Matt Stinchcomb: Arkansas’ 2014 Offense is a Gridiron “Valhalla”

References to Norse mythology’s Great Hall of the Slain, Residence of the Supreme God Odin, do not every day percolate the chatter of the Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly afternoon radio show based in Northwest Arkansas.

But not every day does Matt Stinchcomb, a former All-American tackle at Georgia who analyzes college football for the SEC Network, chime in with Bo about the way Arkansas’ offense is grounded in its historically massive offensive line.

“That offense is like Valhalla,” Stinchcomb told Bo earlier this week. “When we all get off this mortal coil, anybody who was ever unathletic enough to have [had to play] offensive line, that’s what we would spend eternity doing – is just running double-team blocks and just cramming tailbacks down a defense’s throat. It’s an incredibly explosive offense.”

Stichcomb was speaking to Bo about Saturday afternoon’s Georgia-Arkansas game in Little Rock. “Arkansas, I’m convinced, is a very good team and may better than any team in the SEC East. That’s what I think we’ll find out this Saturday.”

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Razorbacks’ 2015 Schedule Portends Death of Little Rock Tradition

Sign of the End Times

Sign of the End Times

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

- T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

 

Yesterday, Arkansas released its 2015 schedule. Also released: Any enduring hope among Razorback fans that Little Rock and its no-longer-grand-enough War Memorial Stadium will remain a second home.

The process of ushering the doddering old man out the door has been ongoing for about 15 years now, ever since Fayetteville’s Reynolds Razorback Stadium expanded to 72,000 from 51,000 seats – meaning Hogs leave significant money on the table every time it plays a home game away from its home campus at the 55,000-seat War Memorial Stadium instead.

Games at War Memorial have dropped from three or four a year, to two a year – and starting this season through 2018 – one a year. This Saturday’s game in Little Rock against No. 10 Georgia, the SEC East frontrunner, is a marquee matchup with enough significance to somewhat soften the blow for some War Memorial traditionalists. It should be a sellout.

Not so with next year’s Little Rock game against the University of Toledo, a Mid-American Conference program that has lost all three games it has ever played against SEC competition. This game, which marks the first time since 1947 (vs. North Texas) Arkansas hasn’t played a conference home game in Little Rock, is the latest sign Razorback leaders are phasing out the home-away-from-home tradition altogether.  Given the opponent isn’t even in a Power 5 conference, “how many people will pony up $55 or more per person just to see Arkansas vs Toledo?,” Arkansas Fight’s Doc Harper asked.  “I can envision more people than usual staying on the golf course.”

Some fans may feel remorse Little Rock’s once central place in the Razorbacks’ schedule has been knocked down so many rungs, but they shouldn’t forget the main motives behind this demotion – “brand building” and revenue generation – are the same reasons Little Rock was used as a second home in the first place. In the early 1930s, Arkansas leaders knew if their program was ever going to become nationally competitive it needed to have more support from its entire 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.

Across the U.S., examples of home away from home traditions are legion.

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 the New York Times last  November: “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.’”

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 to contend for or win national championships since the drop. Yes, War Memorialists, it’s true: Arkansas has become unique in the sense that it appears to be the only program 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 clinging 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 in 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.

In the 1930s and 40s, the smartest rural programs traveled 30, 50, 100, 150 miles to the in-state stadia that would give their teams the most bang for their buck in terms of exposure and revenue. In today’s world, where cable television and the Internet make distance far less of an obstacle for fans to follow their teams, the smartest programs realize that “neutral site” games in the obscenely talent-rich metro areas of Texas often provide the best return.

