09 Jun

That Time Black Muslims Interviewed Chicago Bears Legend George Halas: Part 2

George Halas

Nowadays, black quarterbacks are commonplace on the NFL landscape. It appears no native African-American Arkansan has yet suited up for an NFL team as a quarterback, but all the same the state does have some tangential connections. Former Razorback Tarvaris Jackson, an Alabama native, played a decade in the NFL and got a Super Bowl ring in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks.

Less well known is that Stuttgart native Eddie Boone nearly tried out to be a black NFL quarterback pioneer in the early 1960s. At Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Boone had been the teammate of future NFL star Elijah Pitts and after graduation drew interest from the Los Angeles Rams for a tryout, he told me. At this point, though, black quarterbacks were an extreme rarity. Those who did get into the league, such as Willie Thrower and Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins, barely got any playing time at the position at all. Most prospects (e.g. Sandy Stephens) were moved to other positions, and that’s what the Rams wanted to do with Boone.

Instead of switching positions and living far from home, Boone decided to stay home, get married and begin a highly successful high school coaching career. Indeed, while working in Menifee in the mid 1960s, he coached the first scholarship black Razorback and became the first black coach to compete against all-white AAA teams. Read more about his fascinating story in my new book “African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories.

Around the same time as Boone’s almost-professional foray, Chicago Bears coach/owner George Halas discussed the state of the black quarterback with the Muhammad Speaks newspaper. Click here for the first part of his 1963 interview. Below is the second part:

Asked if he would like to become the Branch Rickey of football, Halas answered, ‘I already am. Remember Willie Thrower* about eight years ago?’ We tried him out at quarterback but he didn’t have the arm.”

The Bear mentor said there is “quite a scramble going on now among professional teams to get players from Negro colleges. You can understand my interest,” Halas explained, “when you consider such men as Willie Galimore and Herman Lee, who came to us from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee).

“Jake Gather, coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers, is one of the best football minds in the country. He sent us four players from his squad and we now have signed him as a scout.”

Halas went to his files and showed a Muhammad Speaks reporter some of the scouting reports he has on players at Negro colleges. He said he had high hopes for one player, whose name he did not want to disclose at this time. The veteran coach thinks he helped the team in the latest football draft and said, “Our chances of winning the championship (1963) are fairly good.**”

*Willie Thrower played the Chicago Bears in 1953. “He was “the first black NFL quarterback of the modern mold,” according to former Deadspin writer Greg Howard. “He led his Michigan State team to a national championship in 1952, his senior season. Thrower went undrafted but was signed by the Chicago Bears, serving as George Blanda’s backup for his one year in the league. His only stats came in relief duty on Oct. 18, 1953, when the coach benched the struggling Blanda for a bit. Baby steps.”

**Well played, Georgy boy. Halas called it: the 1963 Bears would indeed win the NFL championship after an 11-1 season. Don’t expect such glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most insiders have the Bears finishing with a losing record that begins early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.

12 Apr

Arkansas’s “White” Newspaper Chose All-Star Teams for State’s All-Black Schools

Pine Bluff Merrill football

Throughout much of the 20th century, the  Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat lorded over all other in-state publications as Arkansas’s most comprehensive and in-depth news sources. But when it came to thorough coverage of the state’s African-American communities, these newspapers—owned and staffed only by whites until mid-century—did not offer very deep coverage.

This, of course, is no surprise given much of society was then segregated and the African-American population was significantly smaller statewide (although larger in Little Rock where the Gazette and Democrat were based).

All the same, the Gazette did occasionally run news briefs about the all-black schools’ athletics or allow stringers from the black communities to publish updates in its pages. Far less known is that in the mid-1930s the Gazette published its own all-black schools all-state football team for both the high school and college ranks.

It’s unknown who actually compiled the list below, or how long the Gazette did this. We just know they tried it at least once in 1935. In later decades, it was commonplace for the Gazette to use stringers (e.g. Ozell Sutton) to cover all-black sports events, according to Wadie Moore, the Gazette’s first black sportswriter and longtime officer in the Arkansas Activities Association. I also know that in the 1940s, at least, the Gazette would run updates written by the all-black activities association itself.

