21 Jul

That Time the Arkansas Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 2

football strike

Below is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.

Within days of The X-Ray’s release, Tillman expelled all 36 editors. In response, most of the university’s 724 students quickly signed a petition pledging to attend no classes until the 36 were reinstated. Only seven students attended class the next day, according to Tackett.

Those students’  names aren’t known, but it’s highly improbable more than a few of them would have been football players. Even in an era in which a roster could be around 16 players*, it’s logical to infer most if not all of the football team participated in this strike. Furthermore, we know that Hugo Bezdek**—the head football coach himself—officially endorsed the students’ Progressive agenda. Bezdek, who would ultimately become a college football Hall of Famer after stops at Oregon and Penn Sate, was also the athletic director and baseball coach.

The stalemate between students and administrators lasted almost a week. “There were some tense moments for those who were expelled, who didn’t know whether they were going to have to finish their college careers elsewhere,” Fayetteville historian Charlie Allison told Brady Tackett. “Even those who were struck weren’t what would happen.”

As the week rolled on, the tide of public opinion shifted in the students’ favor. Local Fayetteville merchants, for instance, capitalized on the unrest. Some put up posters displaying their support for the students, Allison said. Local theaters even offered free admission to students during the strike.

On March 2, 1912, only a week after The X-Ray’s publication, Gov. George Donaghey (then chairman of the board of trustees) arrived for a specially convened board meeting with UA faculty and students. There, the student’s representatives argued for the reinstatement for the 36 on the grounds that the The X-Ray’s mission had been to improve the school’s overall quality. Their arguments impressed Donaghey. So the governor decided to repeal the 1905 law and reinstate the 36 students with a promise that faculty would investigate their complaints.

The students, in turn, acquiesced to Donaghey’s request for no celebratory parties or parades. Instead, student-faculty relations were to be quietly mended. Indeed, on March 4, a student representative submitted a formal request for extra class work to make up for time lost in the protests, Tackett wrote.

Although the Mizzou and Arkansas protests differ in so many ways, one strong tie is the amount of stress they caused for their respective university presidents. In 2015, Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation in the immediate aftermath of the football Tigers’ strike. But back in 1912, before the onslaught of instantaneous news coverage and video, it took a little longer. President Tillman quietly announced his retirement at the 1912 commencement ceremony.

*The 1912 team was 16 players, which was a typically thin roster in the Hugo Bezdek era, according to A Story of Arkansas Football by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey. According to Phil Huntley, who played on the 1909-1911 Razorback teams, the talent and overall team attitude took a dip in 1911 and 1912, a time when the roster had too many “prima donnas.” 

Huntley recalled traveling to Austin for a game against the University of Texas in 1911, “a game we should have won.” Instead, Texas won 12-0. “The Texas coach came by afterward and said, “‘You know something, Hugo? Five of your men damn near beat my 11.’ He knew.”

PS: The 1911 opener featured the biggest blowout win in Razorback history: a 100-0 home shellacking of SW Missouri. The 2017 Razorbacks are expected to win their opener against the consistently woeful Florida A&M, too, but don’t expect quite the same margin of victory. It should be greater than the 31.5-point line in the Rice-Stanford opener according to major sportsbooks

**According to “The X-Ray Incident,” written by Chris Branam, in the Winter 2012 edition of the Washington County Historical Society’s Flashback.

26 Dec

Arkansas State’s Coaching Carousel of Success Not So Historic?

Arkansas State fans often feel slighted by media in central Arkansas (despite KATV sports anchor Steve Sullivan’s strong ASU ties as an alum), but reasons for that chip on the shoulder are dwindling. On Christmas Day, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette made an unusual move in naming not one – but 10 individuals – as its “Sportsmen of the Year.” More unusual was the fact the sportsmen weren’t associated with the University of Arkansas.

