Coaching Search Drags On For Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' search for a new football coach has had plenty of NFL flavor with Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino and Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin mentioned as candidates for the position.

But will a coach working in the professional ranks come back to school to replace Houston Nutt? Those chances looked dim Monday night.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said Petrino, who is in his first season with the Falcons, has informed Arkansas he is not interested in the position. Petrino's team played the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football.

In addition, ESPN.com reported on its "rumor central" page that Kiffin and Arkansas "were once thought to have a mutual interest in the school's coaching vacancy, but a source close to the coach says Kiffin isn't interested."

Neither coach could be reached for comment Monday and Arkansas will not comment on specific candidates.

If both have been wiped off the list, it likely means the Razorbacks will turn to a coordinator to fill the vacancy. The three expected to be in the mix are Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Arkansas interim coach Reggie Herring, who has severed the last three years as the Hogs' defensive coordinator.

Petrino, 46, had been a hot name around the state the past week despite Atlanta's 3-9 record entering Monday's game. A former Auburn assistant, Petrino was a success at Louisville from 2003-06 and transformed the program into a national championship contender.

Petrino also had been linked to the Michigan and Nebraska openings. He refuted reports in November, telling The Associated Press he planned to remain in the NFL.

"There's no question about that," he said. "I get asked the same question every day. I think I have answered it."

Kiffin also is in his first season with the Raiders (4-9), but spent several years on Pete Carroll's staff at Southern California. The 32-year-old was asked about the Arkansas job soon after Nutt's departure, but denied contact with the school.

Muschamp, 36, has never been a head coach, but sources close to the situation said he has spoken to Long about Arkansas' position and is interested in the job.

Muschamp was a finalist for the 2007 Broyles Award and has been on Tommy Tuberville's staff for two years. He played at Georgia and also worked on Nick Saban's staff at both LSU (2001-04) and with the Miami Dolphins (2005).

Venables has worked for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops since 1999 and, before that, coached at Kansas State. The Sooners regularly sport one of the nation's top defenses and Venables has been regarded as a player's coach.

Both assistants have ties to Arkansas' new athletic director. Muschamp was at Eastern Kentucky when Long was athletic director. Long also was an associate athletic director at Oklahoma before being named Pittsburgh's AD.

Long's search is being aided by Chuck Neinas, the most renowned college athletics consultant. Chancellor John White said Long had a previous relationship with Neinas at Pittsburgh. Neinas has been working with Long since the search began on Nov. 26.

Arkansas has not put a timetable on the search, but would like a coach "sooner than later." The NCAA's recruiting calendar does slow at the end of the week. The contact period ends Friday and a dead period extends from Dec. 16 through Jan. 3.

Current players like quarterback Casey Dick said the Razorbacks are curious about who will lead the team in 2008. But Dick said the only thing they can do now is concentrate on preparing for the Cotton Bowl.

"We've got to keep going forward and let those guys up there worry about the decisions that they're making," he said last Saturday. "That's the kind of the decision (Long) has to make and we just have to come out here and worry about taking care of business every day."

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