My best guess is the following selections were made with heavy input from the coaches of the black schools themselves. Regardless of who wrote it, and the method by which these players were chosen, it’s notable that a “white” paper in 1930s segegrated South chose to pay tribute to all-black schools like this. It  speaks to how football-crazed Arkansas was/is, to the point where that passion seemingly superseded Jim Crow laws. It also speaks to the possibility that even white Arkansans were proud of the fact that Pine Bluff Merrill High was coming off back-to-back national championship seasons in 1933 and 1934.

December 8, 1935:

With all the outstanding schools represented, the Gazette, for the first time in its history, names an All-State Negro high school and college team today. The team was selected by vote of the coaches who co-operated in making the undertaking possible.

On the high school selection, Merrill of Pine Bluff, state champions and recognized by many as the national champions, lead the parade, placing three men on the first team, and three on the second. Dunbar of Little Rock and Scipio A. Jones of North Little Rock placed two men each and the other positions went to Washington High of Texarkana; Washington High of Texarkana; Washington High of El Dorado; Langston High of Hot Springs, and Arkansas State High of Pine Bluff.

Arkansas A. M. & N. of Pine Bluff, state champions for the past two years, was allotted five places on the college selection while Shorter of North Little Rock and Philander Smith of Little Rock placed three each.

Allen, Merrill’s sensational quarterback, was selected as captain of the high school team. Mitchell of North Little Rock fell only a few votes short of obtaining this honor. Robinson, Arkansas A. M. & N. end, was an unanimous choice for the captain’s berth on the college eleven.

Below are the names of the Gazette’s all-state selections. Unfortunately, the quality of the the scan or microfilming is bad, so only a few names are legible. (Better quality microfilm copies, and the original paper itself, are available off-line elsewhere.)

Arkansas black college football

Obviously, Pine Bluff Merrill High’s “Allen” was a big deal. Lamar ‘Buddy’ Allen might have been the 1930s version of Basil Shabazz, who in the 1980s became Arkansas’s most legendary multi-sport prep star.

In 1932, Allen was a 5-10, 170 pound, 18-year-old Merrill High freshman who was said to be able to throw a football 50 yards while in the air, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. He started at back, helping the Merrill Tigers go undefeated and at last dethrone Dunbar, which hadn’t been defeated in four years. Merrill again went undefeated in the 1933 regular season and claimed a national championship despite a Christmas Day loss to Ardmore, Oklahoma. Merrill repeated as national champions the following season.

Throughout high school, Allen also played for the Pine Bluff Boosters, a semipro team which played in Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, as well as Piney Wood, Mississippi and Dumas and McGehee, according to former Democrat-Gazette reporter Darren Ivy.  Also, one summer, he joined a gaggle of Arkadelphia natives to play semipro ball in Butte, Montana of all places. [I write more about that team, and the reason for the Arkansas-Montana talent “pipeline,” in my upcoming book on the history of African-American athletes in Arkansas.]

For at least two seasons around 1940 Allen also played third base for the Birmingham Black Barons of the American Negro League. “He had a strong arm and stayed close to .300  hitting in the Negro leagues,” his brother George Allen told Ivy. “He also was a long ball hitter.”

PS: The image above is of “Buddy” Allen. It was donated to the book Untold Stories by Allen’s daughter LaFaye Campbell, and republished courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

03 Mar

Talking Fayetteville’s Lost Black Razorbacks with the Local NPR

Kyle Kellams

I recently discussed Fayetteville’s forgotten “Black Razorbacks” of the Great Depression era on Ozarks at Large, a daily news and culture show through KUAF National Public Radio 91.3 FM. I always enjoy talking with the show’s host Kyle Kellams, who I’d gander has one of the most inquisitive, roving minds in the tri-state area.

Check out our 11-minuteish interview here:


And here’s a preview of the story itself:

Razorback linebacker Brooks Ellis had lived in Fayetteville his whole life, but had never heard of the Black Razorbacks. Not that he’s to blame. Hardly anyone, after all, remembers the group of young African-American men who donned old Razorback and Fayetteville High jerseys during the Great Depression and played football across Fayetteville and the region. These northwest Arkansas locals represented their region against other all-black teams from Russellville to Joplin, forming a kind of regional “Negro Leagues of football” all but forgotten by Arkansans today.

They also upend common modern conceptions of athletic segregation in the Old South. Not only did this team scrimmage against white players from a then-segregated Fayetteville High School, but they did so on the grounds of the segregated University of Arkansas itself — under the watch and tutelage of white Razorback football coaches. Moreover, the white players often visited Fayetteville’s all-black neighborhood to play there. “That’s awesome to hear about,” Ellis said as he sat in the Razorbacks locker room in August 2015. His alma mater, Fayetteville High School, stood less than a mile away.

