LITTLE ROCK — Jeff Long’s only Saturday of the season without Arkansas football might be nothing more than a busman’s holiday.
Charged with hiring the next Razorback football coach, I’d be camped out in front of the TV, eyeballing the product put on the field by coaches under consideration. If Long is on the same page, his checklist will include such things as organization, discipline and enthusiasm — character traits that reflect the head coach.
Long’s statement to the media this week in Little Rock that he is looking for “discipline and accountability,” plus “honesty and integrity on and off the field” leaves no doubt he will delve deeper than W-L records.
Today’s schedule would begin with my list — everybody has a list — and crisscrossing the names with the games on television. Long isn’t naming names, but some of the coaches on my list that are believed to be on Long’s roster include Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and Cincinnati’s Butch Jones.
Interestingly, the challenge this week for all four men involves emotions as much as anything. Iowa State needs a peak effort for the second straight week. Vanderbilt must deal with its rare role as the favorite in a Southeastern Conference game. La. Tech has to forget last week and Cincinnati can’t afford to look ahead.
Iowa State is 4-2, but 1-2 in the Big 12 after losing at home on Family Weekend to unbeaten Kansas State 27-21. The No. 2 school in a state with a small population, Iowa State is at Oklahoma State.
The Cyclones have never won more than three conference games under Rhoads but have been to two bowls in his three years, and he is passionate. In his first year, Rhoads’ post-game speech after a 9-7 upset of Nebraska was a hit on YouTube.
Rhoads, defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh while Long was the athletic director, has recruited Texas, where Arkansas needs to find athletes.
Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State kicks off at 11 a.m, 21 minutes before Auburn vs. Vanderbilt. The Commodores compete hard for Franklin — last year’s loss to Arkansas and last week’s loss to Florida are prime examples — but it is easier to be loose as the underdog. A victory over one of the worst teams in the SEC could be the catalyst for a fast finish for the Commodores.
Franklin is an excellent recruiter, No. 1 on a personal list of qualifications for the next Arkansas coach.
Louisiana Tech was unbeaten, ranked in the Top 25 and dreaming big until early Sunday when a two-point conversion failed and the Bulldogs lost to Texas A&M 59-57. If Dykes, son of a football coach, sells the big picture, the Bulldogs are looking at 11-1.
Likely to be the head coach somewhere other than Ruston in 2013, he has ties in Texas.
Both Tech and Cincinnati play tonight.
The Bearcats’ assignment is to dispose of Toledo and not be distracted by the Big East game next Friday against unbeaten and No. 16 Louisville. A strike against Jones is that he has not coached in the South.
Long said this week that it is not always possible to hire a sitting head coach, a heads-up that hiring a coordinator is a consideration. During the process, he also has to determine if third-party feelers are extended on behalf of someone who is interested or someone who is trying to leverage the Arkansas job for more money for himself, or his assistants, or a facility upgrade.
If Long is glued to the TV, he can check out LSU vs. Texas A&M at 11 and South Carolina at Florida at 2:30. The Tigers and the Gamecocks, the Razorbacks’ most talented November opponents, sport the sort of defensive linemen rarely available at Arkansas.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.