After being shocked that their coach with a history of moral flexibility did some morally questionable things, Arkansas fired Bobby Petrino this week, leaving their program without a definite direction. An incoming batch of recruits and a roster full of returners is now being led by a coach hired less than a year ago. To be blunt, the Razorbacks need a plan.
Now, despite having an interim coach, the staff will maintain some measure of cohesiveness by retaining Petrino's assistants and their system. Furthermore, they'll be facing a (relatively) depleted SEC. Scandal aside, Arkansas should probably have a solid year; they will probably warm to their new coach. But they'll will definitely need someone with head coaching experience in a power conference and recruiting roots in Texas.
First, the obvious: the next head coach at Arkansas needs to have experienced success in a power conference. The pressure, the stress and demands placed on a SEC coach aren't going to be the same as someone coming out of ANY other conference - even the Big 12. The rapport with boosters, the engagements away from the field, and appreciating the intensity of the spotlight are nearly as essential to the job as what happens on the field.
But, of course, winning is king - something more true in SEC football than anywhere else. They'll need to be able to coach. They'll need to be able to land talent. They'll need to pull assistants who can coach and implement a system. But, as with all college sports, the key to success is securing talent.
No matter how good a season the Pig-Sooey boys have, they're not a recruiting destination for recruits. They're just not. Therefore, they'll need a coach who can mine the talent-laden state to the south. Connections and knowledge of the area are essential to recruiting outside the top national recruits. They'll need someone who has those connections and that familiarity.
Kirby Smart, Alabama's defensive coordinator, has to be the favorite of AD Jeff Long and the entirety of Hog Nation. He can coach, he's been a part of a dominant recruiting machine, and he's done it all in the SEC. However, Smart has reportedly already turned down Tennessee, a program with more prestige than Arkansas; he may have been waiting on the Georgia job to come open, but Mark Richt shored that up with a successful season and another fine recruiting class. A possibility, but far from a sure thing.
The prominent Texas connection on the list is Gary Patterson. Patterson has turned TCU into a winner with a sound recruiting strategy - converting speedy skill players into skilled, speedy defenders. Given the reigns of a higher profile program in the SEC, one would expect Patterson to be able to duplicate his success on a larger stage. Problem there is, Patterson is the king of Fort Worth, and with the Horned Frogs' move to the Big 12 and a $105 million stadium renovation, there's not much Arkansas can offer that TCU doesn't already have.
The one Texas name that should rise to the top is Art Briles. His program lifting quarterback just left. Baylor will never be a recruit's dream destination - their facilities aren't exactly top notch and the campus life in beautiful Waco, Texas isn't exactly a draw.
As far as his qualifications for the job, they're a fair match as well. Briles is comfortable working within the wide open offensive system that has brought Arkansas success. He's also been able to mine Texas' second tier of prospects to find success, and Baylor producing two first round picks last year and presumably two more this year speaks to his ability to develop players.
While there are several names ahead of Briles on the Arkansas wish list, Briles would be an ideal pick to maintain a connection to the school's nearest recruiting hotbed. And for that reason, Bears fans' concern about replacing Robert Griffin should be a secondary concern as the program moves forward.