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
29 Jul

Hog Great Fred Talley Compares Houston Nutt to His Negligent Father

Photo courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

Now a ref, Talley calls foul on his former coach.

Many high major college football players come from single-parent households. This is one reason it’s not surprising many college coaches preach a family-first environment when recruiting those very players and keep preaching team-as-family principles throughout their college careers.

But what does a college coach who has presented himself as a father figure owe that player in the years and decades following college?

That’s a question I delved into while reporting my most recent feature for SYNC magazine, a look at former Razorbacks struggling to find their place in the communities which once revered them. Fred Talley, who still ranks in multiple all-time Top 5 records for Razorback running backs, is one such player.

Last week, Talley spoke to me about his struggles during his playing days and afterward  at MarketPlace Grill in Springdale. While he’s obviously still a fan of the program, and keen to talk about the current team, he was undoubtedly jaded toward certain aspects of his career. To start with, he insists it was he – not running backs coach Danny Nutt – who led the running backs positions meetings during the majority of his career, on account of Nutt’s worsening medical issues.

That would have been fine, Talley says, except that the Nutts (Danny and his older brother, head coach Houston Nutt) also promised him a starting position before his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. But for three years in a row, other backs started the first games of the season over him. Then, as Talley recalls, events like injuries would happen and the Nutts would make him a starter. He’d then usually run roughshod over the competition during the second halves of seasons and do things like detonate for 241 yards on Auburn.

As I mention in the SYNC piece, Talley also felt like the coaches showed strong preference to starter Cedric Cobbs over all other backs. Yes, Cobbs was good and sometimes great. But he also tended to take advantage of the fact he was “put on a pedestal,” Talley says. He brought up an example of this after discussing Cobbs’ recent attempt at pro boxing.

He recalls a practice, early in the 2000 season, when he was competing with Alvin Ray to back up Cobbs. At the beginning of a set of running back drills, Cobbs walked up to Bailey and said he could start off a drills so that he could insure he got time running the ball, since many of those attempts were supposed to go to Cobbs – an early-season dark horse Heisman candidate.

Cobbs “was like, ‘So you can get yo game reps,'” Talley recalls, laughing. And Alvin Ray – a Texan guy “you really don’t want to mess with” – was not happy.

“So Alvin pushes him like six yards back, and Danny [Nutt] steps in the way. And Ced, kind of jokingly, reaches around Danny and slaps Alvin Ray. So he goes around and Alvin hits him – boom! Ced has his helmet on and when I say his helmet went 15 feet in the air… So Ced grabs him, picks him up and kind of body slams him but he wasn’t gonna punch him…. He was more like wrasslin’…  The whole time Ced was on the top, and it was fine – because players fight all the time on the field, but as soon as Alvin Ray got on top – ‘Break it up and break it up!’ coaches said. Adam Daily got them broken up.”

Many former Hogs are to this day huge Houston Nutt fans, but for these reasons and others Talley is not among them.

There is another reason, too.

The summer and fall of 2007 was a very hard time for Talley. He had just moved back to Fayetteville from Texas after a house fire in which his girlfriend’s child had died along with some of Talley’s cousins. Talley was trying to deal with the aftermath of that trauma while at the same time going back to the school to complete his Educational Studies major.

He got his tuition paid for essentially on a work-study type arrangement where he worked in the strength room with the football team. During that time he developed a tooth abscess –  painful to point he could hardly work – and found out from the dentist he’d need surgery for it. During earlier dentist visits, Talley had been under the assumption the UA would pay for the surgery. He recalls that’s what his former UA coaches and staff had told him it would be paid for (as it would have been for an active player, according to Talley), and he says before that time he had talked to Nutt about similar expenses being paid.

But when he tried to call Nutt to inquire into the issue of the school paying to fix his abscess, he couldn’t get him on the phone. He then recalls going to see Nutt in person three times, and twice was told he was too busy to see him – in a meeting or something like that, he recalls. The third time he got him while walking to practice, and was assured the issue would be looked into, but he says he never heard back from Nutt or the athletic trainer Dean Weber on the issue.

Those incidents were the last time he tried to contact Nutt since 2007, he says. He likened not hearing back from his old coach to the hurt his dad had caused him when he was a child.

