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
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
Conference Titles Won: 12
(All in Big Eight: (1973–1980, 1984–1987)
National Titles Won: 3
3. Ken Hatfield
Conference Titles Won: 4
(3 SWC: 1988–1989, 1994; 1 ACC: 1991)
4. Fred Akers
Conference Titles Won: 2
(SWC: 1977, 1983)
5. Tommy Tuberville
Conference Titles Won: 1
6. Charlie Strong
Conference Titles Won: 1
(Big East: 2012)
7. Charlie McClendon
Conference Titles Won: 1
8. Clarence Spears
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 MacArthur-minute.
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.
I just got off the phone with Ken Hatfield, the most winning Razorback football coach by percentage, for a High Profile feature I’m writing on David Bazzel for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I couldn’t help but also ask Hatfield some side questions about college football’s biggest game last week and the current state of the Hogs. Specifically, I was curious as to what he thought of grind-it-out Stanford’s recent domination over Oregon and how that could play into the Razorbacks’ future.
“To be a champion, you’ve got to do one of two things to be successful,” Hatfield said. “You got to do things better than anyone else or you got to do things different than anyone else … like in the days that Texas ran the wishbone. The teams trying to stop it had a hard time trying to stop it on their own practice field, so one year every team in the Southwest conference ran their own version of the wishbone. They had to do it so they could figure out how to stop [the wishbone] and then they still couldn’t stop it because Texas had better players and executed it better.”
So, the other SWC teams went another direction. “That’s when you had Hayden Fry and some other people come in with a single wide receiver and do different other things.” Stanford has been able to capitalize on its enduring reputation for ball-control offenses, Hatfield said. “They have been able to recruit people that style of offense from around the nation because Stanford has such a national draw, and a lot of the things that they were doing, nobody else was recruiting those players for.”
Bill Parcells once told Hatfield the winning formula was similar in the NFL: “You’ve got to take the ball over when there’s four minutes left in the game. You’ve got to run the clock out when the other team knows you’re going to run every play … that other team is paying $30 million for that quarterback for that two-minute offense and the only way you’re going to defeat him is by keeping him on the bench. So to win you’ve got to be able to run the football when the other team is ganging up on the line of scrimmage and knows you’re going to do it. If it works for the NFL, it ought to work good college teams too.”
OK, bear with me: I’m now putting on my referring-to-myself-in-third-person socks:
Demirel: Do you think to a certain extent Stanford’s success against a powerful hurry up offense provides a blueprint for Arkansas success going forward in the SEC?
Hatfield: “The only difference you have is that you got a couple teams in the SEC that are already doing the Stanford thing … then you get back to trying to do something better than them.” For Bielema and his staff, the biggest priority is signing the right players – especially on the lines, he added.
Demirel: Do you think that Arkansas will be able to do better at recruiting when LSU, Alabama and now Texas A&M are closer to the hot spots where so many of these recruits live?
Hatfield: “Certainly, it’s a real big challenge … I would think one of the great assets we have right now is to really to go back in and recruit Texas extremely hard, the way we did. Because, for about 18 years there, nobody in Texas cared about the SEC because it wasn’t in the paper, they never covered it. But now, with A&M coming into the league and the great success they’ve had in two years, every paper in Texas everyday mentions the SEC. Every newspaper. So I think you get a chance of knowing the SEC is important in Texas and and we’re so close to it, where you could get a lot of players where their families could come and see it.”
Demirel: But A&M’s success makes that tougher, as does Baylor’s recent success as well.
Hatfield: “Oh, there’s no doubt about it … while Baylor’s good there, there’s no doubt about it, there’s still some mystique about playing in the SEC. And if you’re a Texas player who’s going to play in the SEC against the great competition you’re going to have, you’ve either got to go to A&M or go to Arkansas. LSU’s going to get all their players from Louisiana – a few from Alabama, a few from Texas – but they’re gonna get them from there. But for a great Texas player who wants to play in the SEC and still wants to be close to home, you’ve got A&M and Arkansas.”
Demirel: It’ll be interesting to see if Arkansas ramps it up there. Also, although Arkansas has tried to develop recruiting in Florida before, it seems like Bielema and some of his assistants are hitting it extremely hard. It’ll be interesting to see if they can make Florida more of a recruiting base than ever have before.
