Now not time to rush hiring process

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2019
An Arkansas football helmet sits on the sideline during a game between the Razorbacks and Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
An Arkansas football helmet sits on the sideline during a game between the Razorbacks and Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.

Every day that goes by without a new football coach hired at Arkansas, I hear from somebody else worried about the early signing period of Dec. 18-20.

I understand why the fans want a new coach as soon as possible, and I understand why they think it might hinder who the Razorbacks can land early.

But the most important thing is to hire the right guy at the right time, not the wrong guy quickly.

It turns out that is what happened last time. While I consider Chad Morris to be a standup guy, he just wasn’t working out as head coach here, and Razorback athletic director Hunter Yurachek chose to move on.

Morris’ biggest wins were on the recruiting trail, and while that didn’t parlay into success on the football field, they will likely help the new hire.

Players like receivers Mike Woods, Treylon Burks and Trey Knox, linebacker Bumper Pool, tight end Hudson Henry, quarterback K.J. Jefferson, some offensive and defensive linemen, four young defensive ends and several defensive backs should be cornerstones for the next guy.

If the coach is in place by early next week, he will still be able to hit the recruiting road for Arkansas immediately and also have official visitors in the weekend of Dec. 13-15.

College football is currently in a contact period that opened on Dec. 1 that allows college football recruiters to “make six in-person, off-campus contacts per student-athlete.”

I would be stunned if the next hire doesn’t make a beeline to talk to the three current in-state commits in Hazen defensive end Blayne Toll, Bryant defensive end-linebacker Catrell Wallace and Jonesboro defensive end Jashaud Stewart.

Stewart has always planned to sign on the Feb. 5 national signing date while Wallace may do the same.

“That’s part of the plan,” Stewart said. “Just gotta finish the school year strong. Gotta get the ACT up so I can be able to sign.”

Stewart is interested to learn about the next Razorback coach.

“It’s going to be exciting to see what the next head coach is going to do to help get the program winning again,” Stewart said.

Wallace will lead Bryant into action Friday night as it tries to take down North Little Rock for a second straight Class 7A state championship title.

“My teammates and I plan on (signing) together, so it all depends on how and when we feel like it is the right time,” Wallace said. “As of now, we are just focused on going back-to-back and getting these rings again this year.”

He’ll also likely see what he can do about flipping Morrilton quarterback Jacolby Criswell (North Carolina), Conway offensive lineman Robert Scott (Ole Miss) and North Little Rock tailback Brandon Thomas (Memphis).

There is a dead period from Dec. 16 to 18, when the early signing period opens.

For reference, Morris was hired on Dec. 6, 2017, while his predecessor Bret Bielema was hired Dec. 4, 2012.

Bielema did not have an early signing date to deal with and ended up signing such standouts as tailback Alex Collins, offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, tight end Hunter Henry, linebacker Martrell Spaight and quarterback Austin Allen.

Morris, who had to deal with the first early signing period upon his arrival, flipped Ashdown cornerback LaDarrius Bishop from Mississippi State, defensive lineman Nick Fulwider from North Carolina, wide receiver Mike Woods from SMU and safety Myles Mason from Mississippi State and got them signed during the early period.

He was also able to land tailback Rakeem Boyd, Pool, safety Joe Foucha and quarterback Connor Noland, who is only playing baseball now, among others.

He was unable to keep a trio of Bielema commits in Pulaski Academy offensive lineman Luke Jones (Notre Dame), Charleston safety-wide receiver Sean Michael Flanigan (Oklahoma State) and Iowa Western offensive lineman Noah Banks (Florida).

Jones transferred to Arkansas after a year at Notre Dame and will be eligible in the 2020 season.

Dudley E. Dawson can be reached at dedsports@aol.com .

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