The Arkansas football coaching search is likely to accelerate significantly.
The Razorbacks are expected to make an offer Saturday night to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, whose team lost 28-7 to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, a source with knowledge of the search told SEC Country.
If Arkansas is unable to lure Malzahn to Fayetteville, the source said the Razorbacks will immediately shift focus to Memphis coach Mike Norvell. Memphis lost to Central Florida, 62-55 in double overtime, in the American Athletic Conference title game Saturday afternoon.
Malzahn has long been thought to be Arkansas’ top target, but the source indicated Arkansas would not have pursued him had Auburn (10-3) won the SEC championship Saturday. In that scenario, Auburn would have almost certainly earned a College Football Playoff berth, essentially making Malzahn unattainable from a timing standpoint.
Although Auburn’s loss to Georgia has opened the door for the Razorbacks, it will take a significant financial commitment for Arkansas to pry him away from the Tigers.
Malzahn currently has a base salary of $4.725 million annually, according to the USA Today salary database, with three years remaining on his current contract. His buyout is just less than $7 million, a figure for which the Razorbacks will have to account.
Arkansas is already reportedly paying former coach Bret Bielema an $11.8 million buyout. The Razorbacks were paying Bielema $4.2 million annually at the time of his firing. As things stand now, Arkansas also must pay former athletic director Jeff Long $4.625 million in buyout money.
Gus Malzahn’s career record as a head coach:
Malzahn, 52, was born in the Dallas area but claims Fort Smith, Ark., as his hometown. He began his college playing career as a wide receiver at Arkansas in 1984. After two seasons with the Hogs, he transferred to Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Ark., to finish his career.
Malzahn spent 15 seasons (1991-2005) coaching high school football in Arkansas. He was highly successful as the head coach at Shiloh Christian (1996-2000) and Springdale (2001-2005). He served as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator for the 2006 season under coach Houston Nutt, and guided Arkansas State to a 9-3 record as head coach in 2012.
Norvell, 36, led Memphis (10-2) to its first double-digit win total in program history this season. The Tigers reached that mark despite having a regular-season game canceled in September.
Memphis reportedly has been working with Norvell on a new contract. He currently makes $1.86 million annually. Arkansas would owe Memphis $500,000 within three months of hiring Norvell, according to FootballScoop.com. Norvell is considered a promising offensive mind, and his Tigers are averaging 47.6 points per game this season.
Norvell was a four-year starter for Central Arkansas at wide receiver (2001-04). He ranks second in school history in career receptions (213) and fifth in receiving yards (2,611). His wife, Maria, is a Fort Smith native.
Mike Norvell’s career record as a head coach: