FAYETTEVILLE — If the acknowledged leading candidate’s team loses today, chances increase he becomes the Arkansas Razorbacks’ next head football coach.
Gus Malzahn, the Fort Smith native, former Arkansas high school champion coach at three schools and the Razorbacks offensive coordinator four Arkansas coaches ago, takes his SEC West champion 9-2 Auburn Tigers into Saturday’s 3 p.m. CST CBS televised SEC Championship game in Atlanta at the NFL Falcons’ Mercedes Benz Stadium against the 10-1 SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs
Auburn, ranked fourth by the College Football Playoff committee, handily handed, 40-17 the lone defeat No. 6 Georgia has suffered in 2017 on Nov. 11 in Auburn, Ala.
However other than current rankings, that Nov. 11 Auburn vs. Georgia clash has no bearing on the SEC Championship game with the winner expected to play in the New Year’s night Sugar Bowl which, along with the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl, pits the four teams whose two winners will play Jan. 9 for the national championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the loser settling for a bowl game not in the Sugar and Rose championship game mix.
Arkansas, without a head football coach since firing five-year coach Bret Bielema Nov. 25 after the Razorbacks concluded a 4-8 overall/1-7 in the SEC season, is known most to covet Malzhan.
Malzhan, despite the obvious current success rate differences ranking Auburn way above Arkansas, is believed to be possibly Arkansas receptive because he was under intense pressure at Auburn last season and again this season until late-season. Malzhan has become Auburn-coveted again since his Tigers routed Georgia and then beat instate archival Alabama, then ranked No. 1 when Auburn prevailed, 26-14 last Saturday in Auburn, Ala.
If Auburn beats Georgia today extending the Tigers’ possible national championship season to Jan. 1 and perhaps the Jan. 9 championship game, it seems highly unlikely that the Razorbacks could wait that long trying to persuade Malzhan to coach in Fayetteville in 2018 with so much recruiting to do and so little time to do it.
The others most mentioned as Arkansas head coaching possibilities are Memphis coach and University of Central Arkansas grad Mike Norvell; SMU coach Chad Morris and Brent Venables, the Clemson defensive coordinator and former Oklahoma Sooners defensive coordinator.
Norvell Saturday coaches Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game in Orlando, Fla. against the unbeaten University of Central Florida.
Venables and the No. 1 ranked reigning national champion Clemson Tigers play Miami Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Arkansas also seeks an athletic director having fired Athletic Director Jeff Long on Nov. 15. The athletic director post isn’t expected to be filled until this week despite various media reporting Thursday that Tulsa Athletic Director Derrick Gragg, an Arkansas administrator from 2000 to 2006 under the late Frank Broyles and rising to Senior Associate Athletic Director, is the leading candidate.
Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and the 7-member advisory committee he appointed, as of Friday morning had not interviewed Gragg and also are vetting other athletic director candidates.
Among the most mentioned potential Arkansas athletic director candidates are Scott Varady, executive director of the Razorback Foundation and a UA grad and former attorney for 19 years in the UA’s General Counsel office, and Stephens Inc. executive Kevin Scanlon, the 1979 Southwest Conference Player of the Year quarterbacking Lou Holtz’s 10-2 SWC champion Razorbacks before having extensive experience on the business side of athletics as a sports agent and assisting Stephens Inc. in supporting the Razorbacks coaches shows.