Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs move on from Malzahn
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watches his team warm up for the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Atlanta, Ga. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks' hopes of bringing Gus Malzahn back to Northwest Arkansas faded Sunday afternoon, as the Fort Smith native and fifth-year Auburn coach agreed to a lucrative raise and a contract extension with Auburn, reported by The Associated Press and others to be a seven-year deal.
The new package, which will reportedly exceed $7 million in the final year, was first reported by 247Sports.
Malzahn had been the top target for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, which had presented a substantial offer. "One figure tossed around, according to the source, $50 million for seven years," CBSSports.com wrote of the reported offer from the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks' search, which is being conducted by interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples now turns to other candidates, which include SMU Coach Chad Morris, Memphis Coach Mike Norvell and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Industry sources said Sunday that Arkansas might also take a look at South Florida Coach Charlie Strong (Batesville, Central Arkansas), Florida Atlantic Coach Lane Kiffin, Washington State Coach Mike Leach and former Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, who is considered a strong candidate at Central Florida.
Norvell, 36, has led the Tigers to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Liberty Bowl. When he did not appear on a Liberty Bowl teleconference at 2:45 p.m. Sunday there was speculation about whether he might be involved in talks with Arkansas officials. However, Liberty Bowl associate executive director Harold Graeter said Norvell was on a pre-planned recruiting trip and was in a plane at the time of the call.
Venables, whose No. 1 Clemson team will face No. 4 Alabama in a College Football Playoff game Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl, is scheduled to be in Little Rock today in advance of Tuesday's Broyles Award presentation at the Little Rock Marriott. Venables, 46, won the award last year as the top assistant coach in the country.
Reports of Malzahn's agreement to the new deal at Auburn broke shortly after his appearance on a Peach Bowl teleconference where he fielded multiple questions about his status at Auburn and the strong interest from Arkansas.
"Like I just said, I'm planning on being here at Auburn. That's where I want to be," Malzahn said when asked to clarify contract talks. "Nothing's changed since last night."
When a reporter pointed out that Malzahn kept saying "planning," he replied, "Well, that's just what I said. You just heard what I said."
The conference moderator then cut off a question about how flattering the offer to Malzahn was from Arkansas, his "home-state university."
The Razorbacks are conducting twin searches for a permanent athletic director and a head football coach since Jeff Long's firing as athletic director on Nov. 15 and Bret Bielema's dismissal as head coach on Nov. 24.
The UA Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet in Little Rock this morning. A source with knowledge of the meeting said items for discussion include issues at the flagship campus as well as some of the other schools in the system.
UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz is believed to have interviewed Tulsa Athletic Director Derrick Gragg on Sunday evening and former Arkansas quarterback Kevin Scanlon late last week.
Other potential athletic director candidates include Central Florida Athletic Director Danny White, South Florida Athletic Director Mark Harlan, Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen and Houston Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek.
A plane registered to the Razorback Foundation flew on Sunday from Fayetteville to Little Rock and on to Tampa, Fla., then flew to Tulsa and back to Little Rock before finishing in Fayetteville. The plane stopped for multiple hours in Tampa and Tulsa and made short stops in Little Rock.
Bob Holt of the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette and Matt Jones WholeHogSports.com contributed information for this article.
Sports on 12/04/2017
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