Just a couple weeks after announcing he was returning for a fourth season with Arkansas football, Kendal Briles has reportedly reversed course and is now heading to TCU.
Fresh off a runner-up finish in the College Football Playoff, the Horned Frogs are tabbing Briles as their new offensive coordinator, according to FootballScoop and 247Sports. He’s replacing Garrett Riley, the 2022 Broyles Award winner who was hired away by Clemson late last week.
It ends a successful three-year run with the Razorbacks that was capped by a season in which they averaged 471.4 yards per game, the second-best mark in UA history.
The move is a significant blow to head coach Sam Pittman, who believed he’d have Briles back in 2023. SEC West foe Mississippi State made a strong run at him earlier this month, but he turned down the Bulldogs to remain in Fayetteville.
Briles went public with his decision on Jan. 5 by tweeting he was “looking forward to 2023 with” KJ Jefferson. He included a “#Runitback” hashtag and a photo of him and Jefferson in the tweet.
Although he was set to make $1.25 million this season under his contract extension signed last year, Briles was believed to be in line for another bump in pay after sticking with the Razorbacks. However, no details of an extension or raise have been released.
It’s unknown what Briles will make at TCU, which is a private institution and not subject to Freedom of Information laws, but Riley left the Horned Frogs for a $1.75 million salary at Clemson, which is also paying him a $300,000 signing bonus.
The move also gets Briles back in the Lone Star State, where he’s spent a majority of his life. Born and raised in Texas, he played collegiately at Texas and Houston before beginning a coaching career at Baylor. He also had a one-year stint at Houston sandwiched between stops at Florida Atlantic and Florida State before joining the Razorbacks.
However, TCU fans appear to be split over the hire because of the scandal that led to him leaving Baylor.
More Coaching Turnover with Arkansas Football
Kendal Briles is the fifth assistant coach who won’t be returning to the Razorbacks in 2023, meaning Sam Pittman is having to replace half of his coaching staff this season.
It’s the second time in three offseasons that Pittman has needed to hire five new assistant coaches, as it also happened following his first season at the helm.
That year, he lost offensive line coach Brad Davis and wide receivers coach Justin Stepp to lateral moves within the conference, as they returned home to LSU and South Carolina, respectively. He also let go tight ends coach Jon Cooper, defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc and linebackers coach Rion Rhoades.
The story has been a little different this go-around, as three of the departures have been for promotions. Tight ends coach Dowell Loggains became the offensive coordinator at South Carolina, while defensive coordinator Barry Odom and linebackers coach Michael Scherer went to UNLV to become a head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively.
Cornerbacks coach Dominique Bowman and Arkansas also parted ways and he has since landed at Temple, where he’ll have the same position. Briles becoming the offensive coordinator at TCU is also a lateral move from a title standpoint, but different in that Pittman likely didn’t want to lose him.
Pittman has since hired Morgan Turner from Stanford to coach tight ends and brought in Travis Williams from UCF as a defensive coordinator and Marcus Woodson from Florida State as a co-defensive coordinator. They are believed to also coach linebackers and the secondary, respectively, but that has yet to be announced.
The 10-man on-field coaching staff now has two holes to fill because — in addition to the offensive coordinator job being open — Pittman has yet to hire someone in Bowman’s place.
Replacing Kendal Briles
It was already shaping up to be an important offseason for Sam Pittman because of all the transfer portal departures and the loss of Barry Odom, but finding a replacement for Kendal Briles might be the most vital decision he makes going into his fourth season running the Arkansas football program.
Even though it’s pretty late in the process to be looking for an offensive coordinator, the Razorbacks should be a pretty enticing landing spot, on paper. They are returning one of the top quarterback-running back tandems in the SEC in KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders, plus have landed three coveted receivers from the portal and have a stockpile of young talent on the offensive line.
If you throw out the three games Jefferson missed or was clearly hobbled by injuries, Arkansas averaged 37.7 points and 496.8 yards — figures that would have broken single-season school records and ranked 12th and seventh nationally, respectively.
Money shouldn’t be a sticking point, either, as Briles was set to make $1.25 million in 2023. His $1.2 million salary last year was tied for 21st among assistant coaches at public universities, according to USA Today’s database.
Considering how much money the Razorbacks had saved on the salaries of their new assistant coaches, Briles looked like he was set to get a raise to around $1.5 million, which would have ranked in the top 10 nationally last year. That means Arkansas should be financially competitive for most candidates.
