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 

17 Jan

Bret Bielema on Why Austin Allen Projects as the 2016 Season Starter

Austin Allen

Today, Arkansas head coach spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the state of the Hogs football program. In the below transcription, he talks about the health of running back Rawleigh Williams and the depth chart order the four quarterbacks.

He also urges new offensive lineman coach Kurt Anderson, a Chicagoan, to start rocking cowboys boots for the sake of Texan recruiting.

Bielema on the the Liberty Bowl aftermath: 

After the game we had a list of guys that needed to have medical follow up. Some guys who needed some random things that needed to get taken care of. We had a number of guys get into that. I’ll probably wait until we get back in school session because I haven’t been able to see those guys face to face yet to further comment on that. Nothing too serious, just some guys having follow up with the doctors.

I was able to hire an o-line coach. I know he’s coming in here to interview afterwards. I think Kurt is a very vibrant personality. He’s a guy that I had learned about during the recruiting process. He was actually the No. 2 rated linebacker coming out of high school, behind LaVar Arrington. Seems if he finished his career as a center he could tell which way those careers went and he’ll be the first to admit it. A very talented, valued asset to everybody that he had work with and who had been around. Dan, being a Michigan State guy, and when we first started talking about Kurt, and Kurt’s a Michigan guy, sometimes those things don’t mix together – but they had a lot of commonalities…

People just raved about what he was able to do… I thought it was interesting this year when he obviously filled in as the o-line coach because their coach had been suspended for the first seven games and they [the Bills] had led the NFL in rushing. Just a lot of positives around him. Been a great asset just in the first few days of recruiting as well. He brought a lot to the table. I think a very dynamic recruiter that can help us not only with o-line men but in other positions as well. Very excited about him.

Obviously, some other news to have the 3 guys declare for the NFL. I wish them the best of luck. Hunter [Henry], we had an extensive talk with him and his parents before the bowl game. I knew his rating when it came back was kind of low. We had envisioned and I think he has a very, very good chance of being the first tight end selected in the draft. An incredible career, an incredible impact on our program. I think back to he was my first recruiting call. I think that was one well spent. Right after of our media teleconference that first day I was announced.

Soon after that, I had been recruiting Alex Collins during my time at Wisconsin and then to come here and to have his career finish the way it did on that run, just is one that I’ll always remember. I think it was a very difficult decision for him as well. I sat down with a lot of his family and people. I think he was very, very torn, but his grade came out as a favorable grade to come out and prove his worth as well. I’m very, very excited for Alex and his next chapter.

Denver informed me via text that was sent to me on Wednesday. He told me on Monday he was going in the direction to make that next step. I wish him the best of luck as well as he moves forward.

Those are all 3 guys part of that first recruiting class. One that we hadn’t played a game yet and to have 3 guys that possibly could be the top in their respective positions in their respective grades, I think that’s a very, very good likelihood of them being that in that grade. I remember that class wasn’t all that highly regarded in the SEC, but had a national ranking I think was in the top third, I think somewhere in the 30s, somewhere in there. It’s not what you have when you walk in, it’s what you have when you walk out. I think those guys proved their worth.

We’ll start an 8-week conditioning in 2 weeks with Ben Herbert and the guys that we currently have. I thought it was very important for us to get a full 8 weeks. I think we have 2 types of rosters that are coming back. We have a group that is very experienced — very, very developed, very, very in-tuned to what we do, and then we have this next group that’s kind of going to have to fill in big ways that need a lot of work. We’re going to adapt our program a little bit than we have in the past. It’s something I’ve routinely done going into my 11th year as a head coach. Just trying to fit your roster a little bit better. I’m excited to work with Herb. We’ll do some things a little bit different than we’ve done in the past. Kind of lay that out as they go forward.

Then we’ll do all of our Spring practices post Spring break. Which we’ve normally gotten a week in before here before we left for Spring Break, but all of ours will come after Spring Break, with the Spring game coming on April 23. Our Pro Day is on March 9. That’ll be a big one. We got a lot of really, really talented players in large numbers, so I expect to get a good crowd for that (No doubt they’ll be looking to get the first taste of a high anticipated 2016 season, one in which Arkansas has been pegged with 50-to-1 odds of winning the national title).

Dab to the bone finished

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Q: Has Kody Walker indicated he’s coming back for a 6th season?

Bret Bielema: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yep, Yep. Kody, I found out he had a 6th year and I waited until the right moment to tell him and when I told him he had a 6th year, he had about a biggest smile as you’ve ever seen. I don’t think there ever was any doubt that that was something he was going to look forward to.

