I have to confess something; as college football fan, and specifically, a Nebraska fan, I feel bad for Arkansas. Maybe it’s because both of us have been the mutual object of the scorn of Texas, and both Arkansas and Nebraska are small states without major cities. And because of their small population, both programs had to make hard choices to leave their historic conferences and move on to super-leagues.
In an odd twist of fate, it was the man who replaced and was succeeded by Steve Pedersen (Nebraska’s prodigal son) at Pittsburgh , the athletic director who had to make the tough call on Bobby Petrino. In a small state like Arkansas, a major football program isn’t just the state’s identity; it’s one of the few major business. Los Angeles has the Lakers, film industry, and countless others to go along with it. In Arkansas, it’s football and that’s it.
Petrino’s firing just represents the futility that surrounds the rural program who hasn’t lived up to the expectation of the past. After twenty years, Arkansas’ football program had finally surpassed Texas and become elite again. On top of which, the Razorbacks no longer had to listen to the Longhorn’s mocking that they had deserted their SWAC rivals; with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC, the Hogs could now boast to Austin that they were ahead of the expansion curb, in the place where it matters most: the homes of Texas high school players.
But to get there, they had to take a chance on a questionable coach. Jeff Long hired Bobby Petrino because, after the school had a decade of Houston Nutt, an average coach who wasn’t bad enough to get himself fired quickly. Ultimately, Bobby Petrino may just be a more successful version of Mark Mangino; a successful coach whose issues got hi relegated to a rural job, although Petrino’s was much better than Mangino’s.
So now Arkansas is open again; at least now it’s a better job than it was when Petrino took over. Oddly enough, Nebraska’s Pelini is rumored to be on Long’s list. Not surprising the two states have the same taste in coaches.