SEC coaches say Arkansas good gig

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, November 16, 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.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Alabama has won as many SEC football games since 2018 as the University of Arkansas has in the past eight seasons.

The Crimson Tide are 13-1, including 5-1 this season with a 48-7 victory over Arkansas.

The Razorbacks are 13-49 in SEC play since 2012 when John L. Smith served as their interim coach after Bobby Petrino was fired because of off-the-field issues.

Arkansas is the only SEC team not to win at least nine games once in the past eight seasons. The other 13 teams have combined to do it 40 times, including LSU at 9-0 this season.

Vanderbilt, the SEC's longtime academic giant and only private school but also traditional football doormat, has won nine games twice since 2012. Coach James Franklin led Vanderbilt to 9-4 records in 2012 and 2013 before landing the Penn State job.

The Commodores fell back to 0-8 in the SEC the season after Franklin left, but they still have a better overall record (44-53) than Arkansas (37-60) since 2012, and they have six more SEC victories (19) in that span.

Arkansas has lost 17 consecutive SEC games for the second time in the past eight seasons and will be heavily favored to make it 18 in a row when it plays at No. 1 LSU on Nov. 23 after today's open date.

Despite the Razorbacks' fall to the bottom of the SEC, coaches in the conference say Arkansas is a desirable job.

Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek is conducting a search for the Razorbacks' fifth head coach since 2011 after Chad Morris was fired Sunday with a 4-18 record, including 0-14 in SEC games.

"I don't think there's any question that Arkansas is a great job," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said. "You have great tradition, you have support, you have financial backing. Those are the critical things."

Since 2013, Arkansas has opened the 80,000-square-foot Smith Football Center at a cost of $40 million, the 55,000-square-foot Jerry and Gene Jones Student-Athlete Center for academics and nutrition at a cost of $23 million, and a north end zone addition to Reynolds Razorback Stadium, including a rebuilt Broyles Center, at a cost of $160 million.

Razorback Stadium's capacity is now 76,000.

"It looks like they have good facilities, good support for the program," said Florida Coach Dan Mullen, who played Arkansas twice in Fayetteville during his nine years at Mississippi State from 2009-17. "It always seems like a pretty area driving through it, a good place to live.

"I would think there would be a lot of very qualified people, really good coaches interested in the Arkansas job."

Before this season, College Football News ranked the top 100 programs of all time based on the final Associated Press poll rankings. Arkansas came in at No. 19 -- one spot ahead of Clemson, which has won two of the past three national titles and is ranked No. 3 this season.

In Petrino's final two seasons, the Razorbacks were 10-3 in 2010 and 11-2 in 2011 with a combined 12-4 SEC record. They were ranked No. 12 and No. 5 in the final AP polls, respectively.

"Arkansas absolutely is a good job," Ole Miss Coach Matt Luke said. "Any job in the Southeastern Conference is a good job. To me, this is the ultimate pinnacle of our profession.

"The expectations are really, really high. People want to win, and they want to win championships and they want to win now. But to me, that's the challenge of it."

The Razorbacks haven't won an SEC title, but they have played in the SEC Championship Game in 1995, 2002 and 2006. Arkansas has played in bowl games 42 times, including 15 since joining the SEC for the 1992 season.

"I think it's a good job," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. "History's the best indicator of what the future can bring."

Saban has a 16-2 record against Arkansas at LSU and Alabama, but he said there have been many tough games against the Razorbacks.

"I do think that in the last couple of years, maybe because of the turnover and so forth, personnel maybe is not quite what it used to be," Saban said. "But I think that's something that can be fixed with good recruiting and some continuity in the staff and coaches."

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron was a graduate assistant strength coach at Arkansas in 1986 and 1987.

"It's an outstanding program," Orgeron said. "I know they're going to get it going there. They have outstanding facilities, great support, a lot of money."

Arkansas, LSU and Missouri are the only SEC schools that don't have at least one other Power 5 conference school in the state, but LSU holds a distinct in-state recruiting advantage.

According to a 247Sports recruiting ranking of the past five seasons, Louisiana has produced 73 blue-chip recruits compared with 20 for Missouri and 16 for Arkansas, which ranked last among states with SEC schools. The top three states for blue-chip recruits are Florida (249), Texas (238) and Georgia (173),

"You could certainly say there's more fertile areas than others [in the SEC]," Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said. "And I'm not saying Arkansas is not. What I am saying is you've got to be able to recruit very well. You've got to go into other states outside of yours and do a good job and create a culture."

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp said having to fill your roster with a lot of players from outside the state is a challenge.

"They've had some great players from the state of Arkansas. There just aren't as many," Muschamp said. "You're having to go into somebody else's backyard and win in recruiting, and that to me makes it difficult.

"But Arkansas has all the resources to be successful, there's no doubt. And they've won before. They've got great tradition as well. But from the recruiting aspect, it's tough."

The Razorbacks were 4-8 in 2017 in Bret Bielema's last season -- including 1-7 in the SEC -- before Morris was hired.

"Going into a situation you feel like you have a little time to rebuild, but it's tough when you're in the middle of it, because everybody gets tired of it," Stoops said of the losing. "They don't want to hear about [why it's still happening].

"Everybody wants to win now. So it's a difficult league. Because this league will beat you down mentally and physically. That's where it gets tough."

Morris was paid $3.5 million annually with a six-year contract and is owed a buyout of more than $10 million. Along with a $500,000 retention bonus, his total compensation this year is $4 million. That ranks 28th nationally, according to the USA Today coaches' salary survey and eighth in the SEC.

"There's no easy jobs in the SEC, I can assure you that," Smart said. "But there's also no bad jobs in the SEC."

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Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said there are no easy coaching jobs in the SEC. “But there’s also no bad jobs in the SEC,” he said... + Enlarge

Sports on 11/16/2019

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