Reporter Troy Schulte did a good job writing the piece [$$], and he got some interesting insight from ASU linebacker Frankie Jackson, one of the ten fifth-year seniors who persevered despite going through the tumult of five head coaches in five years.  “No matter what came in, it was still, turn to your left, turn to your right and you still have the same players you knew from your freshman year,” Jackson said of his classmates from the 2010 signing class. “It wasn’t the head coach, it was the team that I wanted to be a part. It didn’t matter that Roberts left, Freeze left, or Malzahn left or Harsin left — I was still with my team.”

Those are rare words coming from a player still playing for a mid-major/major Division I football program.

Usually, football program try to sell the coach as the face of the program for obvious recruiting reasons. Putting the coach front and center as the program’s public figurehead also helps boost coaches’ show ratings and sell tickets for booster club meetings. Arkansas State’s situation is so unique, however, that the “players first” slant is the only one that works without coming off as ridiculously out of tune. That being said, it will be interesting to see if the ASU football program makes this article part of its recruiting package to its current high school and junior college targets.

On one hand, this kind of front page exposure and honor seems like something the Red Wolves would want to play up to its recruits – “Hey, look, the Hogs aren’t the only major football player in state, and Arkansas’ biggest newspaper agrees!” On the other hand, if you’re current ASU coach Blake Anderson, what do you do say in response to Jackson’s words here –

“It wasn’t the head coach, it was the team that I wanted to be a part.”

Anderson’s got much bigger things to worry about, of course. He’s leading ASU into the GoDaddy Bowl on Jan. 4 in Mobile, Ala., where it hopes to pick up its third consecutive bowl win. This would cap the fourth consecutive winning season for the ASU, a major accomplishment considering from 1992 to 2010 the program had endured 16 losing seasons.

For the Red Wolves, annual coaching turnover has gone hand and hand with consistent winning since Hugh Freeze took over for Steve Roberts in December 2010.  Schulte points out that in the last 100 years this unusual combination is unprecedented: “The only other known team to go through such change at the sport’s highest division was Kansas State in 1944-1948, but those teams won just four games through that transition.”

Going back farther in time, though, there is one program that likely comes closest to replicating ASU’s combination of high success and high coaching turnover.

From 1895 to 1906, Oregon had 10 winning seasons and two undefeated ones. Still, the Webfoots went through nine coaching changes in that span. Granted, college football coaching was then approximately 6.5 million times less lucrative in that era, so the young men who so often became coaches immediately after their playing college careers sometimes jumped ship simply to pursue a career in which they could make serious money.

Take Hugo Bezdek, who led Oregon to a 5-0-1 record in 1906, his only season there. Instead of returning, though, he returned to his alma mater the University of Chicago to pursue medical school. Still, nobody forgot the Prague native’s prowess. “Bezdek is by nature imbued with a sort of Slavic pessimism that makes him a coach par excellence,” according to a 1916 Oregon Daily Journal article. “His success lies in his ability to put the fight into his men.”

Someone at the University of Arkansas heard about Bezdek’s ability and reached out to the 24-year-old to offer a position as the football, track and baseball coach (Oh, and entire athletic directorship, while he was at it). Bezdek arrived in Fayetteville in 1908 and a year later his team went undefeated (7-0-0), winning the unofficial championships of the South and Southwest. In 1910, the team was 7-1-0. Impressed with the mean-tempered hogs that roamed the state, Bezdek observed that his boys “played like a band of wild Razorbacks” after coming home from a game against LSU. The new name caught on, and in 1914 the Cardinals officially became the Razorbacks.


The Red Wolf Ten

Below are the ten 5th year seniors who have ASU on the cusp of 36 wins – what would be its second-most successful four-year run ever. “It’s a miracle on a cotton patch up here,” former coach Larry Lacewell told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Lacewell, ASU’s all-time winningest coach, led the program to its best four-year run of 37 victories in 1984-1987. Lace well said these seniors “brought tradition and pride back to Arkansas State.”

