LITTLE ROCK — Weeding out the improbable, unavailable, and unlikely from the legitimate and the maybes in the search for the next Arkansas football coach was a self-assigned task.
Raise the white flag on the serious and opt for the laughable.
The suggested names became so plentiful that the host of an afternoon drive-time radio show began compiling a list in a Word document. Recently, somebody offered former NFL coach Josh McDaniel. "He’s No. 32," Randy Rainwater told the caller.
So far, there are more than 100 names on the list, including the late Paul "Bear" Bryant and former Razorback coach Frank Broyles. My favorite might be deputy Barney Fife, an expert on discipline who once told Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor that today’s 8-year-olds are tomorrow’s teen-agers and that you " … don’t just mollycoddle them." Backing up his tough talk would be the one bullet allowed him by his superior.
Almost as silly as the Don Knotts character is the theory that the pool of candidates will increase in November. If that means coaches will be fired and available, no thanks.
Instead of trying to identify the coaches on Jeff Long’s wish list — every athletic director has one — I compiled those mentioned most often. That includes, in no particular order, Gary Patterson, Paul Rhoads, Chris Peterson, Kirby Smart, Steve Sarkisian, Skip Holtz, Art Briles, Gus Malzahn, Garrick McGee, Paul Petrino, Mark Dantonio, Dana Holgorsen, Charlie Strong, and James Franklin.
For those under consideration, unannounced auditions have begun and the fact that there is no rush may be the only silver lining that comes with the timing of Bobby Petrino’s dismissal.
"It’s really a luxury," Long said at the news conference announcing that John L. Smith had been hired to hold the program together.
If he wants, Long can track any and all targets weekly beginning Sept. 1. Such criteria will include Ws and Ls, offensive flair, and defensive crunch available for all to see.
There is more to this hire than zeroing in on the coach with the best record. With today’s technology, Long can check out character — how a coach on the short end of a halftime score handles one of those inane questions from a sideline reporter or the man’s demeanor at a news conference on the heels of a particularly tough loss.
A one size fits all candidate does not exist. Here are one man’s reservations about the most popular candidates:
—Patterson has a sweet deal at TCU with a few dozen alumni willing to put up more than $100 million for renovation of Amon Carter Stadium.
• Peterson supposedly turned down $20 million for five years at UCLA and he has a special needs child who is happy and stable in Idaho.
• Sarkisian’s record at Washington is 19-19; Strong’s is 14-13 at Louisville.
• Holtz worked at Arkansas, took East Carolina to a couple of bowl games, but must make a Big East splash at South Florida; Briles had a great year at Baylor when Robert Earl Griffin III turned in a Heisman-worthy season.
• Arkansas State University is likely to win fewer games in Malzahn’s first year than it did in 2011; McGee is also a first-year head coach.
• Wildly successful the past two years at Michigan State, Dantonio has health issues.
• Franklin was most appreciative when Vanderbilt tore up his contract in December and upped his salary.
• Rhoads was raised 20 miles from Iowa State’s football facilities and his parents still live in the area.
• Alabama’s defensive coordinator, Smart has never been a head coach.
To an outsider, Rhoads and Smart make the most sense. Both are intimate with the SEC, a prerequisite on a personal checklist. The thing is, neither might be on Long’s list and that’s the only one that counts.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.