Despite best intentions, this Saturday’s game between Arkansas and UAPB isn’t going to be very competitive. Sure, College Football News’s Pete Fiutek presented, as he always does, reasons why both sides could win the game in his weekly preview:
He even tried to conjure a path to victory for UAPB football: “The Golden Lions can get behind the line just enough to be annoying.”
“The run defense is just okay, but the pass rush is solid and the team is among the best in the FCS at generating tackles for loss.”
“It brings the heat from all sides – eight different players have three or more plays behind the line – and should generate a few nice stops against a Hog O line that’s been hit-or-miss at keeping the backfield clean.”
Then there’s UAPB most accomplished current NFL alumni, Terron Armstead of the New Orleans Saints, who joked that the Razorbacks are about to play a “real program” in Arkansas-Pine Bluff:
All chuckles aside, though, let’s get real: very few SWAC teams are going to stand a chance against an SEC team. Throw in the fact that this season UAPB isn’t a very good SWAC team (it’s only 1-5) and there’s good reason that it’s a 51-point underdog, as you see in the latest college football odds for Saturday’s games.
Still, in the bigger picture, this is a proud moment for UAPB football.
It is the first in-state school to play the Razorbacks in football since 1944, and has over the last couple decades won three division championships, including an overall SWAC championship in 2012 under Monte Coleman, the former UCA great who then played for Washington in the NFL.
These achievements are no small thing when considering that another former coach, Archie Cooley, nearly burned the football program of Arkansas-Pine Bluff to the ground.
Archie Cooley: From Jerry Rice to Pine Bluff
The first years of Archie Cooley’s head coaching career in college are more feel-good than “oh God.”
In the early and mid 1980s, he coached the SWAC’s Mississippi Valley State, which in that era was still pulling plenty of future NFL talent who in later decades would go to bigger programs.
Two of the best under Cooley’s tutelage were quarterback Willie Totten and Jerry Rice, a future NFL superstar widely considered the greatest wide receiver of all time.
Cooley ran an innovative no-huddle offense with five, even six, wide receivers that broke tons of offensive records.
They “resembled flocks of birds flying in tight formations, rendering defenders helpless” and became known as the “Satellite Express,” ESPN’s Alan Grant wrote.
Grant added: “In the Southwestern Athletic Conference, or SWAC, known affectionately by the members of its collective as ‘Some Wild Assed Children,’ anything went.”
Here, the reference is to football tactics, but it also describes what happened in the next chapter of Cooley’s coaching career when he took over UAPB football.
Archie “Gunslinger” Cooley Goes to Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Perhaps the first red flag arrived in late 1986 with reports that Cooley wanted to take five of his MVSU assistant coaches to UAPB with him. Oh, and maybe 53 of his players as well.
Once the UAPB head football coach, Cooley won more games than he lost. But, it appears, he also broke more rules than he followed.
Mike Irwin, the Pig Trail Nation’s Razorback analyst, remembers hearing wild stories about UAPB in that late 1980s era.
“He supposedly had a lot of ineligible players. In some cases, guys that weren’t enrolled in school, but they were somehow working out…. supposedly they went out one weekend and they played a game, but then somebody found out that a bunch of their other players that weren’t eligible played a game against somebody else.”
“So you had one team playing two games on a weekend.”
“In the wild and crazy days of Archie Cooley, a lot of strange things happened. There were some funny stories and there would be an Archie Cooley story every week that’d be going around in the media.”
Not just around the media, either.
Consider this account from a UAPB freshman in 1990, the last season Cooley was on campus:
“When I first got on campus, the first thing I heard about was how the football team ran the school. At first I thought it was just some campus rumor, but I soon learned it was not. If you didn’t eat in the cafeteria before 5 pm, you were assed [forced] out because it would close down solely for the football team.”
“If you did happen to be in the cafeteria and there was no ice, you were assed out because all the ice was saved for the football team, with authorization by Coach Cooley.”
She added: “Any trouble any football player (regardless of whether or not he started) got into was overlooked simply because they were on Cooley’s roster, and some of those guys were law-breakers.”
“And so what if there were women living in the football dorms with the players?”
Where there’s this much smoke (and firsthand reported fire), there’s bound to be an investigation. Back then, UAPB played in the NAIA, not NCAA, so it was NAIA officials who looked long and hard at the rot behind Cooley’s program.
UAPB’s former Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference rivals turned in around 100 allegations, requiring a year-long NAIA investigation that turned up enough truth – 41 violations involving 20 different players – to shut down the UAPB football program for the 1991 season, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Troy Schulte reported.
He added most of the violations centers on the eligibility of transfer players. “One allegation included a redshirting player who was playing under different jersey numbers and names.”
In temporarily shutting down UAPB football, the NAIA hammered the Golden Lions with the “death penalty.” To this day, UAPB and SMU are the only two college programs to receive this.
Eventually, UAPB bounced back and has put the ignominious legacy of Jerry Rice’s college coach in the rear view mirror.
Learn more about this character, including the reason behind his nickname, below. (Also, the editing of this video is hilarious):
How to Watch: UAPB vs Arkansas
When: Oct. 23, 2021
Where: Little Rock, Ark. (War Memorial Stadium)
Game Time: 11 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Arkansas on fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!
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