Fans want “big name” hires. They want the flash and hoopla that surround bringing in a proven coach from another program. And why shouldn’t they? Swiping a top coach from somewhere else ups a program’s street cred and earns plenty of “SportsCenter” pub to boot.
There’s really just one problem with the “big name” hire. That’s the fact that name hires are just as hit or miss as up-and-comer hires. Just ask an Arkansas fan.
Arguably, Razorback athletic director Jeff Long has been America’s best go-getter AD since 2007. In football he stole Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Bret Bielema from then-Big Ten champion Wisconsin. In hoops he swiped former Hog assistant Mike Anderson from neighboring Missouri.
In terms of pleasing the ol’ fanbase, Long has been hitting on all cylinders with his hires. And how’s that worked out for him?
Well, Petrino blew himself up with a scandal that could have left the University of Arkansas in legal trouble and Long without a job. The first-year of Bielema’s rebuild earned Arkansas its first-ever winless season in conference play and it’s first-ever nine-game losing streak in a single season.
In basketball, Anderson has failed to take the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament in his first two years and it’s looking doubtful he’ll make it in Year Three. After a loss at Tennessee last night, Anderson’s Arkansas teams are now just 2-21 in true road games and just 3-27 in games outside the Natural State since his coronation.
Long swung for the fences three times in a row. One is already a strikeout. It’s too early to make a call on the Bielema and Anderson hires, but suffice to say they’ve not turned into home run hires just yet.
This isn’t a knock on Arkansas, mind you. It’s just a reminder that praying for a big name or a hot name doesn’t always pan out.
For every Nick Saban or John Calipari who lives up to expectations there’s a Bobby Petrino who leaves a program worse than he found it. For every hot up-and-comer who pans out (Gus Malzahn, Billy Donovan) there’s an equal number of fast-risers who never quite reach the heights folks expect (Anthony Grant, Tony Barbee).
Sometimes the “who’s he?” hires — James Franklin at Vanderbilt, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss — are better than the guys everyone dreams about.
Will what’s happened at Arkansas over the past few seasons prevent Jon Gruden rumors from popping up the next time a football job opens in the SEC? Of course not. Everyone will always want their school to hire a splashy name.
But sometimes the unanswered prayers turn out best.