Q: Is there anybody that’s indicated they want a transfer out of the program?

Bret Bielema: Other than the ones we already knew about?

Q: Yeah, anybody since the bowl?

Bret Bielema: No. I don’t think so. I tell you what, I can’t confirm 100%, but I’m 99 percentile that Randy Ramsey will be with us in the Spring as a walk on player, a non-scholarship player. He asked if he could return and pay for his own way. I thought that was a good way to express his desire to be a part of what we’re doing as to pay his own way out of state. I think he’ll be with us in the Spring and see what he can prove. We, obviously, had a couple of mid-year enrollees that will be with us as well, but nobody leaving the program.

Q: How much extra work did Austin Allen get during the bowl practices and how about any of those other [backup] quarterbacks?

Bret Bielema: Yeah, I think we got in 16 practices and I believe 5 of those were developmental only, so a lot of really good, quality work for those guys. There was actually 2 practices that we didn’t let Austin practice. It was just those other 3 quarterbacks. Austin got in a lot of really good valuable work as the No. 1 guy when his brother wasn’t, when BA wasn’t even on the field. Then there were a number of practices where those next 3 quarterbacks got a lot of work without Austin being there as well.

We always talk about in the Spring there are No. 1’s. You got to have somebody go out and we’ll call the 1’s. It’s a coach’s perspective, but if that first group ran on the field, it’d definitely be Austin [Allen]. If the second group ran after, it’d be Rafe [Peavey]. If the third group ran out there, it’d Ty [Storey] and then Ricky [Town] just based on really time in the program. Now what they do with it this Spring is going to add a lot of influence on how fast certain people can move up or down the depth chart.

Q: Have you talked to Rawleigh [Williams III]?

Bret Bielema: Yeah. I just texted him yesterday. Rawleigh reached out to me on my birthday and wished me a happy birthday. Polite child. I said, “How are you feeling? How’s things in Dallas?” He said “Feel great, Coach. 100% ready to go.” I do know that we’re doing a couple extra things with him medically just to appease not only us but him, mom, as we should. I don’t think he’ll do anything with us this spring other than go through maybe drills, non-contact, or anything like that. But before we step on that field as a contact player, we’re going to make sure everything’s clear.

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09 Oct

Smithsonian Sports Exhibit Coming to Blytheville, Wynne, Helena, Arkadelphia & Batesville

Dallas County touts itself as the per-capita home to the most Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductees in the state. That’s hard to argue with legends like Larry Lacewell, Houston Nutt, Sr., Kevin Williams, Jimmy Parker and, of course, Paul “Bear” Bryant – whose new Fordyce museum exhibit I discuss at Arkansas Money & Politics  – all hailing from the area.

But other Arkansas towns have impressive sports heritages, too. And in 2017 the Smithsonian Institute will help highlight those histories with the arrival of a traveling exhibit: “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America.” The exhibit “will capture the stories that unfold on the neighborhood fields and courts, and the underdog heroics, larger-than-life legends, fierce rivalries and gut-wrenching defeats. For more than 100 years, sports have reflected the trials and triumphs of the American experience and helped shape the national character,” according to this press release.

“This project gives communities an opportunity to share these stories, celebrate local legends and collect memorabilia from the community. With the support and guidance of state humanities councils, these towns will develop complementary exhibits, host humanities programs and facilitate educational initiatives about sports and ideals such as team work, fair play, leadership and respect.”

I’m pleased to report the following communities and dates will highlighted:

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.03.26 AM

 

I’m reaching out to folks involved with these organizations to find more details about which Arkansan sports stars, exactly, will be featured. In the meantime, I’d love to get your thoughts on which local legends should be celebrated.

25 Sep

BOAS Interviews: Jermaine Petty, Fake Lou Holtz & Real Jack Crowe

Historically, Arkansas has dominated Texas A&M. It’s compiled a 41-27-3 all-time record  against the Aggies including a stretch of nine straight wins from 1958 through 1966. But the Aggies are currently on a three-game winning streak in the series, their longest since World War II…

 
Here’s to hoping the Hogs get back to their retro ways tomorrow in Arlington. (Big ups to Jordan Sherrod of Razorback-oriented T-shirt company Coed Coop for the above design)
 
Catch the latest news and analysis with the below copy of my morning e-mail roundup of Arkansas sports interviews:
 
