Plane's path stops near UA interests in football coach search

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Washington State coach Mike Leach looks toward the scoreboard during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Oregon State, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington State coach Mike Leach looks toward the scoreboard during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Oregon State, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The search for the next University of Arkansas football coach is stretching further into the week.

Some of the candidates for the vacancy are coaching in conference championship games this weekend, including Florida Atlantic's Lane Kiffin and Appalachian State's Eliah Drinkwitz.

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and deputy athletic director Jon Fagg have spent the past few days interviewing candidates across the nation, sources have said.

They talked to Kiffin on Sunday, spoke to Tulane Coach Willie Fritz on Sunday or Monday, according to CBSSports.com, and met with Washington State Coach Mike Leach on Monday night.

A lot of discussion in Arkansas on Tuesday revolved around the movements of a jet, which is owned by a Rogers-based LLC that lists an Edward Fryar Jr. as an officer. Edward Fryar Jr. of Rogers was appointed to the UA board of trustees earlier this year.

The jet's movements have corresponded with the chronology of the interview schedule conducted by the UA officials.

The jet left Rogers on Saturday -- the day after the Razorbacks lost 24-14 to Missouri in their season finale -- en route to an airport in North Wilkesboro, N.C. That airport is 40 miles away from Boone, N.C., the home of Appalachian State University.

Drinkwitz, 36, an Alma High School and Arkansas Tech university graduate, has led the Mountaineers to an 11-1 regular-season record in his first season as head coach. They will carry a No. 21 CFP ranking into Saturday's 11 a.m. Sun Belt Conference Championship Game against Louisiana-Lafayette. The game will be played in Boone at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

That same jet flew to Boca Raton, Fla., on Saturday, home of Florida Atlantic University. The Owls are 9-3 in Kiffin's third season and are aiming for their second Conference USA championship in three years. Florida Atlantic hosts Alabama-Birmingham (9-3) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at FAU Stadium.

Kiffin, 44, is thought to be a candidate for the vacant Ole Miss position as well. He reiterated on a conference call with reporters Tuesday that he has not discussed his candidacy for Power 5 coaching positions with his team.

Kiffin is 25-13 in three seasons at Florida Atlantic. After signing a five-year contract with the Owls in December 2016, he agreed to a six-year extension in the summer of 2018 that would stretch through 2027, the Palm Beach Post reported. Kiffin would owe Florida Atlantic a buyout of $1.5 million if he left before Jan. 1, 2020, according to the Post.

The Rogers-based jet left Boca Raton on Sunday for New Orleans, home of Tulane University.

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com wrote Tuesday that Fritz had talked to UA officials and planned on interviewing with Missouri, with a source telling Dodd the Missouri position is his "dream job."

Fritz, 59, has a 22-27 record in four years with the Green Wave, including a 6-6 mark this year.

The same jet made a stop in Terrell, Texas, which is about 30 miles east of Dallas on Monday afternoon. It then flew into Lewiston, Idaho, on Monday night. The Lewiston Nez Pearce County Airport is located 34 miles from Pullman, Wash., home to Washington State. The jet began a return flight to Arkansas at 7:54 p.m. Central on Tuesday.

Leach has been endorsed by former Razorbacks such as Barry Switzer and Clint Stoerner, among others. Footballscoop.com reported on Tuesday that Leach interviewed with Arkansas officials "in recent days."

Leach, 58, one of the original proponents of the Air Raid offense, has led Washington State to a 55-46 record in eight seasons, including a 6-6 mark this year.

His overall record is 139-89 in 18 seasons at Texas Tech and Washington State, two programs that have been perennial middle-of-the-pack or lower teams in the Big 12 and Pac-12, respectively.

Other coaches whose names have been associated with the Arkansas job include Memphis' Mike Norvell, a University of Central Arkansas graduate; Florida International's Butch Davis, a native of Springdale; Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente, who is from Tulsa; Iowa State's Matt Campbell; Auburn's Gus Malzahn of Fort Smith; Boise State's Bryan Harsin; and others.

Campbell, who was thought to be a candidate at Arkansas and Florida State, agreed Tuesday to a contract extension with the Cyclones through the 2025 season. Campbell has a 26-24 record in four years at Iowa State, including three consecutive bowl appearances.

Sports on 12/04/2019

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