On Tuesday afternoon the University of Arkansas officially ended its relationship with and employment of Head Football Coach Bobby Petrino. Petrino, as everyone knows by now, was involved in a motorcycle accident the week before, but failed to share with his employer and the rest of the world that he was on a bike ride with his mistress Jessica Dorrell, whom he also happened to hire the week before and gave $20,000 dollars to as well.
Many surrounding the Arkansas program have begun to speculate on who the Hogs will bring in to replace Petrino, and names like Mark Hudspeth (formerly the Co-OC at State), Garrick Magee, Butch Davis, and many others have begun to circulate as potential replacements. There has also been talk of letting Interim Head Coach Taver Johnson continue to coach through this season, and then conduct a formal search after the season is complete. This is along the lines of what Ohio State did after the Tressel mess. The only problem with that idea I would guess for most Hog fans is that the Razorbacks return an expected Top 10 team for 2012, led by All-American and Heisman Candidate QB Tyler Wilson. Taking a year isn't an option to most in the Natural State, and who can blame them with the potential of a successful season for 2012. Nevertheless, whether Arkansas hires a new coach within the upcoming weeks or waits until after the fall, things will be different in Fayetteville when the season begins in September.
How much will this affect the Hogs' season? How much did Petrino really contribute to their success? More importantly for us State fans, how will the lack of Petrino on the sidelines against our beloved Bulldogs on November 17th affect the outcome of that game? We take a look at that question and size up what impacts his loss could have on the contest between the dogs and hawgs in November.
State and Arkansas are set to tangle in the next to last game of the season, on November 17th. A lot can transpire in the 10 games leading up to that for both teams, especially for the Razorbacks, who will be breaking in a new coach. No matter who is coaching for the hogs, they still return a plethora of talent, including Wilson, a healthy Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton and more, and will be well positioned to still be successful in 2012, Petrino or not.
Looking at the Razorback's schedule leading up to the State game in mid-November, they should easily win 6 of their 10 games. A home date with Alabama coupled with road dates at Texas A&M, Auburn and South Carolina will be good barometer's as to how well the new coach is handling things for the red and white.
It will all come down to this for Arkansas and their 2012 season's success: how easily can a new coach come in, win over the players, and smoothly transition from Petrino's style to his own. A guy like Garrick Magee, the former OC and now head coach at UAB, could come in and make this transition easy, as he is already more than familiar with the players and the scheme Arkansas utilizes. Magee is considered to be a good young name in the coaching community, and thoughts were that he would be a higher level program coach within several years anyways. So taking a leap with Magee is one option for mending things quickly, but there may be better options long term. One could also argue that Magee is the LONG TERM fix, and that he will have difficulties in 2012 as he is inexperienced as a head coach himself. That will be interesting to observe if the Razorbacks do decide to go with Magee.
If Arkansas decides to go the route of keeping Interim Coach Taver Johnson for the season, things may go downhill for them, much as things did for Ohio State and Interim Coach Luke Fickel after Jim Tressel was escorted out of town. The Buckeyes limped to 6-6 under Fickel, and I think you could possibly see the same outcome with keeping an interim coach at Arkansas. That's not a knock on Taver Johnson, I just think his inexperience as a head coach could hurt when the hogs play road games in the SEC.
In the MSU vs. Arkansas matchup, I can see things swinging the way of Mississippi State a bit now with Petrino out. Anyone who comes into the coaching role besides Petrino is either going to be inexperienced with coaching in an SEC road game, or will be trying to implement his own system, and there may still be some kinks. I know Davis Wade isn't the loudest venue in the SEC, but it can be boisterous when it wants to be, and that could rattle an inexperienced coach. At this point in the season I would expect both teams to be ranked, and for this to be a great matchup very similar to the one that took place in Starkville in 2010. Another angle to take into consideration is State's schedule leading up to the Arkansas affair. State will play Arkansas after a road game with Alabama, home against A&M, and a newly moved road game with LSU, so the coaching situation at Arkansas may not matter. State may be gasping for air at that point in the season.
The Arkansas coaching replacement vs. the MSU schedule will be an interesting situation to watch play out leading up to our game in November. It would be unwise to think that State will just steamroll the Razorbacks now, as they will again be ultra talented and Tyler Wilson could probably just coach the team himself. I still think a seasoned, veteran coach may be the best option for Arkansas to compete in SEC road games THIS YEAR, but again a guy like Garrick Magee could be better for the long run. That's what it will come down to: which way their Athletics Department will want to go, long term fix or quick fix. If it's a long term fix with Magee or another young coach, look for State to have the advantage against Arkansas when that late season matchup rolls around.
For more on the Petrino situation and the ongoing coaching search at Arkansas, check out Arkansas Expats.