This is an update of an earlier Sports Seer post. Read the original here

Other Schools with Multiple Home Stadia

Oregon
Home Campus: Eugene
Home Away From Home: Portland
Years Played There: On and off until 1924, then every year through 1966.
Last Game: 1970
Distance Between Homes: 105 miles

Big Win: 21-0 over a UCLA team that would finish 8-2 on Oct. 5, 1957.
Sample Decade: 1952-62: Record of 11-11*

*Includes rivalry games w/ Oregon State


Oregon State
Home Campus: Corvallis

Home Away From Home: Portland
Years Played There: On and off until 1941, then every year through 1973. (w/ exception of two WWII years in which team wasn’t fielded)
Last Game: 1986
Distance Between Homes: 74 miles

Big Win: Oct. 16, 1971- 24-18 over an Arizona State team which would finish 11-1.
Sample Decade: 1963-73: Record of 11-4


Washington State
Home Campus: Pullman

#1 Home Away From Home: Spokane*
Years Played There: 1950-1983
Last Game: 1983
Distance Between Homes: 66 miles

*In 1970, WSU’s home stadium burned due to suspected arson (possibly involving a perpetrator from the rival University of Idaho only eight miles away). As a result, WSU played all its home games in Spokane in 1970 and 1971.

Big Win: Sept. 23, 1978 – 51-26 over an Arizona State team which would finish 51-26.
Sample Decade: 1973-83: Record of 8-12

#2 Home Away From Home: Seattle (the Seattle Seahawks’ stadium, Centurylink Field)
Years Played non-UW opponents there: 2002 through 2008; 2011; 2012-14*
Last Game: Ongoing
Distance Between Homes: 252

Big Win: August 31, 2002 – 31-7 over Nevada to set the tone for a 10-3 season that ended in the Rose Bowl.
Record since 2002 at what’s now Centurylink Field: 6-4

*N.B. the campus of this program’s rival – the University of Washington – is in Seattle. So WSU often plays WU there. Washington State had also played three home games in Seattle against out-of-state powerhouses (USC, Ohio State) in the 1970s. It lost them all.


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Trailblazing San Antonio Likely Home for NBA’s First Foreign-Born Head Coach

Evin Demirel:

The Spurs have already inked major American pro sports’ first full-time female assistant coach in Becky Hammon. Could San Antonio one day make another new assistant, Ettore Messina, the NBA’s first non U.S/Canada-born head coach? Gregg Popovich is 65 years old and as much as he loves the game he eventually must  shimmy off stage.

Originally posted on NBA.com | Hang Time Blog with Sekou Smith:

messina

Could Ettore Messina (left) be the Spurs’ next coach when Gregg Popovich retires? (NBAE via Getty Images)

Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.

This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.

“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”

A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.

The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.

The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.

“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,”…

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Bret Bielema: Darkhorse Candidate for Michigan’s Opening?

hokepointbielema

In the last seven years, the University of Arkansas has had arguably the most turbulent stretch of head coaching changes in all pro or college football. Razorback fans will certainly accede to this. The following word associations shall forevermore rub salt into their psychic wounds: Nutt, text gate, Malzahn, Mustain; Petrino, Dorrell, motorcycle, neck brace, red face (not from shame); John L. Smith, awkward, national, laughing, stock.

From a public outrage standpoint, though, none of the above fallouts would match what would happen if Bret Bielema left Fayetteville after this season. The idea that Arkansas’ most recent coach would pursue greener pastures after only two years seems far-fetched. But not far-fetched enough for one long-time Ohio State football writer to spend a full column on.

TheOzone.net’s Tony Gerdeman recently laid out a case for why Michigan should hire Bret Bielema to replace its current embattled coach Brady Hoke. Hoke, in case you haven’t heard, makes Will Muschamp’s tenure at Florida look more secure than a Chuck Norris handshake. This year (Hoke’s fourth) Michigan has lost four of six games including a 31-0 drubbing to Notre Dame – the first time the program’s been shut in 30 years.

Gerdeman argues since Bielema has already found success in the Big Ten (he had a 39-19 conference record as Wisconsin’s coach), he could do even better with a far richer program like Michigan. Other potential candidates have also been successful, but they don’t represent a return to the glory days of the Wolverines patriarch Bo Schembechler like Bielema could.

