It’s no secret Arkansas football is at an all-time low.
Saturday’s 56-20 loss to LSU hammered that point home yet again. Once upon a time, this series could be considered a rivalry. Arkansas won almost as often as LSU. But no longer.
These days, LSU players don’t even care enough about the victors’ trophy, the “Golden Boot,” to take it off the field right after the game.
And LSU coach Ed Orgeron threw shade Arkansas’ way in the press conference: “There wasn’t going to be celebration for beating Arkansas,” he said. “They haven’t beaten anyone in a long time.”
Arkansas won’t get back to beating top SEC teams until they find the right coach.
One top candidate is UCA alum Mike Norvell, who’s led Memphis to a 10-1 record so far. Norvell has been a hot commodity for a few years, and has already spoken to Arkansas officials about the vacancy, according to a report by Football Scoop.
But the outlet also reported that Norvell has more interest in the opening at Florida State than the one at Arkansas.
Still, if Florida State ends up going with another coach, should Hunter Yurachek pursue Norvell? Especially since Yurachek himself knows his legacy as Arkansas’ athletic director rides on this decision. “I can’t afford to get this wrong,” he said.
There are a few things to consider first.
MID-MAJOR SUCCESS ONLY
“My issue with Mike Novell is, can you take that risk? Can you go again? After hiring Chad Morris out of Conference USA [now the American Athletic Conference] can you turn around and do it again and hire another coach out of Conference USA?,” said analyst Alyssa Orange, referencing Chad Morris’ stint at SMU before Arkansas.
“That’s my biggest issue because the difference with Mike Norvell and Mike Leach is Michael Leach has a lot more tenure at power five schools. That’s where he’s been. That’s what’s what he knows. And Mike Norvell does not,” she added.
Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin also chimed in: ” I think he’s a much better coach than Morris and he’s a better hire. He probably should’ve been hired the last time after they blew [Mike] Leach off. I think he should have been their choice.”
“But here’s what happened. You got a bunch of politically correct people sitting around going, ‘Oh no, I think he gambles. I’ve heard gambles. Oh no.’ And so there were all these rumors that were floating around and they didn’t pick him. And let me tell you something. From what I know about him that ticked him off. He didn’t appreciate those rumors. He’s still mad about it…”
“I’m told the only way he ends up here is if he doesn’t get two or three other jobs. He’s not so boiling over to come here any more because he doesn’t like the way he was treated.”
Wally Hall, the Democrat-Gazette columnist, wrote about these allegations in a recent op-ed. Apparently, when the 38-year-old Mike Norvell first moved to Memphis four years ago, “he enjoyed visiting Tunica and playing the games of chance. That apparently is no longer the case. His wife, Maria Norvell, is from Fort Smith.”
While it appears that momentum for Norvell-to-Arkansas may be less than it was two years ago because of Morris’ failure, on a national level pundits and Vegas still like his chances in Fayetteville.
In mid November, the line (according to Wally Hall) for Arkansas’ next head football coach was:
Mike Norvell: 2-1
Eliah Drinkwitz: 3-1
Lane Kiffin: 4-1
Bill Clark: 5-1
Mike Leach: 6-1
Sonny Dykes: 6-1
Hugh Freeze: 8-1
Gus Malzahn: 12-1
Bobby Petrino: 18-1
Houston Nutt: 25-1
Norvell’s name came up two years ago before Arkansas hired Morris. In that span, he has become a better and more mature coach. Norvell, only 38, is an offensive mind who has the Tigers in contention for the AAC title and a Cotton Bowl berth. Considering where Arkansas is at the moment, his hire would be a home run. The Irving, Texas, native played wide receiver at Central Arkansas.-Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports
Mike Norvell would be a high risk, high reward hire for Yurachek. Norvell doesn’t have a track record of winning big at a Power 5 program, or of rebuilding a Division I team as a head coach (Memphis had been rebuilt by its former coach Justin Fuente).
And there is a cloud of lingering rumors that what he likes (or used to like) to “do” in his off hours really isn’t gambling. The below screenshot is from a Memphis Tigers fan message board two years ago, so take it with at least 50 pounds of salt:
Regardless, when it comes to offensive strategy, Norvell has his affairs in order. And he has a much better track record at the mid-major level than Morris had. For instance, Norvell’s Tigers have already beaten two Power 5 teams in UCLA and Ole Miss in the last three seasons.
He is a young coach with a lot of charisma and recruiting ties to the mid South. Norvell has the potential to be a great one for whatever Power 5 program finally lures him away from Memphis.
Watch Mike Irwin and the Pig Trail Nation team discuss Norvell starting at 13:20 below: