FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long is looking for the right coach to lead the program into the 2012 season.
But he re-emphasized Friday his search for Bobby Petrino’s replacement — whether it’s a coach currently on Arkansas’ staff or one elsewhere — will extend into next week.
"As we near the completion of spring practice, I wanted to provide an update regarding our progress in naming a head football coach at the University of Arkansas," Long said in a statement released by the university. "While we have initiated a review of potential candidates both inside and outside the program, the process remains ongoing and will extend beyond the spring game weekend. While this process is a priority, it is imperative we take the time to identify a leader for our program who will provide the best opportunity to build upon the recent success of our nationally ranked program on and off the field."
Assistant head coach Taver Johnson is in charge of the program through spring practice and is one of four in-house candidates Long could consider for the position on an interim basis in 2012. The others include defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and recruiting coordinator Tim Horton.
But plenty of outside names have been discussed as candidates in various reports since Petrino was fired on April 10.
Among the current college coaches: TCU’s Gary Patterson, Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville, Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn, Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, South Florida’s Skip Holtz, Alabama-Birmingham coach Garrick McGee and Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads.
There are others as well. Former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, who last coached in 2008, denied a report that indicated he had been contacted by Arkansas. But Fulmer didn’t hide his interest in being considered when contacted by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
"When I left Tennessee, I was asked if I would coach again, and I said I would consider it if it was a place where I could compete for a championship," Fulmer told the newspaper. "Arkansas does qualify as that kind of place, as there is a very solid foundation there."
NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, who hasn’t coached since 2006, also was mentioned and later denied being contacted by Arkansas. PGA golfer John Daly has lobbied for his friend, ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. And a report indicated Arkansas had reached out to Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, something both Long and Carroll have denied.
One other idea being kicked around the Internet: Hiring suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for the season.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com checked with the league regarding Payton’s one-year suspension for his role in the Saints bounty scandal. A spokesperson told Florio the coach’s NFL suspension would not prevent him from taking a job with the Razorbacks.
It’s not known if Long is even considering the possibility. Hiring Payton while he serves an NFL suspension could be viewed as a controversial move for a program trying to move past its own spring scandal.
So the only certainty, for now, is that Arkansas’ current staff remains in charge of the program for today’s spring game.
"I appreciate the tremendous leadership our assistant coaches have provided this spring," Long said. "They continue to serve in the best interests of our student-athletes and the Razorback program.
"My hope is that by sharing this information (Friday), we may focus our attention this weekend on supporting our coaches and football student-athletes at the spring game. I hope you will join me at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday to show our support and cheer on the Razorbacks."