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At Arkansas – And Elsewhere – Unanswered Prayers Are Sometimes Best

prayingFans 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.


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Louisville Destined To Be Burned Again By Petrino

bobby-petrinoAnd this is why no big football program tossed a lifeline to Bobby Petrino a year ago.

With Louisville’s re-hire of Petrino, the school is sure to take its share of heat today.  Tom Jurich’s name will be mud because this move reeks of “We only care about winning.”  So be it.  Name me a school that isn’t all about winning.

So we won’t jump on Louisville for making a shady hire.  They’ll tsk-tsk them for making an incredibly dumb hire.  A hire that completely ignores one whole side of Petrino’s resume.  Yeah, the wins on one side look good, but the wreckage in the other column, well, that takes a fool to ignore.

You see, Petrino once tried to backdoor his way out of The ‘Ville in order to go to Auburn.  When Jet-gate blew up in some Auburn boosters’ faces, Louisville kept Petrino anyway.  Because he won.  But then he jumped to the Atlanta Falcons and left Steve Kragthorpe a mess of a roster with which to work.  Petrino didn’t last a full season  in the Georgia Dome before high-tailing it to Arkansas and stabbing owner Arthur Blank in the back.  He famously left notes in the lockers of his players.  ”So long, suckers” they might as well have said.  In bringing him to Fayetteville, AD Jeff Long hired a guy who’d already proven his bosses couldn’t trust him.  But he won games and that everyone from the Ozarks to Memphis “whoo-pig-sooie-ing.”

As Petrino improved the Razorbacks from five wins to eight to 10 to 11, Hog fans stuck their pig noses in the air and claimed others were just jealous when they tried to warn, “But you’ve got a jackass for a head coach.”

Then the motorcycle dropped.

Scandal.  Embarrassment.  A dismissal for not only lying to Long but for potentially landing the University of Arkansas in legal trouble.  Petrino didn’t just have a mistress — hey, he’s human, we all mess up — but he pushed hard enough that she was eventually hired into the Arkansas athletic department.  Worse, he actually cajoled Long into speeding up the hiring process which opened the door to lawsuits that — luckily for UA — never came.

He then spent a year away from the game.  No school would touch him.  Until the inevitable mea culpa interview appeared on ESPN.  Desperate Western Kentucky — oh, so hungry to be taken seriously in football — forgave Petrino of his sins.  Thumbs up on the forgive and forget part, but we all know WKU officials were really just hiring the man because he could win games.  If he’d stunk as a coach the Hilltoppers wouldn’t have considered taking on such a reclamation project.  But despite the fact that he’d already burned his bosses at Louisville, Atlanta and Arkansas, WKU indeed hired Petrino anyway.  He rewarded them by going 8-4 in Year One.

There will be no Year Two.

So you can now add Western Kentucky AD Todd Stewart to the long list of chumps who’ve hired Petrino only to find themselves shivved in the yard by him later.  Stewart’s Hail Mary hire now leaves the school looking for its third coach in three seasons.  That’s not exactly great for a roster.  You know, the roster.  The kids who “bought in” to Petrino and his sales pitch.  Yeah, they got Kiffin’d, too.

Petrino is King Weasel in a profession of weasels.  All coaches are mercenaries; Petrino is the most mercenary.

“Education.”  ”Building character.”  ”Shaping young men’s lives.”  Blah, blah and blah.  Coaches coach because they like football and they like money and not necessarily in that order.  Can’t say I’d be any different if put in their position, of course.  If I can make $2 million here and $3 million there… there would look pretty good.  And if I could stay silent for a week and let my current school sweat just enough to pay me $4 million here, then here would once again become “the place where I want to stay.”

It’s not hard to understand how or why coaches play the games that they do.

But I’d like to thank if put in that position I wouldn’t screw over every single man who ever dared to hire me.  Everybody.  Go back to that Jet-gate incident during Petrino’s first stint at Louisville.  Whose job was he trying to snake?  Tommy Tuberville’s… the boss who’d hired him to be his offensive coordinator at Auburn.

There’s a line from the Oliver Stone movie “Nixon” in which the title character imagines two other characters conversing about him.  ”Sooner or later… sooner, I think, you’re gonna learn a lesson that’s been learned by everyone who’s ever gotten close to Richard Nixon.  That’s he’s the darkness reaching out for the darkness.  And, eventually, its either you or him.”

Substitute the name Bobby Petrino for Richard Nixon.

Louisville will win some football games with Petrino.  You can bet on that because the guy can flat coach.  But just as surely the school will be burned by him again.  He’s a human torch with a trail of destruction and double-crossed bosses in his wake.

Just ask the folks who’ve tried to clean up what he’s left behind at Louisville (the first time), Atlanta and Arkansas.  Just ask the poor saps at Western Kentucky today.  He’s the darkness reaching out for the darkness.  Eventually, it’s either your or him.  Get ready, Louisville.  You’re about to learn that lesson again.