Hatfield: “… You’ve always got to figure out in recruiting what’s your advantage. The one thing I believed we had for a long time which was great in Arkansas was the ability to bring kids in here in redshirt them – let them grow up, and enjoy the beauty of the state and the beauty of the fans, maybe get to be a year or two older than other people too. Almost all of the players we had were redshirted.”
“I mean, you had Steve Atwater and number one [round] draft pick, you had Wayne Martin, a [round] one draft pick, you had Quinn Grovey, one of the greatest quarterbacks we ever had. All of them were redshirted. None of them played as [true] freshmen and they were all great talents. Those extra years here really made a difference both in helping them get a degree and also in their physical development. So I wouldn’t give up on that formula either. Do something different Arkansas, maybe that other people aren’t doing. You just got to do whatever you believe in and I think that Beliema will do whatever he believes in.”
Life doesn’t slow down for anybody and this autumn, much to my concern, it has actually seemed to speed up. For months, my wife essentially worked another full-time job studying for her medical board exams. At the same time, she and I have been discussing job offers she received to start her career as a pediatrician. AND we have a very active 14-month-old daughter.
Still, I sometimes think about an article I wrote in August about former Razorback football star Mark Pierce, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence for a 2008 drunk-driving accident that killed another man. In the article, I had to rely on news accounts to string together Mark’s story (no phone interviews were allowed.) I wasn’t able to make the trip in person to his east Texas max security prison, and I wasn’t about to break out some pen and parchment.
So I filed the story with Sporting Life Arkansas, some people read it and thankfully liked it, but still I knew nothing more about Mark’s fate than what I had found through Google. Until late September, when this email – from Mark’s mother – arrived:
Thank you for article you wrote about Mark. As a mother it was extremely difficult to see his life once again all over the net but the article was honest and sincere. I wanted to let you know, Mark is doing very well at the Beto Unit. The accident changed Marks life. He never thought anything like that could ever happen to him.
Mark had turned his life around. He had a great job that he loved with International Paper in Vicksburg, Mississippi, bought a home, fell in love and got married May 23, 2007. On May 9, 2008 he had a baby boy. He came home for Christmas where he went golfing with his brother and uncle. He had too much to drink and left the golf course and had a tragic accident.
Mark refused to have a trial. He said he was guilty, pled guilty and expected to take his punishment. He’s been in the Beto Unit for the past 3 years and done very well. December 2012 he received a Paralegal Certification from the U.S. Career Institute with a grade of 98%. February 2013 he received his certification in Electronics Technology from Trinity Valley Community College with a 4.0. In December 2013 he will graduate with his Associates in Business- Management from Trinity Valley Community College and has maintained a 4.0 and is on the President’s Honor List.
He will be transferring to the Hughes Unit outside of Waco, TX at the end of the year to continue his education working on his Bachelor of Science in Business Management. I pray that he will use what has happened to him to help others from making the same mistakes he’s made. His first choice for his future was to pursue an education in Psychology and become a Youth Counselor. Unfortunately, that degree program is only offered in Houston, Texas and I didn’t want him to be that far away.
Mark’s mother, Debra, goes on to tell me how to contact Mark – his snail mail address and a new cyber method, but I haven’t written him yet. If I did, I would ask him if he even likes football anymore, who his mentors are and if he plans to have anything to do with the Razorback program when he gets out. It’s obvious that he’s been able to succeed in a very regimented culture, but how does he plan to keep that kind of structure when one day he walks free again? Perhaps assimilating into society after spending years in prison is as big of a shock and challenge as entering prison in the first place.
I won’t ask Mark these questions now. I have to prepare for a 5-day trip to Houston and next week have a few pressing deadlines to meet and, then, the holidays… But, one day, when life again speeds up for him, and speeds down for me, perhaps I’ll finally be able to interview him.
Until then, best of luck, Mark Pierce. Know there are many Arkansans rooting for you.
Last night, Auburn beat Arkansas to send the Hogs to their sixth straight loss, the second longest losing streak in program history. The Hogs still haven’t gotten it together to turn the proverbial corner, but fans are promised that one day soon they will. Just have faith, they are told.
My 14-month-old daughter Eden is also working on putting it together.
