“One thing is clear about the search for the head basketball coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks: nothing is clear.
Lots of rumors and different names have swirled around Fayetteville lately in connection with the job, many even before John Pelphrey was officially dismissed Sunday as the head basketball coach at Arkansas. New names continue to either leak out of the department’s wish list or come out of thin air. Some rumors clearly have more merit than others.
The prevailing wisdom after back to back home losses to Ole Miss and Georgia was that barring a miracle run in the SEC tournament, John Pelphrey was not going to return to lead the Hogs in the 2011-2012 campaign. That proved to be true, and the speculation on who would replace Pelphrey started back in April.
Of course, the name that continuously becomes connected with the opening is the current coach of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Anderson. Anderson was Nolan Richardson’s right hand man and top assistant during Richardson’s run at Arkansas which included a national championship, a national runner-up, and other deep runs in the NCAA tournament.
About two weeks ago, Mike Anderson threw gas on the fire when he was asked about a possible return to Arkansas. When questioned about his plans to either stay in Columbia or to take what was then a potential vacancy at the University of Arkansas, Anderson answered by saying, “I’m here,” before discussing his upcoming matchup with Kansas.
It did little to settle the nerves of the Missouri faithful while Arkansas fans began to think that bringing Anderson “home” was a real possibility. A day later, however, Anderson tried to calm the matter saying he wanted to retire at Missouri and planned on being there a long time.
Names continued to surface as talks of Pelphrey’s almost certain demise came closer and closer to fruition. Some high profile names such as Jamie Dixon and Bill Self were floating around, though no hard evidence supported that either were seriously considering a move to Arkansas.
Two coaches with Texas A&M ties floated to the top of the Arkansas rumor mill. Former Aggie and Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie and current Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon both became hot names in Arkansas circles. Some insiders were saying that Gillispie was openly campaigning for the job should it come open. Names such as Gregg Marshall of Wichita State and Buzz Williams of Marquette also were discussed and rumored to be in the mix.
Things heated up considerably when the official word from the University of Arkansas came down that Pelphrey would not be on the sidelines in Fayetteville next year. In a printed press release moments before the press conference to announce the firing, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long stated, “It is clear we have not made the progress over the last four years that is necessary to return Razorback Basketball to a place of national prominence.”
Almost immediately, insiders began saying that Buzz Williams and Billy Gillispie were the early favorites for the job. Just a few short hours after that, a lot more smoke appeared. This time, the smoke was coming from Minnesota.
The first media outlet to report that Tubby Smith might be a serious candidate for the job did so Sunday afternoon. The Ugly Uncle Show, an Arkansas weekend sports talk radio show, labeled it as hearsay from some questionable sources, but the rumor seemed to have meat on the bones.
By Monday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Arkansas and Smith were close to a deal that would bring the former national championship coach to Fayetteville. That was followed up by several media sources, both print and broadcast, hearing sources say that Tubby Smith to Arkansas was a very strong possibility.
The discussion about Tubby Smith started to melt away, but it hasn’t died down enough to consider Smith out of the running. Tubby Smith himself strongly stated he was happy in Minneapolis, and that he was certain an extension with the University of Minnesota was soon to be ironed out and signed. In addition, Mark Lericos, a sports director for a Northwest Arkansas television station, tweeted, “Per my sources on UA side: Tubby Smith rumors are basically smoke. No deal is imminent, or even close.”
While the Lericos tweet might indicate that Smith and the Razorbacks are a long ways apart on a deal, it seems very clear that at least preliminary discussions took place, and that there was mutual interest by both parties.
The head coaching vacancy at Arkansas may be the most attractive vacancy in college basketball this year. They have a relatively new arena that seats almost 20,000, have reached six Final Fours, and have 40 NCAA tournament victories in their history. In 2005, Street and Smith ranked Arkansas as the 8th greatest college basketball program of all time. While much has changed since 2005, it still is considered an outstanding job. Doug Gottlieb, ESPN college basketball analyst, called the Arkansas position a “top 20 job.”
A lucrative position at a prominent university with superb tradition should draw significant interest. One national championship coach seems to be at least inquiring about the job. Of course, such a position also brings with it significant speculation, guesswork, and rumors.
Until the Razorbacks settle on the next Head Hog, Razorback nation will be rife with all three.”