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story.lead_photo.caption The Associated Press LEADING CANDIDATE: Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn speaks during an NCAA football news conference for the Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia in Atlanta Friday.

FAYETTEVILLE -- If the acknowledged leading candidate loses today, chances increase he becomes the Arkansas Razorbacks' next head football coach.

Gus Malzahn, the Fort Smith native who led three Arkansas high schools to state championships and was the Razorbacks offensive coordinator four Arkansas coaches ago, takes his SEC West champion 9-2 Auburn Tigers into today's 3 p.m. CBS-televised SEC Championship game in Atlanta at the NFL Falcons' Mercedes Benz Stadium against the 10-1 SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs.

Auburn, ranked fourth by the College Football Playoff committee, easily handed No. 6 Georgia its lone defeat of the 2017 season, 40-17, on Nov. 11 in Auburn, Ala.

Other than current rankings, that Nov. 11 Auburn vs. Georgia clash has no bearing on today's SEC Championship game with the winner expected to play in the New Year's night Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl and the New Year's Day Rose Bowl pit the four teams whose two winners will play Jan. 9 for the national championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The loser of today's game will be left without a chance for the national title.

Arkansas, without a head football coach since firing 5-year coach Bret Bielema Nov. 25 after the Razorbacks concluded a 4-8 overall/1-7 in the SEC season, is known most to covet Malzhan.

Malzhan, despite the obvious current success rate differences ranking Auburn way above Arkansas, is believed to be possibly receptive to Arkansas because he was under intense pressure at Auburn last season and again this season until late.

Malzhan has become Auburn coveted again since his Tigers routed Georgia and then beat in-state archival Alabama, then ranked No. 1 when Auburn prevailed, 26-14, last Saturday in Auburn, Ala.

If Auburn beats Georgia today extending the Tigers' possible national championship season to Jan. 1 and perhaps the Jan. 9 championship game, it seems highly unlikely that the Razorbacks could wait that long trying to persuade Malzhan to coach in Fayetteville in 2018 with so much recruiting to do and so little time to do it.

The others most mentioned as Arkansas head coaching possibilities are Memphis coach and University of Central Arkansas grad Mike Norvell, SMU Coach Chad Morris, and Brent Venables, the Clemson defensive coordinator and former Oklahoma Sooners defensive coordinator.

Norvell today coaches Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game in Orlando, Fla., against the unbeaten University of Central Florida.

Venables and the No. 1 ranked reigning national champion Clemson Tigers play Miami today for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Morris' 2017 season has concluded at SMU. The Texas A&M graduate was considered for the Aggies post vacated by the recent firing of A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, but it was widely reported Friday that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is leaving Tallahassee, Fla., to head coach A&M.

Arkansas also seeks an athletic director, having fired Athletic Director Jeff Long on Nov. 15.

The athletic director post isn't expected to be filled until next week, despite various media reporting Thursday that Tulsa athletic director Derrick Gragg, an Arkansas administrator from 2000 to 2006 under the late Frank Broyles and rising to senior associate athletic director, is the leading candidate.

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and the seven-member advisory committee he appointed, as of Friday morning had not interviewed Gragg and also are vetting other athletic director candidates.

Among the most mentioned potential Arkansas athletic director candidates are Scott Varady, a UA grad serving as executive director of the Razorback Foundation and former attorney for 19 years in the UA's General Counsel office, and Stephens Inc. executive Kevin Scanlon, the 1979 Southwest Conference Player of the Year quarterbacking Lou Holtz's 10-2 SWC champion Razorbacks before having extensive experience on the business side of athletics as a sports agent and assisting Stephens Inc. in supporting the Razorbacks coaches' shows.

Senior associate athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples, reportedly receiving a $5,000 month raise after becoming Arkansas' interim athletic director immediately after Long was fired, is heading Arkansas' head football coaching search.

The UA also pays separate professional search firms in the hunts for the new head football coach and new athletic director.

Sports on 12/02/2017

Print Headline: Loss will increase chances of new Hogs head football coach

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