Ellis noted Fayetteville High School had in 1954 become the first high school in Arkansas to publicly announce its desegregation — “I take a little pride in that” — but the fact African Americans were regularly playing against the all-white Bulldogs decades before that was news to him. He added, “It would be cool to learn more about, obviously.”

Let us begin, then.

Much of the Black Razorbacks’ story comes to us from accounts of their games buried in the archives of the Northwest Arkansas Times, a newspaper run by civic leader Roberta Fulbright — the mother of future U.S. senator U.S. senator J. William Fulbright. The most detailed known retrospective comes from Arthur Friedman, a white Fayetteville resident who attended Fayetteville High School in the early 1930s.

He often watched the Black Razorbacks’ scrimmages and games, and considered those times “the highlight of my growing-up years and school,” he wrote in a 1985 Northwest Arkansas Times article. Indeed he considered the African-American players, many around his age, as friends.

To read the rest of this story, and other long-forgotten stories about Arkansas’ sports heritage, reserve a copy of my forthcoming book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories.


29 Dec

James Shibest: “I can remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young”

James Shibest

The Virginia Tech special teams coach recalls meeting Austin Allen while coaching at Arkansas

James Shibest and Bobby Allen are at the center of Razorbacks-Hokies football coaching cross-pollination. Allen, a former Virginia Tech player, has been on the Arkansas staff for nearly 20 years. Shibest, meanwhile, is a former Razorback player and coach. He’s in his first year at Virginia Tech, coaching special teams and tight ends for Hokies coach Justin Fuente.

They will both be on the sidelines for today’s Belk Bowl, in which Arkansas is a touchdown underdog to Virginia Tech according to the latest betting odds.

Shibest, who coached at Arkansas 2000-07, yesterday recalled Allen training his two sons in and around Razorback Stadium. Those boys, Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, have combined to hold the Hogs’ starting quarterback job for the last four years.

“Almost every free minute he had he was working with them boys and obviously that worked,” Shibest told sports show host Bo Mattingly and sportswriter Clay Henry on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “Whether it be football, baseball, whatever it was, has paid off. God I’m just so happy for them guys. I used to remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young… He’s an unbelievable competitor, let me tell you. I know all the Hog fans know that boy but I’ll tell you what, he is a good player.”

Here are some more choice excerpts from their conversation:

Bo Mattingly: … What was that period of your life like when you  left Arkansas when coach Nutt took the job at Ole Miss? Then when it didn’t work out at Ole Miss, you had some stuff to figure out…

James Shibest: No doubt. I have really been unbelievably blessed. Ever since I’ve gotten to this level I was very fortunate. I came from junior college and coach [Houston] Nutt hired me. God what an awesome person to work for and learn from. You love your alma mater so much, you want to stay there. It was tough.

Then when we went to Ole Miss went ahead but you got to go feed the family. Really the first time I really ever had to look for a job is when I got connected with coach Fuente at Memphis there. It didn’t take long, it was a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like I had to sit out a year. It’s a tough road a lot of times in this profession. I’ve been extremely lucky. Always having to be at a great place and then with great people to work for.

On coaching junior college football:

James Shibest: Let me tell you it was really a great training. First of all you learn how to go be a coach. Them guys kind of were on their second chance especially the Division I type guys through academics or various reasons. They needed you more. I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to my players more than in junior college. It was obviously a little bit smaller but them guys really needed your help. There was some deep, deep satisfaction when you could get them to that … back to division one or whatever, to that next institution.

Clay Henry: I’ve written stories about the Arkansas wide receivers of late and I keep pulling up these top 10 lists. I keep finding you in there —

James Shibest: Didn’t do much as a freshman and then, of course, it was a little nerve wracking there. I came in with hopes and Coach [Ken] Hatfield was … Of course all you heard was the Flexbone. I didn’t really know what that was as far as being a receiver, how I would fit in that. It’s amazing how it turned out to be a great blessing. Them safeties have to play the dang triple option in there, and I was out there by myself one on one most of the time and-

Clay Henry: You ran those crossing routes. It’d take a little while. The safety would clear than then ere came Shibest, about eight seconds later.

James Shibest: All right now, I was a lot faster than what y’all say I was.

Clay Henry: Okay, sorry, sorry.

