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With Petrino out, who's next at Arkansas?

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

Bobby Petrino is out. When all is said and done, who's going to wind up in at Arkansas? Here's a list of potential candidates:

TAVER JOHNSON or PAUL PETRINO, current Arkansas assistants. First things first: will the Razorbacks go through the entire 2012 season with an interim head coach, or not? Jeff Long wasn't saying at his Tuesday night press conference. If they do -- and as much of a headache as it might be, it would give Long the required time to perform a legitimate search and give him a season's worth of much-needed info on two of his leading candidates (see below) -- Johnson is the favorite to head the staff this year, what with Long already naming him the Razorbacks' current acting head coach. But successful season or not, it's hard to see an assistant without experience at the coordinating level ever being named the permanent head coach--which could mean that Bobby's brother and offensive coordinator Paul could get a look as the interim head man once the spring dust settles. If Long has any designs on letting the 2012 season be an audition of sorts for 2013 and beyond, Petrino would seem to be the most logical interim choice ... if, that is, he even has any desire to stay after his brother's dismissal.

GUS MALZAHN, head coach, Arkansas State. Without a doubt the first name to spring to mind of many Hog fans, the Natural State's native son (and, briefly, former Arkansas assistant) has been assumed to be headed for the Razorback head gig sooner or later. But this soon? That the previous Auburn whiz-"kid" said yes to the Red Wolves at all shows how close his ties to the state are, making the Arkansas position something akin to a dream job. But to sign up for 2012, leaving his new program in the lurch after just weeks at the helm, isn't likely something the low-key Malzahn will consider. If Long wants someone permanent now, he'll likely have to look elsewhere. But if he goes the interim route, and Malzahn's Red Wolves bolster his already solid reputation? Malzahn becomes your front-runner.

GARRICK McGEE, head coach, UAB. The second verse of Gus Malzahn's song, mostly the same as -- and maybe better than -- the first. McGee would have been the obvious choice to ascend to the interim position if he hadn't left for Birmingham after the season, and given the dire straits of the Blazers and McGee's lack of ties to the area, he might listen if Long wants him to come aboard immediately. McGee would also bring the added advantage -- whether in 2012 or 2013 -- of bringing back the same offense he learned and helped perfect under Petrino. Then again, like Malzahn, McGee has never been a college head coach before and likely wouldn't be looking to leap right this second anyway; if Long is interested, it could make more sense to choose an interim coach for 2012, see how McGee fares in his first season in Birmingham, and act accordingly. Then again, McGee has plenty of support (from the likes of Ryan Mallett, for instance), and may simply not be able to say no to a job like Arkansas's no matter the circumstances.

BUTCH DAVIS, former North Carolina head coach, current Tampa Bay Bucs consultant. If Long is looking for someone to take the gig for good starting today, Davis appears to be the most logical candidate. The former Miami, North Carolina and Cleveland Browns head coach is an Arkansas alum, having played for the Razorbacks in 1970 before an injury ended his playing career. Davis would be available, would likely jump at the chance to rehabilitate his career with a potential ready-made top-10 team, and at least in terms of football achievement would bring an immediate level of credibility few (if any) other candidates would possess. But given the tabloid-friendly scandal Long is now suddenly, desperately trying to put behind the program, is hiring a coach last seen being jettisoned in the midst of a major NCAA scandal really the image clean-up -- fair or not -- the Razorbacks need?

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Skip Holtz, USF head coach; Holtz is, of course, the son of former Arkansas head coach Lou Holtz and is well-respected in the FBS coaching ranks, but will no doubt have to wait until 2013 and has so far been more solid than spectacular in Tampa. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana head coach; The Ragin' Cajun head man turned in one of the nation's best coaching jobs in 2011, has SEC assistant coaching experience, and likely wouldn't say no to the chance of leaving the Sun Belt for good. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech head coach; An Arkansas native, he has to be mentioned after flirting so seriously with the job in 2007 that one Arkansas TV station reported he'd accepted it. But we can't see it happening.

For more on Malzahn's candidacy, the likelihood of McGee, and three other possible candidates, read senior college football writer Dennis Dodd's "what if they fire him? blog post from last Friday.

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