FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ next head coach can learn a valuable lesson from Bret Bielema’s tenure on the Hill: Not making Texas a priority in recruiting will most certainly lead to failure.
Bielema didn’t totally abandon the Lone Star State during his time in Fayetteville, but he definitely failed to establish the type of presence required for any Arkansas head coach to be successful.
In his first five signing classes between 2013-17, Bielema and his staff inked a total of 15 Texans – an average of three per year.
Compare that to 56 signed by Oklahoma State during the same span and it shows just how far off target the Razorbacks had gotten under Bielema.
Kansas State signed 24 from Texas during that stretch. Pac-12 programs Colorado and Arizona State signed more than the Hogs, too, with 16 apiece.
Even SEC foes Missouri and Ole Miss, despite not being a neighboring state to Texas like Arkansas, were almost even with the Hogs as they signed 13 Texas natives apiece between 2013-17.
It’s not just the quantity of Texas signees that hurt Bielema, though. The quality wasn’t what it should have been, either.
In fact, more than half of Arkansas’ 15 signees from Texas could be categorized under “Didn’t Work Out,” to put it nicely.
Running back Rawleigh Williams, despite seeing his career cut short, definitely belongs in the successful category after becoming the SEC’s regular season rushing leader in 2016. Cornerback D.J. Dean was solid for the Hogs, and running back Devwah Whaley has had some bright spots in his young career. Beyond those three, the rest either didn’t pan out or are still too young to label.
The ones who didn’t work out include heavily-recruited offensive lineman Jovan Pruitt, who never made it to campus due to grades, as well as Willie Sykes and Melvinson Hartfield, both who transferred after just one season in Fayetteville.
There are a couple of young Texans who have shown promise –true freshman cornerback Chevin Calloway and redshirt-freshman defensive lineman Jonathan Marshall. There are other young players from Texas on the roster, but it’d be unfair to categorize them before they’ve been given a chance to see the field.
Ideally, at least 8-10 of Arkansas’ 25 signees each year need to come from Texas, and the majority of those need to be guys who chose the Razorbacks despite having offers from other in-state programs like Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech.
Which of the names floating around as potential candidates could improve Arkansas’ efforts in Texas?
Gus Malzahn has never had to rely on recruiting the state of Texas during his time at Auburn simply because there are enough players in Alabama, Georgia and Florida to create a solid SEC roster. However, he has a recognizable name that should allow him to at least give it a good shot. He’s also been in programs that did recruit the Lone Star State, like Arkansas, Tulsa and Arkansas State.
Memphis head coach Mike Norvell, who was born in Texas, has ties to the state stemming from his days as a coordinator at both Tulsa and Arizona State, two programs that recruit Texas pretty heavily. Norvell’s current roster includes a dozen Texas natives. He would also make sense from an Arkansas standpoint having played at UCA and being married to a Fort Smith native.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach has a household name in college football, as well as connections in Texas after coaching the Texas Tech Red Raiders between 2000-09.
Chad Morris, SMU’s current head coach, probably has the most intriguing Texas ties considering he made his name as a high school head coach there before making the jump to college.
Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin also has the type of well-known name that would give him a chance to make a splash.
The ability to recruit Texas isn’t the only thing Arkansas should look for in its next head coach, but it should be considered a major priority to those in charge of making the decision.