Inside Source: Bobby Petrino Won’t Coach at Auburn Next

Come next fall, could Bobby Petrino have the eye of a Tiger? Don’t count on it, one expert says. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

You’ve seen them.

Maybe they were sitting in the corner booth at Andy’s, near the window at McDonald’s, or camped out near the bathroom of some mom and pop roadside diner.

Grey-haired, huddled over cups of steaming coffee and the morning’s newspaper, these men speak in quiet tones for hours. Whatever the topic, they know it inside and out. They know the people who call the shots, and they know their grandchildren too.

When it comes to Alabama and Auburn athletics, these are the kind of circles I imagine Wimp Sanderson runs in. The former University of Alabama basketball coach has plenty of friends in powerful places – guys like Jimmy Rane, who’s on Auburn’s board of trustees, and Pat Dye, the former Auburn head football coach. Sanderson is a featured guest on four regional sports radio stations.

So I feel he’s qualified to speak on behalf of the speculation that next year Bobby Petrino will coach Auburn. Speculation that has only been fueled by current Arkansas coach John L. Smith and SEC blogger conspiracists.

“They’re not gonna make a change at Auburn,” Sanderson said in a phone interview. “I know what I’m talking about.” It might have been the worst September in the history of the Auburn football, but that 1-3 start isn’t enough to get Tigers’ head coach Gene Chizik canned.

For starters, “it would be very difficult to let somebody go who’s won the national championship in the last four years,” said Sanderson, a Birmingham resident. Moreover, a coaching change would jeopardize an extremely strong incoming recruiting class – ranked #7 in ESPN’s rankings. Finally, Chizik is receiving plenty public support from Dye and Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, who played football under Dye.

With Alabama, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M still on its schedule, Auburn won’t have an easy time making a bowl game this year. When it comes to Chizik’s job security, though, his most dangerous game may be his next one.

If, on October 6th, Chizik loses to a sputtering, Bobby Petrino-less Arkansas, no amount of friends in high places may save him.

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Corliss Williamson on Conway-Jacksonville “Pipeline” & Possibility of a UALR-UCA-UALR-UAPB tournament

I had a good talk with UCA head basketball coach Corliss Williamson a couple days ago. While I’ve met most of the other basketball luminaries from the state, I’d regrettably never gotten around to Big Nasty. I’d met his son, Chasen, when he was a second grader at the New School in Fayetteville and I was a college student moonlighting as a playground supervisor. I told Corliss that Chasen, who’s now a senior at Fayetteville High School, had quite the leg in kickball.

Our talk mostly revolved around his longtime friend Derek Fisher, the subject of an upcoming magazine profile I’m writing. Corliss told me he met Derek at North Little Rock’s Sherman Park community center around age 10. They played together to win a national championship (in AAU in 1990) and played against each other for a world championship (2004 NBA Finals). Corliss, who then played for Detroit, said the Pistons’ ’04 title was especially sweet since  he felt he owed his friend one: Fish’s high school (Parkview) beat Corliss’ team (Russeville) two out of three meetings. Indeed, were it not for Parkview beating Russellville in the state tournament of their senior years, Corliss might have accomplished a rare quad-fecta by winning and AAU national title, a high school state title, an NCAA title and an NBA championship.

So, did Corliss keep track of the head-to-head matchups between he and Fish in the NBA?

“C’mon man, it was the Lakers!” he replied, laughing.  “It was tough. I was with Sacramento, Toronto, Detroit when we weren’t that good, then to Philadelphia… I think he might have the edge on that one but when it came down to the Finals I was definitely happy we could beat them then.”

I assured Corliss even if I looked up the head-to-head win-loss record between his and Fish’s NBA teams, I wouldn’t publish them. “That’s cool man. You can put it in there. I’d like to know it anyway.”

