They wouldn't, would they?
Arkansas, I mean. Arkansas hiring Gus Malzahn.
First, suspend your outrage over whether Bobby Petrino should be fired or not. We're way past that. This blog isn't for you. It is strictly forward-looking. A what-if scenario if Arkansas' uneasy rider bikes off into the sunset.
Say Petrino stays. It isn't as good a story, unless you like football press conferences where the term “illegal use of hands” is suddenly a double entendre.
So forget the debate. We're thinking Arkansas is going to need a new head coach, fast. What better replacement than ol' Gus? He knows the landscape. He is good. He has coached a Heisman winner. Heck, he's close, down the road having just taken over at Arkansas State coach.
That's where it gets sticky. Forget that Malzahn would owe $700,000 in buyout money if he left. This is a moral issue, and Arkansas doesn't need any more moral issues at the moment. Gus would be picking up and leaving before he ever coached a game at Arkansas State. Happens all the time with assistants. You just never hear about it.
But this is an in-state issue and Arkansas tends to not handle such in-state issues well. Hell, Bill Clinton was only president. Petrino's the Hogs coach! If you've forgotten, Malzahn was both part of the solution and part of the problem at Arkansas in 2006. Houston Nutt basically hired him out of high school to snag the Springdale Five – a group of recruits highlighted by quarterback Mitch Mustain. Nutt got the Springdale Five but Malzahn didn't get the freedom to call plays that he had in high school.
He left after a year, subsequently proving himself as a college play caller worthy of national renown. That he's only at Arkansas State after winning a national championship and helping win a Heisman at Auburn, is a discussion for another time.
Gus can coach. Gus is a good Christian man. Those are two things that should be very important at Arkansas right now. Those are also two things that will keep Malzahn in Jonesboro – at least for this season.
Staying at Arkansas State is the right thing to do. It also might be the smart thing to do. Arkansas would be a huge step up, a step Malzahn is now prepared for. But by now he also has intimate knowledge of the soap opera Fayetteville can become. If they had just run Nutt out because he wasn't winning enough that would fine. But they also ran him out with innuendo, out-and-out harassment.
When they don't want you at Arkansas, they really don't want you.
That's the reason Malzahn won't take the job, perhaps ever. He'll make his underpaid $1.1 million at Arkansas State and turn it into “the next Boise State.” (His words.) Then he'll be back as an SEC head coach. Just not now and just not at Arkansas.
Other names who could replace Petrino:
Garrick McGee – The overwhelming No. 1 choice to replace Petrino. Alabama-Birmingham's new coach, like Gus, has yet to coach a game. But it's much easier to leave UAB than it is Arkansas State. Why? UAB isn't in the same state. McGee was Arkansas' former offensive coordinator and big time quarterback developer. Ask Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson. Deep down, I don't think the Blazers' administration would blame McGee for leaving. It's an SEC job and you're UAB.
Tony Dungy – Not likely and not for much more than a year as a bridge to the next permanent guy. The opposite of Petrino as a person and more accomplished. He'd be able to take over a program that believes it is ready to compete for the SEC championship game.
Pat Hill – Another bridge guy. He's older and just got let go at Fresno State. But, trust me, he'd be there in a minute and Arkansas could do a lot worse.
Mark Mangino – He's living in Naples, Fla. waiting for the right situation. This could be it. A long shot because of the way he departed Kansas.