The Buzz 103.7 FM
The Zone
Clint Stoerner, former Hog quarterback and SEC Network analyst
Larry Lacewell, former A-State head football coach [at 16:49]
Dave South, play-by-play voice of Texas A&M
 
Overtime
Olin Buchanan, writer for Texags.com
 
The Show with No Name
Fake Lou Holtz, former Razorback football coach, on Coach Bret “Benema,” scurvy and Jack Daniels-flecked beards
 
ESPN Arkansas 92.7/95.3/96.3/99.5 FM
Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly*
Jack Crowe, former Hog head football coach
Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL insider
Chris Low, chief ESPN SEC writer
 
*More iPhone-friendly version here
 
92.1 The Ticket
The Red Zone with JB
Jermaine Petty, former Razorback [at 23:26 mark]
 
95.3 FM The Ticket (Red Wolves unless otherwise noted)
A-State Nation
Mark Beier, voice of the Toledo Rockets
Nick Piotrowicz, beat writer for the Toledo Blade
 
The Drive with Brad Bobo
Jake Helton, football player for Manila
 
KATV Channel 7
 
Koilan Jackson, Keith Jackson’s son and dual-threat quarterback of 3-0 Parkview Patriots
Dre Greenlaw, Razorback linebacker
 
KAIT Region 8 Jonesboro (Red Wolves Raw)
 
Matt Campbell, Toledo football head coach, on playing A-State
Blake Anderson, head coach, on playing Toledo
 
Whole Hog Sports (Razorbacks unless otherwise noted)
Jeff Long, athletic director, at NWA Touchdown Club
 
Arkansas Razorbacks Athletic Department
Bret Bielema, head football coach, weekly show
 
 
Razorback Interviews [Texas A&M preview]
 
Sam Pittman, offensive line coach
 
Quarterback Brandon Allen 
 
Running back Rawleigh Williams 
 
Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland
 
Tight end Hunter Henry 
 
Defensive lineman Taiwan Johnson
 
Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, Jr.
 
Defensive back Jared Collins
 
Don’t miss out on the next sports roundup newsletter. Here’s how.
18 Apr

The Arkansas connections of Mike Conley, Jr

Conley, Jr. has grown up quite a bit from his days in Fayetteville as a nine-year-old (L)

Conley, Jr. has grown up quite a bit from his days in Fayetteville as a nine-year-old (L)

The following is republished from a Sync magazine article in 2009

The Memphis Grizzlies want your business, Arkansas.

And they’re working for it.

More radio stations carrying game broadcasts, community outreach events and 280-mile charter bus trips are a few ways that central Arkansas’ nearest pro team has tried to drum up interest in a state only miles from their FedEx Forum home.

There’s no choice, says John Pugliese, the team’s senior director of marketing and communications. Grizzlies management understood when the team arrived from Vancouver in 2001 that expanding its fan base into a tri-state area including Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee would be vital to success.

Eight years later, to what extent do Arkansans consider the Grizzlies the state’s “adopted” pro basketball team? For the sake of comparison in this specific context, let’s consider the Dallas Cowboys to be Arkansas’ adopted pro football team.

The Grizz have certainly reached across the Mississippi River. In its first years in Memphis, Grizz players, coaches, mascots and salespeople visited Arkansas cities like Jonesboro and Little Rock to promote the team, Pugliese said. The team has set up “Jr. Grizz” basketball teaching programs for children ages 6-15 in Jacksonville, Conway, Marion, Helena, West Memphis and McGehee.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said last week that he has taught one-day camps with “pretty good turn out” at a Boys & Girls Club in West Memphis the last two summers. Conley, whose father starred in track for the Razorbacks, spent most of his childhood in Fayetteville before eventually moving to Indianapolis, Ind.

Conley’s relatives, who are spread across Arkansas, may see new Grizzlies billboards in places like Marion, Jonesboro and West Memphis as they travel east to see Conley’s home games. The advertisements are part of a commercial outreach that includes four Arkansas radio stations broadcasting Memphis games. Fans can tune into stations based in West Helena, Marion and Jonesboro and, in central Arkansas, Conway’s KASR 92.7 FM. Grizzlies television broadcasts extend nearly 75 miles into east Arkansas, Pugliese added.

In an effort targeting Little Rock, the Grizzlies last year sold tickets of $47 and $99 for a charter bus round trip to select Memphis games.

“We see a little bit of our fan base in Arkansas growing every year,” Pugliese said. He added that roughly 10 percent of ticket holders to Grizz games are Arkansans, and a majority of those hail from West Memphis and Jonesboro, which is 64 miles from Memphis.

