FAYETTEVILLE – With a new athletics director now in place, Arkansas can turn its full focus to finding Bret Bielema’s replacement as head coach of the Razorback football program.
Hunter Yurachek, the University of Houston’s AD since April 2015, was hired for the same position at Arkansas earlier this week.
With that three-week-old search now out of the way, the Board of Trustees, alongside a hired search firm and an “unofficial” committee comprised of notable Arkansans, can zero-in on a few leading candidates for the head coaching job.
The process was made easier on Sunday when Arkansas native and highly successful head coach Gus Malzahn announced that he was signing an extension to stay at Auburn.
However, there’s still quite a bit of debate among fans as to which candidate should be chosen.
From a popularity standpoint, Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin seems to be the favorite on social media and message boards, especially among the younger crowd.
Mike Norvell of Memphis is another hot name in coaching circles after going 10-2 in his second year on the job.
Then there’s Chad Morris, another well-respected offensive mind who is three years into a complete rebuilding job at SMU.
South Florida head coach Charlie Strong, Washington State head coach Mike Leach, and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables are among the other names at least being mentioned.
However, for the sake of this article and based on the most recent information at the time of this writing, we’ll focus on the three aforementioned.
Kiffin, Norvell and Morris all share a very similar trait: They know how to put points on the board.
There are concerns with each, though.
With Kiffin, some worry about his inconsistent past, which includes leaving Tennessee after just one season, and being fired from USC despite going 28-15 while dealing with NCAA sanctions.
On the positive side, there are some who believe the three seasons he spent as Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban from 2014-16 helped reshape his image and – for lack of a better phrase – grow up some.
Now in his first season at FAU, Kiffin has taken a program that went 3-9 in each of the last three seasons and turned them into a 10-3 champion of the Conference USA.
Norvell, who is now 18-7 in two years at Memphis, put together an exciting offense that currently ranks second in the nation in scoring at 47.7 points-per-game. His defense, on the other hand, hasn’t had much to feel good about this season. The Tigers rank 104th in scoring defense and 120th in total defense.
If there is a positive to be found, Norvell’s club ranks in the top five in takeaways and is one of the best in the nation in turnover margin.
With Morris, fans are terrified of his 14-22 overall record after three years on the job, but they’re also intrigued by how well-respected Morris is in the coaching ranks.
The former Texas high school football coach is also highly thought of when it comes to Texas recruiting, an area in which Arkansas needs to greatly improve.
Regardless of who is named head coach on the Hill, it’s fairly clear that Arkansas is looking for a specific fit.
It would appear that those in charge would like a younger, energetic guy who can light up the scoreboard.
It also seems likely that Arkansas will hire a coach who is familiar with the state, or at least has experience of coaching and recruiting in the region.
With fans growing increasingly impatient and the early signing period quickly approaching on December 20, it would come as no surprise if this search ends very soon.