Posted by Adam Butler on October 16, 2012
Shortly after it ends, Arkansas will hire a new head football coach who will be charged with the task of pulling the program out of the literal and figurative ditch it has been in since April Fool’s Day (a sad saga date with such palpable irony that it wouldn’t even be lost on The Former Mississippi Coach).
The bad news is that while Arkansas has grown as a program by leaps and bounds in many areas (recent success, national relevance, facilities, donations, coaches’ salaries) since hiring Bobby Petrino following its last football coaching search, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long has shown to be just as likely to try to make a head-scratching, gut-wrenching hire as he has been to make a home run coaching hire.
So far, Long has been a feast or famine Athletic Director. He has made two home run hires–Bobby Petrino and Mike Anderson. But, he has also come perilously close to hiring two “Jeffys” (Jim Grobe and Tommy Bowden).
What is a “Jeffy”, you ask?
It’s a cynical moniker/takeoff of Long’s first name that I have coined for the type of hire that when backed into a corner, Long has, as often as not, shown a desire to make.
A “Jeffy” is a hire or near hire (usually a middle-aged retread) that leaves the fan base cold and wanting–a mediocre coach with just enough of a resume’ to be offered the job but not enough of a resume’ to take the program out of the doldrums.
“Jeffys” come in different shapes, sizes, ages and levels of previous success, but by now, Arkansas fans know one when they see one.
With several marquee schools (Texas, Tennessee and Auburn) potentially entering the coaching search fray after the season, Long’s task will not be easy. If he misses on his prime targets, Long may not be able to help himself and may pick a Jeffy.
If so, here are six prototypical, presumably available Jeffys.
6. Mike Sherman–The former Head Coach (and general manager for a short stint) of the Green Bay Packers from 2000-2006, Sherman compiled a 59-43 record with three consecutive division titles from 2002-2004. His NFL ceiling was his three NFC Divisional Game losses. Hog fans recall that he was the Head Coach at Texas A&M from 2008-2011 with a 25-25 record (and three consecutive losses to Arkansas at Jerry World).
Sherman’s best season in College Station was a 9-4 campaign in 2010 that ended with a Cotton Bowl loss to LSU. Sherman is a respected offensive mind but as a Head Coach he has been unable to get over the hump. Sherman is currently the Offensive Coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.
Pro: He is a very well-respected offensive mind.
Con: He couldn’t win consistently at TAMU in the Big 12. Why would anything be different at Arkansas in the SEC West?
5. Randy Shannon–Shannon played an integral part in the rise of The U as both a player and a renowned recruiter and defensive coach. However, he was unable to take the program back to prominence when he took over as Miami Head Coach in 2007. In 4 seasons at the Hurricane helm, Shannon went 28-22. Shannon’s best season as Miami Head Coach came in 2009 when the Hurricanes went 9-4 and finished 3rd in the Coastal Division of the ACC. Shannon is currently the linebackers coach at TCU.
Pro: He’s an ace recruiter.
Con: He couldn’t win consistently at Miami when Florida St. was relatively down.
4. Dennis Erickson–It’s All About Tha U, apparently. Unlike Shannon, Erickson is an offensive coach and he thrived as the Head Coach in Coral Gables from 1989-1994. He took over for Jimmy Johnson and went 63-9 and won 2 National Championships (1989 & 1981).
Erickson left Miami to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 1995. Miami was hit with 3 years of NCAA probation shortly after his departure. Erickson has also been a head coach at Idaho (twice), Wyoming, Washington State and (most recently) Arizona State. He also had a stint as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Overall, Erickson is 179–96–1 (college) and 40–56 (NFL). Most of his success came at Miami with the major exception being an 11-1 season in 2000 that ended with a 41-9 trouncing of Notre Dame and a #5 finish, nationally. Erickson is not currently coaching.
Pro: He certainly has experience.
Con: If you look up the word “retread”in the dictionary, you will see his picture.
3. Frank Solich–You never want to be the guy after “The Guy” and Solich was just that at Nebraska, taking over for the legendary Tom Osborne and going 58-19 as the Cornhuskers Head Coach.
In retrospect, Solich did a very good job at Nebraska–he just couldn’t replicate Osborne’s remarkable success that included a national championship on the way to retirement. Solich’s 2001 Huskers started 11-0, lost their season finale and failed to qualify for the Big 12 Championship Game, but were a controversial National Championship Game participant, losing 37-14 to Miami.
Solich won at least 9 games in 5 of his 6 seasons as the Nebraska Head Coach and was the 2-time Big 12 Coach of the Year. Solich is currently the head coach at Ohio University and has been since 2005. He is 57-40 as the Bobcats’ Head Coach and 115-59 overall.
Pro: He has won everywhere he has been.
Con: He ran the option for decades before adapting and using the Spread last year.
2. Dave Wannstedt–Famous for his moustache and his success as the defensive coordinator in Dallas during the Cowboys’ salad days in the late ’80s and early ’90s, The Stache was also the head coach of the Chicago Bears (’93-’98) and Miami Dolphins (’00-’04). His overall NFL head coaching record is 83-88. Wannstedt was most recently the head coach of the Pitt Panthers from 2005-2010 going 42-31.
Wannstedt’s best season at Pitt was 2009 when the Panthers finished 10-3 and 15th in the AP Poll. His best moment, though, was denying Rich Rodriguez and West Virginia a spot in the BCS Championship Game in 2007 with a huge 13-9 upset win in Morgantown in 2007. He is currently the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
Pro: He wouldn’t be an interim coach.
Con: He wouldn’t be an interim coach.
1. David Cutcliffe–Admit it. You could see Cutcliffe attempting an awkward Hog Call after being named the UA Head Coach this December. All it would take is for Long to strike out on the “home run” hires and settle on a safe pick like Cutcliffe, who is a gentleman and a scholar.
After a firing. ADs typically overcorrect. If they had an offensive coach they hire a defensive one and vice versa. Or, if they had a morally challenged coach, they tab a man of character like Cutcliffe.
Cutcliffe also scratches the perceived “doing more with less” itch for the inferiority-complex hampered Razorback program. He famously tutored both Peyton (as Tennessee Offensive Coordinator) and Eli (as Mississippi Head Coach) Manning.
Cutcliffe was 44-29 at Mississippi with 1 SEC West title (2003) and is 20-35 as head coach at Duke, his current position. If that sounds like an awful record, remember that Duke has been one of the worst College Football programs in modern history and Cutcliffe’s current 5-2 start in 2012 has opened some eyes.
Pro: He is a solid coach and citizen.
Con: He is 58 years old, has had major health problems and has never won big as a Head Coach.