According to espn.com, Memphis averaged 12,745 in home attendance last season, 29th of 30 NBA teams. It’s kept the same spot through 10 home games this year by averaging 12,210.

So, let’s cut to the chase — has Arkansas developed a love for its neighboring Grizzlies?

Based on the many conversations I’ve recently had about this subject, I’d say “no.” Let’s explore possible reasons.

1) A Memphis native, and fellow Little Rock Central High School alum, told me while Arkansas is very much Razorbacks country, so is Memphis still very much Tiger country. He averred that despite their NBA credentials, the Grizzlies have yet to capture the hearts of Memphians as the University of Memphis Tigers do. They’re just too new, and haven’t won enough yet. It seems more Memphians would have to first come to love the Grizzlies before Arkansans would.

2) Winners attract new fans, but for most of the last eight years the Grizz have been a losing team. They had won three consecutive games going into last Friday’s game against Oklahoma City, and offered $3 tickets to help pack the house. Attendance was 13,048, and Memphis lost.

3) Although winning would help the problem, the Grizz lack “superstars” that can sell tickets on name alone. They almost had one in Allen Iverson this fall, but he bailed on the team and wound up signing with Philadelphia.

A pickup basketball friend of mine from Little Rock said he was disappointed to hear Iverson had left because he was planning a Memphis trip to see him play. I mentioned the team still had young, exciting players in Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, and he laughed. He’d totally forgotten.

4) I believe Arkansas is still a football state, and that’s one reason why to many Arkies the Cowboys matter more than the Grizzlies (factor in Dallas’ winning tradition and Razorback connections like Jerry Jones and Felix Jones). This plays out even in West Memphis, the Arkansas area receiving the most Grizzlies exposure. Sonny Weems, an NBA player, said there’s plenty of enthusiasm for the Grizzlies in West Memphis, but he never attended a Grizzlies game while playing at West Memphis High School in the early 2000s. Football was his sport, he said.

This decade, central Arkansas has had chances to support NBA basketball in its own backyard but has whiffed. NBA preseason games were held in North Little Rock at what was then known as Alltel Arena from 2000-2006, peaking with an attendance of 14,672 in 2002 between the Lakers and Grizzlies, based on Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The last two years however, saw attendances of 4,290 and 6,275. Pugliese said the Grizzlies “are open” to the possibility of returning for a preseason game but there are “no immediate plans.”

It’s too bad. I genuinely feel NBA ball provides some of the world’s greatest athletic spectacle, and nobody knows how long it will last on Arkansas’ doorstep.

04 Dec

Arkansas Fans, Get a Grip: War Memorial Stadium Tradition Not So Special

Arkansas will play one game per year in Little Rock through 2018.

Arkansas will play one game per year in Little Rock through 2018.

Arkansas fans are right to believe some of their traditions are truly unique. There are, after all, tens of college programs named after Wildcats or Tigers or some permutation of Bear, but there is only one named for the Razorback. And no group of fans, no matter how much they chomp, stomp or damn eagles, has thrown out anything that remotely resembles the Ozarkian eeriness that is the Hog Call. Suiiii generis, indeed.

But in all the recent commotion over Arkansas’ continuing pullout of War Memorial Stadium, I’ve noted a troublesome sentiment that what Arkansas has had all these years in its dual home arrangement has been so wonderfully precious and unique that losing it would present a blow the program may never fully recover from. Not so: plenty other programs split their home games between two stadia for decades. Plenty other fans made memories that lasted a lifetime in the stadium closer to their home. Yes, the other programs stopped doing this. But no, they did not fall apart.

To the contrary, many have thrived since quitting the practice.

These other programs – Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Virginia Tech et al – began dual home arrangements for the same, exact reason Arkansas started doing it in Little Rock in 1932: exposure, revenue and what today is called “brand building.” Arkansas leaders knew if their program was ever going to become nationally competitive it needed to have more support from its state, to stop losing the likes of Ken Kavanaugh (Little Rock High grad) to LSU and Don Hutson (Pine Bluff High) and Paul Bryant (Fordyce High) to Alabama. So Arkansas leaders, like leaders at Alabama, Mississippi State and Oregon State, decided to take their team away from its rural campus and parade it in a bigger, in-state city in front of more media and fans.*

Oregon did the same by traveling from Eugene to Portland. Washington State traveled from Pullman to Spokane, while Ole Miss traveled to Jackson and Auburn traveled to Birmingham. Each of the programs pulled out of these metro areas at different times but one overriding reason is the same as in Arkansas’ case – the campus’ stadium simply outgrew the metro area’s stadium. This especially came to the fore in the late 1980s as Auburn jockeyed to stop playing Iron Bowl games in Birmingham, as I wrote in a recent New York Times article: “Auburn leaders increasingly supported moving the game from the 75,000-seat Legion Field to the university’s expanded Jordan-Hare Stadium, which could hold 85,000. Housel [a former Auburn athletic director] said it got to the point that even Auburn fans living in Birmingham were so ready to drive the 120 miles to campus, they would ‘refuse to buy tickets to the Auburn-Alabama game if it was in Birmingham.'”

Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Every team, as you see in the chart below, has dropped its dual home arrangement in the last 50 years. And programs like Oregon, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Auburn have gone on contend for or win national championships since the drop. Yes, you are right: Arkansas has become unique in the sense that it appears to be the only program that is still hanging on to this practice.

But is that something to be proud of?

It’s better to be proud of winning at a high level, a la Oregon, Auburn and Alabama. But hanging on to War Memorial hasn’t recently helped Arkansas get to this level. Its function was served in helping lift Arkansas to the nationally elite level it enjoyed through much of the 1960s through 1980s. It will not serve in getting Arkansas to the level Jeff Long, Bret Bielema et al expect it to reach in the later 2010s and 2020s.

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30 Jan

Hunter Henry Q & A About Recruiting Process

Hunter Henry is committed to Arkansas, but still likes Alabama. Courtesy: Arkansas Life

Hunter Henry is committed to Arkansas, but still likes Alabama. Courtesy: Arkansas Life

Imagine you’re a teen. You’ve just come home from your first date ever, and sitting there waiting with plenty questions about your night is dear, old dad.
Mildly embarrassing, totally understandable. Naturally, you expect the scrutiny to wane over time.

Except that it doesn’t. After the next date, dear, old uncle waits beside dad. The time after that, you also find the guy from KATV is interested in where you ate dinner. And every time after that, it seems more media join the growing scrum.

Surreal, right?

A select group of high school football players actually aspire to something like this every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a reward for years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s also a culmination of the intense media spotlight they’ve  been under for months –  the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.

Imagine if every high school senior stood in front of her classmates and local media to announce both where she would be going to college and who was taking her to prom.
Nerve-wracking scenario, right?

A select group of high school football players strive to go through a similar rigamarole every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a culmination of years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.

In Arkansas, many eyes will be on Hunter Henry, senior at Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy. Will this elite tight end – ranked as the nation’s best at that position by some outlets – choose the Razorbacks, to which he made a non-binding oral commitment last summer?

This would make sense, considering his father played center for the Razorbacks (and is now an associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church), and his grandfather was an Arkansas basketball player.

But Henry’s still open to other schools. He insists his recruiting process is far from over. Here’s a look into that process, and the ups and downs  it brings:

Q: You’ve been committed to Arkansas since last summer, but are still considering other schools like Alabama. Give me a sense of what you’ve been going through.

A: The recruiting process can be hard. It’s a blessing, but at the same time I don’t think people realize how hard it really is just because it’s so stressful and you’re trying to pick a place that is going to affect the rest of your life. You’re going to so many different schools and they’re all so amazing … you build relationships with so many people – just really good, strong relationships, talking all the time and it’s kind of hard to say ‘no’ to some people.

Q. You’ve spoken a few times to Arkansas’ head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. What do you expect your role to be on offense once you start getting major minutes?

A: I really don’t know. I’m not there, so I got to get on campus. Nothing’s given to me. I’m going to have to work for everything I get and I know that. I’m working extremely hard right now, and I’m just going to continue to work hard… whereever it is that I go, I just want to be a great tight end and a great person.

Q: You grew up in Atlanta in a family that bleeds Razorback red. Once you started seriously considering which college to attend, was it difficult to put aside your Hog fandom to make a clear-headed choice about what’s best for you?

A: It was. I would lie to you if I said it didn’t. It was hard sometimes, but I did really good at clearing my mind. You know, it’s a whole lot easier once you get into the process and you go to other places and you talk to other coaches, when you get out there and see what else is out there. I think that helps a lot and it opened up things just because I want to choose the place where I should be and the right place for me.

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09 Nov

For First Time, Arkansas State Beats an Opponent That Had Beaten Arkansas

What would happen if the best QB in ASU history had a crack at the state’s top program? (Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

No doubt, decades will pass before Razorback fans forget Arkansas’ 34-31 home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in its second game this season. It was the first time a Sun Belt team had beaten the Hogs, which led some fans to wonder if the Red Wolves could have challenged the Razorbacks this season.