With that in mind, here’s a look at several names that Arkansas football fans will likely mention has replacements for Kendal Briles, as well as some true options Sam Pittman might look at:
Kliff Kingsbury (former NFL/college HC): Let’s get this one out of the way first… It ain’t happening. Kingsbury is undoubtedly one of the top offensive minds in the game, but this is about like Jon Gruden always being mentioned when a head coaching job opens. Plus, he’ll probably have his pick of NFL offensive coordinator jobs when he returns from Thailand.
Barry Lunney Jr. (Illinois OC): Considering he grew up in the state, played for the Razorbacks and then coached for the Razorbacks, Barry Lunney Jr. — whether he admits it or not — would probably like to return to Arkansas at some point. However, he was passed over for the head coaching position when Pittman was hired, so who knows how he’d feel about working for him. It’s also worth noting that while he had a lot of success at UTSA, Lunney’s offense didn’t exactly light the world on fire at Illinois this season.
Dan Enos (Maryland OC): Another name that will almost certainly be thrown around by fans, Enos has been at Maryland the last two years, but neither of his offenses have ranked inside the top 50 in scoring — and neither did his offense at Miami (Fla.) in 2019. He did overlap with Pittman at Arkansas in 2015, which was one of the Razorbacks’ best offensive teams in school history, but it’s unknown how the two got along in the lone season.
Dan Mullen (former MSU/Florida HC): He spent the past year working for ESPN, even calling the Liberty Bowl, but if Pittman is looking for someone with SEC experience, Mullen would be an excellent choice. As a head coach, he turned Mississippi State into a top-25 program before leaving for Florida. He also had a lot of success working under Urban Meyer at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green. Mullen coached the likes of Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Kyle Trask along the way.
Jimmy Smith (Arkansas RBs): The most obvious choice as an OC-in-waiting has already left Pittman’s staff, as Dowell Loggains was hired as South Carolina’s offensive coordinator last month. Of the other three remaining offensive assistants, Smith would make the most sense for a promotion. He’s proven to be one of the top recruiters on staff, his position has consistently produced and he’s a former high school head coach and offensive coordinator. However, he’s only been a position coach in college, so perhaps a co-OC tag might be the move, depending on who else Pittman brings in.
Seth Littrell (former North Texas HC): Recently let go at North Texas, where he went 44-44 (including one win Arkansas fans probably wish to forget) and reached a pair of C-USA title games in seven seasons, Littrell also has six years of experience as a Power Five offensive coordinator with stops at Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina. Like Pittman, he’s an Oklahoma native, plus he was a running back the two years Pittman was the offensive line coach for the Sooners.
Zach Kittley (Texas Tech OC): A rising star in the profession, Kittley is just 31 years old and coming off his first season as a Power Five offensive coordinator. He helped the Red Raiders rank 27th (34.2 ppg) and 22nd (461.4 ypg) nationally in scoring and total offense, respectively, this year. Prior to that, he helped Western Kentucky put up big numbers in 2021 (2nd in scoring and yards) and built a powerful offense at the FCS level at Houston Baptist. He has an Air Raid background.
Collin Klein (Kansas State OC): Arkansas fans may recognize this name because he was Kansas State’s quarterback when the Razorbacks beat the Wildcats in the Cotton Bowl following the 2011 season. Since then, he’s had a rapid rise through the coaching ranks. That includes helping Kansas State win the Big 12 with a balanced offensive attack in his first season as the sole offensive coordinator. However, Klein played at Kansas State and all but one season of his nine-year coaching career has been in Manhattan, Kan.
Chip Lindsey (North Carolina OC): Pittman already plucked from the Gus Malzahn tree with his defensive coordinator hire and could choose to do so again with Lindsey, who was his offensive coordinator when Auburn won the SEC West in 2017. After a stint as Troy’s head coach, he reunited with Malzahn at UCF this year and helped John Rhys Plumlee put up big numbers as a dual-threat quarterback. He was hired by North Carolina about a month ago.
Casey Woods (SMU OC): Another branch from the Malzahn tree, Woods played collegiately at Tennessee and worked for Malzahn at both Auburn and Arkansas State. He has other SEC experience as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri from 2020-21, helping the Tigers sign their best class in school history in 2021. Woods is coming off his first season as a collegiate offensive coordinator, guiding an SMU offense that ranked top 15 in scoring and yards.
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