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Arkansas' Petrino replacement options

4/10/2012
Bobby Petrino is out at Arkansas. Who will take his place as the Razorbacks' next head coach. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Bobby Petrino lied to his boss and had an inappropriate relationship with a 25-year-old woman that he had recently hired over 158 other applicants.

Just like that, in a week's time, the Arkansas Razorbacks -- and especially AD Jeff Long -- are in a tricky spot. They need a head football coach. And they're looking for one in April.

Long has said he will immediately begin a search. If he does not find a long-term solution in the coming weeks, he added that he is not afraid to have an interim coach lead the Razorbacks in 2012. Linebackers coach Taver Johnson, a former Ohio State assistant who was hired in the offseason, will serve as the interim coach for at least the remainder of the spring.

While Long's task is challenging, it's important to point out that this job isn't like, say, North Carolina or Ohio State -- or USC -- where sanctions, and potentially hefty ones, were imminent at the times new hires were being made. No coach is walking in the door with the expectation of the NCAA's hammer coming down.

No, this is a relevant national job with big possibilities, which Petrino had started to mine (a BCS appearance two seasons ago and an 11-2 campaign last season).

Here are some potential candidates to replace Petrino (listed in alphabetical order):

Butch Davis

Current position: Free agent

Age: 60

Davis, a 1973 Arkansas graduate, has internal support from some prominent players in the university's machine, but he is a complicated candidate.

Though Davis was individually removed from blame in the North Carolina scandal, the mess did come on his watch. Would that alone be enough for Long to steer clear, given the current muck?

Originally from eastern Oklahoma, Davis played one season at Arkansas before having to end his career due to injuries. He immediately got into coaching, even as a student, and it stuck. As a former Hog -- and one who is immediately available, at that -- Davis, 60, would be the leader. (He also worked for former Razorback Jerry Jones with the Dallas Cowboys, which could come into play as well.) But there's the underlying baggage.

Skip Holtz

Current position: South Florida Bulls head coach

Age: 48

Holtz's name is often bandied about for all sorts of jobs, but perhaps it is time for him to finally move up to a top-shelf program.

Going back even to his time at Connecticut, before it was an FBS school, Holtz has had a knack for building programs. He did it at East Carolina, and he has sustained the level of success at South Florida that Jim Leavitt established before him.

Holtz is a high-character individual who would go over well with the highly irritated Hogs fan base.

Holtz's dad, Lou, could have some pull, as well. The 2008 College Football Hall of Fame inductee was the head coach at Arkansas from 1977-83.

Gus Malzahn

Current position: Arkansas State Red Wolves head coach

Age: 46

Timing is everything. If Malzahn had not gone from Auburn, where he was the offensive coordinator, to Arkansas State, he would have been a logical choice. Because he just got to Jonesboro in December, it's unlikely he will be a viable candidate for Long to pursue.

Otherwise, he would be nearly the perfect guy. He coached at Springdale High, just outside Fayetteville, from 2001-05 before becoming Houston Nutt's offensive coordinator in 2006. Successful ventures at Tulsa and Auburn have made him an attractive choice for several positions, including the Vanderbilt job he spurned a year ago.

If Long winds up with an interim this fall, then Malzahn becomes a much stronger candidate for 2013. Malzahn, known for his creative playbook, would keep Arkansas' offense in stride.

Garrick McGee

Current position: UAB Blazers head coach

Age: 39

McGee is another interesting case. The former Oklahoma quarterback was an offensive assistant under Petrino from his arrival in 2008 until he took the UAB job in December.

If he had remained in Fayetteville, he very well might have been tabbed as the interim head coach. As it is, he could be a candidate for the more permanent position.

It's likely water under the bridge for many, but you have to wonder if the school's board has to more carefully weigh a 2007 arrest for driving under the influence. Every misstep is put under a microscope when the previous coach leaves as Petrino did.

McGee did just uproot in recent months, so, like Malzahn, the timing might not be right for him.

Gary Patterson

Current position: TCU Horned Frogs head coach

Age: 52

Many have wondered what sort of job it would take to get Patterson to leave TCU, where he makes a very comfortable living (reportedly between $2-3 million) and wins a bunch of football games.

Why not now and why not Arkansas? TCU is embroiled in an uncomfortable drug scandal, which could force Patterson to suspend or lose several players this fall and affect recruiting in the near future. Additionally, while the move to the Big 12 is certainly a boost for the school, it makes winning all the more difficult for Patterson.

Of course, it's not as if winning at Arkansas is a piece of cake, but Patterson's ability to attract players to play in Fayetteville would be strong.

The downside to Patterson, if you're Long, is the fact that his style is predicated on defense and the team is currently geared for Petrino's wide-open system. Hiring an offensively inclined coach might be wiser.

Paul Rhoads

Current position: Iowa State Cyclones coach

Age: 45

Few coaches in the game are more respected, in the business and outside it, than Rhoads. If Long is going for a more virtuous choice, to wash out the bitterness of Petrino's dismissal, Rhoads might be the best choice.

It's a lot easier to win at Arkansas than Iowa State, even though Rhoads had a Cyclones team with average talent and depth on the rise in 2011. Despite the fact he didn't really find a quarterback until late in the season, Rhoads led ISU to an enormous victory against Oklahoma State, and the 'Clones were back in a bowl game.

Like Patterson, Rhoads has a defensive background. Perhaps that doesn't matter a great deal in the long run, but Long would be wise to find someone, if he can, to lead the loaded, offensive-minded 2012 team. If the Razorbacks go the interim route this season and open things up to a full search this winter, then both Patterson and Rhoads could become leading candidates.