Bert Williams: Nolan Richardson’s Friend & Giant of College Basketball History

Former El Paso Bert Williams was in the middle of two of the most important cultural landmark events of the 1960s: the first major city in the South to officially integrate post-Reconstruction, and the first NCAA Championship basketball team to start five black players. About a week ago, this civil rights giant suffered a heart attack and was put into an El Paso area hospital’s cardiac arrest unit, according to my author friend Rus Bradburd. Bradburd is a former UTEP assistant basketball coach who wrote the biography of Razorback coaching legend Nolan Richardson, an El Paso native who alongside Bert Williams’ played a central role in paving the path to Texas Western’s 1966 NCAA title.

Their stories began to intertwine in the late 1950s, when Bert Williams was an El Paso alderman who helped Richardson get into his first college, Eastern Arizona, as a baseball player. After Richardson returned to El Paso, Williams got him to join his fast-pitch softball team, according to Bradburd’s Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson. After one game, Williams convinced Richardson to go with him to a popular local restaurant, the Oasis, despite the 19-year-old Richardson’s protest he wouldn’t be served there.

Williams insisted they enter anyway, given his connections in city government and Richardson’s status as the best athlete at Texas Western, now known as UTEP. Sure enough, the waitress refused to serve them the beer and Coke they ordered. Williams tried to force the issue but failed. He grabbed Richardson by the elbow and headed for the door, then warned the owners “I’ll be back.”

The incident shook Williams up. He immediately began drafting legislation to officially end segregation of El Paso hotels, theaters and restaurants. Williams told Bradburd: “The city was divided by railroad tracks, but the laws were enforced more arbitrarily for Mexican-Americans, and there were places were they could eat without trouble.” But attitudes were not so permissive for blacks. Williams rallied fellow aldermen to his side, revised the wording of the ordinance and got it to pass an initial vote.

“Both El Paso newspapers, the Times and the Herald-Post, published editorials condemning the progress,” Bradburd wrote in Forty Minutes of Hell. “The mayor vetoed the ordinance, but Williams had enough votes to override him. ‘It was just by coincidence that Nolan was there that night at the Oasis,’ says Williams, who was subsequently elected mayor himself. ‘After I witnessed the way he was treated, such a great kid and the star of the college, I knew I had to do something.’

Bert Williams’s heroic act made El Paso the first major city in the Old Confederacy to officially desegregate. Yet Williams’s courage—he ignored numerous threats and enormous pressure—was barely reported nationally and remains nearly forgotten even in El Paso*. [Texas Western coach] Don Haskins took notice though. The town’s new progressive status would have a profound effect on Texas Western’s ability to recruit black athletes,” including Arkansas native Jim Barnes**, who would become the 1964 NBA Draft’s No.1 overall pick.

Don Haskins, son of an Arkansan and Hank Iba protege, had arrived on the UTEP campus in 1961 and would go on to become Richardson’s mentor. Haskins leaned on Richardson, the team’s only black local native, to become the social host for black recruits—given he knew the lay of the land and where to go to avoid unofficial Jim Crow sites. Although Richardson graduated from UTEP in 1963, he would stay around the area and play a big role in helping Haskins’ recruit many of the players who formed the 1966 title team.

Although El Paso itself was now officially integrated, Richardson preferred taking recruits to far more racially tolerant Mexico.

“In Juarez, black men could eat thick steaks, dance with whomever they wanted, and stay out as late as they pleased,” Bradbury wrote. “Heroes from the 1966 team, such as Harry Flournoy, Orsten Artis, Bobby Joe Hill, and Nevil Shed all socialized in Mexico with Richardson and had a lively time. As such, Mexico as well as Bert Williams hold a place in the history of American college basketball; they were largely responsible for the recruitment and comfort of the historic Texas Western team.”

 

*In 2009, the city of El Paso did officially honor Bert Williams.

**To learn more about Jim Barnes’ roots in Newport, make sure to read this segment from Untold stories: Black Sport Heroes Before Integration.

Hank Iba called Houston Nutt, Sr. “a black man in a white man’s body.”

At least four Arkansans have played basketball at the University of Kentucky. I’ve already written about three of them—Bob Burrow, Archie Goodwin and Malik Monk— though just briefly touched on the first: Houston Nutt, Sr. While question marks hang over how well Monk and Goodwin will be able to reintegrate themselves into Arkansas after having turned down the Razorbacks in favor of the Wildcats, no such question marks hung over Nutt, Sr. after he came home from college to establish life in Little Rock.

Relatively speaking, he had been every bit the high school phenom Monk and Goodwin were, and yet apparently the Razorbacks of the early 1950s were not in contention for his services when the likes of Kentucky—then a powerhouse under coach Adolph Rupp just as it is now under John Calipari—came calling. (The big difference was that in that era Rupp got the majority of his players from inside Kentucky.)

So, how good was the 6-feet-2 Nutt Sr. as a basketball prodigy?

