In 14 years as a Division I assistant and offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles has coached quite a few talented players including Terrance Williams, Bryce Petty, D’Eriq King, Treylon Burks and the current slate of Arkansas football stars.
None, however, have yet become as accomplished as Robert Griffin III, the transcendent Baylor star who in 2011 racked up 4,293 passing yards, 37 passing touchdowns, 699 rushing yards and ten rushing touchdowns when Briles was an inside receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator for the Bears. That season, Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy.
“There was a lot of flair with him, the offense we ran and the way he did it just being so dynamic and doing things with the football no one else can do,” Briles told ESPN in 2014. “Him winning the Heisman was a huge deal, beating Oklahoma at home and beating Texas later that year … all those things added together, you can’t say enough what those things did for our program.”
Robert Griffin III remains the only Heisman Trophy winner playing for any of Briles’ teams to date, but the way Arkansas’ offense is heating up this season, it’s becoming less and less far-fetched he could be joined by a Razorback in 2023. These 2022 Hogs are averaging nearly 500 yards a game and are on pace for about 6,402 yards of total offense which, as beat reporter Christina Long points out, would beat the program record set in 2010 by over 100 yards.
The offense is almost perfectly balanced, with 245.8 rushing yards and 246.8 passing yards per game.
“Isn’t that crazy,” Briles’ boss Sam Pittman said this week. “Man, I tell you, I’d like to say, ‘Yeah, we’d like to be 1 yard apart,’ but I’d be lying to you.”
Arkansas Football’s Next Heisman Winner?
When it comes to a 2023 winner of the Heisman Trophy, two Razorbacks stand out as the most likely candidates. The first is the same guy who was on watch lists earlier this year. There’s a good chance that quarterback KJ Jefferson would return for a red-shirt senior year to elevate his NFL Draft stock and vie for a national championship, similar to the path Hendon Hooker took when he decided to return to Tennessee for his sixth college season this fall.
Hooker, at last, helped Tennessee break though against Alabama and it’s certainly imaginable to see KJ Jefferson doing the same for Arkansas considering this season he has such a high completion percentage (67.6%), a 15-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and is is seventh nationally in passer efficiency at 170.3
By taking another big jump in production in 2023, Jefferson would ascend the list of Heisman Trophy candidates just as Hooker has done this season.
Then there’s sophomore Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, who has churned out the most impressive first eight games in a season all-time among Razorback running backs, racking up yards at a pace greater than even Darren McFadden. Sanders, who still has at least one more season of college, will almost certainly enter 2023 as a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender. As with Jefferson, the key is coming up with big wins and avoiding three-game losing skids, but with some better luck on the injury front and improvement in the secondary such a breakthrough is certainly possible.
With the kind of depth the Hogs are developing at offensive line there’s every reason to believe that Briles, in a fourth season on the Hill, would keep the Razorbacks’ offense humming to put up the kind of numbers befitting a Heisman winner.
Robert Griffin III, though, wants to see his former assistant’s time in Fayetteville come to an end:
Not surprisingly, Arkansas football fans gave RGIII, who now works as an ESPN analyst, a piece of their mind for bringing Briles into the Auburn coaching search:
These feisty Razorback fans pointed out there are many reasons for Briles to stay in Arkansas, least of which is a reason Briles himself shared a few months ago: “I’ve felt loyal to Coach Pittman giving me the opportunity to be here,” Briles said.
“Obviously you’ve got to look at everything from a career standpoint and what you think is best. I feel like I made the right move staying here and being with the guys and the coaches and the coaching staff being able to keep all that intact is pretty unique. A lot of times you don’t get that.”
That kind of continuity is rare and something Briles doesn’t take for grant, especially with a wife and three children who have made friends in northwest Arkansas these last few years. When it comes to salary, Auburn may offer him a bit more given Mike Bobo made $1.3 million in 2021 while Briles is making $1.2 million this year, but would the headache of dealing with such an unstable situation and another move be worth it for a small raise? Especially when Arkansas would likely match anything Auburn would offer anyway?
Kendal Briles and Auburn Coaching Search
The answer is likely “no”. Auburn won’t even have their best offensive player from this year, Tank Bigsby, on next year’s roster as he’s likely going to enter the 2023 NFL Draft. At this point, nobody knows how things will shake out in recruiting and the transfer portal until a new Auburn head coach will be named.
The biggest threat to Arkansas may seem to be Lane Kiffin getting hired as the Tigers’ next head coach, since he’s already worked with Briles at Florida Atlantic, but Briles did leave after a single year there to head to Florida State. So that’s not the best sign for a reunion.
Two years ago, Clay Travis stirred things up by suggesting that Auburn hire Art Briles to replace Gus Malzahn and then use that hire as a way to steal Kendal Briles from Arkansas to become Auburn’s offensive coordinator. The Art Briles angle was patently ridiculous, of course, but it turned out so was the suggestion his son should leave for The Plains.
Kendal Briles made the right decision by avoiding that dumpster fire and continuing to develop young Razorback stars while honing his system at Arkansas. It’s paying big-time dividends in 2022, and could reach yet another level in 2023 with returns by Jefferson and Sanders.
Sure, leaving Arkansas to become a head coach at a Power 5 program would make sense for Kendal Briles given his vast experience. But jumping ship when you’ve got a good thing going for another offensive coordinator position at very close to the same pay?
C’mon, RGIII. It’s obvious you like to clown around on your TikTok videos, but I expect you to keep the funny stuff out of your coaching recommendations. You can do better than that.
Sam Pittman on Harsin, Auburn Coaching Search
“Obviously you hate for anybody to get let go. I mean, it’s part of our business. I think the average is a little over three years of us guys, in this league. But I know he did it the way he wanted to do it and worked extremely hard. I just hate for anybody to get let go. I just hate for anybody to get let go, but I don’t know the situation, but I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s a really fine coach and I’m sure if he elects to coach again that he’ll find a nice job.”
From Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference…
Question: Auburn has a HC opening, what would you ask a potential candidate for the job?
Do you have the love for the university? I would like to know if you’ve had SEC experience. You know, if you’ve been in the league. It’s a different league. Obviously to turn any program, you’ve got to recruit well. You’d probably ask them who the coordinators are, who are your top recruiters, guys like that that you can bring in to recruit the Atlanta area and those things.
Luckily I don’t have to be in those interviews. But I think you find somebody that’s got a love for the university, somebody that can recruit and obviously knows the area. You’ve got to be able to hire good coordinators and things of that nature. But Auburn will be able to do that. They’ve got a really strong tradition.
Why is the right person for the job not always the obvious choice?
Well, the obvious choice is for the public. I mean, the obvious choice might be the most popular choice. Popularity, from what I understand, doesn’t win any football games. And I think athletic directors have to understand the feel of the person. ‘Is this a permanent job, or is this one I’m trying to step into and turn the program and leave, or do I feel like this job is the Taj Mahal?’
And I think you can feel that in interviews. I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a job in an interview that I didn’t really, really want. If I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know if I want this job or not,’ I didn’t get offered it. But if I knew that I wanted the job, my percentages went way up high. I think there’s a lot to do with passion and what you think of the program. Obviously, they’ll find that guy.
Listen to Briles discuss Arkansas here: