J.R. and Henry: Good-bye, Coach Malzahn
Arkansas football has been worsened today by the news that Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn is leaving Arkansas to be the co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa.
Only at Arkansas can your team win the SEC West and your program be in total disarray.
At this point in the year, 15 days removed from the bowl game loss to Wisconsin, and a month and half after the end of the regular season, we were beginning to think that most of the rumors were false, or at least, overblown. You know, all the rumblings about unrest and discontent on the staff, all involving Arkansas folk hero Gus Malzahn and his employment as offensive coordinator. All of the arguments about whether Malzahn did or did not have control of the offense, and whether he was or wasn’t calling plays. Plus, there were all the comments from Houston Nutt consistently referring to Malzahn as “the high school coach,” to major media outlets including Sports Illustrated.
During discussions among friends on both sides all year, the talks always ended with “Well, we’ll know at the end of the year. If Gus leaves, then there’s quite a bit of truth to the rumors of unhappiness. If not, then it’s just a bunch of gossips with nothing better to do than to make up stories.”
Now we know. Because things have to be pretty bad if you’re willing to leave as the lone offensive coordinator of the SEC West Champion with a lot of talent coming back to take a “co-coordinator” job in C-USA. Malzahn’s not even getting a pay increase!
This is a sad day for Arkansas football.
And it’s sad not just because Malzahn is leaving. Frankly, we haven’t yet seen the offense Malzahn employs and we don’t know whether his offense would be successful in the SEC. With Florida’s success with Urban Meyer’s spread, the answer is probably yes, but Malzahn’s offense is slightly different so we don’t know for sure. You don’t know until you try, right? After all, Malzahn’s offensive philosophy wasn’t a secret. He’s written a book about it and produced several coaching videos.
But here’s what is clear: Arkansas takes yet another public relations blow at the critical point in the recruiting season. Now matter what you think of Malzahn, there is no way that Arkansas’s recruiting competition won’t bring this up in every high school player’s living room. It will go something like: “I don’t know what’s going on up there, but their offensive coordinator, a guy who was coordinator of the year for Rivals.com, left for Tulsa to be a co-coordinator. Their freshman all conference receiver left for USC. Sounds like things aren’t exactly stable up there.” That is a cloud, and Houston Nutt’s the one making the weather.
And even more disturbing is that the negative recruiters are right! The football program is unstable, and it has been since 2003. After both the 2004 and 2005 the issue was whether Nutt would survive another year. Now, there’s an SEC crown in 2006, and if Nutt doesn’t live up to expectations in 2007, it’s hard to imagine that he can be retained with this latest off season craziness.
Particularly if Arkansas’ offense stays stuck in the era of the quick kick.
In fact, about the only thing that would save any face would be for Nutt to have a big, splashy offensive coordinator hire. But who in their right mind would want the job if the last coordinator just left behind three of his high school players (including the Parade player of year) and the front runner for next year’s Heisman Trophy? So what will probably happen is that Arkansas will hire a washed up has been (e.g., Larry Coker), or a no name re-tread (e.g., David Lee).
So here’s the bottom line. Houston Nutt had a good year this year and certainly should not have been fired for on-the-field performance. But Malzahn just torpedoed Nutt’s ship, which was taking water again after losing three in a row at the end of the season. Now he’s gone and it appears that Alex Wood, the quarterbacks coach, is on the first train out of the Fayetteville as soon as a new job opens up. So, after one year with new coaches, improved performances, and an SEC West title, this team is back to where it was in 2005. And we all know what life was like back then.
The time has come to put a stop to the madness on the Hill. Houston Nutt has run off a coach who is regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the country. The same man who got a ton of credit for improving the Arkansas offense and invigorating a depressed fan base.
It’s another in a long line of inexcusable and fireable offenses for the head football coach.
J.R. and Henry are two Little Rock sports fans who blog their sports column regularly at Little Rocking.