Let’s let Jim Bailey, the longtime Arkansas Gazette (and then Democrat-Gazette) sportswriter, explain: “Quite simply, Houston was several basketball generations ahead of his competitive time,” he wrote in a 2008 letter to Emogene Nutt quoted in You’re the Best: Reflections on the Life of Houston Nutt. “A tall guard, he amounted to what coaches called the ‘The Total Package,’ handling the ball, shooting from outside, driving for the basket, rebounding and, above all, doing everything with intensity, flair and enthusiasm. He often scored 30 to 40 points, and this was in a period of time when 40-50 was a fairly typical high school basketball score.”

In terms of quickness and leaping ability, Nutt, Sr. was no Archie Goodwin—and definitely no Malik Monk. But he was far from shabby, too, according to Hank Iba, the legendary Oklahoma State basketball coach who coached both Nutt, Sr. after a transfer from Kentucky. Decades later, Iba also coached Nutt Sr.’s son Dickey Nutt. “I will never forget him saying, ‘Your dad was a black man in a white man’s body,’ referring to his athleticism,” Dickey Nutt recalled in You’re the Best, a biography of Houston Nutt Sr. written by his widow Emogene Nutt.

This book is a must read and treasure trove of Arkansas history trivia. Here are some other highlights from its first quarter:

A Family Home Built on Sandwiches?

When Nutt Sr. was a child, he banked mad money off the side hustle of selling chicken sandwiches drizzled with Heinz 57. His mom, May, made the sandwiches and then Nutt Sr. sold them at 25 cents apiece at the bus station and train depot. “Houston could sell the sandwiches literally faster than his mother could prepare them,” the story according to Emogene Nutt goes. “I’ve heard that the money was used to help buy the land on Moro Street in Fordyce where the family home is today.”

A Tennis Ball and Coffee Can

Houston Nutt Sr.
Fay, Houston and Clyde (circa 1950)

Houston was born in 1930 and had two older brothers: Fred, born 1922, and Clyde, born 1928. His youngest brother Fay was born in 1932. All four brothers loved to play basketball but in the Great Depression had trouble finding an actual basketball to do so with. So they used an old tennis ball instead. Their basketball goal “was a coffee can with both ends cut out and nailed to the wall,” Emogene Nutt wrote after Nutt Sr.’s passing in 2005.

According to her book, Fred Nutt went on to play on undefeated basketball teams at the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Clyde Nutt played for the same school and made All-State in 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1949, the brothers led the deaf school to its first state basketball title. Fay, meanwhile, played with Houston on the Fordyce Redbugs team.

A Strong Pryor-Nutt connection

David Pryor Houston Nutt
David Pryor, Dennis Nutt and Houston Nutt    Sr. at War Memorial Stadium in 1986

In the 1940s former Arkansas governor David Pryor starred for the Camden Panthers, a rival to the Redbugs which Nutt Sr. quarterbacked. The two competitors became good friends over the years and when Pryor was elected as a U.S. senator and moved to Washington D.C., his son Mark Pryor lived with the Nutts while he finished out his semester at Little Rock Central High School. Nutt Sr. and Pryor even had major heart attacks on the same day—Houston in Little Rock and David in Washington D.C., Emogene Nutt recalled. During their recovery, they jokingly blamed the delicious hamburgers of the Redbug Cafe in Fordyce and Duck Inn Cafe in Camden for the heart attacks.

MLB GMs Gushing Over Andrew Bentintendi’s Potential, Dan Shaughnessy Says

The follow excerpt is from an interview between sports talk show host Bo Mattingly and Dan Shaughnessy, a longtime Boston Globe sports columnist. They discussed the rapid rise of outfielder Andrew Benintendi, the former Razorback who has gotten off to a successful 2017 season start with the Boston Red Sox.

Dan Shaughnessy: He wasn’t in the major league clubhouse last spring. You know, the star of the year at single A and then just about to take these three games at double A and then he’s in the big leagues and he’s not a very big guy… I was dazzled that he was so major league ready — a 21, 22 year old kid walking in to that situation and he made everything look fairly easy, he’s a fluid player.

I don’t have to tell you guys, but to see him perform at this level with the same ease and ability that he’s had at all the other levels I thought was quite and achievement. He was a guy we watched really closely at spring training and the job was his. He was the left fielder, and then he went out and double earned it on top of that, and then of course, [had] a big opening day.

I just want to see more. I’m so impressed and I’m kind of a tough mark on this stuff. I didn’t think it would be so seamless, this transition, with so little professional baseball under his belt and very little above single A… It’s like the higher you put him, the level, he raises his game. So I just want to see more. He’s beautiful to watch.

If you get a chance, there’s a picture by Stan Grossfeld. He’s a two time pulitzer prize winner, and he’s been attending at the end of his game yesterday and that home run. He looks like the top of every baseball trophy you’ve ever seen; he’s got both hands on the bat, perfect follow through, head tracking the ball and the way his feet are angled and twisted, it’s just a beautiful shot and again that would be his baseball card if you had to do one right now.

