Gus Malzahn has been a suggested replacement for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. It’s a better job than his present position at Arkansas State. It’s quite literally home, as his Springdale high school team was just 10 miles from Fayetteville. He’s also a former Arkansas assistant (one season) under Houston Nutt. According to his former Springdale players, who spoke with Vertical Magazine, Malzahn was sold a false bill of goods and placed in an untenable from the moment he arrived.
Houston Nutt wanted nothing to do with him.
Cleveland confirmed the promise and agreed with Mustain that Nutt had been forced to hire the high school coach. Whether the directive came from then-UA Athletic Director Frank Broyles, high-profile boosters, or both, both players agreed Nutt wasn’t on board even though Malzahn had been promised he could run his offense.
The transition to his offense went poorly.
“I think everything (Malzahn) did was on good faith,” Mustain said. “Especially, at that point. We were thinking, ‘OK, we will work into it. We don’t want to shock the system.’ Looking back, that is kind of a foolish notion. (The Spread) should have started in January if that is what you were going to do. You can’t start that in August. The guys need to get the playbooks and everything they need, so come August you have had eight months of it, and you can get it done — Hindsight being 20/20 on that one. Malzahn was thinking the same thing. He didn’t have experience doing something like that as a coordinator, so we were all like, ‘OK, we will make it work.’” The conflict between Malzahn and Nutt wasn’t the only strife. Cleveland sensed resentment among returning players when Williams and Mustain entered the mix in June.
Malzahn was also undermined by fellow members of the coaching staff.
The Springdale contingent was a big topic of the rumor mill, too. There were reports that Malzahn was shunned by colleagues and that then defensive coordinator Reggie Herring referred to Malzahn as “High School.” (Mustain said he never heard Herring call Malzahn the derogatory nickname in front of players.)
He left for Tulsa after just one season.
Much has changed. Houston Nutt is long gone. Arkansas has a new athletic director, yet much about the job remains the same. Entitled SEC fans aren’t known for patience or tolerance. Inheriting a team that has won 21 games the past two seasons and is expected to compete for the BCS title in the toughest division in football in not ideal circumstances is pressure enough. Add to that the pressure of trying to do it in his hometown, as a first-time head coach, having just abandoned another in-state program.
That said, the team has Petrino’s offensive stamp. There’s a starting quarterback. There’s running back depth. The offensive transition would go smoothly. Could Malzahn, desperate for any head coaching position a few months ago, really turn down a big budget SEC program with growth potential and a $40 million football facility?
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