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.
Three coaches considered potential UA hires set to lead teams in title games this weekend
Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin looks over his team before an NCAA college football game against UCF on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)
FAYETTEVILLE -- Three of the men thought to be at or near the top of the University of Arkansas' search for a head football coach are scheduled to lead their teams into conference title games this weekend.
Florida Atlantic Coach Lane Kiffin, who has ties to the state of Arkansas and University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, will lead the Owls (9-3) into Saturday's Conference USA Championship Game against Alabama-Birmingham (9-3) at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.
Memphis Coach Mike Norvell, one of the hottest up-and-coming college coaches, will match his No. 18 Tigers against No. 19 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The game will be a rematch of Friday's 34-24 victory for the Tigers, which was also played in Memphis.
Boise State Coach Bryan Harsin and the No. 20 Broncos (11-1) will take on Hawaii (9-4) in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game on the blue turf at Albertson's Stadium in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday.
Other top candidates such as Iowa State's Matt Campbell, Washington State's Mike Leach and Auburn's Gus Malzahn wrapped up their regular seasons over the weekend and are awaiting bowl announcements Sunday.
Kiffin, 44, is the son of well-regarded defensive guru Monte Kiffin, who was defensive coordinator at Arkansas (1977-79) for a three-year period in which the Razorbacks went 30-5-1 in their first three seasons under Lou Holtz.
USA Today reported Sunday that Yurachek and UA deputy athletic director Jon Fagg were in Boca Raton, site of Florida Atlantic, in the course of interviewing and have more interviews scheduled.
Kiffin, asked Sunday whether he has to address coaching rumors with his team, responded, "I don't. I don't think that has anything to do with this season and this team, so I've never addressed those things."
Kiffin was a finalist for head coach at the University of Houston in December 2016 when Yurachek, then the Cougars athletic director, selected in-house candidate Major Applewhite, the team's offensive coordinator under Tom Herman.
The Owls drew an announced crowd of 13,414 for Saturday's 34-17 victory over Southern Miss, which clinched the outright C-USA East Division title.
Kiffin has a 60-34 college record in his stints at Tennessee (7-6 in 2009), USC (28-15 from 2010-13) and Florida Atlantic (25-13 in 2017-19). During his tenure as offensive coordinator at Alabama (2014-16), the Crimson Tide went 40-3. In two years as offensive coordinator at USC (2005-06), the Trojans were 23-3 and averaged 49.1 points and 579.8 yards per game.
Kiffin has been on three national championship teams at USC and Alabama, and coached two Heisman Trophy winners in Reggie Bush (2005) and Derrick Henry (2015).
He also went 5-15 as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007-08.
Norvell, 38, is thought to be in the running for Florida State's head coaching vacancy. He was a candidate for the Arkansas opening in 2017 that went to Chad Morris, who was fired by Yurachek on Nov. 10 with a 4-18 record.
The Tigers are in the driver's seat to claim the automatic spot from the Group of 5 teams for the New Year's Six bowls. The highest-ranked team from among the Group of 5 conferences in the final College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings next Sunday earns that berth, and the Tigers would likely clinch it with another victory over Cincinnati.
Harsin, 43, a Boise native and alumnus of Boise State, has the Broncos in a strong position to slide into a New Year's Six spot if Memphis loses to Cincinnati and the Broncos defeat Hawaii.
Harsin is 70-21 in seven seasons at Arkansas State University and Boise State, including five seasons of 10 or more victories in six years with the Broncos.
There was chatter in coaching circles regarding Harsin's candidacy at Arkansas over the weekend. Harsin led Arkansas State to a 7-5 record in his only season with the Red Wolves after taking over for Malzahn in 2013.
Malzahn, the top candidate for the Arkansas search to replace Bret Bielema in 2017, was thought to be a possibility again this time around. However, the Tigers' 48-45 victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Saturday likely ended that scenario.
Campbell, who turned 40 on Black Friday, led the Cyclones to a 7-5 season after Saturday's 27-17 loss at Kansas State. Campbell is 62-39 in eight-plus seasons at Toledo and Iowa State.
Leach, 58, wrapped up his eighth regular season at Washington State with a 6-6 record after Friday's 31-13 loss to Washington in the annual Apple Cup game.
Leach has a 139-89 career record and is the all-time wins leader at Texas Tech after leading the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record from 2000-09.
Sports on 12/02/2019
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