…We’ve had guys come through but generally … with Nomar [Garciaparra] there was a larger sample and Nomar was hitting .370 in the big leagues, right-handed his third year in at a really young age. Brady Anderson was sort of a phenom when he came up and it didn’t really happen for him here. He struggled like most young players.

And Andrew—they all struggle, he will at some point. The comparisons can be unfortunate when we [media] do this, but the Fred Lynn thing is unfair to him because Fred Lynn hit .331 and was MVP in his rookie year, and that’s too much to ask anybody to do. He was playing center field, which is of course Andrew’s natural position. And he’s a little bit bigger. But he had the pedigree of being [from] USC and triple A. I don’t know whether he was MVP but he spend quite a bit of time down in the bushes while they were waiting his turn up here. So this is just a more expedited path and you don’t want to put too much on them.

[Andrew Benintendi] did get bigger in the off season by design. He claims that does not sacrifice any of his speed but he’s a good 15 pounds more muscular than he was. He doesn’t need to be that physical; as a corner outfielder you want more than 12, 15 home runs. He looks capable of being that, but when we first saw him last year that was my first thing. It’s like, you just don’t see corner outfielders that are that short, that slight.

Bo Mattingly: When you talk the scouts and front office types, what is it about Andrew Benintendi that they think gives him a chance to be not just a flash, but a long term all-star kind of player in major league baseball?

Dan Shaughnessy: …That’s one of the reasons I’m so in on this guy. Not this many people can be wrong, and the folks you’re talking about—they don’t make their judgements based on one game, they see a larger sample that’s telling us he will get the power of the big leagues and he can be a five-tool guy. They’re all in, too, pretty much.

You get [picked] seventh in the country, you’ve got something there. I’m heartened to see that people who are not mutants can still play this game and get it done. When you stand next to Reggie Jackson now, I mean, you’re like “God, he was was never that big.” He was really stacked and muscular, but Reggie’s not that tall, he’s shrank a little bit in his old age but he’s  not big, not much bigger than this kid. You didn’t used to have to be enormous, and most of them are now. Especially the pitchers. They draft 6’5, you know. That’s what they look for and I understand that. That’s why there’s so many guys throwing 96 coming out of the bullpen.

So, it’s nice to see the game, you know, an outfielder come to the big leagues and Mookie Betts is another example of course because he’s not a superhuman physical specimen. …With Benintendi they talk about the usual hand eye coordination, his ability to recognize pitches, to wait to adjust, doesn’t seem to get fooled that much with the big-league pitching…

He hit the exact same in the big leagues that he hit in the minors last year. He had more power this spring. I talked to him about it and he says that was due to the strength and the weight, that the ball’s going further to left center for him. Edge velocity is better. It’s just a lot to look forward to. I think the fans here are really going to be jumping on this and anxious to see more.

***

Make sure to listen to the entire interview at sportstalkwbo.com.


The above excerpts have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. In every case, the speaker’s original meaning has been maintained.

Are Kentucky Freshmen Hurting SEC Basketball’s Overall Rankings?

In November and December, Big Blue Nation struggles more than other blue blood programs. 

Kentucky consistently starts more freshmen than any other program in the nation. It’s been this way since John Calipari arrived seven years ago and instituted a philosophy which embraces the “one and done” m.o. of so many of today’s high school prep stars who have designs on NBA riches and fame.

Playing this many Kentucky freshmen has, for the most part, panned out well on the backend of seasons. In the Calipari era, Kentucky has gone to four Four Finals and won a championship. But freshmen, no matter how gifted, take time to gell. And so, on the front end of seasons, Kentucky underperforms relative to nation’s other best programs.

That is, since 2011-12, Kentucky has “only” won 61.3% of its November/December matchups against non conference, Power 5 opponents. That’s at the bottom of the recent best of the best, as you can see below.

Duke: 20-6 (.769)

Villanova 15-5 (.750)

Kansas: 24-9 (.727)

North Carolina: 17-10 (.630)

Kentucky: 19-12 (0.613)

Below is a breakdown of each program’s season-by-season records. All data is taken from sports-reference.com.

Kentucky In Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-2

2015-16: 3-2

2014-15: 6-0

2013-14: 1-3

2012-13: 1-4

2011-12: 5-1

Kansas in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 4-1

2015-16: 3-1

2014-15: 5-1

2013-14: 3-3

2012-13: 4-1

2011-12: 5-2

North Carolina in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-2

2015-16: 4-1

2014-15: 3-3

2013-14: 2-1

2012-13: 1-2

2011-12: 4-1

Duke in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-1

2015-16: 2-2

2014-15: 3-0

2013-14: 3-2

2012-13: 4-0

2011-12: 5-1

Villanova in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-0

2015-16: 3-2

2014-15: 4-0

2013-14: 3-1

2012-13: 2-1

2011-12: 0-1

Kentucky’s early-season struggles have hurt the SEC’s overall cachet as a basketball conference.  Consider Kentucky has been the league’s marquee program these last six years, while other SEC programs don’t play nearly as many high-profile early-season games. If Kentucky struggles to rack up significant wins pre-conference, because it more often loses head-to-head matchups with the titans of other conferences, then few other SEC teams have schedules which give them a chance to make up the difference.

