Cotton Bowl Countdown: Arkansas loses three assistant coaches in two days

Editor’s Note: In exactly one month, the Kansas State football team will face Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. With that in mind, I will attempt to count down to the big game in Cowboys Stadium with 31 blog posts in 31 days. I use the word “attempt” because I can only currently think of about 20 blog ideas. But there is plenty to cover. K-State, Arkansas, fans, past bowl games, the world’s largest Jumbo Tron, Dallas food suggestions … I’m confident that I can go 31 for 31. (Feel free to help out with blog ideas by sending them to So sit back and enjoy. We’ll start off with some Arkansas coaching news.

The Arkansas football team will have a different coaching lineup at the Cotton Bowl than it did during the regular season. Three of its coaches have left. One new hire has been made.

After going 10-2 and briefly working their way into the national championship conversation, the Razorbacks became a popular team to raid for head coaches. Surprisingly, they also became a team that would let one of its coordinators resign without a fight.

Let’s start on offense, where coordinator Garrick McGee has been hired at UAB. He oversaw the 15th ranked offense in college football this season, guiding Arkansas to 37.4 points and 445.8 yards per game.

McGee will not coach in the Cotton Bowl. Paul Petrino will take his place. The brother of head coach Bobby Petrino, he spent the past season coaching at Illinois but left when Ron Zook was terminated.

The switch should be beneficial for both sides.

“I am extremely thrilled to have Paul become a member of our staff again,” Bobby Petrino said in a prepared statement. “Paul has had several options with high level programs the past few days and I’m excited he made the decision to rejoin our program.”

Two years ago, Petrino led an Illini offense that broke school records for total points (423) and points per game (32.54) behind running back Mikel Leshoure, who broke the single-season school rushing record with 1,697 yards. A year earlier at Arkansas, the Razorbacks averaged 37 points per game behind quarterback Ryan Mallet.

Arkansas will also be without special teams coach John L. Smith, who is headed to Weber State to take over the football program at his alma mater.

Smith is an established coach who has worked all around the country. At age 63, he takes 40 years of experience with him to Ogden, Utah.

With offense and special teams already covered, Willy Robinson resigned to leave the defense down a coach, too. Arkansas ranked 51st nationally and ninth in the SEC in total defense this season. It allowed 371.4 yards per game. The Razorbacks improved on defense during Robinson’s first three years, but fell back this season.

“I want to thank Willy Robinson for his role in helping our defense, which he leaves in better shape than when he arrived,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “I have the utmost respect for Willy Robinson as an individual who wants the best for the young men he coaches. I give Willy credit for his part in the building process the last four years and wish him future success.”

As you can see, that’s a lot of changes to make on a coaching staff this late in the season. How will it impact the way Arkansas plays? We’ll have to wait and see. There will surely be changes, but with a month to prepare for the Cotton Bowl, you have to figure the Razorbacks will be able to adjust to the new staff.