Whatever happened to former Auburn coach Gene Chizik? He’s still living in Auburn, for one. He doesn’t have any regrets, per se, about how his Tigers seemingly imploded following their 2010 championship. But if he could travel back in time he would do one thing differently, he tells me for the following piece in the The Classical:
Some myths belong to everyone, and so of course there is a Finnish Icarus, another optimist cursed with fatal ambition who nearly touched the pale arctic sun. He didn’t, because he couldn’t, and so he fell, headlong through the clouds, down and down, a lesson from the gods writ in flame and fearful velocity. You likely already know a tale along these lines.
It ends strangely, though, differently than you might expect. Our Icarus lands not on earth or sea but into the freezing steel belly of Gary Patterson’s man-making fortress, on the campus of Texas Christian University. This is a place Kobe Bryant has visited and—we can safely assume—so has/will LL Cool J. Yes, the ancient Finns predicted the wonder that is the body rejuvenator housed in TCU’s athletic department. The Finns had discerned, in reindeer entrails sprawled on snow, a great and improbable renewal.
In reality, there was nowhere for Gene Chizik to go but down after his 2010 season as Auburn’s head football coach. How swift and how vast the descent would be, though, was less easy to predict. Chizik’s Tigers won the 2010 national title, with much help from defensive tackle Nick Fairley and quarterback Cam Newton; both were juniors, both played far better than anyone had expected in that magnificent season, and both entered the NFL Draft and became first-round picks. From there, it took about a year and a half for things to fall apart.
Last fall, Auburn lost all eight of its SEC games, including the last three by scores of 21-63, 0-38 and 0-49. The day after that 49-point shutout loss to Alabama, Chizik was fired, concluding one of the most wildly disparate ten-year major college coaching runs on record. In that span, Chizik, as a defensive coordinator, coached undefeated teams at Auburn and Texas. Then, as a head coach, he bookended a 5-19 stretch at Iowa State and a 3-9 season at Auburn with the most successful three-year run in more than 120 years of Auburn football history, and the school’s second National Championship.
That rollercoaster ride is over, and Chizik is not currently working in college football. Which is how, in late September, Chizik found himself alone with me and a glass of water, 30 minutes before giving a speech to Arkansas’ largest touchdown club. This is one of the few public appearances he’s made since the firing, but he felt like he owed the event’s founder, David Bazzel. Chizik had also visited Little Rock nine years ago, that time to receive an award for the nation’s best college football assistant coach; it was another one of Bazzel’s projects. Now, he’s back, which is nice as far as favors go and all. But Chizik knows he wouldn’t be talking to me had he just done a few things differently in the last few years at Auburn.
“I think that 90 percent of everything we did was right on,” he says. There were plenty successes and “not a lot of failure but enough to have me sitting here with you today,” he said with a chuckle. “I would go back and really make sure I would never get caught in a position where I don’t have a quarterback that can, you know, grow and win and become your championship caliber quarterback.” In hindsight, then, more time should have gone into recruiting and developing successors to Newton. “We just couldn’t find a quarterback who could really compete in [the SEC]. We ended up going with a true freshman at the end of the year.”
Although his speciality is defense, Chizik knows a team ultimately goes as far as its quarterback. Every top team has a standout, he tells the Little Rock crowd: “Let me give you the case in points. We can go down the list right now. Where do you want to start? Oregon? Mariota. Wanna go to Clemson? Tajh Boyd. Want to go to Ohio State? Braxton Miller. I could go on and on.
“Want to go to A&M? Johnny Manziel.
“Want to go to Alabama? A.J. McCarron.
“I could go down the list,” he says, jabbing the podium three times with his index finger.
“I’ve had the best quarterbacks in college football history on my teams—Daunte Culpepper, Vince Young, Jason Campbell, Colt McCoy, Cam,” Chizik later tells The Buzz 103.7 FM. While their pro careers have gone in varying directions, each of those players were extraordinarily talented and, with the exception of McCoy, future NFL first-rounders. Superstars aren’t necessary to win championships, is Chizik’s point. But “you have to have a man in that position who can handle all the ups and downs and ebbs and flows that come with that position when you’re at a high profile place.” None of the Tiger quarterbacks who immediately succeeded Newton—Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier—flourished at the position. Trotter and Moseley ended up quitting the team in consecutive offseasons. Frazier later switched to wide receiver.