So, the SEC’s strength of schedule ratings as a conference (relative to other conferences around the nation) suffers. This is one factor in the reason the SEC might have been underrated as a basketball conference until this March Madness, when three SEC teams broke into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986.

Look for SEC programs to raise the number of their high-profile early-season games soon. The league office has mandated that in the coming years each program must play non conference opponents with a three-year RPI average of 150 or above.

History of Arkansas’ All-Black High School Sports Association

Below are the earliest known references to the Arkansas Colored Athletic Association, which was the governing body for sports between the state’s all-black high schools before the 1966 integration into what’s now the Arkansas Activities Association.

By that time the 1960s rolled around, the predominantly-black schools’  association was called the Arkansas State Athletics Association, while the predominantly-white schools belonged to the Arkansas Athletics Association.

Got questions, or something to add? Contact me at evindemirel[at]gmail.com for more details.

Arkansas Gazette September 25, 1938 – Page 13

The Dunbar High School (Negro) Bearcats will play Morrilton (Negro) High School eleven in their first home game of the season at Kavanaugh Field Friday afternoon. The Dunbar team defeated Texarkana (Tex.), 14 to 6, at Texarkana last week.

J.M. Sutton, Morrilton mentor [coach], is a former Dunbar athlete. Sutton is a graduate of the Tuskogee Institute.

A meeting of the Arkansas Colored Athletic Association was held at Dunbar High School yesterday. They were: Pine Street of Conway, Miller High of Helena, Corbin of Pine Bluff, Langston of Hot Springs and Morrilton.

Date: Sunday, March 19, 1939   Paper: Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas)   Page: 35 

The first annual Arkansas Colored Athletic Association basketball tournament will be held at Arkansas AM and N College, Pine Bluff, March 24 and 25. The conference now in its third year, has nine of the outstanding high schools on its membership roll. Teams that will compete for the first conference crown are Camden, Corbin, Dunbar, Fargo, Merrill, Morrilton, Langston, Conway and Jonesboro.

Date: December 9, 1940 Paper: Hope Star Page 6

The Yerger football team, Hope and Corbin High of Pine Bluff dominated all-state negro selections of the Arkansas Colored Athletic Association announced Saturday. Yerger headed the list with four all-state placements:

O.W. Jackson of Dunbar was reelected president of the association for the first consecutive year. Other officers elected were: C.W. Dawson of Corbin High, vice president, and A. Logan of Langston High, secretary-treasurer.

Corbin High is recognized as the unofficial conference champions.

Date: Sunday, March 8, 1942   Paper: Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas)   Page: 35  

The Arkansas Colored Athletic Association will hold its annual basket ball [sic] tournament at Cotton Plant Saturday. The first game will start at 10 a.m.

The association is composed of the 18 leading high schools of the state. The winner will be awarded the state championship trophy.

The schools participating are Augusta, Blevins, Childress, Camden, Corbin, Cotton Plant, Dunbar, Fargo, Jones, Langston, McRae, Merrill, Miller, Morrilton, Moton, El Dorado, Texarkana and Yerger.

Date: Saturday, February 19, 1944   Paper: Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas)   Page: 7  

First round play was completed in the Arkansas Colored Athletic Association basket ball tournament at Jones High, North Little Rock, yesterday. Results in the girls division:

Merrill High 13, Stuttgart 11

Dunbar 21, Fort Smith 12

Augusta 28, Cotton Plant Vocational 12

Jones 17, Morrilton 5

Menissee [Menifee] 12, Helena 5

Results in the Boys Division:

Carbin [Corbin] 23, Fort Smith 14

Jones 47, Augusta 18

Cotton Plant Academy 22, Cotton Plant Vocational 10

Menissee [Menifee] 24, Merrill 18

Stuttgart 20, Helena

10

The Fayetteville Police Department Talks Baker Mayfield’s Arrest

And, naturally, that discussion takes a turn toward the Razorbacks’ tackling woes.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma’s rising senior quarterback, has twice finished in the top five in Heisman Tropy voting. Last year, he broke  the FBS season passing efficiency record. When it comes to late-night shenanigans, however, this Sooner star hasn’t proven so successful. Around 2 a.m. on February 25, police found Mayfield in Fayetteville’s rowdiest district, doing what appeared to be his best Will Ferrell a la Old School impression. An arrest and charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and fleeing ensued.

The next Monday, the Fayetteville Police Department’s public information officer discussed the arrest with sports talk show host Bo Mattingly. Here’s a condensed excerpt from what became a pretty light-hearted talk:

Craig Stout: We had officers who were patrolling down Dickson Street area. They were driving down the road when they get flagged down about a disturbance that had happened there on Dickson Street. As they began their investigation, you had who they later found out to be Mr. Mayfield, they didn’t know who he was at the time.