James Shibest: [Laughs] It was pretty cool. You know Brad [Taylor] was still there so we kind of had to throw the ball that first year and end up having a pretty good year. It all worked out just like the way it should have.

The Shibest File
Experience: 27th season, 1st at Virginia Tech
Hometown: Houston, Texas
High School: MacArthur
College: Arkansas (1987)
Playing Exp: Arkansas (1983-87)
Family: Wife – Dianna; Son – James John III, Daughter – Jordyn Grace

Coaching History

Year School Position
2016 Virginia Tech Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2012-15 Memphis Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2008-11 Ole Miss Special Teams Coordinator
2006-07 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
2002-05 Arkansas Special Teams/Wide Receivers
2000-01 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
1996-99 Butler County CC (Kan.) Head Coach
1994-95 Garden City CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator/QBs/WRs
1993 Independence CC (Kan.) Defensive Backs
1992 Independence CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator
1990-91 Oklahoma State Graduate Assistant
24 Sep

Jeff Long on Cheating, Texas A&M & Scheduling Woe from the Wolverines

Jeff Long

Heading into tonight’s game against No. 10 Texas A&M, Arkansas has excelled in close games since last September — to the oint where ESPN now deems the Hogs as the SEC’s  “Drama Kings.” Arkansas has won five of its last six games decided by eight points or fewer, including three straight overtime contests.

It’s been quite a turnaround from the first 25 months of the Bret Bielema era, when the Razorbacks lost nine straight games by eight points or less. And within that stretch no team has stuck in the side of the Hogs’ program more than the Aggies. In 2014, an unranked Arkansas lost 35-28 in overtime to No. 6 Texas A&M.

Heading into last year’s clash, Texas A&M had slid to No. 14 nationally while Arkansas was still unranked. Rinse and repeat on the heartbreak:  the Hogs led 21-13 late in the fourth quarter but eventually lost in overtime 28-21.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long knows this year’s go-around, again in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is big. The winner, after all, will be in the front seat to challenge Alabama and LSU for the SEC crown.

Below are excerpts from Long’s recent interview on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. We start with Long laying out the advantages of playing this series in the DFW metro as opposed to a home-and-home:


Jeff Long: It’s a big win for us to play down there, in many many ways.

First of all, we all know the recruiting that goes on down there. For Arkansas to have that place. We also know how important it is to play in the world’s most fabulous stadium, Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. AT&T Stadium. That’s huge for us. It’s also where we go to recruit students. We get a high number, high level, a high quality students. It’s our second largest alumni body outside the state of Arkansas. There are many many reasons why it’s a big positive for Arkansas.

I think we’re very fortunate to have the long term contract down there because it does allow us to do so many things. So much presence for Arkansas in the state of Texas.

Bo Mattingly: We talked about how big the TCU win was. What’s the importance of this game. What does it do if you win the game? What kind of impact is it beating a Top 10 team in that stadium?

Jeff Long: The focus on Top 10, I get it. To me, it’s just beating an SEC team on a neutral site. Again, huge for us. Huge for the conference rights, but also in the eyes of the college football playoff eventually. When we, hopefully, we’ll get to that point where that’ll matter. Playing that game in a true, neutral site, is a even bigger bonus for us.

Bo Mattingly: Where are you on replacing the Michigan game? What happened there? Did they just call you and be like, “Hey, we’re out.

Jeff Long: We had heard some rumors that they might have something going. Kept waiting to hear from them. Heard from a number of other people first. Finally heard from them. Their deal was already done with Notre Dame by the time they let us know and just informed us that they were going to buy out of the contract, which they have a contractual right to do, but it does leave us in a bind. Struggling is a kind word to say. We’re struggling to fill that opening.

Bo Mattingly: As an athletic director, you’ve been approached about other jobs. Did you get a call on the Florida job?

Jeff Long: I’m not sure why people continue to ask me. The last guy had the job for 50 years. Why do you guys think I’m ready to run out of town?

Bo Mattingly: I didn’t ask if you were leaving, I asked you if they called you. Tom, check the phone records.

Jeff Long: We’ll say it for fans because you already know my answer: I don’t comment on searches of other institutions. That wouldn’t be appropriate.

Bo Mattingly: Why have you decided to stay at Arkansas when you could get interest from others? You could seek interest from others. But you’ve, you’re going on your ninth year here. Some people thought you sold your home and maybe you were leaving.

Jeff Long: Seriously, you all know. Some of you have lived here your whole life. Those who’ve been out to other places, this is a very very special place. Northwest Arkansas. University of Arkansas. The natural beauty. The friendliness of the people. It’s a great place. Plus, you know, I think we build our athletic program into one that can compete against anybody.

I’ve said before too, and I hope people don’t take this the wrong way, we are from a small state. We don’t have all the advantages of some of the larger schools or the more populated schools. We don’t have the alumni base. I’m not well with me. I’d respond better as an underdog than I do as the favorite. I’ve always thought of myself as a fighter. I want to fight with Arkansas to win on the highest level. That can be football, basketball, all of our sports.

Bo Mattingly: … Does it feel better [to] win in Arkansas than in some other places?

Jeff Long: I think it does. I know for personally, it does me. When we beat Alabama or we beat LSU, we beat Ohio State. These other schools that maybe have more resources or more things going for them in some respects, yeah, it means more to me. Like I said, I’m always felt like I was an underdog. Again, I got to be careful how I say that. I think we built a program that is not really an underdog to very many people, but the fact that we’re in a state than less than 3 million people, and our University has just recently grown to 27,000 [students], we don’t have that huge alumni base to draw from. But we’re growing and we’re getting better.

On one hand, I’m really proud that we built a program that I think can stand toe to toe and compete against the perceived big boys, but there’s still a little chip on our shoulders that we want to get it done. When we do get it done at Arkansas, doing it the right way, it’s a little more special.

Interviewer: Do you ever feel like people aren’t doing it the right way? Does it bug you?

Jeff Long: Absolutely does. Absolutely it bothers me. Yeah.

Interviewer:  What do you tell your staff? What do you tell your coaches when they come up and they go, ‘Hey, so and so school doing this. Look at the success’?

Jeff Long: Turn them in. I’m a big believer, if you’ve got information on people cheating let’s not just talking about it. Of course, there are always rumors. Anybody who has a great recruiting year, they “cheated,” right? So I don’t mean that stuff, that’s coffee talk.

But if you’ve got something on someone doing something inappropriate, I want to know. I’m gonna share it and we’re gonna hopefully get it stopped at that institution…


The above excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity 

07 Sep

The Razorback Football Travel Coordinator’s Hilarious Annotation

Bielema big guy
This photo almost says it all.

Tanya Webb, a University of Arkansas travel coordinator, appears to get along well with the school’s head football coach. She notes that when it comes to seating, former lineman Bret Bielema needs his space for good reason.

Ample proof is provided through her comment at the bottom of this travel reimbursement claim Bielema and former offensive line coach Sam Pittman made to the university. It appears they might have been on a Hawaii recruiting trip relating to Reeve Koehler, a former 3-star lineman who did sign with the Hogs.

Hawaii 1

This scanned receipt is probably the funniest thing I saw in a 121 compilation of Bret Bielema-related expense claims provided to me by the UA. I did this in collaboration with Vice.com, which has an upcoming series looking at college coach expenses across the nation. The editor of that series told me the UA, which only took less than a week to reply, provided one of the quickest responses of any of the programs to which he made FOIA requests.

He also appreciated the UA, unlike other schools, didn’t try to nickel and dime us for ridiculous scanning costs. They simply provided what was requested without fuss.

Read my upcoming AMPPOB.com piece for a deeper (as in stomach-deep) look at some of the more interesting charges Bielema has made while working on the UA’s behalf.

Here’s a scanned receipt dump of some of the expenses I discuss on the new Arkansas Money & Politics website. Click on the image second to the top below to see details of a $2,343.35 charge made during the Arkansas-Texas A&M game in 2014.

Jerry's World 2 Jerry's World 1 Theo's Incipience Hawaii 2 Ella's $105.08 Doe's 245.06 Hawaii 3 Theo's Incipience 2


24 Jul

Oldest Arkansas Razorback Jersey Known to Man

vintage hogs

An Arkansas baseball uniform dating back to William Taft’s presidency


Today, precious, precious few Arkansas Razorback artifacts older than 100 years old are publicly viewable.  College sports simply weren’t that popular in Edwardian Era Arkansas. It didn’t catch on here like it did in more densely populated metro areas in the northeast, where folks had more expendable income and time to travel and see the likes of Yale and Harvard clash.

So, exactly how unpopular were UA sports?

“We had no bleachers. If you had 50 people to look at you, you felt fortunate,” Will F. Thomas said* of his time as Arkansas’ quarterback in 1901. “They’d pay 25 cents for a tag, which served as a ticket. If they could sell enough tags, they drove stakes and put up rope, and sent marshals out to keep the crowd back. Most of the students didn’t care much about football then, and people downtown didn’t show much in it, either.”

Given these dark ages, you can imagine my surprise when I recently came across a Razorback jersey which the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame claims is 106 years old. The museum usually can’t verify the age of its donated artifacts, but no question this uniform looks legit old.

vintage hogs

Its owner, Boyd Cypert, played third base while also quarterbacking the football squad. Cypert later graduated from Harvard Law School, played for a brief spell in Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Naps, practiced law in Little Rock, got caught up in some creationism/evolution controversy and served as the business manager for the UA’s athletic department.

Besides this Razorback jersey of outrageous yore, I found other awesome memorabilia on my recent visit to the  Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, on the ground floor of Verizon Arena in North Little Rock. To wit:

A Veritable Shrine to Clyde Scott

All-everything back Clyde Scott might have been the most impressive dual-sport athlete to ever play for the UA football program. He set a UA record in the 100 meters (9.4 sec) and won a silver medal in the 110-yard hurdles in the 1948 Olympics — in the middle of his college career.

clyde scott


He did a lot of impressive things on the football field, too. Former UA athletic director John Barnhill said: “Clyde Scott meant more to the Arkansas program than any other athlete. His coming to Arkansas convinced other Arkansas boys they should stay home.”

His #12 is only one of two Razorback jersey numbers retired.

Apparently, the cleats below were worn by Scott during his four NFL seasons with Philadelphia and Detroit.

clyde scott NFL

Here’s a fun little anagram collage — a kind of 1940s equivalent to the heavily Photoshopped tribute images modern college football programs blast out to pump uptheir stars up for postseason awards.

clyde scott arkansas


Lance Alworth’s Razorback jersey

lance alworth

Lance Alworth ranks alongside Scott as one of the program’s most electric players pre integration. This future pro and college Hall of Famer, who become known as “Bambi,” led all colleges in punt return yardage in 1960 and 1961. Like Scott, he starred in track, running the 100 and 200-yard dashes (in 9.6 seconds and 21.2 seconds). He also long jumped. 

This is the jersey from his last game — a 10-3 loss to undefeated national champion Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.


1965 Media Guide

arkansas football national champions

This is obviously one of a kind, as 1964 is the only season to which Arkansas football can lay claim to a national title. What are the chances Arkansas again wins the championship this year? Nowhere near as good as their chances of routing Louisiana Tech in the season opener, according to these college football lines.


Football used during the “Great Shootout” of 1969

frank broyles

Terri Johnson, director of Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, told me this football was taken by an Arkansan ball boy right after the No. 2 Arkansas lost to No. 1 Texas in an epic showdown in Fayetteville. That teen and his children played with the ball throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He did, however, get Frank Broyles to sign it at a speech.

You’ll notice Broyles also scribbled “Go Hogs Go” onto the leather.

Later, the man tracked down Texas’ legendary head coach Darrell Royal and got him to sign it as well. Royal obliged and told him it’s the only thing he ever signed with a “Go Hogs Go” on it, Johnson recalled with a chuckle.

The man, whose name I didn’t request, recently donated the ball to the museum.


*This quote is attributed to an article in an unspecified newspaper in 1974. The quote is on an Arkansas Sports HOF banner.

06 Jul

Is LRSD Football Destined for Downsizing?

LRSD football

The Little Rock School District’s new superintendent lays out a vision in which dollars could flow to technology, pre-K and “wrap-around services” instead of football.

On Tuesday, new LRSD superintendent Michael Poore expanded on his plans to help turn around the long-struggling district. He covered a wide gamut of topics, from going to the ER this past weekend to pre-K education and “wraparound services” for poor students.

He stressed plans to build partnerships between middle school and high school students and local business leaders, leading to mentorship opportunities and project-based learning that would involve more after-school, weekend and summer learning sessions. He advocated for tech lab-like settings, likely in a business, near each of the LRSD high schools where this learning could take place.

Not once, though, did he mention athletics.

