush would his assistants not gain the same grace?

Sure, Arkansas' defense often stank. The Hogs ranked eighth of 12 Southeastern Conference teams in scoring defense at 24.5 points per game (season before, they yielded 23.5). At 397.2 yards per game, the Hogs' total defense ranked 10th (344.0 in 2003). Passing defense? Not so good, either. Eleventh at 216.9 ypg (187.0 in 2003). Against the rush, Arkansas was eighth at 180.3 ypg (157.0 in 2003).

Only these two important areas showed improvement: The Hogs had 16 sacks, compared to 11 the season prior, and Arkansas led the SEC in fourth-down conversion defense as opponents converted just 2 of 9 attempts (22.2 percent). Season before, opponents hit on 12 of 25 tries (48 percent).

But, like all other sports, football is more than just a numbers game. Bottom lines shouldn't be drawn without evaluating what one has to work with.

Wommack, 48, had just three starters back this season and lost NFL linebackers Tony Bua (Dolphins) and Caleb Miller (Bengals) as well as junior cornerback Ahmad Carroll (Packers; and did you see his impact Monday night?).

Try losing your top salesmen while retaining your numbers.

True freshmen and first-year transfers were tossed into the mix out of sheer necessity and that brand-new secondary was, not surprisingly, consistently burned.

Big deal.

We knew that was coming.

Now speculation swirls on who else is going. We won't name names here (don't want to give the rumors credence), but you've probably heard them, too. If some of those are who we've heard, and they are punted, Arkansas is making another terrible call.

No need to build a bonfire here.

Which brings us to, Whose decision is all this, anyway? Broyles continues to insist any staff changes - i.e. reassignments or firings - are up to Nutt.

It's hard to imagine Nutt pulling the trigger on Wommack. And it's hard to imagine Nutt won't be disgusted with the aftermath, and even he will have a tough time glossing over it with enthusiasm.

Ken Hatfield, Arkansas' all-time winningest coach, left after Broyles pressured him to fire assistants.

Nothing learned, nothing gained.

Wommack has deep roots here and it was wrong to pull them.

A Reed Springs, Mo., native, Wommack played center at Missouri Southern before earning a master's degree at Arkansas in 1979, when he also served as a graduate assistant here. He was a part-time UA assistant from 1980-82 before taking over Missouri's defensive line. In 1985, he was the defensive coordinator at Bemidji (Minn.) State, where his group ranked third in Division II total defense.

Wommack was defensive coordinator for former Arkansas assistant Jesse Branch at Southwest Missouri State from 1986-91 and the Bears won back-to-back conference titles. In 1989, SMS set a school record with 10 wins.

He also served as defensive coordinator at UNLV (1992-93). At Southern Mississippi (1994-2000), Wommack worked his way up to defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, sculpting one of the nation's best defenses before joining Nutt's staff as the secondary coach in 2001.

He's been the defensive coordinator here since 2002 and few complained before now.

It was wrong for Wommack to be on the hot seat for the 5-6 finish.

And it was an absolute injustice for him to be sacrificed for it.

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