“It was like my dad’s situation. My dad, when he left, when I was younger, he used to always promise us stuff. Hey, I’m sending this. It’s at the Western Union, and we[Talley and his brothers] would go, and we’d be arguing with the [Western Union] people. “No, no, he said he sent it.”

But he never had sent it and, despite the promises, over time they learned he never would.

I called Houston Nutt for a response and his input. He says he doesn’t recall Talley asking for medical help and he doesn’t recall a phone calls left unreturned, although there may be outside chance that happened if it was in the middle of a game week.  He counters by that he never saw Talley physically visit his office during that time. “If Fred Talley called me, trying to get my help, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would bend over backwards trying to call him back.”

He then, over phone and text, detailed how many former players and affiliated organizations he’d helped in various ways. “I will put my Love n caring n giving against any Coach in America, especially @ Arkansas!!!!!!!!,” he wrote.

Here are some examples of his donations:

  • Keith Kidd – $7,000
  • Sam Olajubutu – $4,000
  • CJ McClain – $5,000
  • $5,000 to send 25 high school players to a camp of Arkansas Baptist College
  • Over $35,000 for new turf and weights at his alma mater Little Rock Central High School.

Nutt was so bothered to learn that Talley felt jaded he got his phone number and called Talley within minutes. According to both of them, for about 15 minutes they discussed Talley’s hard feelings about starting seasons on the bench although he was still, as Nutt put it, one of a few “first-team running backs” (Guys like Brandon Holmes and De’Arrius Howard also logged a lot of minutes in the early 2000s).

Although the abscess is no longer an issue, Nutt promised Talley he would help find a way to help pay for surgery for Talley’s injured shoulders (college football had caused three AC joint separations between them before his senior year), which have caused him persistent pain for about 14 years. In the last few days, Nutt has reached out to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long about a way to pay for Talley’s injury, Nutt says.

Talley is appreciative of Nutt’s effort but says it doesn’t all the way change  his feelings toward his former coach. He says he wonders why it took eight years for Nutt to reach out to him and that it’s a little like when an absentee parent all the sudden shows up in a kid’s life after years away. A few days later Talley added, in text, that he’s using the same mental toughness he honed as a player to deal with the pain and figure out a way to one day pay for whatever he needs: “I feel like I can overcome anything. I almost feel like I’m whining. That’s not me. I really don’t want their help. I’ll be finished with school soon. I’ll be fine with or without them.”

His parenting analogy, though, opens up that complicated question again: What does – and what should – a college head football coach owe his former players in terms availability? People only have so much free time, after all, and active major college head coaches are some of the more busy people around.

The more years a coach is in the business, the more former players he has. On top of that, he will have his own current players while needing to stay in contact with future players (i.e. recruits). Then he must all juggle staff,  boosters, parents and, oh yeah, may even have his own family, too. “You’ve gonna focus on trying to keep your job, focus on trying to keep relationships with 125 players,” Nutt says.

“It’s really hard because of all the pressures. It’s hard because of all the people – the coaches, the coaches’ wives, the players on your team, the walk-ons. It’s really a hard, hard deal.” Staying in constant contact with all the former player who may need you is “almost impossible.”



28 Jun

Pay You, Pay Me: Buy Out Clauses in Arkansan College Coaching Contracts

The below article originally published in the June issue of Arkansas Money & Politics 

When it comes to big-time college sports, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas rarely operate on a level playing field. The Razorback athletic department pulls in nearly seven times more total revenue than the ASU Red Wolves.

There is one place Arkansas’ largest sports programs stand on equal ground: each school’s head football coach has a contract demanding the same amount of money for cutting out early. If the Hogs’ Bret Bielema had decided to break his six-year contract last year — his first on the job — he would have owed the U of A $3 million*. Three million is also what the Red Wolves’ new coach Blake Anderson would pay to leave ASU during his first year. This symmetry is all the more striking because Bielema’s and Anderson’s salaries aren’t even close: Bielema makes $3.2 million a year, Anderson makes $700,000.

Conversely, if they leave at the behest of the schools, the coaches can look to pocket some walking-away money.

It’s all a matter of strategy and context, a common game played by universities across the country. Still, fans can be certain of one thing: in the world of coaches’ contracts, terms for parting ways matter every bit as much as the salary.

In the biggest conferences, a $3 million buyout provision isn’t all that large. In a conference as relatively small as ASU’s Sun Belt, though, this kind of number is almost certainly unprecedented — much like the situation in which ASU football finds itself on the whole.

