Questions About Program Surfacing

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' search for a new coach has included enough twists, turns, rumors and rumblings to keep much of the state on pins and needles for the past two weeks.

Early on, natives Butch Davis and Tommy Tuberville had Arkansas fans excited over possibilities. Lately, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe had them frustrated by the rejections.

But so far, only one thing is certain: Being linked to the Razorbacks' job has been a lucrative proposition for a handful of coaches.

"I was talking last week to a head coach whose name has come up in some of the coaching searches and he said you only get leverage so often in this business," said Ivan Maisel, a senior writer for ESPN.com. "So when you can get it, you have to take it."

Maisel didn't reveal names, of course. But it raises interesting questions in Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long's search for a new coach, which is entering its third week. How is the position perceived around the nation?

Dennis Dodd, a college football writer for CBSSportsline.com, said Arkansas is an attractive place, but, historically, remains a "mid-level SEC program." So he's not completely surprised that some coaches have been in the discussion, but haven't committed to the Hogs.

Davis and Tuberville were linked as possibilities before signing contract extensions. Bowden was a target last week, then signed a contract extension to stay at Clemson. Grobe was next, but also turned down the opportunity to remain with the Demon Deacons.

"Arkansas is just in a situation where they were caught in the middle of these people, that, for whatever reason didn't get hired or didn't want the job," Dodd said.

Dodd believes one reason could be the off-the-field drama that followed former coach Houston Nutt throughout the past season.

"People haven't forgotten what happened to Houston, whether it was right or wrong," Dodd said. "You're not exactly answering to one person it seems like there. I think what happened to him in the off-season really tarnished the job. That's not to say they can't get somebody good and successful, but I've never seen anything like that.

"It was beyond a soap opera and candidates haven't forgotten that."

Nothing has stopped names from being linked to the search, though.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow and East Carolina coach Skip Holtz remain in the mix. Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and current interim coach Reggie Herring also are possibilities.

Bruce Feldman, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, said the list of candidates is proof Arkansas has solid options.

But with Internet rumors swirling and names surfacing, locking down the top choice could grow more and more difficult.

"It's frustrating because once all of a sudden guys start passing on it, it's like, everyone says, ‘What's wrong with this job?'" Feldman said. "The way this job is, you'd think it's Rice it's Duke. It's not. They won 10 games a year ago and they've got a Heisman Trophy candidate and really good facilities. But all of a sudden people are looking and saying there's got to be something wrong with this place."

A source close to the situation said Long has hired a headhunter as the search moved forward Saturday. Another source refuted it, saying Long has had the help of consultants throughout the search.

Long couldn't be reached for comment Saturday, but did say no "formal offers" have been made to any coach Thursday. Instead, he insisted the search will continue until the Razorbacks find the right match.

"The process is just continuing," Long said after meeting with Arkansas players on Thursday night. "There is no ‘Where do we go from here?'

"We're going through a process and that process will end with the next head coach at the University of Arkansas."

Arkansas isn't the only school that has had to endure a longer-than-expected process. Michigan's position has been open longer. Alabama waited more than a month for Nick Saban last year. Nebraska was turned down by Nutt and eventually hired the now-fired Bill Callahan.

So Feldman said finding the right guy, no matter how many twists — or raises — it involves, should remain Arkansas' goal. After all, he said Pete Carroll wasn't even Southern California's top choice in 2001.

"He was actually the fifth guy," Feldman said. "I think there's a history that sometimes that really does work out well. There is that guy. For whatever reason, it takes awhile to get to him, but then it works out."



Staff writers Ryan Malashock and Alex Abrams contributed information for this story.

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