You’ve heard of the USA Today Coaches’ poll, right?
Well, we’re trying something a little different on the Hog Blog every Friday for the rest of year. It’s a weekly feature we're going to call the “Coaching Poll,” where we’ll rank the top 10 coaches who could - or should - be in the conversation as Arkansas’ next head coach.
Why is this beginning a month into the regular season? It’s pretty obvious, considering Arkansas’ stumbles the first three weeks of the season. The Razorbacks are, indeed, in the market for a new coach to lead the program in 2013.
There are some things to point out about the coaching poll before we go any further:
• This poll is purely subjective. At this point. I’m ranking guys on weekly based under this criteria: A bit of opinion, a dash of facts, and a little common sense. Wins and losses will affect rankings. Public statements (whenever they come) about being “happy” at their current school will be monitored. So will some of those coaching search key phrases like “right now” and “at this point." All of it will go into compiling the weekly poll.
• Notice the absence of Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Pete Carroll, Tony Dungy, Bill Parcells, Vince Lombardi, etc., etc. I’m guessing it will stay that way.
• This isn’t Arkansas AD Jeff Long’s list. … But, come on, it should be.
• Smile! Too soon? … Well, we intend to have some fun in this space anyway while Long is combing through a much more important list. So poll attack us if you’d like. Point out why your guy is worthy of being ranked. Plead for a playoff to settle this coaching poll thing on the field!!!
With that, here is this week’s Coaching Poll:
- Charlie Strong (Louisville) – State ties. Defensive pedigree. SEC experience. Strong has a lot of intriguing characteristics for Arkansas’ search. Oh yeah, one more factor: Strong is winning, getting Louisville in the Big East title race (and BCS bowl contention) in his third season. Hey, didn’t Arkansas have some success with another coach who spent time at Louisville?
- James Franklin (Vanderbilt) – How could you not like James Franklin? He’s recruiting well … at Vanderbilt. Franklin also has done a solid job on the field through 16 games as an SEC head coach. There’s no doubt Franklin will have other opportunities if he’s interested at year's end. Will one come with the Razorbacks?
- Art Briles (Baylor) – Briles has spent his entire coaching career in Texas and has done outstanding work at Baylor. After all, the Bears went 10-3 and had the Heisman Trophy winner last year. That doesn’t happen at Baylor. Briles’ spread offense is intriguing, but could he put together an SEC defense? At any rate, his Texas ties would be important for an Arkansas program that relies on the state.
- Paul Rhoads (Iowa State) – His ties with Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long (both worked at Pittsburgh) can’t be ignored. Rhoads, like Franklin, is doing a solid job at a difficult place. But is it good enough to satisfy fans? One thing is certain: Anyone angry about a Rhoads hire couldn’t show up to the airport and welcome him to shouts of “5-and-19” like when Gene Chizik was hired at Auburn a few years ago. The accurate cry for Rhoads at this point would have to be “21-and-20.”
- Kirby Smart (Alabama DC) – So I noticed Jeff Long walked from the Broyles Center, across Frank Broyles Field, and disappeared into the South end of Razorback Stadium about an hour after the Alabama loss last week. So, naturally, I imagine Long walked straight into the Alabama locker room to introduce himself to Kirby Smart after Arkansas was shut out for the first time since 1995. It probably didn’t happen. But isn’t it fun to consider?
- Chris Petersen (Boise State) – Petersen has become the Jon Gruden of college coaches. His name surfaces immediately when a job opens. Any job. Petersen has been at Boise since 2001 as either an assistant or head coach. He turned down the UCLA position last year. It’s hard to imagine the 47-year-old, who has spent almost all of his coaching career out West, leaving for Arkansas. If it wasn’t, Petersen would probably be at the top of this Coaching Poll.
- Gary Patterson (TCU) – Much like Petersen, Patterson would rocket up this list if we believed he was truly interested at this point. He has done a great job at TCU, which has moved into the Big 12 with a realistic chance to make an impact in the conference. Potential intrigue in regard to Arkansas: Any chance he would bring former Hog Dick Bumpas with him to Fayetteville his defensive coordinator?
- Gus Malzhan (Arkansas State) – Do we even need to go through his coaching background and accolades? Only two things are worth discussing in regard to Malzahn and Arkansas. Would Malzhan be interested after just one season in Jonesboro? Would there be enough support at Arkansas to welcome him with open arms after 2006?
- Mario Cristobal (Florida International) – Did anyone guess in 2007, when an 0-for FIU team traveled to Arkansas, we’d be mentioning the team’s head coach in the Coaching Poll? Well, it’s happening. Cristobal, a former Miami player and coach, has done solid work at the program. He’s probably a long shot for a position like Arkansas at this point, but Cristobal has created plenty of buzz with his work in building a program with discipline.
- Willie Taggart (Western Kentucky) – Taggart’s first game against Alabama was a 35-point loss (35-0). Not bad by Arkansas’ standards, considering Bobby Petrino’s first Alabama game was a 35-point loss (49-14 in 2008) and John L. Smith’s was a 52-point loss (52-0). But, seriously, the youngest FBS coach won’t be at WKU long. A better fit for Taggart could be at Kentucky, which appears to be on the fast track to cutting ties to Joker Phillips.
Others receiving votes: Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson (Who needs an NFL career? He may be the people’s choice for the job right now), USF’s Skip Holtz (Still waiting for a significant win with the Bulls), Arkansas OC Paul Petrino (With brother “Robby” Petrino as his “offensive coordinator”), Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen (Because his name is automatically attached to every opening), and Louisiana-Monroe’s Todd Berry (He was oh-so-close to being 2-0 in the SEC West after all).