LITTLE ROCK — Of the names bandied about regularly for the Arkansas job, only four are sure to be on Jeff Long’s list.
Alphabetically, they are James Franklin of Vanderbilt, Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, Gary Patterson of TCU, and Paul Rhoads of Iowa State. Others who have been regulars in the Razorback conversation are iffy, although there is room for a darkhorse or two.
Gundy, Patterson, and Rhoads recruit successfully in Texas — a necessary skill for the next Arkansas coach — and Franklin has a reputation as a superb recruiter with athletes from across the country. His 2013 class is No. 17, according to ESPN.
Each of the four has achieved success beyond anything in recent memory at their particular schools and all four have been mentioned in speculation about other job openings. More than likely, Long has a personal pecking order in mind, but hiring a coach is a two-way street and the athletic director’s first order of business is to determine if an individual is interested in Arkansas. Despite the rumor mill, no offer has been made to anybody and none will be extended until Long is certain that it will be accepted. To do it any other way is to risk rejection and accompanying embarrassment.
Not that it would turn the tide, but there is a buyout involved with some of the four. Supposedly, Gundy’s is $3 million and Rhoads’ is $1 million. Last December on the Dan Patrick show, Patterson said he had signed a contract extension through 2016 and that there is “no buyout.”
“ … I’ve shown my loyalty to TCU,” Patterson said. “And I asked them a year ago to be able to give a little bit back. I never said that I’d never leave. But on the other side of it, I’ve been here a long time and I’ve never left.”
Vanderbilt is a private institution and details about Franklin’s contract are not available.
Under second-year coach Franklin, Vanderbilt is no longer dismissed out of hand. The Commodores won their last six during the regular season and finished 5-3 in the Southeastern Conference, the first time Vanderbilt has been above .500 in the league since Arkansas joined in 1992. The six teams with a better league record this year are the elite — Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, and Texas A&M.
After compiling a 30-1 record in the Mountain West Conference the previous four years, TCU moved to the Big 12 this year and is 4-4 in the league with a game against Oklahoma on Saturday.
Patterson’s response to the 20-13 victory over Texas in Austin on Thanksgiving will resonate with long-time Razorback fans. “I’m going to probably get home some time tomorrow and go out in the street and yell,” said Patterson, who is 116-34 in 13 seasons at TCU.
Rhoads is the least recognizable of the four on Long’s list, but he has succeeded where losing was a way of life, getting Iowa State bowl-eligible for the third time in four years.
During his tenure, Iowa State ended a 17-game road losing streak, beat Nebraska in Lincoln for the first time since 1977, won a conference road game over a ranked opponent for the first time in 20 years, and rallied from 17 points down to knock Oklahoma State out of the national championship picture.
Fans have responded, buying 40,000 season tickets this year.
“There’s a limited number of jobs that would make me say, ‘Let’s listen,’ …,” said Rhoads, who played high school football in Ankeny, Iowa. “I’m home …”
Gundy, too, is home in Stillwater, about an hour from where he was born. He also played quarterback for Oklahoma State and all but five years of his 20-plus years in coaching has been at OSU. The Cowboys won the Big 12 last year and tied for first the year before. This year, they are 5-3 in the league after losing to Oklahoma in overtime last week.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.