LSU Lawsuit Raises Question About Arkansas Coaches

Do Razorbacks have anyone who qualifies for College Football Hall of Fame in modern era?
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Houston Nutt watches his team from the sidelines in the first half of action against LSU.
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Houston Nutt watches his team from the sidelines in the first half of action against LSU. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The lawsuit filed by Les Miles against LSU over wins vacated as a result of NCAA violations from back during his run as Tigers' head coach has brought forth rather interesting realizations.

The first is that there are coaches out there to whom the College Football Hall of Fame matters enough to spend money on lawyers while simultaneously dragging their names back through the mud for the outside shot they'll get voted in. The second is how simple the criteria for getting considered happens to be and what a low bar it is.

To qualify, coaches must have a .600 average winning percentage and serve as head coach in at least 100 games. Basically, if someone can make it through each of his regular seasons going 6-6 in the regular season and win the bowl game against a Group of Five school over while possibly extending that regular season record to seven wins a few times, that mark can easily be hit during the eighth season.

So, with the bar so low, the question becomes whether any Arkansas coaches meet the standard during the modern era. Modern is a loose definition, so let's say all schools are fully integrated with their football programs, conference television rights are a thing, and spread formations have found their way into the game.

Ken Hatfield (1984-89)

Arkansas coach Ken Hatfield on the field prior to facing the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl.
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Ken Hatfield on the field prior to facing the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. / RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The most natural marking point in Razorbacks history takes place right after the departure of Lou Holtz. His successor, Ken Hatfield, faced Andre Ware and the famed run and shoot offense that once hung 95 points on SMU and coached games that appeared on Raycom, the Southwest Conference's version of Jefferson Pilot.

Hatfield looked like a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when he left Arkansas after winning over 75% of his games. He was headed for Clemson, which had recently won a national championship.

He won 70% of his games with the Tigers after being tasked to clean up the NCAA sanctions mess left behind by Danny Ford. Yet, the fans there were unwilling to support him, so he left in 1993 still highly qualified for the honor.

Afterward, he sentenced himself to time at Rice where coaching careers go to die. At first he was such a good coach that being the second fiddle college in Houston wasn't enough to hurt him.

In an odd twist worthy of a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame itself, Hatfield won the championship in an Arkansas-less SWC despite a 5-6 overall record. Unfortunately, his Owls weren't eligible to accept the bowl bid that typically comes with being a major conference champion because of the losing record.

After a pair of 7-4 seasons in 1996 and 1997, his overall record was134-84-4, well above the .600 mark. Unfortunately, Hatfield stuck around another eight seasons, only one of which featured a winning record, taking him out of Hall of Fame eligibility.


Jack Crowe (1990-92)

Arkansas fans might be surprised to know Jack Crowe, perhaps the biggest blemish on the Frank Broyles record on the college football side of things other than being why Hatfield left, finished his career with nearly the exact same winning percentage as Hatfield.

He finished 3-8 in his first season after Broyles talked him out of going to Clemson with Hatfield. The following year was his best at 6-6, which was good enough for runner-up in the SWC.

Then came the breaking point. He opened his third season with a shocking loss to Division I-AA Citadel in the Hogs' debut as a member of the SEC. Crowe was 14-20 at that point, dating back to his days as head coach at Livingston.

Eight years later he got a third chance a head coach at Jacksonville State. It looked like more of the same as he began 14-18 in his first three seasons, but the Gamecocks stuck with him through a move to the Ohio Valley Conference.

It paid off big time as he went 73-39, including an upset of Houston Nutt's Ole Miss Rebels in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2010.


Danny Ford (1993-97)

Had Ford stuck around at Arkansas much longer, he would have possibly knocked himself out of eligibility. Fortunately, he built a huge winning percentage while racking up infractions at Clemson.

He went 26-30-1 with Hogs despite bringing the Hogs their first SEC West championship on the strength of Madre Hill's legs. It was Ford's players Houston Nutt would use to put Arkansas legitimately in national championship contention for the first and only time in the modern era.

In 2017 he became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as the youngest coach ever to win a national championship at age 33, but no one will ever think of him as an Arkansas Razorbacks coach when they look back on the success that landed him there.


Houston Nutt (1998-2007)

Houston Nutt is by far the most successful Razorbacks coach of the SEC era. He came a Clint Stoerner stumble while running out the clock against No. 1 Tennessee on the road from potentially competing for the first ever BCS national championship and went to six consecutive bowl games back when that truly meant something.

Overall, he went to eight bowl games, including a Citrus, two Cottons and a Capital One while also winning the SEC West twice. He also is the only coach besides Bobby Petrino to have double-digit wins in the SEC era.

