Andy Hodges

Malzahn to Arkansas not as farfetched as some think

Don’t think it couldn’t happen. Malzahn’s buyout consists of him taking care of his assistant coaches and most would follow him.

Gus Malzahn may be coming to Arkansas.

The key word there is MAY. Nobody is hinting it is a done deal except the almost non-stop rumor mill that is churning full time.

Which is causing the Debbie Downers to pop up everywhere.

There is almost no one that believes Bret Bielema will around long after Thanksgiving. If he makes it there.

As fast as things are crumbling around this Razorback football program, it wouldn’t be that surprising if he was asked to move along any day.

And, of course, the national media likes to dismiss the notion with a wave of their hand and say it’s ridiculous.

All I can say is nearly all of them thought the Bielema hiring in December 2012 was a home run hire for the Hogs and guaranteed success. At the time I said it was a horrible fit and doubted it would work.

And, bless their hearts, most of those national media types aren’t real deep thinkers. As one of them told me a couple of years ago, “we don’t have time to dig deep on everything.”

They don’t. Anyone with a passing knowledge of college football could see what was developing and realize Bielema’s system wasn’t going to work in the SEC.

Big and slow with lightly-recruited signing classes results in well, the worst five-year period in Arkansas football since World War II.

Which brings us to present-day where athletics director Jeff Long was fired, in part, because of Bielema’s lack of success. Don’t think that’s the only reason, though. You don’t pay someone between $4-5 million to NOT be the athletic director because the football coach can’t figure out how to win in the SEC.

Now Malzahn is the No. 1 target of whoever is doing the search process for a new coach. Oh, it’s going on. It’s probably been going on for a few weeks now.

This stuff only happens in a hurry when an AD is wholly unprepared for a coaching search and ends up hiring a bad fit from a love letter from several months previous.

The only sticking point is, well, Gus is having a lot of success right now down on The Plains. He has gone from the hottest of seats to fairly safe in about three weeks. It happens that fast in the SEC.

Despite what some in Arkansas want to believe, that is part of what’s working in the Razorbacks’ favor during all of this.

You have to wonder if Gus is tired of being the main attraction in the most dysfunctional three-ring circus in the SEC. That is Auburn.

They fired Gene Chizik only two years removed from a national championship. Malzahn, in his first season, took the Tigers to the national championship game and came within seconds of a national title.

Then two years later the wolves were on his doorstep. It was so bad that going to the Sugar Bowl with an 8-4 record had many at Auburn trying to shove him out the door, especially when they were hammered by Oklahoma down in New Orleans.

He’s had more must-win games to keep his job in five years than most coaches deal with in a lifetime.

That’s because at Auburn there are numerous people who think they are running the show, although they aren’t even on campus most of the time.

Then you’ve got the proverbial drunk uncle running around telling everybody what’s going on and people actually listening to him, despite the fact he couldn’t win a national championship with one of the best players in league history.

No one should be surprised that Gus would seriously consider jumping off that ship if it got anywhere near the shore.

Make no mistake about it, he is the No. 1 target for Arkansas. Like some of the championship-caliber teams in college football it appears the coach may answer to folks above the athletic director level.

At Auburn who that is right now is up in the air.

Do you honestly think Nick Saban REALLY answers to Greg Byrne at Alabama? No, he answers to the president of the university and a couple of other people, although in that case there aren’t a lot of questions.

Coaches simply want to know WHO they answer to. They really don’t care if it’s the athletic director or not. You would be shocked to know the number of coaches that DON’T answer to the athletic director in reality.

So don’t worry about whether the Hogs have an athletic director or not. They may or may not have one in place soon.

Which brings us to the Auburn comparison. They are expected to announce that Michelle McKenna-Doyle, chief information officer at NFL, is going to replace Jay Jacobs. That helps on several fronts with the Tigers athletic program that is in the worst mess in history and nobody’s mentioned football as part of the problem there.

But it’s another reason Malzahn could be ready to get out of town.

And, as we’ve said previously, there is a strong precedent for this.

Johnny Majors won a national championship at Pittsburgh in 1976, then left for his alma mater at Tennessee, which was stuck in four-year period of mediocrity.

Jackie Sherrill took what Majors built and went 33-3 over the next three years.

For Malzahn, though, with what he has in the program, he can leave with his head held high that he left things in good shape. There will be no complaining about a new coach coming in inheriting a bad situation.

For Arkansas, the situation is about as good as it’s going to get.

Malzahn has no buyout other than he has to take care of his assistant coaches, which is taken care of if he brings them with him to Arkansas.

Good for Arkansas.

Now it’s going to be up to Gus to decide.

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