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SEC Commitment Comparator – 1/8/14


(CORRECTION — An earlier version of this piece had incorrectly tallied LSU and Alabama’s Quantity and Quality numbers.  We apologize for any confusion.)

National Signing Day is one month away.  Do you know how your school’s class stacks up?

Today we give you a quickie overview of the current SEC classes of commitments (with juco signees thrown in for good measure).  As usual, we take a three-way approach to determine who’s sitting pretty and who needs to close fast.

We use the star rankings provided by because over time we’ve found them to be better indicators of future team success.  No, 4-stars and 5-stars don’t always pan out, but the more a school signs… the better.  There are exceptions to this rule (Arkansas under Bobby Petrino, Missouri currently under Gary Pinkel), but most everyone would grab the five-star guys if they could get ‘em.

For each star Rivals assigns, we assign a point.  We also award a point to 0-star prospects as their film has yet to be graded.  We look at each class in terms of Quantity (just the total amount of talent points coming into a program), Quality (the average number of points per player in a given class), and High-Caliber Recruits (4- and 5-star athletes only).  We feel this covers recruiting about as thoroughly as is possible.  Then, at the bottom of this report, we’ll tally the results, look at each school’s standing within the league, and dole out our own Recruiting Rankings.

Ready?  Let’s start with the Quantity portion of our rankings…



  School   Commits   5-stars   4-stars   3-stars   2-stars   1- & 0-stars   Total Points
  Tennessee   33   2   15   15   0   1   116
  Alabama   24   4   13   7   0   0   93
  Auburn   21   3   10   7   1   0   78
  Kentucky   23   0   9   13   1   0   77
  Ole Miss   23   0   6   16   1   0   74
  Missouri   26   0   2   17   7   0   73
  Texas A&M   20   2   10   7   1   0   73
  Florida   20   0   11   9   0   0   71
  LSU   18   1   13   3   1   0   68
  Vanderbilt   20   0   6   14   0   0   66
  Arkansas   20   0   3   15   2   0   61
  Georgia   16   1   10   5   0   0   60
  S. Carolina   16   0   8   8   0   0   56
  Miss. State   18   0   2   12   4   0   52



  School   Commits   Pts/Commit
  Alabama   24   3.87
  LSU   18   3.77
  Georgia   16   3.75
  Auburn   21   3.71
  Texas A&M   20   3.65
  Florida   20   3.55
  Tennessee   33   3.51
  S. Carolina   16   3.50
  Kentucky   23   3.34
  Vanderbilt   20   3.30
  Ole Miss   23   3.21
  Arkansas   20   3.05
  Miss. State   18   2.88
  Missouri   26   2.80


High-Caliber Recruits

  School   Commits   4- & 5-stars
  Alabama   24   17
  Tennessee   33   17
  LSU   18   14
  Auburn   21   13
  Texas A&M   20   12
  Florida   20   11
  Georgia   16   11
  Kentucky   23   9
  S. Carolina   16   8
  Ole Miss   23   6
  Vanderbilt   20   6
  Arkansas   20   3
  Missouri   26   2
  Miss. State   18   2


Tally all those rankings up and you arrive at our official Recruiting Rankings, just one month from signing day.

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Arkansas’ Long Didn’t Want The Texas Job, But He Will Take More Money

jeff-longKudos to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long for turning one school’s reported interest in him into a tangible bump in salary.  The Dallas Morning News reported last weekend that the Razorback AD was on the three-man short list of AD candidates at Texas.  Long put out a press release stating: “I do not comment on the searches of other universities or on unsubstantiated rumors… Further, I am not seeking a position or engaged in the search process of another university.”

Here’s why: Arkansas boosted Long’s salary to $1.1 million per year, gave him a $100,000 bonus for sticking around, and upped his buyout to $1.3 million through June of 2015.

The Associated Press got hold of Long’s amended contract — freshly cut last Friday — via an open records request.  They found that UA officials conceded in the pact that they were aware that “another institution of higher education with significant resources” had come a’calling.  Also, the new monetary benefits to Long were “in exchange for your agreement to remover yourself from consideration for another position and to retain you at the University of Arkansas.”

It was a smart move by the Razorbacks.  Long has become one of the most respected ADs in the nation by always landing the coaches he desires (Mike Anderson in hoops, Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema in football), by proving to be an excellent fundraiser, and by taking the high ground in the Petrino situation (which was not an easy move to make).

As for those Arkansas fans who won’t like Long angling for a raise, put yourself in his shoes.  If the biggest company in your field wanted to talk to you, wouldn’t you consider moving?  And if your current employer was willing to up your pay in order to keep you, wouldn’t you happily take the cash?