So this is all true, as far as it goes, but quarterbacking woes don’t explain Auburn’s disintegration, or Chizik’s long tumble from zenith.
For the rest of this piece, visit The Classical where it originally published.
Alabama is Bruce Willis walking away in slow motion from the SEC exploding behind them.
— tommy tomlinson (@tommytomlinson) October 20, 2013
On Saturday, Arkansas lost to Alabama 52-0. That’s pretty bad. Last year, Arkansas also lost to Alabama 52-0. Which is also pretty bad.
But neither of those losses by themselves were as bad as both of those losses combined. Granted, Division I teams shut out other teams all the time by 50+ points. It’s very rare that the feat happens two years in a row, though. In fact, it’s so rare that it’s never happened before in the SEC.
Below are the worst back-to-back shutouts suffered by each current SEC team dating back to 1933, when the SEC began.
Score Opponent Year
0-52 Alabama 2013
0-52 Alabama 2012
Total point differential: 104
0-52 Tennessee 1994
0-48 Tennessee 1993
Total point differential: 100
0-39 Duke 1946
0-60 Duke 1945
Total point differential: 99
0-62 Nebraska 1972
0-36 Nebraska 1971
Total point differential: 98
0-35 Ole Miss 1962
0-47 Ole Miss 1961
Total point differential: 82
For many Arkansas football fans, Michael Dyer is one of the most polarizing sports figures around. As a senior at Little Rock Christian High School, he was the top ranked running back in the nation. Dyer, of course, chose Auburn and it didn’t appear as if the Razorbacks finished a close second.
For a while, it appeared as if Dyer had made the correct decision. Two straight 1,000 yard seasons and a BCS National Championship Game MVP award will make it seem that way. But things weren’t going nearly as smoothly off the field. Dyer was smoking synthetic marijuana, and apparently running with the wrong crowd. The wheels started coming off in spring 2011 when his gun was used during an armed robbery, the vehicle started smoking in winter 2012 after he was indefinitely suspended from Auburn and then released from his scholarship and the whole thing went up in flames last summer when he was released from Arkansas State after more bad news involving marijuana and a gun.
Given these events, it’s little wonder Dyer has lately stayed out of the public eye.
Since fall 2012, he’s attended Arkansas Baptist College, the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River, and is on track to earn his associate’s degree this summer in general studies, college president Fitz Hill told me.
Dyer has only given two interviews with mainstream media this year. In one this spring, with THV’s Mark Edwards, he says he would like an opportunity to walk on at the University of Arkansas. “I was asked to sit out [of football for] a year,” Dyer said on the broadcast. “I was asked to do a lot of changing and maturing to become a better person and a better football player. I spent this whole year doing exactly what I was asked to so that I could reach some of the goals that I knew later that I wanted to do.”
Perhaps Dyer ends up at a major college football program next season, looking to swing for the fences instead of suffering a third strike. Maybe he finds no major college is willing to take the risk. Either way, that college’s decision doesn’t ultimately matter nearly as much as whether Dyer has truly sought to become a better person this past year or not.
We talk about Dyer because of what he has done on the football field, in front of a thousand cameras and million eyes. But it’s the small decisions he’s made over the last year, the temptations he’s said “yes” or “no” when hardly anybody was around, that will more determine whether he thrives as a person or not.
Society may see Dyer’s “success” as football-based, but I hope Dyer has matured enough to know that the sport is of greatest benefit to him as a tool. If he is better now, if he has truly come around like he says he has, he will also be mature enough to be able to let go off football one day (possibly soon) and find success in whatever field he turns his mind to.
Because, as polarizing as Dyer has been for many football fans in this state who don’t know him, there are still a lot of people who do love him.
If you want proof, look at these pictures below. These pictures were taken last fall at a youth crime prevention program called the OK Program. Dyer was invited to share his story – the good, the bad and the ugly – with the teenagers who made up the audience.
He did, and he did a great job of it:
These kids aren’t praying for Dyer because he ran for three touchdowns for their favorite football team. They probably wouldn’t care which college program he played for. All they know is that he was once so high, and in some ways has come so low. But with their prayers he can be lifted again.
And, if his words hit their hearts right, so can they.