As the Red Wolves have heated up in the last month, while the Hogs have continued to struggle, the question has been burning for months. On Thursday, though, enough fuel was dumped on to this debate to turn it into a full-fledged fire.

Arkansas State blitzed ULM 45-23, just another ho-hum offensive explosion in the most successful era in the program history (as a Division I-A program, which ASU became in 1992). In the last two seasons, ASU has won 13 of 14 conference games, but none was more historic it terms of potential in-state bragging rights than its rout of ULM.

For the first time since at least 2001 – when ASU started playing in the Sun Belt – it beat an opponent that had beaten Arkansas that same season.

Yes, the Red Wolves beat a ULM squad without an injured Kolton Browning, the  dual-threat quarterback who’d shredded Arkansas for 481 total yards in Little Rock. With a 22-point margin of victory, however, it’s unlikely Browning would have made up the difference to topple ASU in Jonesboro. His backup still passed for 357 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, after all.

Since 2001, Arkansas State has shared an opponent with Arkansas during the same season 21 times. Although Arkansas State has been more impressive against shared opponents the last two seasons, Arkansas still dominates any comparisons between schedules.

Of the 21 times, only four times has ASU lost to a shared opponent by an equal or smaller margin. Those instances are highlighted in red below:

2001

UA @ Georgia L 23-34
ASU @ Georgia L 17-45
UA @ Ole Miss W 58-56
ASU – Mississippi L 17-35

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15 Sep

No star quarterback, no problem? Arkansas-Alabama echoes Stanford-USC upset in 2007

Arkansas assistant coach Nick Holt has seen plenty go wrong with his team in the last couple weeks.

He’s seen the Hogs lose their top quarterback, best cornerback and best two fullbacks. Then watched a Sun Belt team take full advantage with an upset that many consider the worst loss in program history. And even within the confines of his Broyles Complex office, he’s surely heard something from the chorus of dire prognostications surrounding his squad as it heads into this afternoon’s showdown with No. 1 Alabama.

Nobody outside of Arkansas gives the Hogs much of a chance against the national champions.  If the Hogs couldn’t beat Nick Saban the last two years, when it had a non-stopgap head coach and healthy star quarterback, what chance has it now?

Slim, sure.

But before writing this team off, consider Nick Holt has seen something else.

It happened five years ago, when Holt was coordinating the defense of  powerhouse Southern Cal, a team which shared plenty with these Crimson Tide. USC was essentially the mid-2000s version of Alabama. Like the Crimson Tide, the Trojans had rolled through its first few games as favorites to win another national title.

Like today’s Crimson Tide, the ’07 Trojans had pumped out two national titles in the previous four years, had the game’s consensus best head coach (Pete Carroll) and had just replaced its offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian for Lane Kiffin). Like Alabama, USC had also signed enough consecutive top recruiting classes, giving the program more depth than a Darren Aronofsky flick.

It’s unlikely Nick Holt anticipated what would transpire on October 6, 2007, when the unranked Stanford Cardinal came to town. USC had waxed Stanford 42-0 the previous year, and for all the world looked as if it was going to demolish it once again. The Cardinal had lost its first three conference games while breaking in a new head coach and defensive coordinator. It stumbled into the USC game without its senior starting quarterback T.J. Ostrander, who’d been sidelined by a seizure.

What happened?

Kismet, magic, a whole lotta Luck before Andrew – call Stanford’s stunning 24-23 win whatever you want to call it. But in the end, the powerhouse Trojans simply had a really off day – they gave up five turnovers – and the Cardinal played well enough to take advantage. The Cardinal defense, for instance, held stout on a critical fourth-and-goal right before halftime. Although its offense was outgained by 224 yards, Stanford converted its only two fourth down attempts. The backup quarterback came on to complete 11 of 30 passes for 149 yards, but played smartly when it counted.

Sure, there are differences between these situations. Most notably, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was then a young up and comer making his first college coaching splash. Arkansas’ sixty-three-year-old John L. Smith has been around the block once or eight times.

But, like anything else in life that must be played out away from the Excel spreadsheets and algorithms which make up our modern life, football’s a fickle thing. Fickle enough that an unranked team can lose its top gun quarterback and still upend the nation’s juggernaut du jour.

Nick Holt has already seen this unfold firsthand.

Could he again?