Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
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At least wayward search didn’t land Kiffin
Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is shown during a news conference Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
When Ole Miss turned its focus to Lane Kiffin to be its next football coach, there was considerable relief in Arkansas.
That took Kiffin off University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek’s wish list.
Three years ago when Alabama’s Nick Saban made it clear Kiffin would not be welcomed back, Kiffin had two schools interested in hiring him: Houston, where Yurachek was the AD, and Florida Atlantic.
A Houston board of regents member later would say Kiffin never really was close to being hired.
So Kiffin went to Boca Raton, Fla., sans his wife and children, who had relocated to California after a divorce.
He occassionally made headlines for smart aleck or uninformed comments. Then suddenly the guy who was fired at USC and left on the Tarmac, who quit at Alabama and was later fired by Saban, appeared to be on top of Yurachek’s wish list at Arkansas.
Many Arkansans were not happy.
There was alarm about so many stories of Kiffin’s immaturity, antics and lack of self control that some members of the Arkansas board of trustees took notice.
Yurachek said the search would not be fast, and it hasn’t been.
It was implied, and proven to be true, that no one would be interviewed during the regular season.
It was said, and proven to be true to a certain extent, that it would be confidential.
The Dallas Cowboys offered to gather reports on coaching candidates, but the names of who Arkansas might be interested in would not be revealed even to the Cowboys.
So as Razorback Nation awakens on the 28th day since Chad Morris was fired, it appears Yurachek has gone to plan B, or maybe plan C.
His original list of candidates was, in order of interview, Eliah Drinkwitz, 36, who is 12-1 at Applachian State in his only year as an FBS head coach; Kiffin, 44, who has been discussed; Willie Fritz, 59, of Tulane, where he is 22-27; and Mike Leach, 58, of Washington State, who reportedly got a contract extension.
The now infamous flight that took the search committee to those places also stopped in Terrell, Texas, presumably to refuel, but also a short distance from the home of Deion Sanders, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys who is now a TV anaylst and volunteer high school coach.
The difficulty of this search was obvious from the start. Memphis’ Mike Norvell, SMU’s Sonny Dykes and UAB’s Bill Clark said don’t waste your breath.
There were calls to Houston Nutt, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Indiana’s Tom Allen. The last two received raises to stay put. Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente apparently said maybe, then changed his mind.
The UA isn’t as desirable as it was two years ago.
In the last few years, the SEC West has become a brutal place to compete. And for those coaches who were scared, thanks, we don’t need you.
The Razorbacks have had two football coaches, one basketball coach and an athletic director fired in the past 25 months. That does not scream stability.
The Razorback Nation is tired of being kept in the dark. Fans are losing confidence that this search is going to produce the best hire, but that’s premature.
One thing that is reassuring to many: It won’t be Lane Kiffin.
Others who were not considered for whatever reason are Butch Davis, Hugh Freeze and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Billy Napier.
So it appears Yurachek’s list is down to Drinkwitz, assistant coach Barry Lunney Jr. and, well, that was it unless hiring a big-time coordinator sounds better than it did four weeks ago.
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