“He is the perfect fit for a program that wants to play football the way their ancestors played — between the tackles and on the ground. Few coaches have the track record that Bielema has when it comes to playing the type of football that Michigan thought they were getting with Brady Hoke. If they were to land Bielema, then they would finally be on the right track toward establishing the identity that they so badly want to portray.”

Finally, and most importantly, Bielema “is smug, arrogant and he hates Ohio State. If that’s not a Michigan Man, then I don’t know what is,” Gerdeman writes.

No doubt, Bielema hates himself some Buckeye. Any time, any place:

At Wisconsin, he beat Ohio State only once in six tries but Hayes Almighty what a loss! The Badgers’ 2010 win ruined Ohio State’s national title shot. Fourth-quarter issues plagued Wisconsin in many of those losses, as they have so far in the Hogs’ two SEC losses against Auburn and Texas A&M. If a fourth quarter meltdown proves the difference in Arkansas’ Saturday showdown against No. 7 Alabama, Bielema will start facing the same kind of local scrutiny he felt from Wisconsin fans and media during his last months in Madison.

Gerdeman then considers whether Bielema would actually want to leave Arkansas even if Michigan showed interest. He starts talking money, and this is where his argument breaks down.

He points out the Wolverines’ assistant Doug Nussmeier makes $200,000 more at Michigan than he did at Alabama, and insinuates the Wolverines have deep enough pockets to lure practically anybody they want to Ann Arbor.

This is Big Ten-centric thinking. Yes, Ohio State and Michigan make much more money off football than most SEC schools, but that doesn’t mean they are investing the same percentage of their “profit” (revenue-expenditures) into football as schools in the middle of the SEC pack like Arkansas. Additionally, the numbers below show that Arkansas is on par – and in some cases superior to – Michigan when it comes to investing in its football program:

Arkansas

Michigan

$99,770,840 Athletic Dept Total Revenue* $143,514,125
$92,131,933 Athletic Dept Total Expenditures $131,018,311
$3.2 million avg. per yr / 6 yrs** Head FB coach contract $3.25 million avg. per yr / 6 yrs
$3.2 million Head FB coach salary 2014 $2.3 million***
$3,205,000 circa Feb. 2014 FB Staff Salary 2014 $3,072,000 circa Dec. 2013
Jim Cheney, OC, $550,000Robb Smith, DC, $500,000

Sam Pittman, OC, $500,000

Highest Paid FB Assistants Greg Mattison, DC, $835,000Doug Nussmeier, OC, $830,000

Yes, Michigan has shown it’s willing to pay its very top assistants more money than most other schools. And yes, with $25.3 million coming into its football program as donations from an enormous alumni base, it would be willing to pay off any buyout clause necessary to get the coach it wants – including Bielema’s $2.5 million price tag.

But those aren’t nearly strong enough reasons for Bielema to uproot after a mere two years getting acclimated to the SEC. His primary reason for coming to Arkansas was to get a shot at the big boys. The burning competitor in Bielema wants to know how he measures up as a head coach against the very best.

If he, his staff and his recruits try their best, and after five or six years they don’t measure up, then he can one day retire knowing he at least didn’t shy away from his sport’s greatest challenge. Gerdeman wrote Michigan’s imminent opening would give Bielema “an opportunity to get the hell out of the SEC, specifically the SEC West. Coaching in the SEC is too hard because every school is always trying to win.”

Sorry, but no.

The fact every SEC school is “always trying to win” is the main draw to coaching there in the first place.


*The most recent data reported as of summer 2014.

** Both coaches’ contracts are loaded with a mind-numbing array of opportunities to earn more.

*** Last year, Hoke banked well over $4 million dollars but that was because of a $1.5 million “stay bonus” paid following the season and a $1.05 million payout for “deferred compensation,” according to mlive.com.