What role do sports — specifically football — play in the LRSD’s future if Poore’s vision becomes reality? Football is expensive and many of Poore’s ideas for expanding school services while expanding technical infrastructure will involve a lot of money. It’s probable insurance premiums for high school football will rise in the coming years as more data is uncovered linking “micro-concussions” and long-term cognitive defects. Meanwhile, starting after the 2017-18, the LRSD will lose $37 million in supplemental aid stemming from desegregation case settlement.

For years, LRSD football has leaned on that money to pay for the buses that transport students to and from practice and games.

Little Rock football


In 2013, busing for LRSD football players alone cost $75,000. When encompassing all sports, at all schools, and including drill team and cheerleaders, the cost was $350,000 in all. That cost has surely risen.

What will happen to LRSD students who need busing for sports events when the desegregation money runs dry?* Perhaps the money will come from another budget(s) within the district. Such an expenditure may spark a domino effect ultimately leaving less money available to invest in the programs and technology tools that Michael Poore is now espousing.

When discussing his ideas for project-based learning opportunities with local companies, Poore noted the success he had experienced with students at his previous superintendent job in Bentonville. This town (my current residence) does not lack for local civic pride and, by extension, strong support of its public schools. For proof, simply walk through the Tigers’ swank football stadium and basketball arena. The scoreboards and walls around those facilities are swamped with advertisements from local companies, many are Walmart or its vendors. Moreover, Bentonville High boosters (many of whom work for Walmart or its vendors) pay good money to buy season seats to attend football and basketball games.

But Little Rock, my native city and residence through 2014, presents a different story.

Read More

22 Jun

David Pryor Rails Against Taxation of College Football Premium Seating

David Pryor

The below article, originally published in the 1986 by The NCAA News, provides some good background on former U.S. Senator David Pryor’s role in laying the groundwork for the charity status involving much of major college football. I write more in-depth about the issue, and its relevance to the recent expansion plans of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, in an upcoming Fox Sports Arkansas article. 


A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. David Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, that calls for full tax deductions on contributions to athletics scholarship programs and the revoking of previous IRS rulings to the contrary.

Sen. Pryor submitted the legislation last month, calling for the application of the 1RS Code of 1954, allowing full tax exemptions for such donations and the repeal of an IRS ruling modifying the exemption.

In 1984, the IRS issued a ruling that essentially revoked prior IRS determinations that such contributions were tax-deductible. The ruling held that if the donor received the right to purchase season tickets (other than as a member of the general public), there was no gift involved.

Under well-established tax principles, Pryor said, if there is no gift of property to a charity, no charitable contribution results; therefore, no tax deduction is allowed.

The IRS ruling threatened what was estimated at more than $100 million a year in contributions to athletics programs. Because of objections by the NCAA and other organizations and institutions, the IRS withheld the ruling for public hearings.

An administrative hearing was held on the ruling January 7, 1985.

The IRS then issued a revised ruling  (The NCAA News, May 7, 1986).

“While a few minor features have changed, the basic thrust of the most recent announcement is that if the athletics scholarship donor is allowed to purchase season tickets in any way  other than as a member of the general public, no gift is involved,” Pryor

“Therefore, the scholarship donation is not tax-deductible under Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code,” Pryor said in a statement accompanying his bill.

The revised ruling by the IRS says the contributors can take a partial deduction if the college can provide a reasonable estimate of the value of the privilege extended to them.

To estimate the value, the IRS says a college can consider such factors as the level of demand for tickets. But the ruling gives no method as to how this demand itself can be valued.

The New York Times said the clarification “leaves the situation just as
controversial and more cloudy than ever.”

Pryor said, “I remain very concerned over attempts to define what is or is not tax-deductible when a donation is made to any college or university in the country. Many colleges and universities around the country use these scholarship funds to provide much-needed aid to student-athletes.

“All of us want to do all we can to maintain and strengthen our educational system. It seems to me that this latest ruling runs counter to that effort”

Pryor says his bill is “very simple.”

“It repeals Revenue Ruling 86-63 (the IRS revised ruling) and provides that the tax law shall be applied as if it had not been issued.

Pryor is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

28 Apr

Arkansas State Football Pokes Fun At Self with “Official” Coaching Contract

With the rise of digital media and the relative ease of producing and mini-documentaries in today’s world, “behind-the-scene” looks into the sports personalities are becoming a common feature of the modern media landscape. The trend is catching  fire even in Arkansas, where sports radio host Bo Mattingly’s company recently released a documentary series about Hogs head football coach Bret Bielema.