We also talked some about his UCA Bears, who will be looking to improve on last season’s 8-21 overall record and 3-13 mark in conference. One of 2011-12’s bright spots was the emergence of 6-5 sophomore LaQuinton Miles, who averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Miles is one of three Jacksonville, Ark. natives – along with DeShone McClure and Terrell Brown – on this year’s roster, which begged the question:

Q) Has a recruiting pipeline been constructed stretching east from Faulkner to Lonoke County?

A) (chuckles) Yeah, I guess you could say there’s a pipeline developing between Conway and Jacksonville. There are some talented kids coming out of Jacksonville. Sometimes they get a little overlooked, they don’t get as much publicity as some of the other kids. We were lucky to get the three kids we got from out of Jacksonville. That’s one thing we take pride in – recruiting out of the state of Arkansas.

Continue reading Corliss Williamson on Conway-Jacksonville “Pipeline” & Possibility of a UALR-UCA-UALR-UAPB tournament

John L. Smith is to Red Skelton as Art Briles is to …

Would a salary in the $5+ million range finally lure Baylor’s Art Briles away from Texas?

Who should Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long decide is the best match as head coach for downcast but still fiercely loyal Arkansas fans, for the world-class facilities they have funded and the enduring expectations of a greatness that keeps slipping away?

Arkansas hasn’t won a national title since 1964, and the previous head coach put a mistress before the goal of leading the program to another. There are plenty candidates,  some of whom could find potential openings at Tennessee and Auburn more attractive. Let’s get this out of the way: the next coach shouldn’t be Bobby Petrino again. And it certainly shouldn’t be someone whose demeanor inspires way more comparisons to Red Skelton* than Red Auerbach.

It should be someone who brings these attributes to the table:

1)  Genuinely inspires players – Before the Alabama game, I asked Knile Davis and Cobi Hamilton if they planned to step up in Wilson’ absence. Both said they would – “I have to will this team to victory,” Davis said. “Of course,” Hamilton said. Not just with “playmaking ability but also just being a leader, vocally. Because Tyler was really the guy as far as vocally rallying the troops together and taking charge in the huddle.”

Wilson, of course, called his teammates out after the Alabama game for not playing as hard in the second half. But it’s not the job of Arkansas’ best players to also be its best leaders. The next coach should realize this, and embrace it. Naturally, someone who really cares about his players will also most inspire them. As much as some people are clamoring for a hire of West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, his reputation for drunken cavorting should remove him from Long’s final list. Former UNC coach Butch Davis has plenty Arkansas connections attractive to boosters, but I believe his legal entanglement in the wake of a recruiting scandal should – and will – prevent him from landing the job.

Continue reading John L. Smith is to Red Skelton as Art Briles is to …

Why Bobby Petrino’s Departure is Ultimately Good News for the Razorbacks

For Arkansas to beat college football’s big boys, it needs a coach who can attract and sign high school football’s big boys. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
With 2:50 left in the first quarter, Arkansas trailed Alabama 7-0 on Saturday. On third down, freshman quarterback Brandon Allen threw a pass to Brandon Mitchell near mid field, but the ball bounced off Mitchell’s hands and appeared to be picked off by Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who ran it back to the Arkansas three yard line.It wasn’t clear if Milliner had actually intercepted the pass. CBS replays showed the deflected ball wobbling and falling down, down close to the turf, before going up again, scooped up into Milliner’s arms.

The question: Did it hit ground first? At any point, did it bounce back?

Yes, it turned out.

The Razorbacks, though, could be falling for a while.

There were too many loose ends in Arkansas’ 52-0 loss in Fayetteville. Not even a healthy quarterback, cornerback and fullbacks would have tied them.

The game still had not slipped out of grasp in the early second quarter when, down 10-0, from Alabama 42 yard line Allen misread the Alabama defense and forced a deep pass over the middle to tight end Chris Gragg. Safety Vinnie Sunseri – with such a name, I’d expect him to play for Rutgers, the New Jersey school Arkansas plays next – intercepted the ball and returned it 13 yards. Allen, making his first start, could have made the far more simple throw to an open Knile Davis, who would have run it to near the first down marker.

