Coaching search equal to game importance


COLUMBIA, S.C. — The second Saturday in November, speculation about Arkansas’ next coach is as much a part of a Razorback football game as Tyler Wilson’s passes.

The usual suspects were bandied about and dismissed during the drive from the airport to Williams-Brice Stadium and the same names were dispatched with equal swiftness when a different group gathered for vittles an hour before kickoff.

In the postgame on Saturday, even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier mentioned that the Razorbacks do not know who their coach is going to be next year.

Considering the games to be played and the possibility of competition in the marketplace, the idea that athletics director Jeff Long has identified his man is far-fetched. But, Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com stirred the pot on Friday when he said that TCU’s Gary Patterson had emerged as the leading candidate.

Every time Patterson’s name comes up, I recall TCU athletics director Chris Del Conte calling Patterson “our iconic figure” and the report that Patterson’s handshake was responsible for much of the money promised for $100 million-plus renovation of Amon Carter Stadium.

“He can be anyone he wants to be here,” Del Conte said. “When you think about it, Alabama is still the house that Bear (Bryant) built.”

Money is unlikely to move Patterson and it’s easy to recruit the talent-rich Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex when the school is in the area.

If Tommy Tuberville was a legitimate candidate, the online availability of his sideline confrontation with his offensive coordinator during Texas Tech’s game hurt his chances, particularly in light of the verbal abuse that former coach Bobby Petrino dished out to the players.

Resolution of Long’s search will not occur until after the season ends against LSU on Nov. 23 in Fayetteville. Meanwhile, Arkansas is 4-6 after a 38-20 loss to South Carolina that was not surprising and only that close because of a TD with 39 seconds to play.

For the third time this year, it was clear that Arkansas is inferior to the Southeastern Conference’s upper echelon.

Without Marcus Lattimore, there was an idea that South Carolina that might struggle on offense.

Instead, most anytime the Gamecocks needed a big play, Arkansas’ accommodating defense would lose track of a receiver and make it easy for Connor Shaw. With the score tied at 7, Davyon McKinney was burned by Bruce Ellington for 36 yards.

A Jared Green roughing the passer penalty on the same play moved the ball to the Arkansas 14. On third down, Shaw scored from the 10 on a quarterback draw.

At 14-10, on fourth-and-5 from the Arkansas 42, Will Hines got caught looking at Shaw and Ellington scored easily, even though the pass was slow to arrive. The touchdown with 90 seconds to play in the half was particularly important because South Carolina received to start the second half and immediately knocked out three first downs and 52 yards for a field goal and a 14-point lead.

South Carolina’s fourth TD interrupted a barrage of yellow flags. After back-to-back personal fouls against the Gamecocks, Cobi Hamilton stopped on a route to the outside and D.J. Swearinger had an easy interception.

At the end of his 69-yard touchdown play, Swearinger heaved the ball into the stands — an act that cost him 15 yards but was enthusiastically applauded when replayed on the video board.

While it mattered, Arkansas was inept inside the South Carolina 10 — once because Dennis Johnson lost a fumble, once because Akeem Auguste made a picture-perfect play on a pass to Hamilton, and once because South Carolina played impeccable defense on three straight plays.

Other than wondering how Arkansas will respond in its final two games, the biggest question on the field was why Wilson was still pitching with the Razorbacks trailing by 25 and the clock reading under 6 minutes.

At that point, Wilson threw his second interception. With 3:01 to play, he was back again for more.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: hking@arkansasnews.com.