King: What to look for, stay away from in coaching search

By: Harry King
Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Hunter Yurachek, director of athletics at Arkansas, watches Saturday, May 25, 2019, during the second day of play in the NCAA Men's Golf Championships at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Hunter Yurachek, director of athletics at Arkansas, watches Saturday, May 25, 2019, during the second day of play in the NCAA Men's Golf Championships at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson.

LITTLE ROCK — Retreads, rookies and minor league winners make up the pools of candidates available to Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek in his search for a new football coach.

Nobody asked, but the personal preference is to avoid coaches who bide their time as TV “analysts” while waiting for a school to make an offer, as well as those on the sideline.

Undoubtedly, the experience of a Mack Brown — the former Texas coach who bailed on TV and took the North Carolina job at age 67 — is a plus. And, more than likely, others who have enjoyed varying degrees of success have made it clear they are interested, but there is also something to be said for a candidate eager to prove himself.

Ideally, Yurachek would identify a big-time coach in the making, a head coach winning with a team outside the Power 5 conferences or an assistant, and giving an assistant his first crack at being a head coach comes with some risk.

Because Yurachek merely signed off on hiring Morris, the public’s opinion of his job performance will be shaped by the record of the next football coach. Considering that and the fact that Yurachek is paid $850,000 a year to run the athletics department, he should decide whom to hire.

Once the top candidate is identified, it will be up to Yurachek to convince the target that success is possible at Arkansas and that will not be easy considering the Razorbacks are in the same SEC division as Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M.

With Notre Dame on the schedule next year and Texas the following season, it is likely to be at least three years before the Razorbacks are talented enough to win seven or more.

Do the math: if Arkansas loses to the Fighting Irish and the Longhorns, the Razorbacks must go at least 4-4 in a league where they have not won since Oct. 28, 2017.

Supposedly, all ADs have a list of potential candidates for the head-coaching job, just in case. If Yurachek has such a checklist, he is not going to share the names, so media types are reduced to guessing. Anyway, throwing out names early in the coaching search is a popular exercise and pretty much risk-free.

With that in mind, there are a couple of coaches from the preferred groups that might be a bit offbeat, but deserve mention.

If Yurachek is willing to hire an assistant, Barry Lunney Jr. or Tim Horton would satisfy those Razorback fans who complain that so-and-so doesn’t understand Arkansas. And, if he didn’t mind a boatload of second-guessing, Yurachek would pursue 30-year-old Joe Brady, the first year passing game coordinator at LSU whose handiwork with the offense has made quarterback Joe Burrow the Heisman Trophy favorite.

High-profile assistants such as Brent Venables at Clemson and Dave Aranda at LSU are making more than $2 million each, know they can win with their current employer and probably are not interested in trying to resurrect a program for a raise of $1 million or so. Also, for those who believe being part of the Nick Saban coaching tree guarantees success, see Will Muschamp and 4-6 South Carolina.

Based strictly on their record, one head coach with Arkansas ties and a second hard by the state border might only need a chance to prove they belong in the big time.

The reference is to Eliah Drinkwitz at Appalachian State and Mike Norvell at Memphis.

The 36-year-old Drinkwitz is an Alma native who graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arkansas Tech and coached four years at Springdale High School before working as a graduate assistant at Auburn. He also coached at Arkansas State and Boise State and was offensive coordinator at North Carolina State when he was hired as Appalachian State’s head coach last December.

Fresh from a 20-15 victory over South Carolina, Appalachian State is 8-1 and the top vote getter outside the top 25 in The AP Poll.

A wide receiver at the University of Central Arkansas more than a dozen years ago and married to a woman originally from Fort Smith, the 38-year-old Norvell was named head coach at Memphis in December 2015.

The Tigers won a minimum of eight each of his first three years and are 8-1 this year, including handing SMU its first loss of the year. They are ranked 18th in The AP poll and their only loss was 30-28 to Temple.

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