If I had a dollar for every "who's going to be the next Razorback coach?" question, I'd have enough money to at least buy dinner for four at Sonny Williams Steak Room.
My answer: How about Frank Broyles?
OK, not the 86-year-old athletic director emeritus. Sure, his heart would get to racing just with the thought of returning to the sideline one more time, but then that pounding beat would remind him he usually can't stay to watch a game through halftime, much less its entirety, anymore.
No, task at hand for Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long is to channel his predecessor from more than a half-century ago, John Barnhill, and find that next Frank Broyles.
* Young, or at least possessing the exuberance of youth, but someone with head coaching experience.
*Innovative, with an offensive bent but with the knowledge also that in the South, defense wins championships.
*A gentleman, classy and charismatic, in a way that makes high school stars swoon and makes supporters ask where they need to deposit their latest contribution and if they could give more.
* Knowledgable by being tutored through an oustanding coaching lineage.
* Tapped in to the top assistants in the country to build the best staff anywhere with talented aides who can't wait to be big-time head coaches themselves.
* Understanding of what the Arkansas job entails, that the entire state will back the program, but that much of the talent will have to come from outside the borders.
I believe Long and the people he leans on for advice have identified such a head coach from a BCS-level school, though I can't say they have contacted him and he may be difficult to woo from his curent job.
No mind; other candidates who fit some if not all of the bill are out there.
But, while we're hearing every out-of-work coach's name being tossed around, why is Mark Mangino not in the conversation? Granted, he left Kansas under strange circumstances where he reportedly verbally abused some players (like that hasn't happened anywhere else and gone unreported?) but in reality Mangino and his athletic director were butting heads and the basketball-loving AD won out. Kansas football was in the dumps before he arrived and has returned to the dump pile since. He's a heckuva football coach and a pretty nice guy away from the practice field. He guided Kansas to a No. 2 ranking in the country late in the 2007 season and an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Maybe people look at Mangino and worry about his health and whether he might keel over any minute. The guy should be in coaching somewhere, however. He was the offensive brain behind Oklahoma's 2000 national championship and comes from the same Hayden Fry/Bill Snyder/Bob Stoops line of coaching. And Hayden Fry, in case you've forgotten, was groomed by Frank Broyles, who was mentored by Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd, who grew up under Gen. Robert Neyland.
But, since even Mangino's agent seemingly hasn't floated his name out there — any names you're hearing are thanks to friends or agents anyway — let's move on from the big guy.
Jeff Long and Arkansas have to consider how a long-term hire now will work with a staff where $2 million or more in contracts is guaranteed. Can anyone ask a head coach to come aboard and take a CEO role and maintain a group of coaches with whom he hasn't worked?
Established college head coaches are unlikely to move to Arkansas in April or May. When Jimmy Johnson bolted from Oklahoma State in late spring for Miami in 1984, after Howard Schnellenberger abruptly left for the pro ranks, OSU tapped Johnson aide Pat Jones, a Little Rock native who did a solid job until all of OSU's recruiting transgressions came to light and the program plummeted in 1989. Circumstances were obviously different, the money we're talking about now compared to 28 years ago was vastly different, and it made sense for OSU to promote from within.
Its rival, Oklahoma, had done the same when Chuck Fairbanks left the Sooners for the NFL after the 1972 season, leading the way to another Arkie's promotion to head coach, Barry Switzer.
For the type team Arkansas has returning and for everything that has been put into place since the Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, Long's smartest choice would be to go the interim route, though not by simply saying "so-and-so will coach the team this year and then the university will look to hire someone else."
Tim Horton, longtime Hogs running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, provides the university with (one) a coach that apparently some players, including Knile Davis, would love to have as an interim coach; and (two) continuity in recruiting should Arkansas keep an interim for only one season. Paul Petrino is another logical interim choice. The new defensive coaches, Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson, have been mentioned but have their work cut out bringing a defense around in 2012. The offensive side seems the least of the team's worries. Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell, longtime Tennessee aide before joining Bobby Petrino's staff two years ago, has the special teams under control.
I'd like either Horton or Paul Petrino to be given the interim tag, push his salary to $1 million this season and assure him that he has a legitimate shot at the head coaching job at the conclusion of the regular season. That way, the head coach is all in, the assistants are working hard and committed to make it all come together, the staff is recruiting during this period as if they will still be here, and all seems as close to as normal as it can after Bobby Petrino went and wrecked his career.
Then, after an eight-month search and perhaps a successful season, I would expect that Jeff Long could stay with the successful coach on hand or come up with somebody other than Dave Wannstadt who could lead the football program for the next decade.
These people aren't coming: Gary Patterson. Chris Peterson. Art Briles. Nick Saban.
Former Super Bowl winning coach and now ESPN commentator Jon Gruden doesn't want to work as hard as what will be required at Arkansas. A current professional coach has it much to easy compared to the daily grind of coaching, recruiting, disciplining and the like that goes with running a college program. An out-of-work former pro coach may just like the possible salary.
Any up-and-coming college head coaching name is not going to move untl after Thanksgiving. But by then it becomes intriguing if Arkansas has already gone the interim route for the 2012 season.
The one guy who strikes me as fitting much of the Broyles-like mold — young, energetic, cares about both sides of the football, recruits well — is Vanderbilt's James Franklin, just a year into the job in Nashville after serving under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland as offensive coordinator.
Close to Franklin but perhaps without the same recruiting contacts in the South would be Stanford's David Shaw and Virginia's Mike London. Not that it matters, but if any of these three were hired, Arkansas would have landed its first African-American head football coach.
How nice it might be if Arkansas could land some name college guy like Boise State's Chris Peterson or Cal's Jeff Tedford — if they would even considered the job — to keep the fans excited via their names. However, they would have little or no connection to the recruiting territory, unless they were able to hire a staff that had connections through the deep south and Texas.
What Arkansas fans should want, more than anything, is the guy who already sees Arkansas as a great job that can be successful year in and year out if he gets out and recruits not just in-state, but in the surrounding states for the best players and not just the leftovers. At the money they are donating to the program now, the fans should demand that Jeff Long hire a coach who is young, energetic, innovative, connected to top assistants around the country who want to work for him, and well respected among high school coaches who produce the talent. And, lastly, they will be lucky to hire someone who is so charismatic that the excitement doesn't wane one iota from where Bobby Petrino left it in January at Cowboys Stadium.
So, basically, you should be wanting the next Frank Broyles. Just remember: The average Arkansas fan in December 1957 only knew that Broyles was 5-5 at Missouri that fall in his one year as a head coach. The Arkansas AD knew better. Most others probably had no clue what greatness was to follow over the next decade and then some of Razorback football.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow Jim on Twitter @jimharris360