Drinkwitz queried; Kiffin's out of play

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, December 8, 2019
Appalachian State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz makes his way back to the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Football Championship on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Boone, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Appalachian State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz makes his way back to the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Football Championship on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Boone, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

FAYETTEVILLE -- With Ole Miss announcing Lane Kiffin as the Rebels' new coach Saturday, Appalachian State Coach Eliah Drinkwitz could be in play for the University of Arkansas job.

Kiffin, who completed his three-year stint at Florida Atlantic with a 49-6 victory over Alabama-Birmingham in the Conference USA Championship Game on Saturday, and Drinkwitz both interviewed with Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and deputy athletic director Jon Fagg last week.

After Drinkwitz, an Alma native, led the Mountaineers to a 45-38 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game on Saturday in Boone, N.C, he was asked about speculation he could leave Appalachian State.

"I hate to make this comparison, but the president of the United States always says, 'Fake news,' and you don't really believe it until you start seeing it about yourself a lot," said Drinkwitz, who is 12-1 in his first season as a head coach. "There's a lot of fake news and a lot of rumors and a lot of stuff going on out there.

"Our focus this week was trying to be 1-0. My family and I love it here. We're very excited about what we're doing here at App State. At the same time, every opportunity, I owe it to my family to see if that's something we're interested in. But I'm not in any hurry to leave. I feel strongly that we're building something special here that can be sustained for a long period of time."

Drinkwitz then was asked specifically if he or his representatives have heard from Arkansas officials.

"I haven't checked my phones yet, so we'll see," Drinkwitz said. "I don't know."

ESPN's Quint Kessenich, the sideline reporter for the Sun Belt Championship Game, said that in talking to Drinkwitz and Louisiana-Lafayette Coach Billy Napier, they agreed Arkansas is a difficult assignment right now.

The Razorbacks have gone 2-10 in each of the past two seasons and lost 19 consecutive SEC games.

Napier, a former Alabama assistant for Nick Saban, has led the Ragin' Cajuns to a 10-3 record.

"If you're Napier and Drinkwitz -- Napier's 40 and Eliah is 36 -- you're in a great spot right now," Kessenich said. "You're building franchises that are going to be successful.

"I don't think they're in a rush to take a job that is maybe more challenging than the one they currently have, and a pay raise that is not going to pay off in the long run."

Drinkwitz lobbied for his team to earn a spot in the Cotton Bowl, which this season includes the highest-ranked Group of 5 team as voted on by the College Football Playoff committee.

Drinkwitz said the No. 21-ranked Mountaineers are deserving of a Cotton Bowl berth because they've beaten two Power Five conference teams -- North Carolina 34-31 and South Carolina 20-15.

"We haven't been ranked highly enough all year along," Drinkwitz said. "We're a really good football team, we've done all that we can do, and if the eyes of the committee see fit then we'll play in the Cotton Bowl. We'll tackle that task.

"If not, we'll take whatever the Sun Belt gives us and we'll be excited about it."

Drinkwitz said he would prefer the postgame focus be on his players and what they accomplished, not on whether he might leave Appalachian State.

"When all that stuff plays out, then we'll answer the questions ... and I'll be upfront with everybody," Drinkwitz said. "But right now, there's nothing to it."

Barry Lunney Jr., an Arkansas assistant coach since 2013 and the team's interim coach for the last two games after Yurachek fired Chad Morris on Nov. 10, also could be a possibility to get the job, according to sources.

The Razorbacks were 0-2 with Lunney as interim coach, losing at No. 1 LSU 56-20 and to Missouri 24-14 in Little Rock, but the team showed improvement and played hard, and Lunney had a good interview with Yurachek, according to sources.

Tulane Coach Willie Fritz, who led the Green Wave to a 6-6 record this season, also interviewed for the Arkansas job.

It's possible there are candidates who haven't been revealed yet.

When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin to take the Arkansas job after the 2012 season, his name wasn't linked to the Razorbacks until a few minutes before an official announcement that he had been hired.

Ole Miss Athletic Director Keith Carter, a Perryville native who played basketball for the Rebels, hired Kiffin less than a week after firing Matt Luke last Sunday.

Carter interviewed Kiffin on Thursday night in Boca Raton, Fla.

It isn't known whether Kiffin was Arkansas' top target, but there is a perception by some fans and media that the Rebels beat their SEC West rival Razorbacks in the coaching search.

Kiffin led FAU to a 26-13 record in three seasons and two Conference USA titles.

"I couldn't be more excited to welcome Coach Kiffin to the Ole Miss family," Carter said in a news release. "As we entered this process, we were looking for energy, innovativeness and a program builder who could excite our student-athletes and fans.

"Coach Kiffin checked every box and is a home run for our program. I look forward to locking arms with him to take Ole Miss football to a championship level."

Ole Miss is Kiffin's third SEC school. He led Tennessee to a 7-6 record in 2009 in his only season as the Vols' coach before leaving for Southern California, and was Alabama's offensive coordinator from 2014-16.

Sports on 12/08/2019

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