LITTLE ROCK – The answer to why Gus Malzahn made a career move that will be interpreted as a step backward can be found on page 22 of his book.
Chapter Two is entitled, “Before implementing the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle,” and the final bullet item says: “You have to be committed to the philosophy.”
Although Malzahn wrote the book a couple of years before he hired on as offensive coordinator at Arkansas, read the follow-up paragraph with USC and Houston Nutt in mind:
“Some coaches, after the first time they faced a little adversity using the hurry-up, no-huddle philosophy, go back to their old ball-control offensive philosophy. Remember, it won’t go smoothly at first and you will experience some growing pains. … You need to believe in what you and your team are trying to accomplish.”
For updated context, read the statement from Tulsa coach Todd Graham who hired Malzahn as his assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator.
“He has a great offensive mind and his no-huddle spread offense style is exactly what we want to employ at Tulsa.”
As a new coach, Graham has a couple of years to get the offense up and running; in his ninth year, Nutt had no such safety net.
Before the 2006 season began, Nutt knew his job was on the line. When the head coach is in such jeopardy, so are most of his assistants. With that in mind, in the aftermath of the 50-14 loss to USC, Nutt decided to re-trench.
Even though it was athletic director Frank Broyles who insisted that Nutt hire an offensive coordinator, Broyles could not order the head coach to use an offense he did not trust and then fire him if the Razorbacks were 7-5.
When it became clear to Nutt that he had to hire an offensive coordinator, he decided on quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke. On his way out the door until then, Wittke was delighted.
Supposedly, Nutt broke the news to Broyles and others and was told Wittke would be a fine hire but not at Arkansas. At that point, Nutt got the Malzahn message. Until then, Nutt had planned to hire Malzahn as the receivers coach.
Arkansas ran some no-huddle with success against USC when the game was out of hand, but Nutt was not convinced that was the way to protect his young quarterbacks. Besides, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were available to run the ball.
Even a month ago, Malzahn described the play-calling as a collective effort.
At Tulsa, it will be different.
Graham spent a couple of years on Rich Rodriguez’s staff at West Virginia and his other offensive coordinator is Herb Hand, hired away from West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are the team held up by proponents of the no-huddle, but there is more option to the offense than most believe and quarterback Patrick White was their No. 2 ball carrier with 165 carries for 1,219 yards. In fact, West Virginia ran 590 times and threw 233 times in 13 games; Arkansas was 505 and 270 through 10-3.
Whether Malzahn was misled, or lied to, or whether his need to control was too much, he is gone.
His departure leaves questions about who is coming to Fayetteville and whether anybody else is leaving.
David Lee, who is responsible for offensive control with the Dallas Cowboys, is being mentioned as a possible coordinator. He was Nutt’s quarterbacks coach for a couple of years before joining the Cowboys in 2003.
Before Malzahn was hired, Lee was close to returning to Fayetteville as offensive coordinator. He has worked with quarterback Mitch Mustain and, in fact, raved about Mustain’s pro-type release when we talked prior to Arkansas-Bucknell in the NCAA Tournament in Dallas in March.
Malzahn’s departure will result in some bad PR, particularly with Arkansas fans who believed the Razorbacks were glory-bound with him and nationally from those who will guess at why a coach would leave a Southeastern Conference school for one in Conference USA.
Grousing by fans won’t matter unless they quit buying tickets. Obviously safe after 10-4, Nutt will be back in hot water if the Razorbacks, sans Malzahn, struggle in 2007.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@http://archives.arkansasnews.com.