“When you’ve gone through what we’ve gone through the last few years,” ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir said, “you learn a little bit.”

Since 2010, ASU has hired four different coaches. The first — Hugh Freeze — had a first-year buyout of $225,000. For his successors, that figure jumped to $700,000, then to $1.75 million, and now to $3 million. Where it ends, nobody knows.

Decades ago, things were simpler. Major college football coaches typically signed one-year contracts, which would roll over to the next year if they did a good job. Things started changing in the 1980s with the advent of bigger broadcast deals and the proliferation of cable sports programming. As multi-year contracts prevailed in the late 1980s and 1990s, “the institutions began looking for a commitment from the coach,” U of A athletic director Jeff Long said. At first, “it was really a one-way street and now it’s evolved into a two-way street on the contractual buyout terms.”

In business terms, the institution is looking for security after investing in a risky asset — the head football coach — that can either add or lose a great amount of revenue. Perversely, either one makes the coach more likely to leave. A chronically underwhelming coach is likely to be fired by the school, while star performers are lured away by institutions with more elite programs.

Buyout contracts therefore typically work in two ways. If a university fires the head coach “at its convenience,” legalese often translated to “too many games were lost,” the school usually gives the coach a ton of money to go away. Bielema, for instance, would be paid $12.8 million if he were fired in this context in his first three seasons. For Anderson, the number is $3 million if he’s let go in his first year. The University of Central Arkansas’ Steve Campbell would be paid $7,000 a month for the remainder of his contract ending Dec. 31, 2017, if he were fired; and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Monte Coleman would get his annual base salary of $150,000 paid to him over 18 months.

In the 21st century, major college coaches’ salaries — and attendant buyouts — have grown hand-in-hand.

Read More

07 Mar

Before Derek Fisher, Dexter Reed Put Parkview High Basketball On the Map

A year before Eddie Sutton's arrival, Dexter Reed passed on a chance to join the Triplets in Fayetteville.

A year before Eddie Sutton’s arrival, Dexter Reed passed on a chance to join the Triplets in Fayetteville.

It’s March, which means basketball fever is spreading through Arkansas. Interest in the high school state tournament is extra high this year as the state enjoys a high school basketball golden age thanks to headliners like junior KeVaughn Allen and sophomore Malik Monk. Both highly recruited shooting guards are accomplished beyond their years. Last year, Allen helped lead North Little Rock to a state title as a sophomore and picked up Finals MVP along the way. Monk, ranked by some outlets as the best shooting guard in the nation in his class, may one-up him. Despite two late season losses, Monk has helped turn Bentonville into a powerhouse for the first time in a long time while racking up obscene box scores. (Who else hits 11 of 12 three-pointers, as Monk did in one January game?)

Allen and Monk, who both stand around 6-3, aren’t the first sophomore wing players to dominate the local high school scene. In the early 1970s, another great high school golden age was tipping off and Little Rock native Dexter Reed was in the thick of it. The 6-2 guard went on one of the most devastating tourney tears of any era to lead Little Rock Parkview to its first state title.

In 1971, Parkview had only existed for three years. All the dynastic names affiliated with the school now — Ripley, Flanigan, Fisher — were still far off in the future. These ‘71 Patriots finished their regular season with a 15-12 record, but caught fire in the state tournament at Barton Coliseum, knocking off Jacksonville, McClellan, Jonesboro and finally, Helena. Through those four games, Reed averaged 27 points including 43 to secure the Class AAA title, then the state’s second largest. Ron Brewer, who regularly played pickup ball with Reed in the 1970s, said his friend was among the best scorers in state history: “He was like a choreographer out there, just dancing and weaving and getting the defense all discombobulated. And when it’s all said and done, he just destroyed you. He destroyed you by himself.”

Reed was a different kind of player from Monk and Allen but effective in his own way. The new schoolers are both extremely explosive athletes with deep three-point range. Reed didn’t play above the rim, and he didn’t see much reason to shoot 21-footers in his three point shot-less era. “I wasn’t the best of shooters,” he says. “I was more of a scorer. I could get by people, you know — I tried to be like Earl the Pearl.”

