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King: Old hat for ASU: Another new coach

Posted: December 11, 2013 - 9:06pm

LITTLE ROCK — Linebacker Qushaun Lee, offensive lineman Alan Wright, and defensive backs Andrew Tryon and Sterling Young will be well equipped to roll with the punches in the real world when their football days are over at Arkansas State University.

They are fourth-year juniors who started out with coach Steve Roberts, then played a year each for Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Brian Harsin. Soon, they will have their fifth head coach.

Imagine reporting to a workplace where a new boss arrives every 12 months with idiosyncrasies and his own way of doing things. Whether it is a credit to the seniors past and present or the stability of the program or what, it is remarkable that ASU has lost only three conference games in three years and is preparing for its third straight bowl game.

The continued success and an obvious growth in the fan base makes the job attractive and promises an abundance of choices to succeed Harsin, who returned to Boise State, his alma mater, on Wednesday as the head coach.

Compensation from Boise to ASU will total $1.75 million, a clause included in Harsin’s contract after Malzahn departed for Auburn. Boise will get $750,000 from Washington’s hire of Chris Petersen. When ASU athletics director Terry Mohajir introduced Harsin almost a year ago, he joked about the buyout, saying: “His reps tried to beat me up a little bit, but it was just like ‘non-negotiable.’”

A variety of names have surfaced as possible replacements for Harsin. Whoever is hired should think through his answer to a question guaranteed to come up during his introductory news conference: In light of the brief stays of Freeze, Malzahn and Harsin, is he at ASU long-term?

Asked something akin to that at his news conference in December 2011, Malzahn responded, “If you think I’m a one and done kind of guy, you don’t know me very well.” Regularly, he repeated that position. In Malzahn’s defense, if he had said he would have to listen to an offer from an SEC school, he would have been roasted. Sometimes, there is no way to anticipate an opportunity.

So, where does ASU go from here?

Rhett Lashlee’s name came up immediately. If Mohajir sticks with his criteria that the head coach have an offensive background, Auburn’s offensive coordinator is qualified. So are offensive coodinators Phillip Montgomery and Kurt Roper, who joined Lashlee in Little Rock this week as finalists for the Broyles Award.

Lashlee played for Malzahn at Shiloh Christian, coached with Malzahn at Springdale High School, was offensive coordinator at Samford in 2011, joined Malzahn at ASU in 2012, and traveled with him to Auburn where the Tigers surprised the college football world with an SEC championship.

It is difficult to gauge how far a Malzahn endorsement would go in Jonesboro, but the head coach at Auburn said in October that the 30-year-old Lashlee will be a “head coach at this level,” adding that he has the “it” factor.

Montgomery, 41, coaches quarterbacks at Big 12 champion Baylor and Roper, also 41, does the same at Duke, which won 10 games for the first time and reached the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Montgomery coached Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in 2011, Nick Florence, who threw for 4,309 yards in 2012, and Bryce Petty who had 30 TD passes and two interceptions this year. The Bears led the country in scoring, averaging 53.3 points per game.

Roper, whose father Bobby was an All-Southwest Conference defensive end at Arkansas in 1964, has worked for Duke coach David Cutcliffe for years. Although Duke did not have an individual in the top nine in passing or rushing, the Blue Devils were fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense, including more than 3,000 yards passing.

Before jumping the gun, remember the Harsin hire from Texas was out of the blue.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.

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