He was there involved in some type of disturbance, but again, kind of kept using profanities and getting loud. He had been warned several times… [The officers] were dealing with the other subjects involved and as they go to talk to him he takes a few steps and tries to run off, and didn’t make it very far.

Mattingly: They didn’t know who they were tackling. They were tackling a top-five Heisman candidate quarterback.

Stout: No, didn’t have a clue who he was. I think that I can say at least most people around here, had it been a Razorback, we all know who most of those guys are. But I don’t know that we have a whole lot of OU fans on our department. I don’t think they even had his name at this point.

Mattingly: When they found out that they had tackled that kind of elusive quarterback, do you get an award if you pull something like that off with the police department?

Stout: No, no. No real awards or anything like that. Of course we’ve seen a lot of the little things going around on Twitter and Facebook and the humor that’s been attached to it, but no bonus in your check for anything like that.

Mattingly: Arkansas didn’t tackle very well last year, so the officer’s got eligibility left he might consider finishing school if he hasn’t already.

Stout: Well, again, surprisingly enough the officer who was really in on the tackle was a little older than what you would anticipate. He’s a more seasoned officer so I don’t know that he’s got a whole lot of college eligibility left.

Mattingly: Okay. I guess it makes it a little bit tougher to be elusive and play at a high level when you’re intoxicated as well.

Stout: … As anyone from around here knows, Dickson Street is an entertainment district. It’s a destination. You have a lot of people that are down there every night drinking, and a lot of times my officers will really look to find alternatives to arrest… We don’t really have a lot of high profile arrests like this. Again, most of the time it’s just kind of business as usual. I mean we’re down there week in and week out, and as you know, it gets very busy down there.

Had he chose to not yell profanities and try to do that and run off, I would say it’s very unlikely that we would even be talking right now. He probably would have been allowed to go on his way. There may have been a report generated, at best, but I just don’t see that had he been cooperative and all that that there would have been an arrest made on that.

Mr. Mayfield was intoxicated just by the officer’s description, but had that been the only incident that took place, that and the disturbance, it’s very likely officers would have completed a report and then made sure that Mr. Mayfield had a safe ride home, and that would have been the end of it. It’s kind of like your mama always told you to be polite, be respectful, and you usually get the same thing back. Now I can’t speak through every circumstance, but again at least my experience working down on Dickson Street as well that goes a long way.


Baker Mayfield has since issued a public apology for his actions.

Bill Ingram on Mike Anderson’s Fate at Arkansas: Part 2

The founder of the Arkansas Hawks AAU program wonders if Mike Anderson still has the ears of his players.

 

These days, Bill Ingram’s opinion on the state of the basketball Hogs matters more than ever. Talent-wise, after all, the key to its future lies within Ingram’s Arkansas Hawks AAU program in the form of these five verbal commits to Arkansas:

  • Ethan Henderson (LR Parkview; 4-star via 247Sports, c/o 2018)
  • Justice Hill (LR Christian; Class of 2019)
  • Isaiah Joe (Fort Smith Northside; 3-star via 247Sports; c/o 2018)
  • Reggie Perry (Thomasville, Ga., 4-star via ESPN, c/o 2018)
  • Desi Sills (Jonesboro, 4-star via 247Sports, c/o 2018)

 

But will this class, currently ranked No. 10 in the nation by ESPN,  actually make it to Fayetteville? The question seems apt in light of the last couple of weeks. The Hogs, who had been a lock for the 2017 NCAA Tournament, have tumbled onto the bubble according to college basketball betting lines after suffering three horrendous losses within a four-game stretch to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Ingram, like so many other Hog fans, is concerned with Arkansas’ lack of consistency under the coaching of Mike Anderson and his staff. This is Anderson’s sixth year and the team is stocked with plenty of talented recruits. Yet the team lurches in effort and execution from one night to the next, unable to find a groove of consistent success.  Indeed, Arkansas appears to have regressed from earlier in the season from a defensive intensity standpoint. The players still haven’t developed enough consistent offensive flow and chemistry to prevent momentum-killing droughts.

Ingram recently shared his thoughts on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly.  Part 1 of their conversation is here. Below are excerpts from Part 2.

Bill Ingram: In actuality the [in-state talent] of these last two or three years, leading up to the next two or three years, it’s at an all time high. It as high as I’ve ever seen it before. And these guys can compete on a national level… And what we expect is we expect to keep our in-state kids home. And I don’t know if we’ve always been like that, so that’s nothing new. We expect to keep our in-state kids home. Our kids have gotten a lot better and we expect them to be a part of that program. And help that program to win games.

And this is the thing that I think bothers me more than anything is: We’re still asking for you to be 3rd or 4th [in the SEC]. We’re thinking if you’re in 3rd of 4th place, and that means you may be good enough to get to the NCAA tournament, and anything that happens from that point. But I want us to get to the point where we’re asking you to be No. 1 or 2. Every year. And now we working on third and fourth. And so, I think the fans have been extremely reasonable.