Reed won another title as a junior and by his senior year was a second-team Parade All-American who had hundreds of scholarship offers. The University of Arkansas was an early favorite. Reed had grown up a Razorback fan, and many in his inner circle wanted to see him play for coach Lanny Van Eman. Among those was local coach Houston Nutt, Sr., who had taught him the game’s fundamentals. “He had a lot of influence on me,” says Reed, who as a boy had sold popcorn at War Memorial Stadium with Houston Nutt, Jr.

Memphis State University, fresh off a national championship appearance, also entered the recruiting picture. Reed’s parents liked the fact that its campus was more than an hour closer to their home than Fayetteville. Other factors tipped the scales Memphis’ way. For starters, the Tigers played in an arena that didn’t make Reed uncomfortable. One area of the Hogs’ Barnhill Fieldhouse where the football team worked out was covered in sawdust. “I had sinus problems, and I’d be coughing there during summer basketball camps,” he says. Moreover, Reed’s older brother already attended the UA but had had trouble socially acclimating. Reed’s brother told him to strongly consider a larger city as Fayetteville was then a small town and there “wasn’t but a handful of black kids.”

Dexter Reed chose Memphis State and as a freshman immediately made a splash, racking up more than 500 points and leading the Tigers to a 19-11 finish. A serious injury to his knee ligaments the following season diminished his quickness, but he bounced back to average 18.8 points a game as a senior and landed on two All-America teams.

One highlight his last year was a return to Little Rock to play a surging Hogs program under new coach Eddie Sutton. As Sutton’s first great Hogs team, that 1976–77 bunch only lost one regular season game. On Dec. 30, 1976, a then record crowd jammed into Barton Coliseum to watch Reed, the greatest scorer Little Rock had ever produced, square off against Hog stars like Brewer, a junior, and sophomores Sidney Moncrief and Marvin Delph. They were all friends and ribbed each other in advance of Reed’s only college game in his hometown. Brewer recalls, “Me, Sidney and Marvin kept saying ‘You can come back all you want, but you ain’t gonna win this one.’ And he single handily kept them in the ballgame.”

Arkansas led for most of it, with Reed guarding Moncrief and then Brewer. But Reed and the bigger Tigers finished strong, with Reed hitting free throws down the stretch to clinch a 69-62 win. “I didn’t really think it was that big to my teammates, but after it was over, they all came over jumping on me,” Reed says. As he left the arena, he recalled seeing some of the same people in the crowd who had watched him burst onto the stage seven years earlier as a Parkview sophomore. “It was like a time warp,” he says.

Fast forward to the present, and Reed still lives in Memphis, where he runs sign and flower shops and hosts a sports radio show every Saturday morning. His parents have passed, so he doesn’t make it back to Little Rock much anymore. But he still follows the Razorbacks, and he’s heard from friends and Memphis coaches about some of the state’s great high school guards like KeVaughn Allen. Reed is glad to know the tradition he helped nourish is in good hands. He concludes, “My heart has always been with Arkansas.”

An earlier version of this story was originally published in this month’s issue of Celebrate Arkansas.

28 Dec

Basil Shabazz Memories: An Unexpected Christmas Gift

I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, so I no longer expect to wake up on Christmas morning with treats stuffed in my stocking.

I do, however, believe in longtime Arkansas sportswriter Walter Woodie. And Woodie recently left an email in my inbox that made me smile as much as any snow-dusted Snickers bar from the North Pole could have.

He sent me the following game report from an Arkansas high school football final in 1990. I consider the game’s star, Basil Shabazz, to be an Arkansas version of Bo Jackson. This game represented his finest moment:

Shabazz Texarkana REAL





Here are some immediate impressions:

1. Texarkana quarterback Mike Cherry would end up as a highly touted freshman for the Arkansas Razorbacks. As Barry Lunney’s perpetual backup, however, he never could carve out consistent paying time. Houston Nutt, then a UA assistant, coached him at the start of his college career. In 1993, Nutt left to become head coach of Murray State. Two years later, Cherry transferred to that same Kentucky school and led Nutt’s teams to two conference titles.

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08 Mar

Clash of the Titans: Vote who wins a Tourney Between the Best teams in State History

The Readers’ Choice Edition

  This weekend, Arkansas’ hoops cognoscenti will descend on Hot Springs for the state high school championships. There, in Summit Arena, teams from each corner of the state will vie for the right to be called the best in 2011-12. Every few years, though, a team is so strong that its on-court competition simply isn’t stout enough to give a serious challenge. When that happens, the team ends up battling history instead, as its coach and fans stake a claim to being the best in state history.