Around the same time, Arkansas State head football coach Blake Anderson was looking for a way to do something new with his program’s two-year tradition of auctioning off its spring game head coaching position to the highest bidder. In the past, the winning bidders had been businessmen and Red Wolf fans who had a blast working the A-State sideline , but the stories coming out those experiences were mostly kept to a limited audience. “We thought a behind the story would be cool,” Anderson says.

Plus, Anderson wanted a bigger audience, and believed he knew just the person who could deliver it.

And so, he reached out to Thayer Evans, a Sports Illustrated reporter who previously worked for Fox Sports. Anderson says he wanted someone to guest coach who could “bring a lot of eyes toward what he were doing” and with a national platform Evans no doubt fit the bill. Moreover, he had actually been a coach before, albeit in basketball, at Division II Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

They agreed Evans would arrive in Jonesboro for a single day of whirlwind coaching, motivating, meeting, greeting and cheesing for the camera.

Here’s the contract:

thumbnail of Thayer Evans contract

This Employment Agreement is made this 15th day of April, 2016, between Arkansas State University (the “University”) and Thayer Evans (the “Employee”).

1.01. The University and the Employee have entered into this Employment Agreement because the University desires to hire the Employee with the goal being that the Employee will serve as the Head Football Coach the entire term of this Employment Agreement.


2.01. The Employee is hereby employed by the University as the Head Coach of the University’s Football Program (“Program”) and it is the goal of the parties that the Employee shall serve in such position throughout the term of this Employment Agreement.

2.02. The Employee agrees to be a loyal employee of the University, to devote his best efforts to the performance of his duties for the University, and to give proper time and attention to furthering his responsibilities to the University. The specific duties and responsibilities assigned to the Employee in connection with his position as the Program’s Head Coach are as set forth below:

1. Communication with media at 10 a.m. press conference at Centennial Bank Stadium’s Woodard McAlister Club;

2. Meet with players and staff and review film to compile a winning game plan;
3. Develop and deliver motivational pregame and halftime speeches;
4. Fulfill local, regional and national media interviews to bring positive recognition to the program;

5. Maintain open communication with staff during Spring Game to make play-calling decisions conducive to winning; 6. Determine fourth-down decisions impacting field position, momentum and scoring opportunities;
7. Work within the confines of applicable rules, regulations, guidelines of the University athletics department;
8. Strive to maintain a disciplined Program, keeping a mature and rational attitude as the Program’s Head Coach;

9. Establish and maintain personal communications designed to build relationships and support for the Program; 10. Sport official A-State gear on Centennial Bank sidelines;
11. Meet with the Mayor of Jonesboro in capacity as Arkansas State University’s Head Football Coach.

2.03. The Employee shall report to the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics or to such other person as the Employee’s reporting supervisor. The Employee’s job duties and responsibilites shall be reviewed and revised from hour-to-hour by the Employee’s reporting supervisor; however, such duties and responsibilities shall remain consistent with those typically assigned to Football Bowl Subdivision (“FBS”) head football coaches.

3.01. The Employee’s employment hereunder shall commence at 12:00 a.m. April 15, 2016, and shall continue until this Agreement ter-minates at 11:59 p.m. April 15, 2016 (“Term”).

4.01. In consideration for the promises made in entering into this Employment Agreement, the Employee shall be entitled to a once-in- a-lifetime experience that will be documented for memorable occassions. Shoud the Arkansas State University Football team win the game, the Employee shall receive as bonus a Powerade Bath as part of his bragging rights.

5.01. The Employee recognizes that the goal is to remain as a University employee through the entire Term. However, if Employee ter- minates this Agreement during the first eight hours (12 a.m.-8 a.m.), Employee shall fulfill liquidated damages by taking Director of Athletics to breakfast, lunch and dinner within a one-day period; Second eight hours (8 a.m.-4 p.m.), Employee shall take Director of Athletics to lunch and dinner within a one-day period; Final eight hours (4 p.m.-11:59 a.m.), Employee shall take Director of Athletics to dinner within a one-day period.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties hereby have executed this Employment Agreement or caused this Agreement to be executed the day and year first written above, intending to be bound by its provisions.

Evans never did have to take A-State AD Terry Mohajir out to IHOP. Here’s his behind-the-scenes take on coaching A-State, with interesting background on why Blake Anderson — unlike 99% of his colleagues — has decided not to designate hard work, discipline or strength as one of his program’s core principles.