… I’m still hungry for that No. 1 or No. 2 but we’re accepting No. 3 or No. 4 and we not getting there.

No one is happy and I understand why. And we have to do better in then all our programs. We have to be better on our football program. I mean, we shouldn’t be at this point in our programs because we have a great fan base.

I look at schools like Butler. Man, they got a neighborhood fan base in Indianapolis. Not a statewide fan base, not even the whole city of Indianapolis. But, they got a neighborhood fan base. And they’re consistently ranked in the top 25 and for the last, what you want to say, five, ten years? So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to be a top 25 program every year and competing for SEC championship. I just feel like that.

Bo Mattingly: What do you think is the biggest issue or question that Mike Anderson is facing right now?

Bill Ingram: Well, the biggest question is, I think, what if he’s lost the team? And when you have losses like this to a Missouri team — probably no one on that team could start for Arkansas. And then when you come back and you under a huge amount of pressure, and you perform like that against Vanderbilt. First question that comes to people’s mind is whether you still have the ears of the players and if they’re listening to you?

The above excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity

Todd Day Disappointed He’s Still Not a Hogs Assistant

“I am a little salty that I’m not on the Razorbacks staff.”

Todd Day, the University of Arkansas’ three-time All-American, recently opened up to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about his desire to be an assistant in the Hogs’ basketball program. I spoke to Day right after Mike Anderson was hired as the Hogs’ head basketball coach in 2011, and even then he was excited about the chance of one day soon joining Anderson’s staff.

As an assistant to Nolan Richardson, Anderson had recruited Day out of Memphis in 1988. Day joined fellow stars Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry to help lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four while finishing his career two years later as the program’s all-time leading scorer. At the time I spoke to Day about coaching with Arkansas, he had two years of experience as the head coach of Memphis Academy of Health and Sciences.

Since then, Day’s padded his resume by coaching three more years at Memphis Academy, then coaching his alma mater Memphis Hamilton for a couple years (he won a state championship) and coaching Team Penny on the AAU circuit (where I spoke to him about Malik Monk).

Along the way, Day talked to Mike Anderson at various times about assistant jobs, he told the Democrat-Gazette’s Troy Schulte. The conversations never led anywhere. “I am a little salty that I’m not on the Razorbacks staff,” Day told Schulte. “It’s my school. Those are my guys. Coach A is my guy. I’m not salty at them. I’m just salty at the situation.”

That’s a helluva lotta sodium chloride, folks. I sure hope he’s drinking plenty of fluids with it.

One thing Day doesn’t mention, but may also add salt to the situation, is the fact that Lee Mayberry is on the Razorbacks staff as a “special assistant” to Mike Anderson despite the fact he has less varied coaching experience than Day. Mayberry, a former NBA scout, had coached an AAU team in Tulsa since 2000, but apparently hadn’t coached high school basketball like Day has.

Day’s Coaching Career

  • Arkansas Impact (2008)
  • Memphis Academy of Health and Sciences (2009-2014)
  • Memphis Hamilton High School (2014-2016)
  • Philander Smith (2016-present)

It should be emphasized that Day has always spoken very highly of his friend Mayberry. It’s pure speculation on my part Day may feel a little extra salty he hasn’t been able to carve out a spot on the Razorbacks staff in light of the fact Mayberry has become a special assistant to Anderson. I have never spoken to Day or anybody on the Razorback staff about this.

Day is currently coaching at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. His stepfather, Ted Anderson, advised him to use the NAIA school as a springboard to bigger college positions.

Anderson said he told Day: “Build that program right there, take that from ground zero and take it as high as you can take it. Do it with class and dignity, and you’ll be recognized for it.” For now, Day’s invested in his Philander Smith team, which sits at 9-9. He told Schulte last summer he even turned down an interview for an assistant spot on the staff of Tulane, where his former Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. now coaches.

Will Day one day get his dream of a Razorback coaching spot?

That’s unknown.

What is known is that any coaching position with the Razorbacks basketball program is, on the whole, losing prestige year by year. That trend was hammered home in a 28-point loss on the road yesterday to a 2-6 conference Oklahoma State team. The Hogs had few excuses. They were playing at full strength health wise and coming off 4 straight SEC wins. They should played better, and with more effort and have been competitive. Instead, they produced a lackluster, sloppy, uncoordinated defensive effort that resulted in the Cowboys repeatedly shredding them from the outside and getting to the basket on open drives seemingly at will.

Whenever Arkansas’ foe has a top-flight point guard, and the game is on a neutral or away court, these eviscerations happen with alarming predictability. They are, in part, the result of poor execution on defensive switching — or, rather, the lack of any plan whatsoever on how to guard perimeter pick and roll action.

That lack of planning is an indictment of the Razorbacks’ coaching staff. If Day one day officially interviews for his dream job, he needs to make his former coach uncomfortable by pointing out the oversights which have hurt the brand of the program he had a hand in building.

