In a move that most expected, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long announced on Saturday morning that John L. Smith will not return as Razorbacks head coach for the 2013 season.
Smith, who was hired in the spring following the firing of Bobby Petrino, had trouble living up to Razorbacks’ fans’ expectations for the season, leading a team that many expected to make a run for the national championship to a 4-8 record, the most losses the team has had in a single season since 1990.
Long said that the team will retain Smith, who has compiled a 136-93 career head coaching record with stints at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, Michigan State, and Arkansas, as a consultant for the remainder of his ten-month contract, which expires in February of 2013.
The John L. Smith era in Fayetteville was the definition of a dud and was something Razorbacks fans are hoping to forget with the hire of a proven head coach. Who will that head coach be, you may ask? Here are five candidates that I would target if I was in charge at Arkansas:
Kirby Smart, Alabama DC – Understood to be the right-hand man to Nick Saban, Smart is the most sought-after current assistant in the SEC. Saban had told Smart not to leave Tuscaloosa until he gets a job offer that is clearly a step up from being the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator, and despite the fact that the Razorbacks will be losing Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, and several other key seniors, this may be the best job Smart has ever been a candidate for.
Butch Jones, Cincinnati HC – Jones has gotten the job done in his time as head coach at Central Michigan and at Cincinnati, currently holding a 49-27 record with three conference championships and just one losing season in six seasons. While his lack of experience coaching the SEC may make him a less-than-attractive candidate, his success with the Bearcats may make him a legitimate candidate for a job that may prove to be turned down by several big names.
Charlie Strong, Louisville HC – A former defensive coordinator in the SEC with South Carolina and Florida, Strong has rebuilt a Cardinals program that struggled mightily during the Steve Kragthorpe era, leading Louisville to winning seasons in his first two seasons and a chance to win the Big East this season with the team sitting at 9-2. A native of Batesville, Arkansas, Strong has attempted to dispel the rumors surrounding his future in order to keep Louisville focused on a run to a BCS bowl, but it appears the gossip will not go away until Arkansas names its next head coach.
Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech HC – The son of legendary Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, Sonny has done an excellent job as Bulldogs head coach, leading the team to a 22-14 record through three seasons, including a 9-2 mark so far this year. A former assistant at Kentucky under Hal Mumme, Dykes doesn’t really have a deep SEC pedigree, but neither did the head coaches on either side of the upcoming SEC Championship game when they first entered the conference.
Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State HC – Malzahn, who coached high school football in the state of Arkansas for fifteen years before landing the job of Razorbacks offensive coordinator under Houston Nutt, has flirted with big-time head coach’s before, nearly taking the Vanderbilt head coaching job two years ago before ultimately deciding to stay at Auburn. Now nearing the end of his first season at Arkansas State, the Red Wolves have been highly successful under Malzahn’s guidance, currently sitting at 8-3 with one game remaining. It will be interesting to see if the Razorbacks turn the keys over to a former assistant coach that was basically ran out of Fayetteville after just one season on the job.