Editor’s note: Deadlines demand that this be in while the winds of change still circulate around the Arkansas football program. Many names are being tossed around to replace Bret Bielema and as for Tim Horton, he gets the thumbs up from this chair as I played, OK practiced, for his dad Harold at UCA and I have known Tim since the 1980s.
Back to square one in the search for Arkansas’ next football coach, it is time to expand the pool of candidates.
Once Gus Malzahn’s agent leveraged Arkansas’ offer to wangle $49 million out of Auburn, the list of usual suspects was regurgitated — Mike Norvell, Chad Morris, and Brent Venables, all part of the original foursome on Arkansas’ wish list — plus Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, and Kevin Sumlin. Most schools with vacancies are working with the same names.
Each of those seven has a liability, either a shortage of head coaching experience, personality quirks, or recent failures.
How about including somebody not interested in Arkansas as a steppingstone, somebody who would call Arkansas his dream job, somebody intimate with the nuances of the Razorback program and fan base?
Offering an unsolicited preference, Tim Horton is the man. A Razorback from birth, he is uniquely qualified and any box unchecked on his resume would be neutralized by his affinity for the program and his commitment.
Before addressing Horton’s credentials, a confession of a bias shaped by dealings with him through the years. From an interview with a wide receiver prior to the Jan. 1, 1990 Cotton Bowl to receiving a handwritten note referencing a column from an assistant at Auburn, Horton personifies class.
Naysayers will cite the fact that he has never been a head coach despite more than 25 years in the profession.
In Lincoln Riley’s first year as head coach, Oklahoma is in the College Football Playoff. Just saying. Besides, Venables has never been in charge of a program, Norvell has only been on the job two years, Morris for three years, and every head coach has a year one.
Those who argue that Horton has never been an offensive coordinator overlook the months he spent at the Air Force Academy before Houston Nutt sold him on returning home in the summer of 2007 to coach running backs. Admittedly, he was not a coordinator during a game, but the title counts when building the case for Horton.
Osmosis is also a plus.
Dad Harold was an assistant under Frank Broyles and Lou Holtz and his eight-year record as the head coach at the University of Central Arkansas was 74-12-5, including NAIA national championships in 1984 and 1985. It is difficult to imagine Tim being oblivious to such an influence and that goes for his playing days under Ken Hatfield.
And, for those who crave the Malzahn offense, Horton has been with Malzahn at Tulsa and Auburn.
In addition to his love of all things Razorback, the former recruiting coordinator at Arkansas and Auburn knows the disparity in talent between Arkansas and the Auburn team that beat Alabama and Georgia. Also important, he is keenly aware that playing Razorback games in War Memorial Stadium is important to many.
A “splash” hire might have an immediate impact on fans, but Horton would sell them in the long run.
Among the candidates perceived to be in the top three, Norvell convincing Memphis to compete for 60-plus minutes against the University of Central Florida, Morris’ upbeat offense and long-time connection to Texas high school football, and Venables’ defensive background are positives.
More than once after Georgia 28, Auburn 7, the “plane is in the air” was heard in the suite area of War Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Each time, the same counter was offered:
Assume Malzahn is a businessman chasing success, eliminate emotion, and the decision to coach where he has the best chance to win the SEC championship is a no brainer.
The Auburn roster is dominated by athletes from Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Atlanta is 90 minutes away; Gainesville only five hours.
Sure, Malzahn might persuade an occasional player to follow him to Fayetteville, but Atlanta is a 10-hour drive from the Arkansas campus, Gainesville is much longer, and proximity is a big deal for parents and players.
Besides, Auburn scored 108 against Arkansas the past two years so Malzahn is familiar with UA personnel.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org