State of the Hogs: Malzahn

Here is the take of HI.com publisher Clay Henry on the possible move by Springdale coach Gus Malzahn to Houston Nutt's coaching staff at Arkansas.

There was a part of me that wanted to skip out of town today. Got most of my regular duties for the January magazine done. It'll print Tuesday.

Thought I might go fly fishing for a few days, come back Monday. Hopefully, by then things will have calmed. Wanted to do it, but couldn't.

I needed to write something for today's paper and felt a need to stay in town for the next chapter in the Arkansas football coaching search. Don't know that something is going to happen today, but it might and I need to be here.

I do have some thoughts on what is going on in that area. It centers on Gus Malzahn, the red-hot Springdale High head coach.

This wait all centers on Malzahn's decision to be Houston Nutt's offensive coordinator. The job is his to turn down. He has been given what he wanted, the chance to call all the plays and do it from the field. The money is right.

So what's the holdup?

Why won't Malzahn just say yes? Why won't he make us all happy? Sign on the dotted line and put the Hogs in his spread offense.

I think it's a simple thing. I think it's about doing what is best for his family. And, you have to understand that if he comes aboard at Arkansas his family life is going to be turned upside down maybe forever.

Coaching college football is a different animal than high school. I don't mean to talk down to high school coaches, or suggest they don't work hard. But it's not the same time commitment.

If he takes the offensive coordinator job at Arkansas, Malzahn's hours change and they don't just change in football season. They change in every season. He'll get some vacation time, a couple of weeks in late June.

The money will be somewhat better, but the government gets most of it anyway. And, as OC, he will earn every penny of it.

The pressure of coaching at Springdale is intense, but that's not the same as running the offense for the state's premier sports program. Saying the pressure will double doesn't do it justice. They don't talk about your every move, every play call on statewide radio and in every coffee shop from Eudora to Bentonville when you are a high school coach.

I figure Malzahn is not scared of the pressure. I figure it's the family stuff that is holding things up. It's scary. He knows it.

It's not like he doesn't have nice alternatives. He can be one of the nation's top high school coaches for the rest of his career and make good money. Look at Barry Lunney Sr., one of Malzahn's idols. He's done nicely and has a good life in Bentonville these days.

Gus can be just like Barry and enjoy his family, have plenty of down time and participate in the many areas of his daughter's life.

I've talked to many a high school coach who turned down the chance to coach at the Division I level. One of my college friends, John Outlaw, faced that decision several times over the last 15 years, first when he was at Sherman High and later at Lufkin High. He decided he was making enough as one of the premier high school coaches in Texas (one state title and he is facing the nation's No. 1 team Southlake Carroll on Saturday in the AAAAA semifinals). He turned down the bright lights of college football.

It wasn't that he didn't want the bright lights. I think John actually liked the spotlight. He didn't like the headlights staring at him on two-lane highways that he would see on late-night recruiting trips away from his family.

Ask John Thompson, former Arkansas defensive coordinator and now on Steve Spurrier's staff at South Carolina. I saw him after the Gamecocks' victory over the Hogs. He's been gone from Arkansas for five years. The grind of those years produced wrinkles that should have been the result of 20 years.

Thompson could tell Malzahn what it is like to be a coordinator in the SEC. He told me what it's done to him in about five minutes.

Softly, John whispered in my ears, "This is a tough go. Maybe it's time to play some golf, do something different, watch my kids grow up. Maybe it's time."

I nodded, hugged my friend and wished him well. That's what Gus Malzahn is debating. It is not an easy choice.

Malzahn is the best. I have no doubts he can do the job that whispers say is his.

Usually, high school coaches don't jump straight to an SEC coordinator's job. Rarely do they even become D-I staffers. In my lifetime, Wilson Matthews is one of the few to have done that at Arkansas.

I'm going to speak some big words now. Malzahn is in the same league as Wilson Matthews. They aren't alike, but equally sensational.

Matthews was different. Tougher than than the toughest coach you can name. Meaner than the wildest Fighting Razorback ever to come out of the woods. But Malzahn is the best at what he does just like Matthews was the best at what he did.

The greatest matchup I can think of would be a Matthews coached defense against a Malzahn offense. I'm talking about two brands of football from vastly different eras with vastly different rules. The main thing is each would be an awesome product. I'd pay premium prices for a seat to watch that game.

I've been lucky to be around both of these men just a little. They are top rack in every way. You feel good just being near them, knowing something good is going to come from that moment.

I have to inject one Matthews moment here. He handed me my first ever drink. Didn't know what it was until I almost choked on a big gulp of straight Scotch. It came at a Hall of Fame smoker on the top floor of a Little Rock hotel the night a man in a stolen Cadillac went through a red light to total my dad's brand new sports car. I was 17 and a new driver.

I had just walked from the wreck unscathed, but was shaking at the thought of handing my father the keys to his just ruined red Malibu SS. "Here, drink this down and you won't be shaking in front of your father when you tell him," Wilson said as I walked through the door. "You are 17? Won't hurt you. Might help you."

Heck, I thought it was going to kill me — the drink not the talk about the wreck. It almost did. I've stayed away from that stuff ever since. It kind of reminds me of what someone said about calling plays in the SEC. It can drive you to alcohol. The meek need not apply.

There is nothing meek about Gus Malzahn.

I do know that he's thinking hard about a dramatic change in his career. Nothing wrong with that.

Take your time Gus. Just like everything you've ever done, we know you will get it right.

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