He likely would have been a shoe-in for the College Football Hall of Fame off his 75-48 record at Arkansas alone had he not stuck around at Ole Miss afterward for one season too long. In the two seasons after dealing with pushy parents and Broyles forcing him to hire Gus Malzahn against his wishes nudged him toward Oxford, where he led the Rebels to back-to-back Top 20 finishes and a pair of 9-4 records.

However, things began falling apart in 2010. Ole Miss dropped to 4-8, which would have been the perfect time to exit as key relationships within the Rebels community began to fray.

Had he bailed at that point, Nutt would have been a perfect .600 and easily a nominee after 18 years as a head coach. Unfortunately, his time at Arkansas taught him a rebound is always around the corner after following a 4-7 season in Fayetteville with 10 wins.

It didn't materialize though as he went 2-10 before being unceremoniously fired and inexplicably never given another opportunity to head a team despite only being 53.


Bobby Petrino (2008-2011)

Bobby Petrino is the only coach at Arkansas to win 11 games in the SEC era. He's also the only coach to have multiple double-digit wins and a Top 5 finish since the Hogs moved to the SEC.

That alone should be enough to land him in the College Football Hall of Fame even though a picture of him in a neck brace following a motorcycle accident will remain his most iconic image. Whether it was Arkansas, Louisville, Western Kentucky or Missouri State, he finished his time at each school with a winning record.

He has since opted for the offensive coordinator route, a job that in the SEC pays more than a lot of head coaching opportunities without a lot of the headaches and the potential of ruining his College Football Hall of Fame eligibility. So long as he keeps following that route, his .659 winning percentage will stay intact.


Bret Bielema (2013-17)

While Bielema's tenure is remembered as a bit of a turbulent mess bookended by losing seasons and featuring massive letdowns and an embarrassing scene where a player stole from a department store despite being there to get bowl game gifts, Bielema put together just enough winning seasons to still have an outside shot of qualifying.

It took a Hunter Henry heave miracle against Ole Miss celebrated on April 25 each year since to do it, but Bielema went 7-6, 8-5 and 7-6 from 2014-16 before being fired so Arkansas could hire Chad Morris following a 4-8 season.

At the time, that was considered an unacceptable level of football following nearly a decade of high level success. After spending years doing the least possible to make sure the Razorbacks had to continue paying his buyout, he finally landed at Illinois where he has since gone 18-19.

Bielema currently sits at a .599 winning percentage, which puts him below required line. Too many years at Arkansas and Illinois have since wiped out the wins at Wisconsin.

Whether he would be nominated should he get the required amount of wins is questionable. He is better known for his footwear, creating an environment that not even Sam Pittman would stomach as his assistant, and making the high school coaches of Texas furious, than his prowess as a head coach.

Even his success at Wisconsin is attributed more to the guidance of Barry Alvarez than Bielema's genius. He is the only Badgers coach to lose consecutive Rose Bowl games, including a shocking loss to Mountain West champions TCU in 2011.


Chad Morris (2018-19) / Sam Pittman (2020-Present)

These two coaches are grouped together because they come from the darkest period of Arkansas history in the modern era outside of Crowe's tenure. Morris quite literally ran the program into the ground with an average of two wins per season as the meat in a four-year stretch of Razorbacks history that culminated in 11 wins.

Part of those 11 wins over four years includes the beginning of a losing tenure under Pittman. While he put together a pair of winning seasons in his second and third years, things have been on a downward trend since a victory in the Capital One Bowl over Penn State capped a 9-win season in Year 2.

Pittman currently has a 23-25 record and is the only coach in the modern era to be given a fourth season at Arkansas with a losing record. An unexpected huge turnaround this year could help him eventually get to enough seasons and wins to go in as a head coach, but right now the odds are stacked against him.


Final verdict

Despite eight coaches being given a shot to lead the Razorbacks as official head coaches, only one looks as if he will earn the chance to be considered for the College Football Hall of Fame and be viewed somewhat as a Razorback. While his tenure at Louisville might overshadow what Petrino with the Hogs, the iconic neck brace photo and Top 5 finish with the Hogs just prior to his time being unexpectedly shortened at Arkansas may be enough for people to think of him as a Razorback should it happen.


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Kent Smith


Kent Smith has been in the world of media and film for nearly 30 years. From Nolan Richardson's final seasons, former Razorback quarterback Clint Stoerner trying to throw to anyone and anything in the blazing heat of Cowboys training camp in Wichita Falls, the first high school and college games after 9/11, to Troy Aikman's retirement and Alex Rodriguez's signing of his quarter billion dollar contract, Smith has been there to report on some of the region's biggest moments.