Influential members of the Arkansas brain trust are interested in Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Memphis coach Mike Norvell as candidates to fill the coaching vacancy with the Razorbacks, sources familiar with the discussions tell CBS Sports. Arkansas fired Bret Bielema immediately following a 48-45 loss to Missouri on Friday in Fayetteville.
Venables doesn't have head coaching experience, but he has become a star in the assistant coaching ranks during his time with the Tigers. His defenses have finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense in each of the past four seasons, including this season where they currently rank sixth at 283.3 yards per game.
Sources tell CBS Sports that Venables impressed many people tied to Arkansas when he was in Little Rock, Arkansas, receiving the 2016 Broyles Award given to the nation's top assistant coach. His ability to consistently produce top-tier defenses in conjunction with Clemson's high-octane, no-huddle offense is a trait that would translate well to an Arkansas program that recognizes the need to be more innovative offensively after Bielema's more traditional approach never found sustained success.
Norvell is 18-6 in two seasons with the Tigers, including a 10-1 record this year and an upcoming trip to Orlando to take on UCF in the AAC Championship Game with a spot in a New Year's Six bowl likely on the line. Norvell played wide receiver at Central Arkansas from 2001-05, got his start coaching as a graduate assistant at UCA in 2006 and moved on to nearby Tulsa from 2007-10.
Arkansas had targeted Auburn coach -- and Arkansas native -- Gus Malzahn to replace Bielema. But with the 26-14 victory against Alabama and SEC West title under his belt, Malzahn is a little tied up at the moment preparing for the SEC Championship Game and potential berth in the College Football Playoff.