FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Now is as good a time as any for
Arkansas to reshape its offense.
The team Bobby Petrino will inherit next season could look
significantly different from the group that's won 18 games over the
last two years.
"We're losing some key players," junior center Jonathan Luigs
said Wednesday, a day after Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons to
became the Razorbacks' coach. "We've got a lot of good seniors
here, and maybe some underclassmen that may come out, so there will
be some new faces on the field out there next year, from the staff
on down to the players. It's going to be different around here."
Petrino met with Arkansas players after practice Wednesday, and
-- although he won't coach the 25th-ranked Razorbacks (8-4) in the
Cotton Bowl against Missouri -- the Hogs are already looking ahead
to his tenure. What's unclear is which players he'll be coaching.
Junior tailback Darren McFadden, for example, seems a good bet to
turn pro after finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting two
Felix Jones, a 1,000-yard rusher this year for the second
consecutive season, might also forgo his senior year.
"We just have to wait until after the bowl game and see what
happens," Jones said.
Petrino left the Falcons after only 13 games. Before going to
Atlanta in January, he went 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville.
His hiring ended Arkansas' two-week search to replace Houston
Nutt, who left the Razorbacks and took over at Mississippi. The
difference between the two coaches is stark. Nutt built Arkansas
into one of the Southeastern Conference's most powerful rushing
teams, whereas Petrino has favored a more balanced offense.
"We wanted to find a proven coach that has an established track
record of success on the field, a coach that could bring innovative
ideas and philosophies to both sides of the football," incoming
athletic director Jeff Long said.
Long, who takes over for Frank Broyles at the start of next
year, handled the search for a new coach.
Arkansas also loses fullback Peyton Hillis and wide receiver
Marcus Monk, two key seniors. No wonder Petrino was quick to stress
recruiting at his introductory news conference.
"We definitely want to keep the best players from the state of
Arkansas here at our university," Petrino said Tuesday night.
Nutt was criticized in recent years for losing some top in-state
recruits. Most notably, prized quarterback Mitch Mustain played at
Arkansas in 2006, went 8-0 as a starter, then transferred to
Southern California. After that, Nutt faced fan unrest in his 10th
and final season with the Razorbacks.
Petrino said Arkansas will be aggressive on offense, and
although he's not known for his defensive expertise, his philosophy
on that is sure to bring excitement to Razorbacks fans.
"I believe it's very important to stop the run, number one, and
hit the quarterback, number two," Petrino said.
While Arkansas is euphoric, the mood is far different in
Atlanta, where several Falcons players -- including former
Razorbacks defensive end Jamaal Anderson -- ripped their former
coach for his departure. Petrino's short stint in the NFL did
little to dispel the notion that he's quick to switch jobs. From
his very first year at Louisville, his name kept coming up for
Petrino's five-year contract with Arkansas pays him $2.85
million per year and includes a $2.85 million buyout if he leaves
to take a college or pro job during the first four years. It also
includes an agreement that Petrino not leave to accept a job with
another SEC West school.
"He said he's coming in here to win a national championship, so
I figure he's going to be here for a while," sophomore linebacker
Freddie Fairchild said.
For now, players and fans aren't looking too far ahead. Arkansas
was close to hiring Wake Forest's Jim Grobe last week, and when
Grobe stayed with the Demon Deacons, some felt the Razorbacks
needed to lower their sights. Not necessarily.
When the Razorbacks face No. 7 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl,
they'll be led by interim coach Reggie Herring. Now they can plan a
little further into the future.
"In the back of our heads every day we were wondering who it
was going to be. We kept hearing rumors who the hot list might be,
who they were talking to, what our future holds," Luigs said.
"It's just good to have it over with, and we can move on and
prepare for Missouri."