FAYETTEVILLE — Tommy Tuberville was one of the top candidates for the Arkansas position in 1997, but the Camden native didn’t get the job when former athletic director Frank Broyles selected Houston Nutt to lead his program.
Tuberville was reportedly considered again in 2007, when the Razorbacks were looking for Nutt’s replacement. Athletic director Jeff Long chose Bobby Petrino.
So now that Arkansas is looking for a head football coach once again, what are the chances the Texas Tech coach finally lands the position? Pete Roussel, a former college assistant who is the founder and senior editor of CoachingSearch.com, believes Tuberville deserves to be part of the conversation once again.
"I think he would win here," Roussel said Wednesday as the guest speaker at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. "I think he’d be a great fit.
"I’d be surprised if Jeff Long doesn’t at least talk to Tommy Tuberville."
Long’s search for Arkansas’ next coach, which began in April, will heat up soon with just three games remaining in the regular season. The athletic director said last month he was in the research phase of his search, but planned to move quickly once the regular season ended and hoped to have a coach in place by mid-December.
Several potential candidates have been mentioned the past several months. Roussel offered some during his question-and-answer session Wednesday, including TCU’s Gary Patterson, Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart, Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre. But he said the 58-year-old Tuberville, with his Southeastern Conference experience, makes plenty of sense for the Razorbacks.
"Tommy Tuberville has been in the SEC. He knows what it’s like to coach against Nick Saban. He knows how to win against them, how to win against Les Miles," Roussel said. "I think he’d fit in right here. I think he would do a great job."
Tuberville went 110-60 in 14 seasons at both Ole Miss and Auburn. It included a 13-0 record in 2004, when Auburn was left out of the Bowl Championship Series national title game. He resigned from his Auburn job after going 5-7 in 2008.
Tuberville earned his third opportunity as a head coach at Texas Tech in 2010 and is 19-15 during his tenure. Texas Tech, which is 6-3 in 2012, has lost two straight but does own a pair of wins against ranked teams (West Virginia and TCU).
Roussel’s support for Tuberville came a week after the coach appeared on a statewide radio show — Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly — in Arkansas. Tuberville was asked what kind of coach it takes to win at Arkansas during the interview.
"Well, no matter what you do, whether it’s Arkansas, Auburn, The University of Miami, every place is different," Tuberville said during the radio interview. "Every situation is different. No. 1 you’ve got to look at your location. As we talked earlier, it’s about recruiting. The No. 1 thing about any football program starts with the staff. … You’ve got to believe in it together. That’s the way we did it at Auburn.
"People said you can’t win at Auburn. I said, ‘Yeah. You can.’ You don’t have to go out and get the great players. We took the three stars, some four stars, molded them together and we won a lot of football games. You can do that at any program."
Arkansas has stumbled to a 4-5 record this season under coach John L. Smith, who is working under a 10-month contract. It’s a far cry from the past two seasons under Petrino, when Arkansas went 21-5 and finished as one of the SEC’s best programs.
The Razorbacks want to return to its place among the SEC’s best with a new coach in place. Long has said several times he believes Arkansas has a lot to offer quality candidates as well. Roussel agreed Wednesday, calling the position a top 15 job because of Arkansas’ resources and Long’s willingness to enable coaches.
"I think there are plenty of guys who are proven guys that are current head coaches that will want this job," Roussel said.
Arkansas will have company among SEC programs looking for a new football coach after Kentucky fired Joker Phillips on Sunday. It’s the first of what could be a few coaching moves in the conference this month, with questions also swirling about the job security of Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Auburn’s Gene Chizik.
Kentucky, a basketball-first program, has struggled to climb into the football limelight in the SEC. But Tennessee and Auburn would pack plenty of cache on the coaching market if moves were made following the 2012 season.
More SEC openings could increase the difficulty in the hiring process for Long, who has had an eight-month head start after the Razorbacks fired Petrino in April.
"That’s certainly one of those complicating factors. No question," Long said last month. "There’s going to be openings at the end of the season. … You try to prepare yourself for it. That does add to the difficulty. It’s a very difficult process."
But Roussel believes Long still has an advantage because Arkansas has been on the open market since April. It should have allowed for time to research candidates, gauge which ones are good fits for Arkansas and which ones really want the job.
In the end, Roussel believes Long will secure a coach in the next four or five weeks that will makes everyone "really, really happy" in Arkansas. Time will tell if he is right. Time also will tell if it’s finally Tuberville’s turn to lead the Razorbacks.
"If you look at Tommy Tuberville, if the Arkansas job is offered to him, he’s going to take it," Roussel said. "There’s no question about it."