Knile Davis’ first live tackling in more than a year was apparently a success. Coaches gave the Arkansas running back his first full contact since last August when an ankle injury on an inside run ended his season. Only coaches and select boosters were allowed inside the scrimmage, but favorable reports emerged on Twitter.
Three-star running back Kaleb Blanchard chose Arkansas over Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech and is proof that, despite a coaching change, Razorbacks recruiting coordinator Tim Horton is still on the job.
It's funny that when names such as former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee and a host of professional coaches — some retired, and none of whom were ever coming — were being bandied about as the replacement for Bobby Petrino, the one name we didn't hear over the 11 days since Petrino's firing was John L. Smith. Yet, of the two coaches who left the Hog staff after the 2011 season for a head coaching job — Smith and McGee — Smith was the one with extensive head coaching experience in Division I college football. Had Smith still been on Bobby Petrino's staff the day Jeff Long put him on paid administrative leave, then fired him five days later, he would have been considered the perfect interim coach for the Razorbacks. He still is the perfect interim coach, even if he had to leave his alma mater, Weber State, after just five months on the job in Utah.
For all the uncertainty surrounding the Arkansas football program the last three weeks, linebackers coach Taver Johnson knew exactly what to expect when he got up Monday morning. With or without a head coach, Johnson was hitting the road recruiting. Coaches are able to get out and do spring evaluations at high schools and the Arkansas staff is headed out to do just that.
Arkansas players have a pretty clear understanding of what Saturday’s Red-White game means for them. Those with solidified starting roles are using the game to further establish themselves entering the summer. Other Razorbacks view the day as a tryout for spots somewhere on the depth chart, either as a starter or key backup. But the final spring practice isn’t only for evaluating the players. It also feels very much like an audition for the coaching staff.
Jeff Long’s experience as a former college football coach has come in handy of late. No, Long isn’t drawing up plays he would like to see in Saturday’s Red-White game. He isn’t breaking down film as the Razorbacks evaluate personnel at linebacker and on the offensive line. But Long, who spent time on the staffs at Duke and Michigan before getting into athletic administration, has addressed Arkansas players and assistant coaches multiple times since April 10, the day he fired coach Bobby Petrino.
Are we in the silly season, or what? Serious Arkansas Razorback fans are pining for the likes of Jon Gruden, who hasn't had to do real work in years while he draws a check from ESPN. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, to hear some message board wags tell it, has wrapped up spring drills with Nick Saban and will move over to Arkansas any day now. Then, we even had Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll tweeting about the job and promoting his buddy Steve Mariucci, who hasn't coached on the college level since Danny Ford was at Arkansas. I mean, please. Stop the madness.
Arkansas' football recruiting understandably suffered a setback when Bobby Petrino was fired as head coach 10 days ago, but the current staff hasn't quit recruiting. On Tuesday, Fort Smith Southside tight end John Hunton, 6-4, 245, was at Arkansas on an unofficial visit. Hunton is one of the top tight ends in the state and enjoyed his time in Fayetteville.
Knile Davis is still trying to wrap his head around the past week. Bobby Petrino is no longer the Arkansas football coach. Very private details of Petrino’s life have been made public and a series of missteps and lies led to the coach being terminated. Davis, like other Razorbacks, has had to shut off his phone, disappear from social media and avoid watching TV this week. News of Petrino’s firing following an extramarital affair with female football staff member Jessica Dorrell has been unavoidable.
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long is just beginning his search for an Arkansas football coach and he already has heard endorsements for candidates to fill the job on an interim basis if he goes that route. Long said late Thursday on Twitter that he would be sticking to his own evaluation of candidates. He asked that no one lobby for current staff members.
Regardless of how much pain he was in following the wreck — State Police Captain Lance King says Petrino did nothing but groan on the way to the hospital (well, groan and provide detailed directions on how to get to the little known Physician’s Specialty Hospital)— it’s really hard to muster much sympathy anymore for Petrino. But there are folks that deserve your empathy. None of them are wearing neck braces. All of them have been hurt in ways that aren’t as visible as the road rash on Petrino's face.
Last Thursday night, ArkansasSports360.com columnist Jim Harris visited in-depth with Arkansas recruiting coordinator Tim Horton about the Razorbacks' most recently signed recruiting class. Horton discussed his overall feelings about the class, the saga recruiting highly touted receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for four years and some of the redshirts from last year's class.
In the past three years the Little Rock Razorback Club has moved its “Signing Day in the Rock” spectacular from one large ballroom, to a bigger one, and now to Verizon Arena, where Thursday night’s visit by Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino and his staff turned into part rock show/part religious revival. The religion, of course, is Razorback football, where more than 1,200 folks paid the price of a Southeastern Conference football ticket in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, $65, to hear Petrino and the other coaches go into full detail — with video — of the latest, 24-man signing class. The arena darkened and AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” rang in the assistant coaches to the main stage, each one entering from the opposite side to the stage and almost sprinting down the middle aisle where “Voice of the Razorbacks” Chuck Barrett welcomed them in. Then came Bobby Petrino’s rock-star entrance, complete with a fog machine.
Thanking assistant coaches is a pretty routine part of national signing day. Head coaches across the country routinely give their staffs credit for a year’s recruiting haul. It’s hard to imagine Bobby Petrino ever being more grateful for the assistants than he is this year. Arkansas endured coaching turnover unlike any other year in his tenure. Somehow the new — and late — additions to the staff were able to close strong.
A pattern becomes evident with just a quick glance at the brief but illustrious history of the Little Rock Touchdown Club's annual awards. Something's in the water in Greenwood. Daniel Stegall, a former Bulldog quarterback who went on to try professional baseball, was honored as his classification's (4A) player of the year in 2005. Tyler Wilson, who just completed his junior season in leading Arkansas to an 11-2 season, was this year's Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year as chosen by the club. And Drew Morgan, a junior who led Greenwood to yet another Class 5A state crown, was the 5A player of the year.
Arkansas will send recruiting coordinator Tim Horton and other assistants to Springfield, Mo., tonight for an in-home visit with 5-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. It was thought that Coach Bobby Petrino would visit Green-Beckham (6-6, 225), but he will not because of a brief encounter earlier this month with the Parade and USA Today All-American.
Arkansas’ success on the football field has grown considerably since Bobby Petrino took over the program. Petrino’s first team was 5-7 and the program recently capped just the third 11-win season in school history. Also improved since Petrino’s arrival? Assistant coaching salaries.