What would happen if the top prep teams in Arkansas history actually met on the court to decide once and for all who truly is the best of all-time? If guys like Derek Fisher, Ron Brewer and Joe Johnson were magically transported to their 17-year-old bodies, and once again wore Patriots, Grizzlies or Tigers gear? It would be like Field of Dreams, but indoors and without so much corn.

I wasn’t able to summon otherworldly powers to actually make this happen, but I did the next best thing: talked to coaches and journalists who saw most of these teams play. With their insight, I created a list of contenders for the title of an all-time hypothetical tourney.

As you’d expect, it’s required that each entry won a state title. Some older teams actually won a couple state titles in the same year. After winning the state tournament against similar-sized schools, the team then tackled the winners of other classifications in a now-defunct “overall” state tournament that ran 1972-1992.

For the sake of simplicity, all teams play under modern rules. This means some of the older teams who’ve never seen a three-point arc will have to figure out on the fly how to defend three-point shots, or get accustomed to seeing crossover dribbles that decades before would have been deemed traveling violations. Admittedly, this gives the modern teams an advantage over the older teams. Although I would counter those older player have a built-in stamina advantage, given many claim to have walked  to school uphill both ways.

I realize rule changes and differing styles of play make it extremely difficult to compare teams from different eras, but it’s better to have fun trying than never attempt at all.

You’ll likely disagree with some of my SYNC magazine picks [0307sportschart] for who who’d win different matchup in a single-elimination, all-time 8-team tournament. I welcome that debate. It’s all part of the fun.  But on this blog, I’m no longer playing God. It’s time you decide who would win in the first round of an all-time tournament among twelve of the state’s top teams. Below are the eight teams out of those top dozen which don’t get a first-round bye:

1958-59 Scipio A. Jones (North Little Rock)  
Final Record: N/A (3 losses, all to Pearl High, a Memphis powerhouse)
Stars: Eddie Miles (6-5), James Nash, Theodore Hines
Coach: Arthur Calvin
Seniors won  four consecutive all-black schools state titles; made finals of 1959 national tournament  for all-black schools, lost to Pearl High in triple-overtime

2008-09  Fayetteville
Final Record: 30-0
Stars: Fred Gulley (6-1 guard), Cable Hogue (6-7 forward), Taylor Cochran (6-2 guard)
Coach: Barry Gephart
Finished season ranked No.8 in nation by Sports Ilustrated

1953-54 Jonesboro
Final Record: 34-0
Stars: Larry Grisham (6-3 power forward), Ralph Childs (5-11 point guard), Don Riggs
Coach: Troy Bledsoe
Averaged 77 points in first three state tourney games, a state record at the time
1998-99 Little Rock Central
Final Record: 29-3 (Joe Johnson sidelined during only in-state loss)
Stars: Joe Johnson (6-7 “point center”), Hart (6-3 forward), Mark Green (6-2 guard)
Coach: Oliver Fitzpatrick
Won four state tournament games by record-setting average of 43.5 points
2003-04 West Memphis
Final Record: 27-2
Stars: Sonny Weems (6-6 forward), Des McCoy (6-5 forward), Mark Mangum (5-9 guard)
Coach: Larry Bray
Didn’t lose after Thanksgiving weekend, average margin of victory = 23.4

1999-00 Little Rock Fair
Final Record: 31-0
Stars: Kim Adams (6-7 center) Dameon Ashford (5-11 guard), Anthony Rogers
Coach: Charlie Johnson
Opponents averaged around 40 points a game, roster included 14 seniors

1983-84 Little Rock Hall
Final Record: 27-4
Stars: Tim Scott (6-3), Allie Freeman (6-2 guard)
Coach: Oliver Elders
Elders said this team, the last of four consecutive state title winners, was the best he ever had

1974-75 Little Rock Central
Final Record: 27-1
Stars: Robert Griffin (6-2 guard), Barry Clark (6-7 forward), Houston Nutt (6-2 guard)
Coach: Eddie Boone
Defeated Sidney Moncrief’s Hall High warriors en route to overall championship

01 Feb

Gus Malzahn resurrects former Hog QB Mitch Mustain through the magic of PowerPoint

As a freshman all those years ago, Mitch Mustain went 8-0 at Arkansas and was one of the key figures in some of the controversy that enveloped first-year college coach Gus Malzahn and head coach Houston Nutt as the 2006 season wore on.

