Tahlequah Daily Press

November 30, 2012

Arkansas coaching search gets weird

By KOLBY PAXTON
Staff Writer

— On some levels I can relate to John L. Smith’s plight.

Much like Smith, my employer recently made a personnel decision that directly impacted my workload. Like Smith, I went from merely setting a kick return unit, to calling plays, barking orders, and attempting to figure out what’s going on inside Paul Petrino’s head.

Of course, there are discrepancies. I didn’t high-five the Weber State Press before performing an about face in pursuit of greener pastures — I just moved down the hall. Smith’s pay increase was quite a bit larger than mine — yet, my debt to income ratio is far more favorable. My Paul Petrino looks nothing like his Paul Petrino, though he/she is equally frustrating to work with — and I am sure far more demonstrative.

The point is, however, such routine-altering changes — especially changes for which the individual is ill-prepared — can make a person crazy; crazy enough to forget the name of the state in which they reside, crazy enough to demand inappropriate smiles from those around them.

Fortunately, I’ve yet to completely flip my lid. Contrarily, I actually enjoy my added responsibilities, both for the modest entertainment value, and for the résumé enhancement. I have, to my knowledge, managed to avoid infuriating multiple area codes, and Les Miles has not been approached as my potential replacement.

The only element of my newfound circumstances that may be considered disadvantageous is the impediment that the increased burden has placed on my ability to consistently churn out a column. In fact, since earning said promotion, I have failed to produce a single by-line; a statistic that I am not proud of. For that, I apologize.

The plan, as of now, is to work this new gimmick that I originally intended to call, “Three-Point Stance.” Catchy, right? That is, until I remembered that my column was once referred to as “Paxton’s Point After,” and during last season’s NBA Playoffs we already played on that whole three points thing. Then, this fall, the idea was to write a column called “Four Quarters,” with one quarter dedicated to each of the four FBS universities in our coverage area. Sorry about that, Tulsa.

The point is, it’s a played out idea, and I’m no good at adhering to it. So here’s the deal: Some weeks you’ll get three points, some you’ll get one, or two, or five. It’s a surprise. You’re welcome.

1.) Speaking of John L Smith...

The search for his replacement sure got weird this week. At what point, in eight months of college football hell, did Jeff Long finally lose his mind? Les Miles? Les freaking Miles?

Look, I’m thrilled to know that the Hogs are ready to pony up excessively for a coach. Contrary to the abundance of ignorant misconceptions — ahem, Clay Travis — I am aware that Arkansas is not the only athletic department in the country with a handsome budget. Still, regardless of how many other schools claim a small army of wealthy boosters, Arkansas’ commitment to spending on sports — particularly football — coupled with access to seemingly infinite monetary resources, is matched by no more than a handful of its peers.

When Long & Co. offered — allegedly, of course — Les Miles a 5-year, $27-million contract, they shed clarity on two facts. 1.) Arkansas will not be outbid. 2.) The Arkansas administration has no plan whatsoever.

Miles is 85-20 as the head coach at LSU; an impressive record to be sure. It doesn’t matter. No red-blooded Arkansas fan wants the Mad Hatter eating field turf inside of Razorback Stadium. Not one. The guy is a clown. Watching him match wits with Houston Nutt was epic buffoonery.

Fortunately for Les, it doesn’t take a genius to win 80 percent of your games in Baton Rouge, La. Arkansas is not the same gig. It’s more Oklahoma State than LSU. The Hatter’s winning percentage in Stillwater? .571.

Would Long have offered Nutt $5 million per year to return to Arkansas? I only ask because Donna Bragg’s boyfriend won 61 percent of his games in Fayetteville.

I’ll put it this way: When Miles’ offer was leaked on Monday, Razorback Nation was collectively pleading with LSU to take the bait and offer up an extension. Meanwhile, Tiger fans were indifferent to his supposed impending departure. Miles-to-Arkansas would have resulted in a very Morgantown, W.V., post-game celebration-type of scene across the Natural State — minus the celebrating, of course.

I made the assumption that, following the train wreck that was the JLS-era, Long would err on the side of meticulous with this hire. Instead he just looks like the drunk, rich guy at the bar around closing time, backing up a dump truck of cash to the first female that looks in his direction. The end result, as is always the end result in said scenario, was nothing more than comedic production for those looking on. The Hogs paid Miles’ tab, while he left out the side door.

Predictable. And pathetic

2.) As for good football coaches…

Because it seems rather evident that Long will continue to sleep on Gus Malzahn — and because I am anything but unbiased in that regard — allow me to present you with the name of the gentlemen that you should wish for when you click the heels of your little red slippers, or rub your hog hats, or whatever it is you do when you log off of the internet message boards at night:

Art Briles.

In 1996, as the Southwest Conference dissolved, a slew of big stick carrying Texans campaigned on behalf of Baylor’s inclusion into the newly forming Big 12. For the ensuing decade, BU’s membership in the league served as a prime cautionary tale, screaming, “Be careful what you wish for,” with each resounding demolition at the hands of superior opponents.

From ‘97 to 2007, Dave Roberts, Kevin Steele and Guy Morriss led Baylor through one of the most futile periods in the history of college football. The trio combined to post a 28-85 mark, aided by Morriss’s relatively successful .310 winning percentage.

Five years later, Briles, a former high school coach, has transformed the Bears from a virtual bye week to a dragon-slaying offensive powerhouse. Just ask Kansas State.

He hasn’t done it with smoke and mirrors, either. He’s done it by identifying and attracting top shelf talent within the state of Texas.

Quarterback Robert Griffin, whom Briles recruited while at Houston, transcended the college football universe in route to the school’s first Heisman Trophy. With all due respect to Anthony Lucas and Cobi Hamilton, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams are as good as any pass catcher to arrive in Fayetteville in recent memory — if ever. Even, Nick Florence, he of over 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, has proven that Griffin’s 2011 performance was not a Cam Newton-esque fluke. All Texas natives.

With the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC, a border war over the top prep athletes in the Lonestar State has begun. The Aggies are winning. Arkansas is not close. Briles is capable of recruiting Texans to Arkansas even more effectively than Mike Gundy has at Oklahoma State.

The best hypothetical measure of any coach is what would happen if you remove him from his respective team. Remove Nutt? Arkansas thrives. Remove Petrino? Arkansas plummets.

What do you suppose happens to Baylor when Briles leaves?

3.) Oh, but about Gus...

I love Briles — clearly — but Malzahn should be the choice. If Arkansas doesn’t snatch him up, someone else — say, Auburn, for instance — will.

Much like Barry Switzer used to tell Oklahoma recruits that the Sooners were going to win, with or without them, Malzahn is going to win big, with or without the Hogs. Can Arkansas say the same? Throwing $27 million at Miles has to make you wonder, no?