LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ monopoly on the search for a football coach will end around Thanksgiving.
The seven-month head start of UA athletic director Jeff Long is a plus, but his singular position in the marketplace will be complicated if a big-time school fires its coach at the end of the 2012 season.
Because nobody else in college football is looking for a new coach, Razorback fans have had the luxury of an uncluttered landscape when speculating about Bobby Petrino’s successor.
That will change.
Also complicating the issue — at least as far as fans and media are concerned — will be agents floating the names of their clients to wangle a raise for said clients. Long won’t give up any names, but there will be some out there who have no intention of leaving their cozy confines.
Just last year, coaches were fired or resigned under pressure at Arizona, Arizona State, Illinois, Kansas, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Penn State, Texas A&M, and UCLA. That list doesn’t include Luke Fickle, who was an interim at Ohio State, much like John L. Smith is at Arkansas.
Other job openings occurred as the dominoes fell. All told, there were almost 30 coaching changes. During the process, the schools with money to spend tended to zero in on the same names. For example, Houston’s Kevin Sumlin was pursued by UCLA, Arizona State, and others before signing on with Texas A&M.
What used to be a four- and five-year leash on coaches has been shortened so a new list of unemployed is guaranteed.
From Arkansas’ perspective, the who and where are important.
For instance, if Mike Riley is ousted at Oregon State or Kevin Wilson is cut loose at Indiana, the athletic directors in Corvallis and Bloomington will not have the same check list of names as Long.
What if one of the mighty falls? What if it is a school that begins with a T and prefers orange?
Both Tennessee and Texas have the resources to outbid Arkansas.
That is not to say that Derek Dooley or Mack Brown is teetering, although the highest paid coach in college football at $5.2 million, the 60-year-old Brown recently received a contract extension to the end of the 2020 season to quash rumors about his job security. Athletic director DeLoss Dodds pushed for the extension, which was approved by the UT regents.
All of that is fine and good, but the howls will grow loud if the Longhorns repeat their 4-5 record in the Big 12, a conference that should be improved with the addition of West Virginia and TCU.
During the 2011 regular season, the Longhorns beat only one team that finished with a winning record and that was Brigham Young. The Longhorns closed the season by losing to Baylor for the second year in a row and The Austin American-Statesman reported Baylor fans "were so blasé about beating Texas, they didn’t even bother to rush the field."
In November, the Longhorns scored five points at Missouri and 13 in a loss to the same Kansas State that gave up 29 to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
The 2011 season followed a 5-7.
Like Brown, Derek Dooley has suffered some embarrassing losses, including the Vols’ first to Kentucky since 1984. Tennessee is 4-12 in the SEC under Dooley and was outscored 138-35 by Arkansas, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina last year.
Both Texas and Tennessee suffered key injuries, but fans will only accept that excuse for so long.
I’m not saying that Brown or Dooley is gone, I’m just saying that a job opening at a high-profile school means competition for Long and Arkansas.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.