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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Familiar names popping up in SEC searches

By Chris Low

As one athletic director noted weeks ago, the three SEC schools still in the market for a head coach are swimming in a lot of the same waters as they try to put a wrap on their searches.

Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee could all have their new head coaches named by the end of this week. Already, Kentucky has named former Florida defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to replace Joker Phillips.

It should get interesting over the next few days because guys like Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Louisville's Charlie Strong are prime targets at a couple of different schools.

At Tennessee, it appears that Gundy and Strong are at the top of the list, as Jimbo Fisher has decided to stay put at Florida State. Tennessee officials are also expected to talk with North Carolina's Larry Fedora on Tuesday in New York.

At Auburn, the name that's created the biggest buzz in that state is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who according to Al.com, interviewed with the Tigers on Monday. The other names prominent in that search are Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn and Strong. Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Auburn for three years before taking the Arkansas State head job this season.

With Alabama heading to play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in January, the timing would be anything but ideal for the Crimson Tide if Smart gets the job, especially if he hires away some of the Alabama assistants to go with him. Either way, Smart is easily the hottest commodity out there among assistant coaches in college football and has been selective the past few years. The Auburn gig may be too attractive to turn down if he gets an offer.

There have been reports that former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is on Auburn's list, but multiple sources have told ESPN.com that Petrino is not a serious candidate. Auburn's president, Jay Gogue, simply isn't going to sign off on Petrino, and at this point, Petrino is going to have a hard time breaking back into the SEC.

At Arkansas, two of the top targets are former North Carolina coach Butch Davis and Gundy. Davis, an Arkansas alumnus, has a lot of support among several in the Hog Nation. He was fired at North Carolina following an NCAA investigation of the program that landed the Tar Heels on probation, although he was not mentioned in the 111-page report by the NCAA.