Arkansas State keeps eyes on coaches on the rise


LITTLE ROCK — Think about each of the 120-plus FBS teams teams as individual divisions of a nationwide corporation and Arkansas State as one of the smaller entities with a manager driven to climb the corporate ladder.

With that picture in mind, ASU’s status as a stepping stone is a positive in the world of college football. Hiring the next head football coach in Jonesboro, long-term stability is not the top priority. If that was the case, 58-year-old John Thompson — a superb defensive coordinator and a friend — would already be in place.

ASU is seeking an up-and-comer who is dead-set on succeeding and who has a plan to achieve the goal on his way to bigger and better.

If the new man succeeds, ASU benefits. For three or four years, the school will have a young, creative coach going about his task with an eye on the future. When the coach is promoted, ASU’s niche as a school where a coach can build a reputation is enhanced and well-qualified applicants will line up.

Appointment to a position such as ASU says the new hire impressed his superiors while rising through the ranks. Maybe it was the way the man took charge of the offense at Baylor or Ole Miss or Duke or Auburn or someplace comparable, being creative in his play calling and cooperative with his boss while tutoring his underlings with individuality. For one reason or another, the head coach believes his man is qualified to be in charge. In that vein, Art Briles or Hugh Freeze or David Cutcliffe or Gus Malzahn or all of the above have made phone calls to the powers that be at ASU to lobby for their offensive coordinator.

Whoever gets the job, if the group under his care succeeds during the next three years and the man is promoted again — good for him, good for the folks who hired him.

ASU hired Bryan Harsin eight days after Malzahn took the Auburn job and the suspicion is that athletics director Terry Mohajir will have somebody in place to replace Harsin by the end of the week. “We’re going to be quick, but I’m not going to hurry,” Mohajir said last week.

It would be wise to make a hire before Texas does the same and sets off a chain reaction that might ripple through several campuses. Only for instance, if UT brought in James Franklin, the Vanderbilt job would be open and the Commodores might pursue a successful coach from a conference such as the Sun Belt or Conference USA. That, in turn, could create an opportunity for some offensive coordinator that might be in ASU’s cross hairs.

The early-season ax of Lane Kiffin is a reminder of the ripple effect from L.A. to Jonesboro. Pat Haden hired Steve Sarkisian from Washington to replace Kiffin and Chris Petersen moved from Boise to Seattle, opening the door for Harsin to return home. The weekend dismissal of Army coach Rich Ellerson will set off another round of ripples and there is fallout when coordinators such as Brent Pease at Florida are sacrificed.

However, the number of coaches fired this year may be way down from the more than a dozen who were canned after the 2012 season. In the SEC alone, that list included Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas.

An ASU alum from 1991, Joel Thomas has the right idea when talking with friends, family, and other fans about the opening in Jonesboro. “We may not be your dream job,” Thomas is fond of saying. “However, if you come to us, we can virtually guarantee that we will get you there.”

The likelihood that the new coach’s coveted job will come open after one year — see Freeze, Malzahn, and Harsin — is about the same as hitting the Powerball jackpot with a single ticket, but Thomas is on target.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.