Bobby Petrino’s Arkansas career began and ended with a letter.
In December 2007, Petrino left a letter in the lockers of Atlanta Falcons players to tell them he was leaving to take the Arkansas coaching job.
Tuesday at 5:45 p.m., Petrino received a letter informing him he was fired from Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long.
Between letters, Petrino achieved some of the most successful seasons in school history before his April 1 motorcycle accident exposed his dishonesty to the university and led to his firing.
Now, Long is tasked with replacing a coach who won 34 games in four seasons, including a 21-5 record the last two years –– the program’s most wins in consecutive seasons in almost 50 years.
Petrino led the Hogs to a Sugar Bowl berth and a Cotton Bowl victory, the latter resulting in a No. 5 finish –– the program’s best since 1977. The finish came just three months before the sudden end of Petrino’s tenure.
“Do I regret hiring him? That’s a difficult question,” Long said. “If he hadn’t been engaged in this inappropriate behavior, no I wouldn’t be disappointed in hiring him. His action resulted in me having to take this action.”
Long felt he had to fire Petrino, but now he might have a difficult time finding a replacement, something he said he would start searching for Tuesday night.
Last year, Ohio State had to settle for promoting defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to interim coach after coach Jim Tressel resigned May 30 under pressure surrounding major NCAA sanctions that occurred within his program.
Months after most offseason head-coaching searches are over, Long and Arkansas are in a similar position to the Buckeyes.
“It’s a difficult time of year to be searching for a head football coach, no question,” Long said. “I do think that our program is one that there will be people interested in. That’s part of my process. I’ll be seeing what coaches have self-identified to us as being interested in our program.”
If Long did promote from within, he said associate head coach/linebackers coach Taver Johnson, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes could be interim coach candidates.
Johnson will continue to handle administrative duties –– a role he has had since Thursday when Petrino was placed on paid administrative leave –– through the April 21 spring game.
“At that time I will assess where we are in the search process,” Long said.
Some Razorback players could be lobbying for promoting an assistant from within.
“A lot of players on the team, including Knile Davis, their star running back, have already gone to Jeff Long and said, ‘Let’s keep this thing together. Let’s not break it up. Let’s not bring in any outsiders,’” ESPN’s Joe Schad said Tuesday night on SportsCenter. “Knile Davis is among the guys who would like to see the promotion, at least on an interim basis, of Taver Johnson or Paul Haynes.”
One familiar candidate could be Alabama-Birmingham coach Garrick McGee, who left Arkansas as offensive coordinator in December after serving on Petrino’s staff all four years in Fayetteville.
McGee, 39, has already been linked as a possible candidate for the job by numerous national media, including a report from the website Football Scoop that cited sources who said McGee would be announced as Razorbacks coach following UAB’s April 1 spring game.
“The smoothest transition that Arkansas could make in this situation is to go find Garrick McGee and convince him to come back to Fayetteville as the head coach at Arkansas,” ESPN analyst Andre Ware said on SportsCenter. “You say well, it’s crazy. He just took the job at UAB.
“Look at the circumstances in which Bobby Petrino was hired. He was coaching one day in the Georgia Dome. The next he was yelling ‘Pig Sooie’ at a presser in Arkansas. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Garrick McGee to maybe come back to Arkansas.”
McGee got a recommendation via Twitter from former Hogs quarterback Ryan Mallett on Tuesday night. Mallett, a current New England Patriots backup, tweeted
Other coaches linked as possible candidates include South Florida’s Skip Holtz, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Baylor’s Art Briles and former North Carolina coach and Arkansas player Butch Davis.
“We can command a high-level of football coach and we are not going to compromise that,” Long said. “If we have to go through the season with an interim, I am going to consider that, but again I need some time to lay out the search.”