 

Will Bret Bielema Fire Robb Smith or Kurt Anderson?

The Hogs head football coach discusses the prospect of coaching turnover a couple weeks ahead of the Belk Bowl

 

One of the reasons Bret Bielema chose to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas was to get a bigger budget for his assistant coaches.  In theory, this would allow him to hang onto top assistants for longer.

So far, after four regular seasons, the Arkansas coach hasn’t quite seen the continuity he wanted. After one season, his defensive coordinator (Chris Ash) and defensive line coach (Charlie Partridge). After 2014, the RB and linebacker coaches (Joel Thomas and Randy Shannon) left for  jobs elsewhere. And last off season it was his ace offensive line coach, Sam Pittman, running backs coach again (this time Jemal Singleton) and the defensive backs guy, Clay Jennings.

For whom will the revolving door revolve this off-season? It’s not a question of “if” but “who.” On Thursday, he essentially admitted to sports talk host Bo Mattingly there will be some staff turnover after the Razorbacks’ upcoming December 29 Belk Bowl, which the Hogs are a 7-point underdog to Virginia Tech. Read more about online sportbook betting at Betphoenix.ag.

“It’s a part of the world today,” Bielema said of coaching changes. “The way the markets are, the way people have money now, whether you want changes or don’t want changes, they’re kind of inevitable. It’s part of college football these years.”

Given how erratically the offensive line and defense as a whole played this year, it will be interesting to see what happens with o-line coach Kurt Anderson and d-coordinator Robb Smith, who has gone from savior to goat in the past three seasons.

Bielema discussed more on Sportstalk with Bo Mattingly.  Here are some choice excerpts:

On recruiting 

In the front end, the first thing you can do to develop this is get the right guys to develop. I remember after I sat my first year, especially after the first Spring, we had signed a class I felt fairly strong about, the guys we got involved in. Maybe we had been recruiting them previously, or we got here and took over recruitment, but one of the things I was severely disappointed in as we signed a number of junior college players that really just after a short amount of time I could tell they weren’t going to help us. There would guys that had been previously recruited, and just really didn’t fit the mold for what we’re looking for. We went out and got some guys. There’s been some things that’s been good, but there was a number of guys in that class that just didn’t pan out…

I figured from that point forward if we take the junior college player, I want it to be someone that we’ve pretty much done all of our research on, I’ve known for a long time, and know exactly what we’re getting.

On why he seems to be recruiting, on the whole, better offensive players than defensive players:

I think the numbers are smaller. I really do. The number of size and quality and quantity of, especially the defensive line, are a little bit harder to find. I think in general we probably undersigned a little too much at the linebacker position when we first got here. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would’ve signed a lot more of that body type or been a little bit more detailed in that process. Defensive line wise, I’ve had some guys that unfortunately just haven’t performed up to the level that we wanted. Some guys that unfortunately got injured. Tevin Beanum has had some struggles and hasn’t fully develop, and get where we needed to be. There’s been a number of guys I feel we were right there closing in on them, just weren’t able to close off the deal in recruiting. It’s been a part we’ve been really trying to stress and analyze last year.

I think for the most part too, our offensive guys have had a few surprises along the way. AJ [Derby] being a classic example. First we’ve got to take a look at what we’re doing. Obviously, personnel’s another conversation, but you’ve got to make sure we’re putting our players in a position to have success. I think the one part that I’ve learned through coaching defensive football is when guys are lined up, and they’re secure in what they’re seeing, what they’re reading, and what they’re believing, they have a tendency to play a lot faster, play a lot more tough, a lot more toughness, a lot more efficiency. I think that part has to be real, what we’re asking them to do, and then the second part of it is once we ask them to do it, can they physically do it.

On the increasing pace and scoring of college football:

It’s one thing to line up and say, “We’re going to do this, this, and this,” but if they can’t do it or do it with consistency against good competition. You’ve got to rework what you’re asking them to do. The numbers are staggering when you look at the world of college football. I was with a couple of coaches a couple weeks ago in New York, some head coaches that had defensive backgrounds, and we all commented about how much of a different game it is now with RPOs and some of the rules that govern college football. It’s amazing statistically how much the numbers have changed overall. You’re always going to have a couple defenses that are above and beyond really normal standards and put up some really special numbers, but for the most part within all conferences, the numbers are staggeringly higher.

On tinkering with the three-four defense.

I think the part that I’m gonna try to get into after the bowl game is just putting our players that we’ve recruited as well as the addition of new players in a position to have success. One, I think it’s just life in the SEC. I do think we’re a little bit more up and down here than we’ve ever been in my career actually, and to be quite honest since we’ve come here we’ve always had a steady progression forward and never really taken any steps back. I think this year we did beat three teams ranked in the top 20: TCU, Florida, and Ole Miss, but on the same account we lost to a couple teams ranked and obviously one that wasn’t. That is something we can’t allow to happen.