If Dyer wants to succeed in life – on the field and off, he would do well to nourish his roots and remember to seek strength from those who choose to love him despite the helmet he wears.
A family comes in all forms.
Lots of goodies in USA Today’s recently released study of athletic revenue among all D1 sports programs. I thought it good to narrow the lens onto the SEC programs and see where Arkansas ranks among its conference brethren* in terms of pure, hard cash. So I wrote this piece for Sporting Life Arkansas looking at how well each school has performed in terms of total revenue and in football performance since 1992, when Arkansas joined the SEC.
Turns out, Arkansas is pretty middling in all the rankings, including win percentage (8th highest among the 14 current SEC members).
It stands out in one category, though: the degree to which it’s self sufficient. That is, how much money its athletic program nets when subsidies - money transferred from other parts of the university, student fees or state funds – aren’t considered.
In this category (labeled “Difference” below) Arkansas ranks #2 for the 2011-12 year, only behind Texas A&M.
Category: 2012 Generated Revenue
What is Means: All the money the athletic program brings in, minus the amount given to the program in the form of
Category: 2012 Total Expenses
What is means: Everything it takes to keep all sports within an athletic program running, from the salaries of swimming coaches to the Wendy’s receipts on those football recruiting trips through Houston.
Category: 2012 Difference
What it means: The difference between a program’s generated revenue and total expenses. This is a strong signal of whether a program is self-sufficient or not. Put another way, in the chart below, Ayn Rand would be proud of those programs in the black and would frown on those in the red.
Today, Little Rock native Archie Goodwin announced he’s officially entering this summer’s NBA Draft.
No surprise here.
While there was some question whether Kentucky’s leading scorer would leave college after a single season, I doubt there was ever a major question in Goodwin’s mind. When he was a junior in high school, he told me he wanted to a be a one-and-done because it was the best way to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA. While he’s had a far more tumultuous season at UK than anybody expected, I hope he enjoys these upcoming months prepping for the draft.
No doubt, he’s put in plenty of work laying the foundation for a phase in his life in which the term “business decision” is finally applicable in an un-ironic way.
Goodwin received quite a bit of scorn from Arkansas fans when he announced he was choosing Kentucky as the desired platform in the launching of his pro career.
The same cannot be said of Alex Carter, who may the most accomplished female soccer player in the history of the state’s high school sports. Hardly any Razorback fans have heard of the 18-year-old Carter, who burst on to to the scene four years ago as the first Arkansas female to make a national soccer team.
Since then, the 5-5 midfielder has won multiple titles and individual awards at the club level (with the Arkansas Rush) and playing as a junior for Conway High School last season. Carter was so eager to start the next phase of her training that she graduated Conway High early and enrolled at Kentucky – which has twice won the SEC championship – in January.
Alex Carter, the newest member of the University of Kentucky women’s soccer team, has enrolled early for spring classes, graduating early from Conway High School during the winter intersession to enroll early at the University of Kentucky, it was announced by head coach Jon Lipsitz on Wednesday.
“Alex is a very special technical player,” Lipsitz said. “She has a great ability to play in the midfield and we have even talked about her playing some center back also because of how vital it is to have center backs who can set play with our style. We are very excited to have her come early. She felt that she was ready, and we felt that she was ready also.” – UK press release
Carter will start her first season this fall.
It’s been said that many Arkansans loathe Goodwin right now for snubbing the Hogs, but they will embrace him again if he goes on to become a champion at the NBA level and gives back to Arkansas (exhibit A: Keith Jackson).
Women’s soccer isn’t nearly as popular as men’s basketball, and so few Arkansans know who Alex Carter is, never mind care about her college destination. BUT, if in 2015 or 2019, she shows up on an American national team again – this time right before the World Cup – you’d better believe Arkansas will know who she is, and in a hurry.
That may be the first time Carter is asked in public why she decided to roll with the LadyCats and not the LadyBacks.
Below are the home and road winning percentages for SEC teams in each of the last 10 seasons. You”ll notice I didn’t include Missouri and Texas A&M, which joined the SEC this season. You’ll also notice these graphs are fuzzy as hell (I apologize on behalf of my Flintstone technology), so click the image to clearly see the numbers.
Stats are current through 2/11/13. I did not include results of neutral court games.