As the final hours of a cruel, miserable 2012 football season tick away, the time is nigh for Pearls to shift focus.
No need to dissect the Mississippi State beating, a 45-14 affair that roughly matched the boilerplate that has developed the past few weeks. It was a thoroughly ridiculous and undisciplined performance by a fragile team. Five turnovers, nine penalties and a generally unkempt defensive showing against a team that had lost three consecutive games and basically reverted to its pre-Dan Mullen doldrums once competition got fierce. Anyway, give Mullen credit for having an inexhaustible supply of visors and a shred of ingenuity from a playcalling standpoint, because a few dark weeks this autumn have reminded us just how lost that art really is.
With certitude, Pearls declares that the LSU game will be the least compelling Battle of the Boot since that gaudy trophy was forged in the great smelting plant between Eudora and Lake Providence (this is a complete fabrication). In a year pock-marked by horrendous timing, the decision to shift the game to Fayetteville will not bear immediate fruit, as there will assuredly be a slew of empty seats in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. A loss to the Tigers cements the Hogs' worst single-season winning percentage since 1990, and we've previously noted the similarities between this team and that fated one before: experienced quarterback returns to the helm, but coaching upheaval taints the pool and a string of listless blowouts ensue.
That's all about to change, in theory.
The rumor mill is so furiously overcharged right now that the gears are plumb stripped. For Pearls to even reference a single name being bandied about would be foolhardy, which is hardly an impediment to message board lackeys who purport to have spycams trained on every seafood restaurant and speakeasy in a 50-mile radius of the Broyles Athletics Complex. The candidates to replace John L. Smith and relegate 2012 to the dustbin may or may not be numerous, but one thing we've seen from Jeff Long in his five-year stint as athletic director is that he doesn't appear to cast a very wide net in coaching searches. It will be tightly focused, unapologetic in its intensity, and hopefully will yield the kind of candidate that the vast majority of this wounded fan base can embrace, even begrudgingly.
Regardless of where Long's crosshairs ultimately settle, the frustrating aspect of our overly connected populace is that fanciful theories without wings can still take flight and glide awfully far. One such belief is that the Razorback Foundation can simply buy its way into whatever coaching icon Long elects to put tracers on. That's the biggest fallacy in a sea spilling over with them.
The human impulse for riches is strong but coaches are far more complex than the mass media dares to dream. Nick Saban didn't take the Alabama job because it would make him filthy rich, and Bobby Petrino didn't flee Atlanta for Fayetteville under nightfall for pecuniary reasons. Both were getting disgusting compensation for ordering a bunch of grown men around for a few months, and elected to return to the college game because of the challenges it presented. Both absorbed sizable pay cuts and public derision for "bailing" on pro jobs.
So when this name or that name is mentioned as a candidate to take over the Arkansas program, why do so many vacillate toward the tired standby "we can pay him whatever he wants" position? This kind of logic reduces an enormously weighty decision to something inappropriately base. Yes, a coach wants to be paid handsomely, but the competitiveness that nests in the souls of the best coaches simply does not permit them to take payola and not perform.
What should concern Hog fans more is that any likely successor to Smith is going to have to conduct a quick but comprehensive assessment of how much damage the 2012 season has done to the program. We may have worn blinders about Petrino's underwhelming recruiting during his tenure because the team rapidly progressed in spite of it. Now that he is gone and the meat of those very capable 2010-11 units has trickled out, does [your preferred successor here] have the desire to take legions of two- and three-star players into battle next fall? Will a hard barnstorming through Texas, Florida, and other amateur-rich states leading up to Signing Day 2013 be productive enough to inflate our sagging expectations for next season?
Jeff Long isn't just buying a coach this fall. He's selling a program. And Hog fans have to cling to hope that the events of the last eight months haven't voided the warranty.