1. Brock Barnhill; DB; Mountain Home; Former walk-on; special teams contributor

2. William Boyd; WR; Cave City; Walk-on earned scholarship. Caught first career pass this season

3. Tyler Greve; C; Jonesboro; Started 12 games at center this season

4. Frankie Jackson; DB; Baton Rouge; Played RB and LB (917 career yards, 65 career tackles)

5. Ryan Jacobs; DB; Evans, Ga.; Played mostly on special teams; 11 tackles, 1 fumble recovery

6. Qushaun Lee; MLB; Prattville, Ala.; Fourth all-time on ASU’s career tackles list (390)

7. Kenneth Rains; TE; Hot Springs;7 starts; 14-160 receiving, 3 TDs

8. Andrew Tryon; SS; Russellville; 24 starts; 149 tackles, 20 breakups, 3 INTs;

9. Alan Wright; RG; Cave City; 21 starts

10. Sterling Young; FS; Hoover, Ala.; 45 consecutive starts: 268 tackles, 151 unassisted; 7-59 INTs

NB: Defensive tackle Markel Owens also would have been a fifth-year senior this season. He was shot and killed at his mother’s home in Jackson, Tenn., in January, 2014.

Above information taken from Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and ASU athletic department.

12 Jun

The Hogs Ran A Hurry-Up, No-Huddle Offense 100 Years Ago

“P” could very well also stand for “Pushing the limit.”

Former head Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek lived a full and innovative life. He remains the only person to coach an NFL team (Cleveland Rams) and MLB team (Pittsburgh Pirates), as I found out while researching for my new history feature on Sporting Life Arkansas.

But, before all that, he he spent 1907 through 1912 in Fayetteville pioneering in all sorts of ways. He’s credited, for instance, with changing the team name from Cardinals to Razorbacks. Of the two stories regarding this switch, my favorite comes from one of his players –  Phil Huntley – in an interview with longtime columnist Orville Henry:

“We were on a trip in Texas, getting off the train for a stroll — I think in Dallas. Somebody yelled, ‘Here come the hogs.’ See, there were a lot of jokes about Arkansas at that time.

Bezdek stopped and thought a minute. He said, ‘Hmmm, boys, I like that. We’re the Razorbacks from now on.’

Bezdek also led Arkansas to its first undefeated season (and the program’s only undefeated season in its first 70 years of existence).

He spearheaded the first athletic advertising in school history, Huntley added. “He understood importance of placing his program in front of the public. He had cards printed and distributed in towns like Rogers, Springdale, and Fort Smith advertising his home games.”

Lord knows they needed the promotion, given at this time Arkansas’ home facilities consisted of a single wooden grandstand that held about 200 people.

“The field wasn’t too good even though we worked on it, graded it, carried water from the creek to wet it down before every game,” Huntley said in “The  Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football.”

One of the most interesting innovations Bezdek developed was an emphasis on fast play. His teams practiced extremely hard to be fit enough in games to pull this off.

As Orville Henry and Jim Bailey wrote in “The  Razorbacks”: “Bezdek coached [Arkansas QB Steve] Creekmore to call plays as rapidly as possible — nobody ever huddled then — and so the Razorbacks would run a play, chase the ball, put it in play immediately when it was downed, and drive as far as they could as quickly as they could.

“I guess it was the forerunner of Oklahoma’s hurry-up style in the split-T days under Bud Wilkinson,” Steve Creekmore told an interviewer in 1960. “I know we’d often run four or five plays and then find the official had penalized us back down field for the first one. He’d catch up, and we’d have to go back. The LSU coach protested our system, but it was legal.”

Of course, nowadays, this style of play isn’t unique. College football coaches such as Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Chip Kelly have taken the concept to the next level to bring unprecedented scoring to the game.

Kelly, in particular, has gotten a lion’s share of credit for innovating a frenetic, no-huddle approach on the major college football level. By 2011, his tactics had fueled the University of Oregon’s first appearance in a national championship.

To date, this is the biggest splash on the national football scene the Ducks have made. Their first splash? Signs point to around 1917, when Oregon made – and won – its first Rose Bowl appearance.

Their coach was none other than Hugo Bezdek.

For more on his career, check this.