Gus Malzahn & Arkansan head coaches who have won major conference titles

As head coach, Gus Malzahn doesn't have a single major conference title to his credit .... yet.
Gus Malzahn doesn’t have to be so angry anymore.

This afternoon Fort Smith native Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers will play the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game. If Malzahn pulls out a win that looks much less improbable than the one seared across the nation’s memory last Saturday, he will become the fifth Arkansan to have won an SEC title and at least the ninth to have won a major conference title as head coach. [UPDATE: Auburn won 59-42] Below is a list of native Arkansans (i.e. spent a majority of childhood in the state) who have already pulled this off. Not surprisingly, some are part of college football’s pantheon of coaches:

1. Bear Bryant

Hometown: Fordyce

School: Kentucky/Texas A&M/Alabama

Conference Titles Won: 15

(14 in SEC: 1950, 1961, 1964–1966, 1971–1975, 1977–1979, 1981; 1 in SWC: 1956)

National Titles Won: 6

(1961, 1964–1965, 1973, 1978–1979)

2. Barry Switzer

Hometown: Crossett

School: Oklahoma

Conference Titles Won: 12

(All in Big Eight: (1973–1980, 1984–1987)

National Titles Won: 3

(1974–1975, 1985)

3. Ken Hatfield

Hometown: Helena

School: Arkansas/Clemson/Rice

Conference Titles Won: 4

(3 SWC: 1988–1989, 1994; 1 ACC: 1991)

4. Fred Akers

Hometown: Blytheville

School: Texas

Conference Titles Won: 2

(SWC: 1977, 1983)

5. Tommy Tuberville

Hometown: Camden

School: Auburn

Conference Titles Won: 1

(SEC: 2004)

6. Charlie Strong

Hometown: Batesville

School: Louisville

Conference Titles Won: 1

(Big East: 2012)

7. Charlie McClendon

Hometown: Lewisville

School: LSU

Conference Titles Won: 1

(SEC: 1970)

This fancy Dartmouth-educated fella was Arkansan? I had no idea either...
This fancy Dartmouth-educated fella was Arkansan? I had no idea either…

8. Clarence Spears

Hometown: DeWitt*

School: Minnesota

Conference Titles Won: 1

(Big Ten: 1927)

*I admit it: I simply don’t know how long Spears lived in Arkansas before his family moved to Illinois, where he graduated high school. But I sure like to think he stuck around for longer than a Douglas MacArthurminute.

N.B. For this list, I only focused on coaches who had spent the majority of their childhood in Arkansas. That’s why you don’t like Frank Broyles or Butch Davis, guys who came to Arkansas after high school. Malzahn, for instance, was born in Texas but grew up in Fort Smith. If I missed someone, please let me know.

Also, I’m defining “major conference” as a current automatic qualifying conferences as well as the now-defunct Big East, Big Eight and Southwest conferences. Akers won a WAC title with Wyoming, but I didn’t include that in the list above because the notion of Wyoming being a major conference school is just plain wack.

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  1. Clarence Spears was living in Illinois by the time he was 6, according to the 1900 census. Clarence’s father died before 1900, so that may have been the cause of the family’s exudes to Illinois.

    It doesn’t appear Clarence had any family in Arkansas, so it’s something of a mystery why Spears family was in DeWitt. Clarence’s older sisters were born in Arkansas three years before he was, so it seems the Spears were in fact living in Arkansas and not just traveling through.

  2. If we included NFL, no doubt. An award for the best NFL assistant coach (i.e. the pro’s version of the Broyles Award) could very well be named after Lonoke native Howell. When he was killin’ it as the Giants head coach in the 1950s, his O.C. was a guy named Vince Lombardi. His D.C.? Tom Landry.

  3. J.B. “Ears” Whitworth was from Blytheville. He played and coached at Alabama. Bama hired him when he was head coach at Oklahoma State and he was replaced by Bear Bryant. Whitworth from what I read played high school football at Blytheville. The book, “Turnaround” has much information about Whitworth. The book is about Bryant’s first year as Bama’s HC.

    Wayne Hardin was born in DeWitt. He was head coach when Roger Staubach played at Navy. He also coached at Temple. Many children moved with a parent or parents during the Great Depression from Arkansas to find work in California. Some college coaches born in Arkansas such as Hardin and Jim Criner (born in Ludwig – head coach at Boise State and Iowa State) may have been part of those families.

  4. Great to see you here, Johnny! Your insight is much appreciated. Did Whitworth and Hardin both win major conference titles? The line of who is and isn’t Arkansan is pretty blurry. Malzahn, for instance, spent the first six years of his life in Texas before moving to Arkansas.

    I’d be interested to know where he lived in Little Rock during his year there as a child.

  5. Evin:

    Thanks! When Hardin was at Navy, they were an independent, but played in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1964. Texas beat them 28-3. At Temple, they beat California in the Garden State in 1979. they had a 10-2 record. He did not win a conference championship because they were independent.

    Whitworth tied for the Missouri Valley Conference championship in 1953 at Oklahoma State. He was hired at Bama after the 1954 season. He played in the 1931 Rose Bowl for Bama and kicked the winning extra point. He had a 4-24-2 record at Bama. His athletic director at Bama, Hank Crisp, was also Whitworth’s line coach. It was said Crisp wanted to hire a coach he could manipulate.

  6. Don’t forget Pat Jones, who was born in Memphis but grew up in Little Rock. He spent 10 years (1984-94) as coach of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys. Another forgotten Arkansas coach — in the NFL — is Red Hickey, native of Clarksville. He coached San Francisco from 1958 to 1963, and was, like Malzahn, an innovator, given credit for coming up with the shotgun formation…

  7. Much appreciated, John! I wonder how old Jones was when he moved from Memphis to Little Rock.

    I’d be interested to learn if Hickey was first exposed to the shotgun formation during his youth in Arkansas (my guess is was first experimented w/ in high school, then spread to college and then the NFL?)

  8. How and why Clarksville native Red Hickey came up with the shotgun formation is best explained in a New York Times obituary, published April 3, 2006, under the headline: Red Hickey, Who Introduced Shotgun to the N.F.L., Dies at 89…

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