I think the part I really felt good about going to that Missouri game, sitting there and feeling good about it until you get to the eighth win at the end of the year, you’ve had steady improvement for three years … Not that we aren’t there now, but to be a 7-1 team, now try to get to 8 in the bowl game, and keep moving down the right path. It does hit close to home. I know everybody … Because Arkansas is the show of the state, and there’s no pro teams, we get a lot of opinions and a lot of ideas thrown our way. I know this, we’re in so much better place now than we were four years ago, especially with the players we’ve got coming back; regardless of what happens during the outer season with staff and the growth of our program. I know we’re on the path to where we need to be. That part’s exciting. I think our schedule lays our really cool for us in the year ahead, and I know our guys will be excited to get back on track.

 

Thomas Jefferson and the Kneeling National Anthem Razorbacks

Why the Razorbacks’ national anthem kneeling fulfills some Founding Fathers’ vision for America

A statewide hubbub erupted earlier in November after six members of the Razorback women’s basketball team kneeled during a pre-game performance of the national anthem. “You all know that there’s been a lot of killings* from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities,” Razorback Jordan Danberry, a Conway native, said after the game at Bud Walton Arena. “Me and my teammates took a knee today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes, we have a platform to do that.”

Their head coach, Jimmy Dykes, and the UA athletic director Jeff Long defended their actions. “I am very, very proud of them,” Coach Dykes said. “They had very, very strong, well-informed, educated opinions based on their real-life experiences, their real-life emotions. Mr. Long added: “University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized. We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation.”

Already, thousands of Arkansans — including high-profile politicians — have begun blasting the Lady  Razorbacks who refused to stand. Laura Rushing, for instance, Tweeted: “I might just take a knee on UofA funding. Leadership needs to go!”

State senator Jason Rapert chimed in: “I agree Senator. Perhaps we reconsider the U of A budget since some in leadership don’t get it.”

I respectfully disagree, Sen. Rapert et al.

Public funding of higher education should not be cut because young women dared exercise their rights of free speech in front of fans who had paid to watch them do something else. Coach Dykes and Mr. Long should not be fired for their support of these women.

If anything, they should be praised.

A red white and blue flag wrapped around a soldier’s tomb is a strong symbol, sure. It often elicits strong emotions, yes. But a flag and a tomb are, at their core, manufactured products. The United States of America is supposed to represent something different.

The Razorbacks’ protest in Fayetteville reminds us the United States of America itself is a manmade invention, too. It had a beginning and will have an end. The more important things it represents, though, precede it and should persist long after it fades.

More than 240 years ago, the Founding Fathers did not conjure the United States as something that in and of itself should deserve and command respect, gratitude and unswerving loyalty.

Instead, they created it as a governing apparatus with a primary function of preserving the rights and freedoms of individuals living in specific geographic areas.  And one of the those liberties is the right to free speech without (financial or corporeal) punishment if said speech offends those in power.

The fabrication we call the “U.S.A.” exists to edify and protect its people, not the other way around.

The U.S.A. was founded as an ongoing political experiment meant to be refined and perfected by ongoing criticism, protest and peaceful dissent.  “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty,” George Washington wrote, “is finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People.”

In a 1804 letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote: ”No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Today’s “press” is more fragmented and prevalent now than in Jefferson’s newspaper-centric day. The protesting Razorbacks have taken of advantage of this. They deliberated with Coach Dykes beforehand on the consequences of their actions; they knew word of it would quickly spread on social media and online news sites.

So did Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who sparked this most recent round of athlete protests by sitting out of a national anthem in an August preseason game.  “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said afterword.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This sentiment rubs many Arkansans the wrong way. They believe it disrespects the U.S. soldiers who have died in order to protect the U.S. and the very First Amendment rights the Lady Razorbacks exercised by kneeling on the court.

It doesn’t. Because often these soldiers and these athlete protestors act and suffer out of love for the very same thing: life and liberty. We can call it “American” life and liberty, but the adjective pales in importance to the nouns following it.

Granted, the costs entailed are on different scales. Soldiers can lose life and limb; Athlete protestors can lose sponsorship money and fan support. But both sides believe they are acting in defense of the things which matter most.

Hog fan Mike Todd touched on this in a recent post on the Razorback Coaches Facebook page. He wrote his father was a World War II Navy veteran. “When an activist in LR was going to burn the flag on the Capital steps I asked him what he thought of that. He said it was the guy’s right. I said ‘But you fought for that flag.’

I’ll never forget his words: ‘I didn’t fight for a flag. I fought for the rights it stands for – including burning it if you want to.’”

At its best, the “United States of America” and all the red, white and blue-clad pomp and circumstance this manmade invention may entail, provides a structure through which we can peacefully disagree and learn from that disagreement — without fear of retribution.

Before threatening to cut funding to Arkansas’ flagship university, our state’s leaders would do well to remember that.

 

*According to analysis by the Washington Post, black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans.