Fight fire with fire.
That’s what Jeff Long, the AD at Arkansas did today.
The last year at Arkansas has been a roller coaster. Coming off of a Cotton Bowl win against Kansas State, the Razorbacks had high hopes of making a run at an SEC championship and possibly even a national championship this year. Then a Sunday afternoon motorcycle crash led to the firing of then head coach Bobby Petrino. Enter interim coach John L. Smith, who had just left the program to become the head coach at his alma mater Weber State. What followed was the biggest collapse of any team. The Hogs went from a preseason #8 ranking to an embarrassing and lack luster 4-8 finish.
Smith was reassigned as soon as 00:00 hit the clock after the LSU game and the search for a new head coach began.
A lot of questions surrounded who the next head coach in Fayetteville would be.
Who would be interested?
Who could Arkansas even get?
Who would be a good fit?
Which direction would they go?
There were a lot of questions to answer. And every news outlet and talk radio show associated with the program tries their best to answer them.
First it was reported that a $27.5 million dollar offer was on the table for Les Miles. He wasn’t interested in anything but using it as leverage for a raise at LSU. After Les turned down the job, names started being thrown out with the randomness of the lotto balls.
Gus Malzahn is a former Arkansas high school football coach, current Arkansas State (new Auburn coach now), runs a spread offense. He’s the guy, right? Wrong. That’s not fighting fire with fire.
Art Briles, turned the University of Houston and Baylor University into winning programs. He runs a spread offense as well. Surely he’s the guy right? Wrong. That’s not fighting fire with fire.
Chris Petersen, head coach at BCS-busting Boise State. He’s won 90% of his games at Boise in the WAC and Mountain West. He runs a spread offense. No brainer, he’s the guy, right? Wrong. That’s not fighting fire with fire.
Mike Gundy, head coach at Oklahoma State, led the Cowboys to a BCS bowl berth last season. He runs a spread offense. No question, he’s the guy, right? Wrong. That’s not fighting fire with fire.
You see, the spread offense is popular these days. It’s fun to watch. Offenses score a point a minute. Scoreboards light up and fans get excited.
But in today’s college football landscape, a great defense to go along with a ground and pound running game combined with a play action pass offensive attack is the key to success. It’s no coincidence that the two teams that are playing for the national championship in January follow that same recipe for success. So if you’re going to beat them, you better fight fire with fire. Plus, Arkansas had been down that road with Bobby Petrino. Only problem is, he couldn’t win the big game against the teams that play the aforementioned style of football.
So Jeff Long made a strategic move and went against the popular choice. As a matter of fact, he went against what anybody knew was even possible. When everyone was hoping for a “sexy” hire, Jeff Long went out and made a great hire.
He lured away a coach who is a 3 time Big Ten coach of the year. A coach that took his team to 3 consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. A coach who lead his team to three 11 win seasons when they had only 1 of those to boast about prior to his arrival. A coach who has won nearly 75% of his games. A coach who just slaughtered Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game.
That coach? Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema.
His name never came up. Probably because nobody thought there was a chance he would leave what he had built at Wisconsin. But he did. And now he’s been charged with turning the Arkansas Razorbacks into a perennial SEC contender. He won’t be intimidated by the beasts of the SEC. He’s matched wits with some of the best coaches at the best programs and came out on top. He’s taken Wisconsin to heights that they had never seen. Jeff Long is hoping he can duplicate that as the commander in chief for the Hogs.
I know this, he’s a relentless recruiter. When he was the Co-Defensive and Recruiting Coordinator at Kansas State, he convinced kids from all over, including South Florida, to play their college ball in Manhattan, Kansas. No disrespect, but have you been to Manhattan, Kansas? When he was the head coach at Wisconsin he sold kids on spending the next few years of their lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin is practically in Canada. So there is no reason to think he won’t be able to get top level talent to follow him to Fayetteville, Arkansas.
He’ll line up a tough, physical offense. He’ll play good, solid defense. And in the process, he’ll fight fire with fire.
Great hire by the Hogs.