Lee returning to Arkansas to run offense

Updated: January 17, 2007, 8:19 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- David Lee is well aware of what he's getting himself into.

"I know there's a firestorm going on in Arkansas," the Razorbacks' new offensive coordinator said. "I'm ready for it. I spent four years with Bill Parcells."

And with that, Arkansas began moving on from the Gus Malzahn-Mitch Mustain era. Lee was named the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Wednesday. He'll return to Arkansas for a third tour of duty -- he was on the Razorbacks' football staff from 1984-88 and 2001-02.

This time, he's joining a program that's been jolted a bit. Malzahn, the previous offensive coordinator, left earlier this week to join the staff at Tulsa. Then Mustain, a touted freshman quarterback, asked for and received permission to transfer.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt had appeared to hold out hope Tuesday that Mustain might change his mind and stay with the Razorbacks. But by Wednesday, the coaches seemed to accept that he was gone.

Lee has worked a bit with Mustain in the past, but he said he understands Mustain and his family have made a decision and doesn't plan to interfere.

"I'm not going to go actively recruiting him," Lee said. "I respect the family too much."

Lee coached at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield and then again under Nutt. He was an assistant for the last four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

Parcells, the Cowboys' coach, said Lee will be an asset to the Razorbacks.

"While he has been with the Cowboys, he has helped all of our quarterbacks develop and grow," Parcells said in a statement provided by Arkansas. "I think he is an excellent teacher of fundamentals at the quarterback position and he has a solid grasp of how to develop an effective offensive philosophy with the talent that is available to him."

Lee cracked a joke about his time with Parcells, telling reporters on a conference call Wednesday that he was eager to take their questions.

"You can't talk to the media if you work for the Dallas Cowboys," he said.

Lee will have play-calling responsibilities, and he and Nutt both talked about their familiarity with one another. Malzahn was hired in December 2005 from Springdale High School in Arkansas -- and the spread, no-huddle offense he used there was significantly different from what Nutt has run with the Razorbacks.

Arkansas went 10-4 and finished ranked No. 15 in the nation this season, but Malzahn's influence on the offense became a controversial subject. Malzahn left to become assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa.

"I don't have any doubt that I'm calling all the plays next year," Lee said. "I'm comfortable with Houston. He's comfortable with me."

Casey Dick, the Razorbacks' starting quarterback, is from Texas. Lee said Dick was once a camper of his at a quarterback camp.

Nathan Emert, another quarterback on Arkansas' roster, is Lee's future son-in-law.

Lee worked with quarterbacks with the Cowboys, and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo helped the team to the playoffs this season. Lee was the quarterbacks and fullbacks coach during his first stint at Arkansas, and he was Nutt's quarterbacks coach in 2001 and 2002. Lee coached Razorbacks quarterback Matt Jones, who is now a receiver for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He can take a quarterback to where they can't go themselves," Nutt said of Lee.

Alex Wood was Arkansas' quarterbacks coach this past season. Nutt said his status is still up in the air, and he pointed out that Wood's expertise extends beyond the quarterback position.

Arkansas' offense has relied heavily on the run lately, so Lee hopes to bring more balance. He talked Wednesday about the different types of sets he might use.

"It's two backs, it's one back, it's no backs," Lee said. "It's multiple protections and pass concepts where the defense can't figure you out."

Arkansas, of course, has Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden at tailback -- and the Razorbacks also used him at quarterback a bit this season. Lee said McFadden and fellow 1,000-yard rusher Felix Jones will still be featured.

"I'm not stupid here," Lee said. "I'm going to feed the studs."

After Mustain's release, Dick is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience. Robert Johnson, once a starter at quarterback, has made good strides at wide receiver.

Arkansas could still recruit more quarterbacks before next month's signing day, but Nutt said Johnson seems comfortable at receiver and it's unlikely he'll move back from there.

"I'd like to keep Robert where he is," Nutt said.

Nutt got a good dose of player news Wednesday when tight end Ben Cleveland said he's decided to stay at Arkansas.

Cleveland had 12 catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman this season.

"He's excited about staying, and we're excited about him staying," Nutt said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press