FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks’ search for a new head football coach appears to be going too successfully.
Not necessarily, unless something under wraps is occurring, because the Razorbacks are close to replacing Bret Bielema, fired last Friday after five years, but because several coaches the UA is believed considering are involved coaching conference championship games Saturday.
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Memphis’ Mike Norvell, and Washington State’s Mike Leach all coached over the Thanksgiving weekend vaulting SEC West champion Auburn to Saturday’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta against SEC East champion Georgia while Leach’s Cougars were knocked out of Friday’s Pac 12 championship game after an Apple Cup loss to Washington but Norvell’s Tigers will play the University of Central Florida for the American East Conference Championship.
One plus to having so many candidates so involved with their current jobs, it may give the Razorbacks time officially to hire an athletic director before they hire the next football coach.
Senior Associate Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples has been serving as interim athletic director since Jeff Long, Arkansas’ AD since 2008, was fired on Nov. 15.
University of Arkansas Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and the 7-member search committee he appointed are in charge of hiring a new athletic director while Cromer Peoples said she has authority, under Steinmetz of course, to interview and hire a football coach.
Considering that most coaches presumably would want to know for whom they are working, it seems to behoove the UA to name an official AD whether from outside or promoting Cromer Peoples or someone from within, before offering the head coaching job.
Malzhan, a Fort Smith native and former Arkansas state champion high school coach at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale, and Arkansas’ offensive coordinator in 2006, seems the early fan favorite, but Arkansas’ prospects for hiring seem diminishing.
Auburn beating Alabama last Saturday should rekindle the Auburn-Malzhan love affair once gone so cold that Malzhan was speculated on his way out both during last season and early this season.
And with his Tigers routing the Razorbacks in 2016 at Auburn, Ala. and 2017 in Fayetteville, Malzhan firsthand knows the talent advantages of the program he would be leaving over the program he would be assuming if he left Auburn for Arkansas.
Another example looms for Malzhan to appraise.
Bret Bielema, arrived in December, 2012 at Arkansas as the very, very successful Big 10 champion coach from Wisconsin.
Five years later he leaves fired from Arkansas while undefeated Wisconsin plays Ohio State for the Big Ten championship.
Bielema, who did much good off the field for the Razorbacks righting the undisciplined ship he inherited, may get another chance.
Some media have deemed him a candidate for the Nebraska job made available when the Cornhuskers on Saturday fired Coach Mike Riley.
BIJHON WINS WHILE LOSING
Though the football Razorbacks lost Friday night, senior defensive nose tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado won the hand of now fiancee Brie Biehl.
Becoming quite likely to propose while introduced with their family and closest friends on the field on Senior Day, Jackson knelt ring box in hand and got a public yes from his fiancee before kickoff.
Jackson didn’t let his proposal distract him once the game kicked off. He made three tackles, including one for a 3-yard loss, in his Razorbacks farewell.
INTERIM AD MEETS COACHES
Julie Cromer Peoples, Arkansas’ interim athletic director since Jeff Long was fired Nov. 15 and in charge of the coaching search while UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and a search committee seek to interview permanent athletic director candidates, was scheduled to meet with Bielema’s staff Saturday morning.
Until a new coach is hired, Bielema’s staff, some of whom presumably would be at least interviewed by a new coach, remain on hand to stay in contact with recruits and handle in-house disciplinary and administrative tasks as the players begin gearing for December’s final exams and close of the fall semester.
Cromer Peoples acknowledged the new Dec. 20-22 early signing period for football accelerates the timetable of getting a coach in place.
“I think there’s no doubt that is has impacted all the searches that are already ongoing and the searches that will be announced in the coming days,” Cromer Peoples said. “In fact, our own coaches were scheduled to go out and begin traveling tomorrow to begin the evaluation period that starts on Sunday. So the signing day is important but the weeks leading up to it and the activities during those weeks are equally as important.”