It’s likely Tyler Wilson, Arkansas’ injured star quarterback, would have made the safe throw.

On a pass attempt on the next Arkansas drive, Allen stayed in the pocket a couple beats longer than he should have. He was sacked for an eight-yard loss, pushing the Hogs back to their own 20-yard line and killing the drive.It’s likely Wilson would have gotten rid of the ball quicker.

This isn’t a jeremiad on Arkansas’ unseasoned quarterbacks, who have done about as well as can be expected, all things considered. They had nothing to do with the spotty special teams play. They weren’t going to stop a 6-4, 320-pound Australian defensive lineman named Jesse Williams from putting the entire Hogs’ offensive line on the barbie. They weren’t the ones unable to get around the three preseason All-Americans on Alabama’s offensive line, or wrap up bruising tailback Eddie Lacy behind the lines.

Wilson would not have helped in these departments.

If Arkansas’ entire roster is healthy, it’s good enough to beat the Rutgers, Ole Misses and Auburns of the world – even if the coaching is much worse than it was last season, before Bobby Petrino’s attempted career immolation. Even with Petrino as coach, though, the gap between Arkansas and national front-runners Alabama and LSU was obvious.

No star quarterback, no problem? Arkansas-Alabama echoes Stanford-USC upset in 2007

Arkansas assistant coach Nick Holt has seen plenty go wrong with his team in the last couple weeks.

He’s seen the Hogs lose their top quarterback, best cornerback and best two fullbacks. Then watched a Sun Belt team take full advantage with an upset that many consider the worst loss in program history. And even within the confines of his Broyles Complex office, he’s surely heard something from the chorus of dire prognostications surrounding his squad as it heads into this afternoon’s showdown with No. 1 Alabama.

Nobody outside of Arkansas gives the Hogs much of a chance against the national champions.  If the Hogs couldn’t beat Nick Saban the last two years, when it had a non-stopgap head coach and healthy star quarterback, what chance has it now?

Slim, sure.

But before writing this team off, consider Nick Holt has seen something else.

It happened five years ago, when Holt was coordinating the defense of  powerhouse Southern Cal, a team which shared plenty with these Crimson Tide. USC was essentially the mid-2000s version of Alabama. Like the Crimson Tide, the Trojans had rolled through its first few games as favorites to win another national title.

Like today’s Crimson Tide, the ’07 Trojans had pumped out two national titles in the previous four years, had the game’s consensus best head coach (Pete Carroll) and had just replaced its offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian for Lane Kiffin). Like Alabama, USC had also signed enough consecutive top recruiting classes, giving the program more depth than a Darren Aronofsky flick.

It’s unlikely Nick Holt anticipated what would transpire on October 6, 2007, when the unranked Stanford Cardinal came to town. USC had waxed Stanford 42-0 the previous year, and for all the world looked as if it was going to demolish it once again. The Cardinal had lost its first three conference games while breaking in a new head coach and defensive coordinator. It stumbled into the USC game without its senior starting quarterback T.J. Ostrander, who’d been sidelined by a seizure.

What happened?

Kismet, magic, a whole lotta Luck before Andrew – call Stanford’s stunning 24-23 win whatever you want to call it. But in the end, the powerhouse Trojans simply had a really off day – they gave up five turnovers – and the Cardinal played well enough to take advantage. The Cardinal defense, for instance, held stout on a critical fourth-and-goal right before halftime. Although its offense was outgained by 224 yards, Stanford converted its only two fourth down attempts. The backup quarterback came on to complete 11 of 30 passes for 149 yards, but played smartly when it counted.

Sure, there are differences between these situations. Most notably, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was then a young up and comer making his first college coaching splash. Arkansas’ sixty-three-year-old John L. Smith has been around the block once or eight times.

But, like anything else in life that must be played out away from the Excel spreadsheets and algorithms which make up our modern life, football’s a fickle thing. Fickle enough that an unranked team can lose its top gun quarterback and still upend the nation’s juggernaut du jour.

