The coaching search in Fayetteville is underway and Arkansas football should have a list. Here’s a formula they should think about using.
In 2004, David Cutcliffe was fired as head coach of the Mississippi Rebels allegedly for not making significant changes to his staff. After a four-year hiatus, he accepted the head coaching job at Duke. Most people responded, “What? Why would he take that job?” It’s simple, if you win seven games at Tennessee, you get fired. If you win seven games at Duke, you might get a statue.
Twelve years later, Cutcliffe — now in his mid-60s — is still at Duke with six consecutive winning seasons and a 3-3 bowl record. He’s turned a football wasteland into a relevant program. Most importantly for Duke, he’s never wanted to leave, and will retire in Durham. That’s what Arkansas needs.
The Razorbacks aren’t nearly as desolate at Duke was before Cutcliffe got there, but they haven’t been a relevant program in almost a decade. Their high-water mark was winning 11 games in 2011. They haven’t played for a conference championship since 2006, and haven’t won a conference championship since 1989 in the old Southwest Conference. To say Arkansas hasn’t been a force in the SEC is an understatement.
Putting the Razorbacks on the balance of the most difficult division in college football — the SEC West — Arkansas is playing for fifth place and seven-win seasons. That’s the job.
Arkansas won’t get a sitting Power Five coach to take the job. Matt Campbell won’t leave Iowa State for Arkansas; Iowa State is a better job right now. You could go with the young coordinator, or the young Group of Five head coach, but does Arkansas want someone there until the “elite” job comes open? They don’t want to press the reset button again after a young coach comes and has some success then leaves when the better job opens.
The “Cutcliffe” formula is perfect for Arkansas. They need an older former Power Five coach who can still coach and recruit that doesn’t want the pressure-cooker of the big-time Power Five gig and will stick around for a decade.
Here are three coaches that fit the bill.