A couple of years ago, Brent Venables, then OU’s defensive coordinator, expressed interest in the head coaching job at Arkansas State. Many of us wondered why.
Now we know. Arkansas State, located in Jonesboro in the northeast corner of the state, close to the Mississippi Delta and far from the fertile Texas recruiting grounds, has become the cradle of coaches.
Arkansas State fired Steve Roberts after he went 45-63 in nine seasons, 2002-10.
Arkansas State promoted offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze, who had spent just one year in Jonesboro and was most notable for coaching Briarcrest High School in Tennessee and coaching Michael Oher, whose story became “The Blind Side” movie.
Freeze produced. Arkansas State went 10-2 in 2011, and Ole Miss came calling. Freeze had spent three years as recruiting coordinator and assistant, 2005-07. Freeze now has coached the Rebels to a 14-11 record the last two years.
Arkansas State hired Gus Malzahn. Malzahn had been Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11, which included the 2010 national title season. Malzahn took over the Red Wolves and coached them to a 9-3 season in 2012. And Auburn came calling. Gene Chizik had been fired for going winless in 2012 SEC play. Malzahn now has Auburn in the national championship game.
Arkansas State hired Bryan Harsin. Harsin had been Texas’ offensive coordinator the previous two years, after five years as Boise State’s offensive coordinator. Harsin in 2013 coached Arkansas State to a 7-5 record. Not quite the level of Freeze or Malzahn, but decent. And Boise State came calling. Harsin left Arkansas State this week for Boise.
And now while everyone is focused on the Texas job, maybe a little attention ought to be diverted to Jonesboro. For whatever reason, some really good jobs come calling on Arkansas State.
Are you listening, Josh Heupel and Glenn Spencer and even Mike Stoops?
You wouldn’t think it wise to leave a job of coordinator at OU or OSU for an outpost like Arkansas State. But clearly, university presidents are looking for head coaching experience, and they look in places like Jonesboro. If a coach has confidence in himself — and most do — then he believes he can go to Arkansas State, win and get a better job.
Arkansas State next season will have its fifth coach in five seasons. It’s become the stepping-stone of college football.
Any assistant coach who feels stunted in his hopes of landing a head coaching job would have to go hard after Arkansas State, which has become a force in the Sun Belt Conference.