As Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long embarks on the task of finding a new head coach at Arkansas, he would do well to consider the potential ramifications that his next hire will have on recruiting.
Here's the issue at Arkansas -- the state produces little elite talent on a consistent basis. Or even near-elite talent. In recent years, the state has typically produced only several four-star prospects by Rivals in each cycle, including only two in 2012. The point? Locking down the state hardly ensures recruiting success.
In fact, it doesn't ensure any success at all.
And for all the good that the departed Bobby Petrino did on the field, only one of his four recruiting classes finished in the top 20 nationally by Rivals -- his first group in 2009, which ranked no. 16 overall (Petrino took over the job with much of the 2008 class in place). After that first full cycle, whatever excitement Petrino's arrival engendered decreased, leading to the 49th-ranked class in 2010, a ranking of 24 in 2011, and a 34th-place finish in 2012.
Of course, highly-ranked classes are not the only cause for success on the field, but the International Journal of Sports and Science Coaching study found that in the SEC, Big 10, and Big 12, 63% to 80% of success resulted from recruiting well.
For Arkansas, recruiting well probably means having more success in Texas and Louisiana. Both are highly competitive states and LSU has the school's home state on virtual lockdown. However, Texas produces so much talent that there's no reason the Razorbacks can't capitalize on the appeal of playing in the SEC and facility upgrades brought about by Petrino's success.
The Hogs have had some success in recent years, landing between four and eight players from the Lone Star State every year.
Fans swoon over five-star prospects, but there are a limited number of those elite players -- generally around 30, as graded by Rivals -- so it's the four-star prospects who make the real difference for quality program depth. The schools that recruit at an elite level land between 10 and 15 four-star prospects every year. Arkansas landed only two in 2012, signing one four-star prospect from Louisiana and one from Texas.
And the state of Texas churns out four-star prospects at an impressive rate, typically around 45 in every cycle. It's also geographically close, making it possible for the families of East Texas recruits to make the trip to Fayetteville without major financial expenditures.
To find the players to put Arkansas on a level playing field with the other top programs in the SEC almost certainly involves recruiting Texas well. To the extent that the Hogs were landing recruits at all in the 2013 class prior to Petrino's firing, the school was having success there, with both commitments hailing from Texas, though Alvin Manvel wide receiver Austin Bennett decommitted in the immediate aftermath and Katy Cinco Ranch running back Jamel James may follow suit in the coming days.
Unfortunately for the future of Arkansas recruiting in Texas, at the current moment most of the top candidates -- former coordinator Garrick McGee, recently hired at UAB, Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn, USF coach Skip Holtz, and former UNC coach Butch Davis -- don't have strong ties to Texas, though Malzahn did recruit the state some during his time at Tulsa.
There are several coaches out there who do, but would represent more calculated risks for Long. What about Baylor coach Art Briles, the former Texas high school coach whose high-flying offense has resurrected the previously moribund Bear program? Or a rising star like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, another former Texas high school coach with the type of offense that would draw skill-position talent from a state that produces as much as any other state in the country? Or even better, TCU head coach Gary Patterson, who has a better track record of success than either Briles or Morris, the latter of whom has not been a head coach at the college level.
It's hard to argue with Long if he decides to opt for a name that will play well with the media and fans, but if he does hire a coach without recruiting ties in Texas, the new Arkansas coach would be well served by hiring assistants who do.
After all, going against the LSUs and Alabamas of the world with a bunch of three-star recruits is not a recipe for success. And the state of Texas is a four-star prospect factory.