FAYETTEVILLE -- According to Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt, who spoke candidly about it late last week, had he known Springdale High coach Gus Malzahn was interested in working with him earlier, Malzahn might well be on the Razorbacks' staff right now.
"You know, when I found out that there was interest in him being a college coach, I was just on the day of hiring Roy Wittke -- the day before, maybe one or two days," Nutt said. "So (Wittke's hiring) had already been in the process, you know.
"Forty-eight hours (earlier), I find out differently about (Malzahn's interest), I could've maybe already have hired Gus Malzahn."
The interest in teaming up, at least from Nutt's perspective, remains.
This is in no way to discount Wittke's work here. Clearly Wittke, who was hired on Jan. 27, 2003, helped Matt Jones become more of a true quarterback, and we have no idea what calls of his have gone unheeded from his press-box perch. He has great credentials and the respect for him on The Hill is unquestioned.
But guys like Malzahn, who has written a book and produced videos on his hurry-up, no-huddle offense that have taken the country, yep, country, by storm, don't come along every day.
Especially about 15 miles from Razorback Stadium.
In what capacity -- offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator -- Nutt did or would consider Malzahn for, he would not say.
But it's long been the thought here that Nutt will continue to call his own plays -- after conferring with quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Wittke and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Mike Markuson -- until he feels the need to appease Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and/or the boosters with the big bucks by making a change.
That concession could well happen after this season, one that follows Nutt's first bowl-less campaign and appears to be a no- (or few-) win situation because of the brutal schedule and loss of Jones, among other things.
If so, or even if not so, the timing could be exactly right for Malzahn after this season. Last year, his Bulldogs blitzed perennial national power Shreveport (La.) Evangel 38-14 in front of a Fox Sports TV audience in the season-opener in Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium. The Bulldogs -- led by returnees Mitch Mustain (QB), Damian Williams (WR/DB/KR), Andrew Norman (WR/KR), Bartley Webb (OT) and Ben Cleveland (TE) -- chomped up their next 11 opponents before losing in a Class AAAAA semifinal, 30-21, to Little Rock Central because of playing with one arm (Mustain's accurate and strong right one, broken in the first half) behind their backs.
Malzahn and company certainly will score a state title this time around. That will be his third (he won two during a mind-boggling 67-7-1 run at Shiloh Christian).
On top of that, the Springdale High dynasty will be carved into sections after this season with the opening of Har-Ber High football.
It might be a stretch to toss Malzahn's pass-happy offense to such a higher level. See Steve Spurrier.
Boy, but it could be one of the biggest scores of Nutt's eighth-year tenure. No doubt handing off play calls to a local legend would silence most of his critics, who usually cite conservative game plans for their ire.
Besides, this is no ordinary high school coach. Not by a long shot. This cerebral coffee gulper is so focused and organized friends and co-workers sometimes worry about him. He seems to live in Willard Walker Fieldhouse. His teams play and prepare in uncanny facilities and the Red Bulldogs' following is huge and almost cult-like.
Malzahn has bested Evangel and Jenks, Okla., two of the country's biggest programs. Heck, this year's Bulldogs are heading to Southern Cal -- a couple of months before the Hogs take on the defending BCS champ there -- to play in some fancy-smancy Nike 7-on-7 tournament.
Serious speculation of Malzahn to Arkansas (a move that doesn't have to mean Wittke would be replaced; he could continue to groom quarterbacks) certainly could help Nutt land the Springdale 5, his top recruiting priority.
Imagine a pipeline of players who have been learning Malzahn's offensive schemes since junior high, starting with that high-talent bunch, being pumped into Arkansas' program the next few years to reunite with their old, as Spurrier would call it, "ball coach."
Nutt seems a little disappointed Malzahn didn't work out two years back because of the timing. Maybe Malzahn feels the same.
"But we talked about that and I think he understands that," Nutt said. "The timing wasn't right."
They have kept in touch and Nutt certainly is keeping Malzahn very much in mind - for after this upcoming season.
"I think he needs to be right there with those guys (the Springdale 5) this year," Nutt said. "They have a great chance to win a championship, and that's what their mindset and focus is on right now.
"But I think he's very capable (of being a top-notch Division I assistant).
"I know that."