From Lou Holtz to Bobby Petrino, a history of Arkansas football vs former Razorbacks coaches

Christina Long
Fort Smith Times Record

FAYETTEVILLE — Playing an FCS team in Week 3 should be considered a "cupcake" game. But for Arkansas football, the matchup with Missouri State has added intrigue thanks to the return of former coach Bobby Petrino.

When the No. 11 Razorbacks (2-0) host the Bears (2-0) on Saturday (6 p.m. CT, SECN+), it will be the 12th time in just over two decades that Arkansas has faced off against a former coach. Arkansas is 7-4 in such games.

The Petrino years were some of Arkansas' best in terms of on-field performance. He got the Razorbacks to a Sugar Bowl and its first 11-win season since the 1970s. In the years following his infamous firing during the 2018 season, Arkansas struggled to stay above .500.

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"Last time Arkansas was relevant was when Coach Petrino was here," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said Monday. "We're very grateful for his time here and what he did for the program. We've used that in recruiting. Without him and his staff, we wouldn't have been able to do that."

The matchup with Missouri State was first scheduled in 2016. In 2019, the game was pushed back a year. Both scheduling moves took place before Missouri State hired Petrino in 2020. Ahead of Petrino's trip back to Fayetteville, here's a look at former Arkansas coaches who have returned to the opposing sideline in the last quarter-century.

Lou Holtz

Notre Dame capped off head coach Lou Holtz's first season in South Bend with a win on the road at USC. (SBT File Photo)

Lou Holtz spent seven seasons at Arkansas starting in 1977, well before the Notre Dame tenure he became best known for, and longer still before his sports television career. The Razorbacks went 60-21-2 under Holtz. After the 1983 season, when Arkansas went 6-5, he tendered his resignation to athletic director Frank Broyles.

At least, that was the story at the time. Broyles said Holtz left due to burnout, but two decades later said he had fired him for "losing the fan base with the things he said and did." Holtz had also filmed two TV ads from his office in support of his friend Jesse Helms, a senator from North Carolina who was spearheading efforts to prevent Martin Luther King Day from becoming a national holiday. Reports swirled that this also contributed to Holtz's firing, and when he took his next job at Minnesota, he declared publicly that he would "have nothing to do with politics."

After his stint in Minneapolis and a decade at Notre Dame, Holtz came out of retirement to become coach at South Carolina in 1999. That's when Arkansas began to face its former coach with regularity. The Razorbacks went 4-2 against Holtz's Gamecocks from 1999 to 2004.

Jack Crowe

Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe talks during media day at Jacksonville State University on Aug. 3, 2012.

Jack Crowe was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in 1990 after Ken Hatfield departed for Clemson. He lasted fewer than three seasons with a 9-15 record. He was fired after the first game of the 1993 season, which the Razorbacks lost to Division I-AA The Citadel. It was Arkansas' first game as a member of the SEC.

Crowe went on to spend 12 seasons as coach at FCS Jacksonville State. In 2012, Crowe's final season, the Gamecocks faced Arkansas in Fayetteville to open the season. The Razorbacks won 49-24, two decades after the upset that led to Crowe's firing.

Houston Nutt

Houston Nutt's Arkansas tenure began before the 1998 season and lasted through 2007. He went 67-44 with seven bowl appearances with the Razorbacks and was the longest-serving coach since Broyles.

The Nutt era wasn't without controversy, however. Nutt was widely criticized for losing two stellar in-state players, quarterback Mitch Mustain and receiver Damian Williams of Springdale, both of whom transferred after the 2006 season. There was also an apparent rift with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, whom Nutt hired from Springdale in 2005 in part to get Mustain and Williams to commit to Arkansas.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, center, laughs with Ale Wood, left, Jeff Norrid and Danny Nutt, right, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2006, during the team's college football practice in Orlando, Fla. Arkansas plays Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl on Jan 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Nutt had said he would let Malzahn implement his unique hurry-up, no-huddle offense at Arkansas, but a power struggle ensued between the two coaches regarding play calling and style.

Malzahn left after the 2006 season to become offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Nutt resigned a year later and became coach at Ole Miss, where he spent four seasons. Arkansas faced its former coach each year from 2008-11 and went 2-2.

Bobby Petrino

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino runs onto the field before the start of the NCAA college football game with Texas-El Paso in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Petrino's return to Fayetteville comes a decade after he was fired with a 34-17 record in four seasons. A decade after the infamous motorcycle accident, the false claim that he had been alone in the accident, and the revelation that Petrino had hired a woman to his staff with whom he was having an affair. He was fired in 2012.

Now, Petrino has taken Missouri State from a four-win or fewer team to an FCS playoff contender since his hiring in 2020. In a twist of fate, he'll be back at Razorback Stadium on Saturday.

“I'm sure there'll be some feelings and emotions when I step in the stadium," Petrino said this week. "But it's really not about me. It's about our football team."

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks for the Southwest Times Record and USA Today Network. You can follow her on Twitter @christinalong00 or email her at