Coaching Search Under Way

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Thursday he has no specific timetable for finding a replacement for fired defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.

But the seventh-year coach said he already has been in contact with a few candidates on his wish list.

Nutt didn't mention specifics, but talked about the beginning of his coaching search and the details behind his decision to dismiss Wommack. He has seven to 10 coaches on his short list of candidates and said most of them are still involved with NFL or college football programs.

"The ones that I'm talking to or trying to talk to are in bowls, in playoffs," Nutt said. "It's just really hard. I've talked to a few (coaches). But most of the time, it's, 'Let me get out of the bowl. Let me get out of this. Let me finish that. It's a recruiting weekend.' The timing is never good."

Nutt declined to disclose specific characteristics of what he's looking for in a defensive coordinator and didn't mention names. But coaches he reportedly has shown interest in include Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers coach Joe Barry, Miami Dolphins nickel package and former Arkansas assistant Bill Lewis, Florida defensive coordinator and Arkansas native Charlie Strong, Houston Texans secondary coach John Hoke and Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.

Barry told The Tampa Tribune on Thursday afternoon that he was flattered by Nutt's interest, but is hoping to become a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

Lewis issued a statement through the Dolphins public relations staff saying, "there has been no contact. There has been no interest. That's a false rumor."

Nutt has spoken to Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles about getting additional financial support to help lure defensive coordinators to Fayetteville. He plans to speak with candidates on the road in the coming weeks after receiving permission from their current bosses.

"There's no way to say (a hire) is going to come in two weeks, one week," Nutt said. "I don't know that. My timetable is, there is no timetable.

"My timetable right now is recruiting and working our (returning players) out."

Nutt described his decision to fire Wommack on Tuesday as one of the most difficult and emotional experiences of his tenure. He said Wommack was a "class act" and admitted he felt pressure to make staff changes.

"If you look at the world we're in now and the expectations are so high, change was necessary at this time because there's such an outcry from your ticket holders, from your donors that don't accept 5-6," Nutt said. "To say that's all Dave Wommack's fault, that's not true. That's not what we're saying. I'm not saying that.

"I just felt like there's a change needed. A little different philosophy at this time was needed to change our direction of where we're going."

Nutt met with Broyles for his annual evaluation after Arkansas' season-ending, 43-14 loss to No. 14 LSU last Friday. Nutt said his one-hour meeting with Broyles on Tuesday was a private conversation and declined to mention specifics.

He fired Wommack a few hours later during an emotional meeting.

"I don't feel good at all because I've never experienced this since I've been here," Nutt said after Arkansas missed postseason play for the first time in his tenure. "Not practicing our team, not getting ready and looking forward to an opponent.

"It all has been a downer to me. I didn't feel good because I feel like I let the state down. You let your players down. So it's not a good feeling."

He believed Wommack was one of the finest coaches he has ever been associated with and played a big part in Arkansas' nine-win seasons in 2002 and 2003.

But Nutt said Wommack had a "short stick" this season because of the amount of experience the Razorbacks lost on defense.

Arkansas had to replace eight starters -- including influential players like linebacker Caleb Miller, safety Tony Bua and cornerback Ahmad Carroll -- and their top seven contributors in the secondary after finishing fifth in the Southeastern Conference in total defense (344 yards a game). The Razorbacks relied on youth and inexperience in 2004 and it showed when they slipped to 10th in the SEC (397.2).

"If you just look at the nature of this beast, changes have to occur," said Nutt, who referred to the recent firings of Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham. "It's the scrutiny that we're under now. I know that I can't have too many of those (5-6 seasons) or I'm next.

"They asked (former Arkansas and current Alabama assistant coach) Joe Kines one time how it feels to be (Arkansas') interim coach (in 1992). He said, 'Well, we're all interim.'"

That status could be tagged to Arkansas' current defensive assistants, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, linebackers coach Chris Vaughn and defensive backs coach Bobby Allen. Nutt is uncertain about the rest of his coaches because the defensive coordinator might be interested in bringing new faces with him to Arkansas.

All three were on the road recruiting Thursday and didn't return messages.

"There could be (more changes)," Nutt said. "It really depends on the next guy that is hired. That's what that is going to go by.

"It's tough enough with (firing) Dave Wommack. The rest of the guys, I've been with longer except coach Rocker."

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