FAYETTEVILLE — Phillip Fulmer has not coached since 2008, when his 17-year tenure at Tennessee ended.
But one of his former assistants told a Nashville, Tenn., radio show on Tuesday the Razorbacks have spoken to the longtime Southeastern Conference coach about its opening.
Doug Matthews, who worked with Fulmer at Tennessee, said on the 3HL show on WGFX-FM 104.5 Arkansas had been in contact with the coach after Bobby Petrino was fired on April 10. Matthews said he didn’t know the amount of interest from either party, however.
“I know Phillip has had conversations with them,” Matthews told the radio show. “And when I say with them, all that is going to take place behind the scenes.
“But everything I’m hearing from Arkansas is the spring game, I think, is this Saturday. ‘Let’s get through spring. Let’s see where we are.’ But I think they’ll either go with a guy that they’ve got on the staff or they’ll bring in someone to be — caretaker’s the wrong word — but bring someone in who has been through it all before. If there is a place for Phillip, that will be the place.”
Fulmer did not return a message seeking comment regarding Arkansas on Tuesday. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was not available for comment about his search.
Fulmer went 152-52 in his tenure at Tennessee, which included a national championship in 1998. He became the latest coach not currently working in the profession to enter the Arkansas conversation the past couple of days.
Former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci, who now works for the NFL Network, had expressed interest in the job according to coachingsearch.com. Mariucci told CBSSports.com on Sunday night he had not been contacted.
“It has to be the right situation,” Mariucci told CBSSports.com. “I haven’t ruled (coaching again) out. I enjoy what I do now. If something that comes up that makes sense, but I’ve had no contact with Arkansas.”
Long has not specified whether he plans to hire a new coach to lead the program in 2012 or promote a current assistant to an interim position. Arkansas’ staff continued to guide the team through spring practice Tuesday, working toward Saturday’s spring-ending Red-White Game.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said the group is “coaching hard as we can and look forward to helping lead this team to be great next year.” Petrino — who was offensive coordinator at Illinois in 2010-11 — said he has taken on greater responsibilities with the offense this month because his brother “wasn’t a typical head coach.”
“I think everything in life there’s a reason for it one way or another,” Petrino said when asked if he saw the chance to run Arkansas’ offense as an audition. “It’s a very sad, sad thing for me and my family. But as far as work it’s an opportunity. So I’ve got to go out there and be my best and show everybody what I can do.”
Quarterback Tyler Wilson said practices have run very smoothly since Petrino’s firing, crediting the remaining coaches for their work. Wilson also said Long addressed the team before Tuesday’s practice and “discussed some different stuff that was going on, what he was doing.”
Wilson was asked if Long had mentioned anything about a new coach. The senior said “not quite,” adding as far as he knew the process for finding a replacement continues.
“He acted like he was the man in charge and he is,” Wilson said. “I appreciate that from him.
“He’s an athletic director, not a football coach, but he has been in the past. I think that’s great. I’m proud of the leadership he’s displayed.”