One of the markers of a football program's relative progress is that the concept of "season" will naturally expand.
'Tis true that some of this is a function of an overwrought base simply obsessing over every stitch from signing day through spring and summer practices, fueled by as much fodder as their ISP's bandwidth cap will permit. But success breeds this kind of zealotry. Winning 28 games over three years has given the Razorbacks that sort of year-round allure.
The supposed lull between the end of the regular season and that bowl game far, far off in the distance is one period that, by all rights, should be quiet. It's a weeks-long vacuum for bowl-bound teams and for schools that flopped their way to an early finish, it's a signal that basketball is about to take center stage for a while.
There is no such December malaise in Fayetteville anymore. The coaching carousel spins almost off its axis for a few weeks, which means that coveted assistants like Garrick McGee get well-earned shots at taking over flagging teams. When the McGees of the world morph into commodities, the implication is clear: your program is thriving when the also-rans start plucking fruits off your tree.
It is then rare for one coordinator to rise while the counterpart falls. But when Willy Robinson finally got his walking papers last week, dismissed for failing to build upon a sturdy foundation laid late last year, Arkansas found itself in that very odd position of replacing both at once.
To supplant McGee, head coach Bobby Petrino brought back his brother Paul, paroled after a two-year stint in Champaign as Ron Zook's OC at Illinois. Frankly, the little brother is a beneficiary of fortunate circumstance, as McGee's ascent left the door ajar for a return to Arkansas when Zook and his staff were mercifully flushed after a six-game skid to end the season. This sort of hire will always incite fears of Razorback supporters who get justifiably queasy over the slightest taste of nepotism within the program, but even the jaded have to acknowledge that Paul Petrino is far more steeped in offensive know-how than the common hanger-on. He helped make Casey Dick a somewhat respectable passer in short order, then was part of Ryan Mallett's early flourishing in 2009.
The more curious and divisive choice was spent on rehabbing a defense that ranked somewhere near the middle of the national rankings despite returning a wealth of seasoned contributors. Ultimately the man Petrino tabbed as Robinson's successor was Paul Haynes, who struck many observers as an odd selection given that former Miami coach Randy Shannon was rumored to have been the early front runner, and that Haynes had spent only one year as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator.
Haynes and Petrino have connections dating back to their NFL stints, and it became apparent from the latter's press conference ("Paul Haynes is extremely familiar with the way we operate") that the decision may have been forged long before it was announced. To hear former Razorback/current "Drive Time Sports" talking head Marcus Elliott talk, though, you'd think that this is some sort of conspiracy hatched to keep the Hogs' defense playing harmony to Petrino's offensive melody, which is absurd. Elliott, like many, seemed titillated by the mention of Shannon, then had those rose-colored glasses shattered when Haynes was announced. It's understandable that common fans would endorse someone with Shannon's background, but is it realistic to think that a former head coach of Shannon's caliber and age would take a coordinator job at this point?
Consider this: the coordinators of inarguably the two best defenses in the country are Kirby Smart (Alabama) and John Chavis (LSU). Smart toiled as a position coach for various teams before Saban made him coordinator at the ripe age of 32; Chavis built up the Tennessee defense during its halcyon days in the late 1990s before he became a casualty of Philip Fulmer's ouster in 2008. Neither has been a head coach to date.
So Shannon would have been a coup, but he was probably more of a pipe dream than anything else. Arkansas needs to bolster its defense principally through a more global approach to recruiting, an area where Haynes excels, and by re-establishing a physical presence in the secondary, once a hallmark of this program that has dissipated over time.
There is much to be gained by having the two Pauls in the fold in early December. Both get an audition in Dallas on January 6, an opportunity to hit the ground in full stride and get a leg up on recruiting.