By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
ARLINGTON, Texas — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said in December he hoped the turnover on his coaching staff had ended after naming three new coaches before the Cotton Bowl.
But if a Saturday morning report proves accurate, Petrino may have another vacancy to fill after the 29-16 win against Kansas State.
Linebackers coach Reggie Johnson is leaving the staff to become defensive coordinator at Alabama-Birmingham under former Razorback offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, according to coachingsearch.com. The website reported Johnson would be joining the staff as the team’s defensive coordinator/linebackers coach as would Arkansas graduate assistant Brandon Sharp.
UAB has not announced Johnson’s hiring. Johnson could not be reached for comment Saturday and Arkansas didn’t comment on the report.
Johnson has worked for Petrino eight of the past nine seasons at both Louisville and Arkansas.
The first four years were spent at Louisville, his alma mater. He remained there when Petrino moved to the NFL to coach the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Johnson rejoined Petrino at Arkansas in 2008 and has coached the team’s leading tackler - Jerry Franklin - the past four seasons.
Johnson has not been a defensive coordinator during his coaching career, which began in 1998 at Alabama A&M. He did call plays during one game at Arkansas in 2009, when former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson was hospitalized.
Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright said he and the rest of the seniors are thankful their careers ended with a win Friday night. They got a first-hand look at the flip side last year, when Arkansas’ senior class had to walk off the field with a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
“It’s completely night and day,” Wright said Friday night. “Walking off the field last year without a win and knowing you didn’t send your seniors out the right way, considering they played so hard all season. That played that game hard, too. But not being able to send them off with a ‘W’ was a hard feeling.”
The Razorbacks won the Cotton Bowl crown for the fourth time in 12 appearances. The win also pushed Arkansas’ bowl record to 13-23-3, which includes a 2-1 mark under Petrino.
Now that the 2011 season is over, a handful of Arkansas juniors will decide whether to return to the Razorbacks for 2012 or leave for the NFL.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis, receiver Cobi Hamilton, tight end Chris Gragg and defensive end Tenarius Wright are among the draft-eligible Hogs who filed paperwork with the NFL Advisory Board to gauge their draft status. Players have until Jan. 15 to declare for the April’s NFL Draft.
“It can go both ways,” Davis, who was in uniform for the first time this season but did not play against Kansas State, said before the Cotton Bowl. “I’m sure when I sit down with Petrino and my family we’ll make a good decision.”
Arkansas’ 11th win tied the 1977 and 1964 teams for the most in school history during a single season. Its win total the past two years equaled another impressive Arkansas record.
Arkansas won 21 games in 2010 and 2011, tying the 1964 and 1965 Razorbacks for the most in a two-year span. The 1964 team went 11-0 en route to the school’s only national championship, while the 1965 team was 10-0 in the regular season before a Cotton Bowl loss.
Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson nearly notched a storybook ending to his career Friday night, when he intercepted a pass from Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein in the closing seconds of the Razorbacks’ win.
Nelson caught the ball and winded his way downfield, coming close to notching a defensive touchdown with five seconds left. He couldn’t make it, though, instead settling for an interception and 61-yard return during the final play of his college career.
“I really wanted to score,” Nelson said. “That would’ve been a real great stamp on it.
“I’m still happy I got it. I was trying to get to the end zone, but I ran out of gas.”
Klein In Check
One reason for Arkansas’ bowl win was the defense’s ability to slow Klein.
The junior was averaging 91.6 rushing yards a game entering the Cotton Bowl, but was limited to 42 by the Razorbacks. In addition, the Wildcats were limited to 87 rushing yards, well below their season average (193.7 yards).
“We did a good job of playing defense,” Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin said. “Make sure you do your job first, play your gap, play your assignment first. And everything else will take care of itself.”