Arkansas needs to hire Butch Davis to be its next head football coach.
All other potential candidates that have been mentioned, such as Mark Hudspeth (head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette), Chad Morris (offensive coordinator at Clemson) or Charlie Strong (head coach at Louisville) are either coordinators with no head coaching experience or coaches whose only experience lies in conferences weaker than the SEC.
There are too many question marks with other candidates. What the Razorback program needs right now is a safe bet and stability.
Butch Davis is a known entity. He took a Miami Hurricanes squad that received many sanctions from the NCAA, notably the loss of scholarships, and built them into a national powerhouse. Davis recruited many of the key players that went on to win the 2001 national championship after he left the program to coach the Cleveland Browns.
He turned around a UNC Tar Heel team that had performed poorly for years. He was fired by UNC after allegations of academic misconduct swept the program, but he has since been cleared by the NCAA of any wrongdoing. This may be a problem for some fans, but allegations and convictions are two different things.
Hogs fans have been let down by the two previous coaches. Bobby Petrino’s poor ethical decisions and John L. Smith’s inability to live up to expectations have taken a toll on Razorback Nation.
One of the best steps the program can take to heal the wounds of the past year is to hire a coach that has spent time with the program and understands what the Razorbacks mean to the state of Arkansas. A coach with no ties to the school or the state at this point would do little to remedy the uneasiness Razorback fans feel about their program. A familiar face is needed.
Butch Davis played defensive end for the Razorbacks in the 1970s. He graduated from the University of Arkansas and coached at a few local high schools around the state early in his career.
Davis has further ties to the state by having been a defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. He worked for head coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones, both graduates of Arkansas.
Arkansas fans remember their own, and the Cowboys were widely supported throughout the state during the '90s. Butch Davis, having been part of two Super Bowl-winning teams managed by Arkansas graduates, will carry a special resonance throughout the state.
Then there are the unfortunate facts.
Arkansas is not a prime destination for most coaches. Arkansas lacks national prominence as a state and as a program. Even though the school is in the SEC, it does not enjoy the same high profile as schools like Auburn, Alabama or LSU.
Arkansas does offer an opportunity for coordinators to obtain their first head coaching job or for head coaches to move into the SEC, but players and fans will be asked to take the new hire on hope and faith. After this past year, that would be a mistake.
Davis is currently an adviser for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and would be available to interview for the position. His ties to the state would make the job an attractive proposition for him. He would not just be looking to pad his resume because he does not need to.
Davis knows how to recruit players, rebuild a program and has ties to the University of Arkansas. He has enough years of success as a head coach that he would not be as much of an unknown factor as other candidates.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long needs to hire a candidate based on past success, the ability to build a sustainable program and familiarity that Razorback Nation can have faith in on the day he takes the job.
Butch Davis is that candidate. And Jeff Long needs to do whatever it takes to bring him in as head coach. If Long fails to bring in Davis, he will be stuck with more outsiders or up-and-comers.
That’s not to say an up-and-comer could not be successful at Arkansas. But the Hogs moved from national contender to hoping for a low-level bowl game this season. With Butch Davis, Hog fans would have the best chance of having their faith rewarded. And that is something they have not had this season.