We know the aftermath: Malzahn to Tulsa, Nutt out, Petrino in and Mustain gone to USC. Mustain had thrived in high school, then in college, under Malzahn but he never really worked out in SoCal. Aside from a start against Notre Dame, Mitch had pretty much faded into shades-wearin’ obscurity by last December.

Well, Mustain’s back. Not in the flesh, but in bullet form. His UA success – however fleeting – forms the base of a national recruiting pitch new ASU coach Gus Malzahn unleashed on ESPNU on signing day:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNbE0cB11yE&w=560&h=315]

In this next video, you’ll notice in the following analysis that Mustain’s inclusion trips up ESPNU analyst David Pollack some, but it’s interesting to note that while Mustain’s playing days in the state of Arkansas are long over, he could still play a role in Malzahn’s ability to recruit future recruits.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBncr-RAjoo&w=560&h=315]

Of course, ASU hopes to end up with QBs who pan out more in line with Malzahn’s latest star college quarterback, Cam Newton, rather than his first.

24 Dec

Why Gus Malzahn is the Chris Paul of college football coaches

They are closer than you think.

Gus Malzahn. Chris Paul.

The two names shall not, it is safe to say, be forever linked in the annals of history.

But last week, these two accomplished team leaders – one a college football coach, the other a pro basketball player – shared headlines across national news outlets as they changed teams.

On closer examination, they actually share much more.

Here’s why:

1) Both specialize in quarterbacking teams to outstanding offensive success.

Malzahn, a former high school quarterback, developed into a high school head coach and offensive coordinator who specialized in turning quarterbacks into record-book smashing Godzillas. At each level – whether Springdale High, Tulsa University or Auburn – he helped that program’s offense set numerous records.

Paul plays point guard, the hardcourt’s quarterback equivalent, and he’s done it at extremely well.Toward the end of his senior year in high school, Paul averaged nearly 31 points and 10 assists a game. In five NBA seasons, Paul has put up numbers as impressive as  any point guard in league history. Sure, he scores 20+ points but consider that his 9.9 assists per game average is third-highest all-time. Or that he’s the only player to lead the NBA in steals and assists in two consecutive seasons.

2) Their abilities burst into the national spotlight at Baptist schools.

Malzahn’s second head coaching job (1996-2000) was at the private Shiloh Christian School, which is closely tied to the First Baptist Church of Springdale. In 1998, the Saints set a national record with 66 passing touchdowns and would win 1998 and 1999 state titles.

Paul attended the private Wake Forest University, which was originally founded by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention. The school opened in 1834, with a focus on teaching Baptist ministers and laymen. In 2005, Paul left Winston-Salem, N.C. after a sophomore year in which he had earned first team All-America honors.

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17 Oct

Razorback letterman Clark Irwin, a former Houston Nutt disciple, talks Ole Miss-Arkansas

At age 24, Clark Irwin finally has a normal life.

The Little Rock native works fairly normal hours, has plenty of time for his wife and parents and occasionally catches NFL games on TV. In the last eight months, he’s even found time to shoot hoops at Cammack Village’s park, not too far from the Foxcroft neighborhood where he grew up.

So far, so good with this normal adult life stuff.

The way Irwin sees it, he jumped into it just in time.

Until February, Irwin had essentially coached under Houston Nutt for half a decade. Irwin spent three years seeing spot action as a backup Razorback quarterback and special teams player, but his real value was as an understudy to the coaches. He signaled plays to the offense and helped run passing drills with fellow quarterbacks Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain, both of whom were roommates at different times.

“I was getting my minor in graduate assistantship if you want to look at it that way,” Irwin says.

He officially took that position in early 2009 after following Nutt to Oxford, Miss., where Nutt had started head coaching Ole Miss the season before. There, Clark spent late summers and falls immersed in game planning, film study and practice seven days a week. “It’s almost like you can ever do enough,” he says. Game days – with the crowds, the adrenaline and the constant in-game chess match between coaches – were the most fun part of it all.

Everything seemed primed for Irwin to take the next step up the coaching ranks, to one day possibly follow in his mentor’s footsteps as a head coach himself.

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