Tahlequah Daily Press

College Sports

October 16, 2012

Unexpected ineptitude kick–starts the coaching carousel

Here's a list of things that I did expect on Saturday:

• I did expect Arkansas to cover the spread at home vs. Kentucky.

• I did expect the Sooners to knock off Texas.

• Believe it or not, I did expect Landry Jones to play well. He's been consistently proficient at the Cotton Bowl – two words that you'd never use to describe the New Mexican in any other scenario.

As for happenings that I did not anticipate? Suffice it to say that I did not expect to witness the end of the Mack Brown era manifest itself in the form of a 63-21 Red River wreck.

Oklahoma was a better team due, in large part, to Mike Stoops' defensive reckoning. That much, we knew. Still, just three weeks ago, many were digging the Sooners' grave and singing UT's praises in the same breath. David Ash was the real deal. Texas was a complete team – you know, as in, it had a defense to accompany its offense. Oklahoma couldn't move the ball, nor could the Sooners tackle.

Now, it seems, they can do both – quite well, actually, and thanks for asking. Conversely, the question, "What has Brown done for you lately?" has never been so pointed.

Since Colt McCoy's arm went dead in the 2009 BCS Championship, Brown's record in Austin is 17-15, 0-3 vs. Oklahoma. Worse than going o'fer Landry Jones, is going o'fer by an average margin of over 40 points per game – a harsh reality of the past two seasons, following Saturday's meltdown at the Midway.

If not for the goal line fumble that wasn't, the mighty Longhorns would be 0-3 in the Big 12 during a season in which "experts" like Phil Steele and Athlon Sports ranked Texas as high as No. 7 during the pre-season. The offense is bad, the defense is worse, and the UT coaching staff has developed an unwanted – but unavoidable – reputation for failing to develop its constant influx of top shelf talent. That, or we're really supposed to believe that the University of Texas just can't seem to find any elite linebackers, wide receivers or quarterbacks. Which makes more sense?

Mack had a nice run, a really nice run, complete with one of the most memorable national championships in the history of collegiate football. Unfortunately, however, the remainder of the 2012 regular season was turned into a swan song by Damien Williams and Kenny Stills, Blake Bell and Trey Millard. There exists too much pride, too many inflated self-images in Austin, to allow Brown to stick around after this one. Significant house cleaning is imminent – but Texas won't be alone in that endeavor.

Arkansas' campaign became a series of unimportant scrimmages less than a month into the regular season. The deep pockets residing in the state's northwest corridor figure to position the Razorbacks at or near the top of the coaching carousel. Elsewhere in the SEC, Derek Dooley is a lame duck in Knoxville, Tenn., and Gene Chizik is who we thought he was in Auburn, Ala. – a considerable plummet for two of the top football programs in the country.

So with Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn headlining the list of schools in pursuit of a new ball coach, I thought it appropriate to compile an early list of the top ten potential replacements:

10.) Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State

Am I biased? Probably. And just to be clear, the obvious omission from this group is one Pete Carroll, who, if interested in returning to the collegiate ranks, should be No. 1 on the list – moving the rest of these gentlemen down a notch and, in the case of Malzahn, off the board. But I doubt Carroll's desire to go back to school given the season he's having in Seattle, and with Arkansas and Auburn in play, it's tough not to connect the dots in the direction of Jonesboro, Ark.

9.) Art Briles, Baylor

Briles has turned the doormat of the Big 12 into a Heisman Trophy producing, perennial bowl squad – an achievement that cannot be overstated. Just a few years ago, a fall wedding in Texas or Oklahoma carried with it two options: Schedule the big day for a bye week, or schedule it for Baylor week. Unfortunately for autumn nuptials, there is now but one option, and it isn't the Bears.

8.) Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

To appreciate what Mullen has accomplished in Starkville, Miss., you need to understand that a) Mississippi State's cupcaketitude was matched by only Vanderbilt and Ole Miss prior to his arrival, and b) he has absolutely no chance of ever winning the division, therefore he may not be measured in BCS bowls and conference championship appearances. The Bulldogs are relevant, a modifier that did not describe MSU pre-Mullen, nor post-Mullen.

7.) Dana Holgerson, West Virginia

Admittedly, I'd have likely placed Holgerson a tad higher on the list were it not for witnessing the demolition that ensued in Lubbock on Saturday. Still, Holgerson is as brilliant an offensive mastermind as the game has to offer. Given the recruiting reach afforded to the likes of Texas, Auburn, Tennessee, and even Arkansas, the Red Bull Space Jump would seem to be the limit.

6.) James Franklin, Vanderbilt

Franklin had me at Marc Panu. I understand that the Commodores are just 2-4 this season, but that number figures to improve with a job interview vs. Auburn on tap for this weekend. More importantly, Franklin has managed to ignite an otherwise apathetic football fan base, winning six games in his first season and recruiting far better than the head coach of Vandy should be able.

5.) Charlie Strong, Louisville

Strong is no stranger to this game. He was tossed around as the potential ship corrector at numerous schools – including Arkansas – while the defensive coordinator at Florida. All he's done since arriving to the ashes of the Steve Kragthorpe-era is resurrect the Cardinals, currently at 6-0 and in the driver's seat of what used to be the Big East. Strong is an Arkansas-native, and a graduate of Central Arkansas.

4.) Bobby Petrino, Harley Davidson

Say what you will about his obvious character flaws. Odds are, I probably already have. Petrino is a winner. He won at Louisville. He won at Arkansas. He'll win at Kentucky or Auburn. All John L. Smith & Co. have done, is solidify his value as a head coach.

3.) Gary Patterson, TCU

Patterson has transformed the Horned Frogs from Mountain West also-ran, to Big 12 contender. He has shown no fear when it comes to recruiting against the OU's, UT's and A&Ms of the world, and there's no doubt that a school like Arkansas could out-bid TCU for his services. He's 114-31 in 11 seasons at Texas Christian, and he deploys the smash mouth defensive brand of football that seems to exemplify the SEC.

2.) Chris Petersen, Boise State

At the end of each season, Petersen tops the list of a handful of schools looking to make a coaching change. And at the end of each off-season, he remains the head coach in Boise, Idaho. Maybe he's the Mark Few of college football. Maybe he never leaves the smurf turf for the greener pastures of bigger programs. Maybe. But what if Texas offered him $5 million a year?

1.) Jon Gruden, ESPN

Gruden is one of the brightest minds, at any level, in the game today. There's no way you're convincing me that he's content to simply retire to the Gruden Quarterback Camp and hang out with Mike Tirico.

His name continues to come up amid the grumbling in Fayetteville, Ark., where one of the nation's wealthiest athletic departments could afford to make it worth his while. Unfortunately for Razorback Nation, Gruden has strong ties to the University of Tennessee. He was a graduate assistant in Knoxville, married a Volunteers cheerleader, and seems like an obvious answer to what ails Rocky Top.

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