The Civil War Andrew Luck Portrait to End All Civil War Andrew Luck Portraits

Ok – I lied…

If only Arizonan Ryan Fitzpatrick hadn’t attended a Yankee school like Harvard, this concept would really fly.


Will Jermain Taylor Sign His Own Death Warrant After Defeating Sam Soliman?

Tonight, Little Rock native Jermain Taylor took home the middleweight IBF title with a unanimous decision take-down of 40-year-old Sam Soliman. On the surface, that’s great news for one of Arkansas’ most beloved athletes. In reality, it could present an opportunity for the former Olympic gold medalist with tragic consequences.

Because this Soliman win returns some prestige to Taylor’s once-matinee brand, many boxing pundits believe it’s likely HBO will attempt to schedule a fight between the 37-year-old Taylor and undefeated Ganndady Golovkin, who at age 32 has the highest KO ratio (27 of 30 fights) in middleweight championship history. Golovkin, aka “GGG,” has never been knocked down or knocked out in over 375 fights. If the promise of large purse trump the publicly stated intentions of Taylor’s promoter Lou Dibella, it could pose serious health threats to Taylor, who was severely beaten the last time he fought boxers remotely near Golovkin’s caliber. As Jake Emen of ProBoxing-Fans.com writes:

Make no mistake about it, Golovkin vs. Taylor would be an absolute disaster. Jermain Taylor is a fighter who has suffered bleeding on the brain. Caleb Truax knocked him down. Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham all brutally kayoed him. Prior to this fight, he didn’t sniff the top 10 of the Middleweight division. He has no business in the ring against somebody like Gennady Golovkin at this stage of his career, and more importantly, at this stage of his life. If anyone around him had any sense, they’d let this return to championship glory signal the end of Taylor’s career, a heroic curtain call enabling him to rest easy for the remainder of his years – not to mention allow him to sort out his pending legal issues. But no, that won’t happen, will it?

Before this match is actually scheduled, Golovkin must win his Oct. 18 match against Marco Rubio and it’s possible Taylor will fight once more too. Still, the stars seem to be aligning for what could be a catastrophe for Taylor – and the sport of boxing – given the brain damage Taylor suffered in 2009.

In 2011, the Nevada State Athletic Commission approved Taylor’s reapplication to fight after he’d gone through a battery of tests and received clearance from doctors.

Dr. Margaret Goodman, a long-time ringside physician for the NSAC, condemned the decision. “I think it is unconscionable that Jermain [Taylor] was relicensed,” she told Ring Magazine. “It is not about whether his brain has healed or how he looked in the gym. Jermain has shown a predisposition to cerebral hemorrhage, and irrespective of whether or not he bled, he has shown he cannot adequately handle a punch.”

Goodman ultimately said the commission was playing “Russian roulette” with Taylor’s life.

I love miracles and feel-good stories of redemption and all that, but not enough to see what could transpire if this fight happens. I hope Taylor still has enough of his wits about him to say “no” to HBO if and when the time comes.


Another Step to San Antonio Becoming NFL Raiders’ New Home

Evin Demirel:

Yes, from almost all statistical accounts, 27-year-old Raider running back Darren McFadden‘s production is heading south. But could his franchise follow?

Originally posted on The Big Lead:

San Antonio Raiders

San Antonio residents have been receiving mailed surveys asking about their interest and support if the Raiders played in San Antonio, according to a report from News Radio 1200 WOAI.

In July, reports emerged that Raiders owner Mark Davis had flown to San Antonio and met with civic leaders. The Raiders lease in Oakland expires after this season, and Davis refused to be a co-tenant with the 49ers in the new Levi’s Stadium.

The questions include asking what other sports teams the survey respondents have supported, and whether they would be interested in season tickets at various price points, and also “would you support the Raiders were they to move to San Antonio?”

WOAI is also reporting that the cost of the survey ($50,000) is being paid equally by the city of San Antonio and the Raiders.

Is this posturing? It’s a little late in the game to…

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