This was a win-win for all involved.  Long’s staying in Fayetteville and he’s making more money.  Arkansas maintains stability at the top of its athletic department by holding on to a proven leader.

Good times.

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Emails Reveal Lobbying Efforts At Kentucky; Many Wanted Petrino For Football Coach, 13-Year Old Fan Suggested Stoops

gfx - they said itThanks to Kentucky’s Open Records Act, the Louisville Courier-Journal has obtained more than 250 emails sent last fall regarding the football program at Kentucky. The emails sent to A.D. Mitch Barnhart reveal that several people wanted Bobby Petrino to replace Joker Phillips in Lexington.

According to the paper, Barnhart received more than 60 emails about Petrino with the vast majority of them supporting the hire.  About a dozen opposed the move. Here’s one mail from a Petrino supporter:


“I am praying night and day that you hire Bobby Petrino. He has made mistakes in the past, but who hasn’t? The Bible says that we are ALL sinners in need of forgiveness. … We are not trying to hire a minister or a social worker. We are hiring a FOOTBALL COACH. … PLEASE Mitch. Be our hero!”


The first email supporting the hire of Mark Stoops showed up in Barnhart’s inbox in October – weeks before Phillips was fired.  A 13-year old fan was the first of two emails backing Stoops.


“I have been to 78 straight UK home games,” wrote the teen, whose name and contact information were redacted by the school. “Please don’t right (sic) me off, I know my stuff.”


Former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown Jr. also got in the act, originally supporting former North Carolina coach Butch Davis.  In one email, he even went so far as to attach Davis’ coaching credentials and references.


“Your selection is a great opportunity to have a new start after nine straight losing coaches and fifty years of losing.  You got a chance to be a hero again so go get the best and give our fans something to be proud of.”


Brown sent another email to UK Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman who forwarded the message to the university president.


No disrespect to coach (former UK coach Rich) Brooks. He brought a lot of pride to the program, but second-class bowls are not the agenda for my school. … Confidence and attitude and self-esteem are so important for a state, and sports has a lot to do with that. You see what Calipari has done with basketball. It’s just lifted the whole state.

“I think having a great role model as coach and a winning program has more effect than who the governor is.”


Later, Brown appeared to back off his support for Davis, saying the coach’s troubles at North Carolina were “more serious than I was aware.”

A list of minority candidates suggested to Barnhart by the Black Coaches and Administrators included former Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and former Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggert.

Barnhart replied to few of the emails sent his way but one name that did catch his eye was former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who’s now the head coach at Texas Tech.  It’s clear that Barnhart liked what he read.


“Impressive. Just getting started. Your letter gives me some insight into Kliff. May reach out to you to get a number for him.”


The emails cover the period from October 1 through mid-November. Kentucky made the hire of Mark Stoops official on November 27th.

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Bobby Petrino on Western Kentucky: “We Can Be Boise State”

bobby-petrino-smilesDennis Dodd of catches up with Bobby Petrino in Bowling Green, Kentucky where the former Arkansas coach is now in charge of the Western Kentucky program.  It’s a long piece that you can see here.  As you undoubtedly know by now, Petrino was forced out at Arkansas after having an affair with a 25-year old staffer and crashing his motorcycle with her onboard.  As Dodd frames it, Petrino went from “an SEC program with a top-five national ranking to a fifth-place program in the Sun Belt.”

Here were a few of the quotes that caught our eye.


What if he had immediately confessed the affair to Arkansas A.D. Jeff Long?

“There were a lot of things going on that didn’t allow me to do that. I was in the hospital, medicated.”


On son Nick, a student coach at Arkansas last year.  

“I thought it was the hardest thing for him more than anything else. I took something away from him.”


On communicating with his replacement at Arkansas – John L. Smith

“I tried to stay away. I’d send him a text.”


On the kind of program he can create at Western Kentucky

“We can be Boise State. Why not?. We beat them all the time when I was at Idaho.” (That was 1989-91 when Petrino was an assistant)

“My vision for the program is to go to a bowl game every year. I figure I’ve got 14 more years left to go.”


Western Kentucky AD Todd Stewart on Petrino

“We’ve got a guy in the prime of his career. He’s 51 years old and has been to the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl in the last six years. Sometimes a school will get somebody like that, but they are 20 years removed.”


Stewart had a binder prepared with 75 candidates when former coach Willie Taggart left for South Florida.  But Petrino was his first choice.  ”He called back in five minutes.”

Petrino’s Hilltoppers are scheduled to open against Kentucky and then face Tennessee the following week this fall.

