Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 11/25/12
So the coaching search at Arkansas begins in earnest, as disastrous interim head football coach John L. Smith finally rides off into the sunset with a nice sendoff (but a mercifully quick one) from athletic director Jeff Long.Smith has been retained as a “consultant” until his contract runs out in February, but I seriously doubt any new coach who comes to Fayetteville will want to take Smith’s advice on anything other than maybe “Where can you get the best cup of coffee in the athletic department?”Smith, who somehow got himself $40 million in debt through really, really bad real estate investments in Kentucky, has more on his plate than welcoming new coaches. He’d better concentrate on his financial and legal troubles lest he be “consulting” only during visiting hours at the Kentucky state prison.Long said something in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sunday that I know he had to say, but it just isn’t so. He said this year’s 4-8 record will not impact the coaching search. I beg to differ.If you were considering an offer from Long, especially since you might also be considering offers from Tennessee and Auburn (among others), you would take a hard look at what you have to build on. An 8-4 record, which was definitely achievable if Smith hadn’t “coached” the Razorbacks to a 4-8 mark, would have been much easier to build from.Then there’s losing QB Tyler Wilson and star receiver Cobi Hamilton, about 90 percent of this year’s offensive production, to graduation and most likely the NFL. Couple that with the fact that Smith and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino made sure next year’s quarterback has the least amount of game experience possible. When games were totally out of reach and they should have been giving back-up Brandon Allen game experience, he sat on the bench. Dumb!So the next head coach will have no idea if he has a legitimate quarterback or not.At least there is some good news. On defense, the Hogs return 16 players from the two-deep roster posted before Friday’s loss to LSU. They should be very good up front and better at linebacker and secondary. Freshman Otha Peters and A.J. Turner were forced into the starting linebacker positions and gained valuable experience. The same can be said of defensive backs Will Hines, Rohan Gaines and Davyon McKinney.On offense, the Razorbacks will return 15 of the top 22, assuming that no juniors forgo their final seasons. Replacing senior punter Dylan Breeding will rank just below replacing Wilson and Hamilton. Breeding was a consistent weapon as a punter. He could boom ‘em and he could drop ’em inside the 20.A big factor in next year’s level of success is whether Knile Davis returns. Davis was incredible in 2010 when he rushed for 1,300+ yards. He was injured prior to the 2011 season and was making a comeback this year, but never showed more than glimpses of his old speed and power. He will have to decide whether another year in college, with the risk of another injury, would be better than trying to make a good impression at the combines and taking his chances with the NFL.The Razorbacks have some good young runners, but none have the combination of speed and power the 230-pound Davis brings to the game when he is at his best. Whoever is named the next head coach would do well to visit with Davis right after the press conference announcing his selection.Long’s job was made much tougher when Tennessee fired Derek Dooley before the end of the season and, today, Auburn fired Gene Chizik.If I was making up a pecking order in the SEC, I would rank Alabama and LSU and maybe Florida at the top. The next tier would consist of Georgia, Tennessee, and Auburn. Arkansas would be at either the bottom of the second tier or top of the third tier somewhere just under both Auburn and Tennessee based on their facilities, stadium size, fan and donor support, and recruiting base. If Long is competing with those two schools for a new coach, he may have to go to Plan B or Plan C.At any rate, this is going to be a very interesting—and crucial—next week or two. All three of those schools need to name a new coach pronto to keep from paying too heavy a recruiting price come signing day in early February.Around the SEC and nation: The SEC has six of the top 11 teams in the final regular season AP poll announced Sunday. After six consecutive national championships, there was little doubt which conference was the best. This just shows that the dominance continues with no end in sight.SEC vs ACC Saturday turned into a rout. SEC 4, ACC not even close. Florida beat Florida State 37-26; Vanderbilt ran its record to 8-4 by mauling Wake Forest 55-21; Georgia warmed up for the SEC Championship Game by blitzing in-state rival Georgia Tech 42-10; and South Carolina dumped Clemson 27-17 to give head coach Steve Spurrier his fourth straight win over the Tigers and make him the winningest coach in Gamecock history.South Carolina’s victory should give Arkansas’ Long pause when he considers who to select as the next Head Hog. Clemson’s supposedly high-powered, finesse offense was completely shut down by a hard-nosed Gamecock defense led by end Jadeveon Clowney with 4.5 sacks.There’s a reason one of the highest complements you can pay a team in this era is to say they have an “SEC-caliber defense.” Arkansas will never rise to the top of the Western Division of the SEC if they can’t play better defense.My vote for SEC Coach of the Year goes to Vandy’s James Franklin. The Commodores haven’t won eight games in a season since 1955. They are going to a bowl for the second year in a row for the first time in school history. If not Franklin, how about Georgia’s Mark Richt? The Bulldogs finished the regular season 11-1 and might have enough talent to beat Alabama in the SEC title game.Top-ranked Notre Dame, which has an SEC-caliber defense, beat Southern Cal 22-13 Saturday to end the season a perfect 12-0. That all but guarantees the Irish a place in the BCS National Championship game against the winner of the Alabama-Georgia SEC title showdown.There is some debate as to whether the Irish deserve to be in the championship game after a couple of less than impressive wins over weak teams; but, they took care of business enough to stay undefeated when everyone else—including Alabama—couldn’t. If they don’t deserve to be in the national championship game, that will be easy to see come January 7 in Miami.And a final thank you to those same Fighting Irish. You made my day by finishing off USC coach Lane Kiffin’s regular season at 7-5. Kiffin bragged before the season that he voted his Trojans number one in the coaches’ poll because they definitely were the best team in the nation. Many folks agreed with him.Now, he’s on the hot seat for underachieving and that seat is even hotter because of his brash yapping. Kiffin rose to the top of his profession without ever having accomplished anything other than being a loud-mouthed punk. I’m glad to see him getting taken down a few notches. Humble pie may taste bad, but it’s good for the soul.
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