Missouri, Malzahn, and Bielema’s time as Hogs coach coming to a close?

Remember last summer when we were all dying for football season to start? Now, Friday can’t get here quick enough.

The 2017 football season needs to be put out of its Missouri, ah, I mean misery.

Missouri (6-5, 3-4 SEC) is next up for the Razorbacks (4-7, 1-6 SEC), and now the game which looked like a sure victory when the season started has morphed into another tough matchup for the Razorbacks.

Missouri has won their last five games, are bowl eligible, and are an 11.5-point favorite on the Hogs’ home turf of Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Since being blown out in back-to-back games by Kentucky and Georgia in early October, the Tigers have mauled five — albeit meager — opponents on average 52-16. No doubt, they will be looking to do the same against the Hogs.

The game will be televised by CBS with kickoff set for 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Of course, that’s Black Friday. While that means in-the-black for retailers, it will likely stand for lights out on Bret Bielema’s tenure as the Razorbacks head football coach.

I say likely only because the way things have been going on the hill, the plug could be pulled sooner.

Some have been calling for Bielema’s dismissal for a good while. No doubt the writing has been on the wall, and the firing of Jeff Long as Arkansas’ athletic director last week seemed to solidify that writing in permanent marker.

Any slim chance of Bielema being retained as coach faded when La’Michael Pettway cut his route short and became somewhat entangled with a Mississippi State defensive back last Saturday on a do-or-die play call. On a fourth and 2 at the Hogs’ 44, Austin Allen’s pass sailed over Pettway and pelted the artificial surface. Though the score remained 21-21 with 3:01 to play, few doubted the Bulldogs would take advantage for the win.

They did on Nick Fitzgerald’s 7-yard TD pass to Jackson Thomas for a 28-21 final tally.

Many are bemoaning Bielema’s fourth-down decision. Conventionally, they are right. You should punt in that situation, and force the opponent to drive the distance of the field. Let the defense make a stand, and then hope for a shot at a field goal or touchdown for the win.

However, I get Bielema’s decision to go for it.

Arkansas didn’t want to go into overtime with Fitzgerald at quarterback. He’s a poor-man’s Matt Jones. The Hogs would not have been able to stop him and his Bulldogs from the 25, and Arkansas’ offense wouldn’t have been able to keep up either.

Should he have punted? In hindsight, sure, but he rolled the dice and took a shot. A desperate move for sure, but I still get why he did it.

Personally, I had more problems with the Wildcat play call with T.J. Hammonds at quarterback on third down before the last-ditch effort. Talk about telegraphing who was running the ball.

Hopefully, the powers-that-be at the UA will have the decorum to allow Bielema to finish out this week with his team. Bielema deserves that much for his work with the program.

While the next Razorback coach will have an arduous rebuilding project ahead of him, the program is reportedly in better academic shape than it has been in recent memory, even though its APR still lags when compared against other SEC programs.

Maybe the Hogs can pull it together to pull off a victory for their departing coach and coaching staff?

It’s unlikely, but I’d like to see it.

Many Hogs fans will be watching Saturday’s Iron Bowl game at Auburn even more intently.

No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) is a four-point favorite over the No. 6 Tigers (9-2, 6-1 SEC) in what amounts to the SEC Western Division Championship Game. The winner will join Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2 with a bid to the four-team College Football Playoffs probably on the line.

If all the rumors are on target, Auburn head coach and Fort Smith native Gus Malzahn has an interest in the Razorbacks job, and he is THE candidate at this point. Again, those are rumors.

Conventional wisdom is that if Auburn wins and plays in the SEC Championship Game, Arkansas might have to move on to the next candidate.

Malzahn has proven himself to be a fine coach from his first job coaching high school ball at Hughes through his championship tenures at Shiloh Christian, and Springdale and on into his college career at Arkansas, Tulsa, Arkansas State, and Auburn.

Having covered Malzahn at Shiloh Christian, Springdale, and Arkansas, I personally like him on an acquaintance level. Though he was too tight-lipped for a good interview about an upcoming game or opponent from a reporter’s perspective, I enjoyed visiting with him and talking football with him in general.

I would not say I know Malzahn personally, but those whom I know that do, have a great amount of respect for him as a friend, a man, and a Christian.

With the state the Razorback program is in, Arkansas would be lucky to get a coach of Malzahn’s stature. It would be a SPLASH hire that would leave most people around the country scratching their head.

Coaches are fired at Auburn, but they don’t leave to take another job, much less one of a lesser status.

Such a hire by Arkansas would put a huge spotlight on the program and Malzahn. Malzahn has been in the national spotlight since leaving high school coaching, but he doesn’t seem to like it.

The rumors say that Malzahn is tired of the fickle nature of Auburn fans, who tally his worth on a week-by-week basis.

I have two concerns about Arkansas chasing after Malzahn as its next head coach.

First, even the best of college programs seem to miss on their top choice when they shoot for the moon, and Arkansas attempting to hire Malzahn away from Auburn is shooting for the moon.

I can see Arkansas courting Malzahn heavily, but him staying on the plains when the chips are down. Auburn’s access to talent is so much greater than Arkansas’ that I believe Malzahn would have a tough time leaving if Auburn’s boosters and fanbase make a commitment to him.

That commitment might not come, especially if the Tigers can’t upside Alabama on Saturday. And it may be too late to matte to Malzahn.

However, if Malzahn is on the market, he will have other choices than Arkansas.

Secondly, I wonder if enough time has passed since Malzahn’s controversial one-year tenure as the Hogs’ offensive coordinator for him to be fully accepted as head coach?

I’ve heard all kinds of stories about Malzahn’s time as offensive coordinator for the 2006 season, but none of them from Malzahn himself or from the principals on the other side. Malzahn never spoke about it on the record while still in Northwest Arkansas.

Since then both Malzahn and Nutt have downplayed the feud in interviews.

I’m not going to rehash the details now, but if Malzahn is hired at Arkansas, you better believe the media will, locally and nationally.

While Malzahn never spoke on the record about it, everyone seemed to know the ins and outs of Malzahn’s troubles with Nutt and other members of the coaching staff through sources. Malzahn was silent, but someone inside his circle was talking, a lot. You have to consider stuff like that when you are hiring someone.

Is Northwest Arkansas with Malzahn’s ties to family and friends the best place for him to coach?

Coming home to coach the Razorbacks did not end well for Houston Nutt or Ken Hatfield, either.

Hatfield left Arkansas feeling much the same way as Malzahn reportedly feels now at Auburn. Nutt’s nightmarish departure, which was intricately tied to Malzahn, was decidedly messy. It ultimately forced Frank Broyles’ retirement as well as John White’s as Arkansas’ chancellor.

The Arkansas job is tough enough for any coach without him walking in with strikes against him.

Now, all of that may be water under the bridge.

When Bielema is fired, Arkansas will need a coach, and Malzahn is a good one. That might be enough to soothe over old wounds on Malzahn’s side and among Broyles and Nutt’s supporters who – right or wrong — blamed Malzahn for a lot of what happened.

If Malzahn could walk in with a clean slate, Arkansas would be lucky to have him.