Nick Holt has already seen this unfold firsthand.

Could he again?

Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton on ULM commemorative T-shirts

“Salt, Meet Wound” read one headline in the wake of this T-shirt’s release. Two top Hogs aren’t exactly grimacing, though.

I sat down with Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and running back Knile Davis earlier this week.

Toward the end of our conversations, I got their take on the T-shirts the University of Louisiana at Monroe produced in the wake of last week’s upset win against Arkansas.

Neither Razorback star had paid much mind to ULM’s opportunistic apparel, which had students lining up for purchase more than five hours before it hit campus bookstore shelves. Indeed, Davis didn’t know about the garb before I told him.

“It’s good for them,” the junior said. “It’s a good win. After the game, I was probably one of the only persons that shook their hands because that was a job well done on their part. That’s bad on our part. It’s a good thing for their program. I’m happy they got their win and now it’s our time to try to go upset someone.”

Hamilton was focused on the task at hand: Beating No. 1. Alabama on Saturday.  He stressed far fewer people would care about ULM’s upset – “something no one would ever believe in 100 years” – if it were overshadowed on Saturday by an upset of greater national implications. “We beat Bama this week, they kinda burn that shirt.”


Exclusive Q&A with Tyler Wilson


Last season, Tyler Wilson escaped major injury. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
The following, with small changes, ran in Arkansas Life magazine earlier this month. I thought college football fans would appreciate details about Wilson’s life. It’s a shame he likely won’t suit up against No. 1 Alabama after suffering a head injury last week. Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino told me that over the summer he and Wilson prepared for the Crimson Tide more than any other team. 

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has devoted himself to football so long it’s easy to forget he once had to choose the path which has made him the most pivotal player in Arkansas’ typically high-powered spread offense.

Wilson, a native of Greenwood in northwest Arkansas, was introduced to multiple sports through his family. He picked up basketball from his father, Don Wilson, who’d won a national championship in 1981 playing for Westark Junior College in Fort Smith. His mother, Suzy Wilson, and grandmother, Myra Burgess, played tennis with Tyler and his younger sister Allie, who would win three tennis state titles at Greenwood High. Growing up, Wilson often threw the football with an older cousin, Brooks Coatney, who was Greenwood High’s quarterback.

Before committing to football late in high school, though, baseball mattered most. Not least because of “For Love of the Game,” which Wilson first watched around eight years old, his father recalls. The movie, which stars Kevin Costner as a veteran major league pitcher throwing a perfect game while dealing with memories of a girlfriend he doesn’t want to lose, touched the entire family. “We probably know every line to the movie,” Don Wilson says. “We’ve watched it at least 100 times.” Over time, Tyler Wilson has come to see himself in Costner’s character in various ways, he adds.

Still, Wilson doesn’t want to divulge anything about his love life to the public now. No point risking potential distractions when so much is riding on this season: finally beating powerhouse Alabama, securing Arkansas’ first SEC title, becoming Arkansas’ first Heisman Trophy winner.

This is also the fifth-year senior’s last chance to enjoy college before a likely NFL career. Wilson’s responsibilities mean free time is scarce these days, but it’s clear how he usually likes to spend it. Since he was about 12 years old, Wilson has dabbled in playing the guitar and writing lyrics. At home, he’ll jam with an uncle and cousins, but in Fayetteville he likes to play with his best friend and roommate, Don Wilson says. His wide-ranging tastes include Jack Johnson, the Eagles and country music.

Wilson also loves to golf. He’s spent plenty hours on courses including Stonebridge Meadows, the Links at Fayetteville and Alma’s Eagle Crest, where he often tries to beat his cousin Brooks Coatney, the head football coach at Van Buren High School. “If wasn’t trying to play football, he’d be trying to get his card to play on tour,” Don Wilson says with a laugh.
Tyler Wilson discussed more about his infatuation for the fairways, and other topics, through e-mail:

Sizing Up North Little Rock Against Longview

Kenny Howard (foreground) wants to deliver NLR’s first state title since 1972.