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WOW Headlines – 2/13/13

Former Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino says his facilities at Western Kentucky are “way better than what we had at Arkansas”
Mississippi State has hired former Florida and LSU assistant Billy Gonzales
Georgia is cutting back on the number of football tickets allotted to students for each home game
Now with 14 schools, the SEC broke the seven-million mark in attendance for the first time ever
Kentucky C Nerlens Noel diagnosed with a torn ACL after twisting his knee last night against Florida
Florida pounded Kentucky 69-52 in Gainesville to break the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak
Alabama defeated Georgia 52-35 in Tuscaloosa to snap the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak
Alabama has suspended four freshman football players who face charges of robbery and/or fraudulent use of a credit card
Georgia football coach Mark Richt will get pay raise boosting his salary to $3.2 million per season
SEC hoops action Wednesday night: Ole Miss at Texas A&M… Tennessee at Vanderbilt… Missouri at Mississippi State… Arkansas at Auburn
Follow the SEC all year long at and

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SEC Coaching Carousel Update – 12/4/12

We’ll go about today’s catch-ya-up a little bit differently than we have our past coach-search updates.  As so many coaches are on the lists for Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, we’ll actually give you some news on each coach rather than on each search.  That might make things easier to follow.


Larry Fedora, North Carolina – An industry source tells that Fedora feels he was misled by the UNC administration regarding the school’s NCAA issues and academic requirements.  He or his agent began to float his name in connection to a couple of searches and it’s believed he would seriously consider ditching Chapel Hill after one season.  Tennessee is expected to interview one candidate today and both industry and sources in Knoxville tell us Fedora will be that interview.


Jimbo Fisher, Florida State – Expected to be high on the lists of both Auburn and Tennessee, it now appears that Fisher will stay put in Tallahassee.  He had an interview set up with the Volunteers yesterday, but that meeting never occurred.  The reigning ACC champ might have earned himself a raise and a bit more power in Tallahassee simply by having his name tossed about in connection with the AU and UT jobs.  This isn’t a huge surprise as it’s incredibly rare for a traditional national power to lose its coach to another school (unless that school is the coach’s alma mater).  Speaking to an Auburn source this morning, we were told that Fisher was never as high on Auburn’s list as it was once suggested because the school didn’t expect Fisher to move.  (Of course, another Tiger source told that he was a top candidate, if he would listen.)

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Arkansas Makes It Official – John L. Smith Out As Razorbacks Coach

In a move that surprises almost no one, Arkansas made it official today – John L. Smith is out as coach of the Razorbacks.  For the second time in less than a year, Arkansas will be searching for a new head coach.

The Razorbacks finished the season 4-8 under Smith, hired in April to replace Bobby Petrino.

Here are the official statements from A.D. Jeff Long and Smith.

The University says Smith will remain in the department as a consultant through the completion of his 10-month contract. He will assist with the transition to the new coaching staff once a new head coach is named. All assistant coaches have the option to remain a part of the football staff pending the hiring of a new head coach. is reporting that Arkansas is expecting to have its new coach in place within the next 10 days.

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Ex-Hog, Cowboys Coach Johnson Says Arkansas Should Re-Hire Their Ex

Aside from Jon Gruden, Bobby Petrino might be the hottest name in the SEC this offseason.  The ex-Arkansas coach who crashed his motorcycle and his career this past April, is getting mentioned in connection with the open job at Kentucky, potential jobs at Auburn and Tennessee, and even at — wait for it — Arkansas.

Ex-Razorback player, ex-Dallas Cowboys coach and current FOX analyst Jimmy Johnson told Jack Arute and Gino Torretta on SiriusXM radio yesterday that perhaps it’s time for Arkansas to re-hire their ex:


“Some people might laugh but I’m serious about it.  If they want an outstanding coach they ought to bring back (Bobby) Petrino or hire Butch Davis (and ex-Johnson assistant and Arkansas native).  And people say, ‘How in the world can you bring back Petrino?’  I said, ‘Listen, you forgave Bill Clinton.’  Forgive the man.  Forgive the man for making a bad decision.  Give him an opportunity to coach again…

He wants to get back into coaching and he’s a great coach and he made a mistake.  This whole country, it’s build on forgiving people and giving them second chances.  And I think the fanbase would love to bring him back.  But if they don’t bring him back?  Butch Davis, give him an opportunity.”


For the record, Davis would be a bit of a reclamation project, too, considering the mess at North Carolina that took place on his watch.

This writer’s all for forgiving Petrino.  He messed up.  Millions of us mess up everyday and many mess up in the same exact way Petrino did.  I’m not big on casting stones at “sinners.”

But the problem is this — If you’re Arkansas AD Jeff Long and this guy could have cost you your job with his actions, would you be quick to hire him and trust him again?  Oh, I don’t think so.  Long might forgive Petrino, but that doesn’t mean he’ll bring him back to Razorback Stadium anytime soon.

That’d take more than forgiveness.  That’d take a near miracle.

Then again, if a few Hog boosters get involved…

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