FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas is reportedly on its way to selecting the next football coach to head the program.
While most sources have indicated Arkansas may be closing in on trying to hire Lane Kiffin following Saturday’s Conference USA Championship Game rumors still persist it’s not a done deal yet.
For one thing, it has always been known until Florida State secures its next coach that Arkansas may have to wait to make a hire. That may or may not be true at this point. In the meantime, other SEC openings have popped up at Missouri and Ole Miss.
Here’s an update on the candidates still known to be linked, to varying degrees, to Arkansas.
Lane Kiffin, Head Coach Florida Atlantic University
Meets the criteria of being a head coach at various levels. Kiffin has been the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, USC and FAU. His current team is 9-3 and will host UAB on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (CT) in Boca Raton and televised on the CBSSN in the Conference USA Championship Game. He is 25-13 in his third year at the school. He went 11-3 in 2017 and 5-7 in 2018 prior to this season. Kiffin was 5-15 as head coach the Raiders in 2007-08. He was fired in 2008 when the team started 1-3. He coached Tennessee in 2009 going 7-6 including 4-4 in the SEC. Following that season, Kiffin left to become the head coach at USC. He was 28-15 heading the Trojans including 10-2 in 2011. He started the 2013 season 3-2, but was fired on Sept. 29. He served as offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks for Nick Saban from 2014-16. Kiffin has a reputation of changing jobs, but he was fired in Oakland and USC. The only other two moves he has made are ones most coaches would make. He left Tennessee for USC. Then he opted to take the head coaching job at FAU over being a coordinator for the Tide. Kiffin was born on May 9, 1975 (age 44). He was extremely young but lived in Fayetteville from 1977-79 as his dad worked for Lou Holtz. Kiffin is earning $1,432,000 per season with the Owls and has a $1.5 million buyout. Has met with representatives from Arkansas.
Mike Leach, Head Coach Washington State
No one teaches offense and develops quarterbacks like Mike Leach. What has always made him attractive to Arkansas and others beyond the offense is he has won at two difficult places similar to Fayetteville. Leach was 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09 taking them to 10 bowl games. His best season was 2008 when he led the Red Raiders to an 11-2 mark. He became head coach at Washington State in 2012 and is 55-46. His best season was 2018 when they finished 11-2. His team is finished the regular season 6-6. Leach’s eight teams at Washington State will have gone to six bowls. That means he has led his teams to 16 bowl games in 18 seasons. Leach was born on March 9, 1961 (58). He served as offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma in 1999 and impressed Barry Switzer enough that he endorsed him for the Arkansas job. Switzer is a former Razorback. Leach was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kentucky in 1997-98. He is making $3.75 million this season. That will bump to $4 million next season and if he stays with Washington State through the 2020 season he will get a one-time retention bonus of $750,000. Leach’s buyout is in the $4.9 million range. He is known to have talked to respresentatives from the UA about the Arkansas job.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State Head Coach
Having a lot of success at his alma mater so Harsin isn’t likely to leave. However, his salary is in the range of $1.750 million per season which Arkansas would be able to easily top. His buyout is reportedly in the $8 million range though. Harsin was 8-5 in his one season at Arkansas State in 2013. He left for Boise state and is in his sixth season there. They are 11-1 currently on the season. His record at Boise State is 63-16. That includes 12-2 in 2014, 10-3 2016, 11-3 2017 and 10-3 in 2018. The lone season he doesn’t have double-digit wins is in 2015 when he went 9-4. Harsin turned 43 on Nov. 1. Harsin and his team will play host to Hawai’i on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT on ESPN in the Moutain West Conference Championship Game at Albertson Statium in Boise.
Eliah Drinkwitz, Appalachian State Head Coach
He turned 36 on April 12 and has strong ties to the state. He attended Arkansas Tech. He has coached in high school at Alma and Springdale. He was an assistant coach at Arkansas State. This is his first season as a head coach, but he’s 11-1 with wins over South Carolina and North Carolina. His salary is $750,000 and he has very manageable buyout that is in the $1.74 million range. He has coached under Malzahn at both Springdale High School and Arkansas State. He was quality control on offense at Auburn when Malzahn was an assistant under Gene Chizik. Drinkwitz and his team will host Louisiana at 11 a.m. in Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C., on Saturday on ESPN in the Sun Belt Championship Game. He has talked to representatives from Arkansas about the job.
Bill Clark, UAB Head Coach
Owns a record of 45-21 at UAB and Jacksonville State. Was 11-4 in 2013 at Jacksonville State and is 31-17 at UAB. He turned 51 on June 28. He is making $1.450 million at UAB and has around a $7 million buyout. His team was 11-3 last season in just the second year back following the program being restored. They are 9-3 this season. Will face Kiffin and the Owls on Saturday for the Conference USA Championship. UAB won the title last season as well.
Mike Norvell, Memphis Head Coach
The former wide receiver at UCA was mentioned strongly for the Arkansas job in 2017 when Morris was hired. Norvell has his team 11-1 this season including a big win in Memphis over previously unbeaten SMU. Memphis was 8-5 in 2016, 10-3 in 2017 and then 8-6 last fall. Norvell is making $2,660,000 per season at Memphis and has a buyout of $6.748 million. He is the youngest of this group of candidates as he turned 38 on Oct. 11. Norvell is likely a very long shot at Arkansas with Florida State rumored to be in the lead and also has strong support at Ole Miss. UAB will host Cincinnati on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. The Tigers beat the Bearcats on Black Friday and once again will play them in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Butch Davis, North Carolina Head Coach
A graduate from the University of Arkansas he’s the current head coach at Florida International University. Davis is currently 23-15 in his third year at FIU. They finished 8-5 in 2017, 9-4 in 2018 and then are 6-6 this season. Davis has been the head coach previously of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL, University of Miami and North Carolina. He was 24-35 from 2001-04 with the Browns. He was 51-20 at Miami including a national runner-up finish in 2000. His official record at North Carolina was 12-23 when all the wins for two seasons were vacated due to an academic misconduct allegation. Davis is making $1 million at FIU. He has strong support from some associated with the UA. He turned 68 on Nov. 17. He was a defensive end at Arkansas. His team did beat Miami 30-24 this season.
Willie Fritz, Tulane Head Coach
Fritz has talked to reps from Arkansas. He reportedly would prefer the Missouri job according to Dennis Dodd at CBS. Fritz, who is 59, has extensive ties to various colleges. He’s in his fourth season at Tulane and is 6-6. His record there is 22-27 and it’s not certain Hunter Yurachek could convince the Arkansas fans to accept another coach with a losing record from an American Athletic Conference school. Chad Morris likewise came from SMU which is also a member of the AAC. He was head coach at Central Missouri from 1997-2009 finishing with a record of 97-47. He was 40-15 in four seasons at Sam Houston State and then 17-7 in two years at Georgia Southern. He has also been the head coach at Blinn (Texas) College.
Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech Head Coach
Fuente has been a successful head coach at both the University of Memphis and Virginia Tech. He’s currently making $4 million per season and led his team to an 8-4 record in 2019. He is 59-42 as a head coaching including 33-19 at Virginia Tech. In eight seasons his teams have won 10 games twice, nine a couple of times and the eight once. He has had three losing seasons though his team was 6-7 in 2018 thus they went to a bowl game. His final two teams at Memphis and all four at Virginia Tech have been to bowl games or at least this year’s squad will when bowl invites go out. He has former Arkansas standout wide receiver James Shibest on his staff.