 They say in Texas everything is bigger, at all levels, all the time. That the highways are more clogged with more F-150s than anywhere on the planet. That under those wide open skies are arteries are more clogged with steaks far juicier than anything grazing in Oklahoma and Nebraska. And it should never be forgotten in Austin stands a state capital building thrusting its pointy fist far higher than all other states capitals’, even the US capital.

  In no arena, though, are Texans more proud of being the biggest and baddest around than in football. Besides oil, big-time gridiron talent may their export most vital to the rest of the nation. This is a land in which Allen High School  just opened a $60 million, 18,000 person stadium, bigger than all but two Arkansas universities’ home stadia.

  No doubt the Longview Lobos will carry some Lone Star bravado into its 9,200-person home stadium when it takes on the Wildcats on Friday. Across the field, though, the Lobos find a team which it won’t be able to easily overpower. Indeed, by building what may be the biggest prep team in state history,  North Little Rock has been looking downright Texan.

Five Heaviest Players on North Little Rock

Kenny Howard, 6’3” 315 pounds, defensive tackle
Malcolm Cranford, 6’0” 310, noseguard
Gerald Watson, 6’1” 302, DT
Javian Williams, 6’2” 300, N
Mike Stewart 6’1” 295, DT

Five Heaviest Players on Longview

Regginal Robertson, 5’10” 320 pounds, offensive lineman
Cornelius Williams, 5’10”, 290
Adrian Jackson, 6’2” 280, OL
Zaycoven Henderson, 6’2” 280, OL
Kenny Andrews, 6’2” 250, OL

More on North Little Rock and Longview here. Those seeking updates on the game itself should follow Jimmy Carter and @nlrfootball.

Tyler Wilson: Projecting Senior Year Stats Vs. Other Elite SEC QBs

Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 

Among the best quarterbacks in SEC history, Tyler Wilson’s trajectory to success may be unmatched.

Typically, guys good enough to twice earn first-team All-SEC honors and project as a high first-round draft pick are also good enough to play heavy minutes before their fourth season. Not so with Arkansas’ Wilson, who marinated large portions of three seasons, playing a total 13 games. Backing up Ryan Mallett, he learned former coach Bobby Petrino’s intricate offense inside and out.

With former starter Ryan Mallett’s departure, Wilson produced the best junior season in Arkansas history in 2011. Now, by building on last season, the 6-3, 220-pound senior has a serious shot at the strongest career finish among pure passers in SEC history [click on image below to magnify]:

 *No dual-threat Tim Tebows or Cam Newtons in the graph above. Also, with the exception of Ryan Mallett, I only included NFL Draft first-rounders. So no Danny Wuerffel, David Greene or Andre Woodson. Players from new SEC members Mizzou and Texas A&M were treated as unwanted stepchildren to be left on the front porch.

The schedule, featuring home games against bruisers LSU and Alabama, sets up nicely.  Wilson has looked sharper than ever in the off-season and in a season opening win in which he tallied the best QB rating among major conference players. The return of star running back Knile Davis has freed up the passing game even more.

There are, of course, concerns. On offense, the biggest questions center on the extent to which last year’s star receivers and head coach are replaceable. Can guys like Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Mekale McKay pick up some of the slack left by the departures of receivers Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright? Can offensive coordinator Paul Petrino develop schemes to get them open with the same consistency as his older brother did?

Continue reading Tyler Wilson: Projecting Senior Year Stats Vs. Other Elite SEC QBs

North Little Rock looks to avenge Shiloh Christian in upcoming trip to Texas

Like his role model Boobie Miles, North Little Rock’s Altee Tenpenny finally gets to play under Texan Friday night lights. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

On the college level, Cowboys Stadium events have been a resounding success for Arkansas. The Razorbacks have won all four of its games – three regular season matchups and a Cotton Bowl – in Arlington, Texas.

It’s been more of a mixed bag for high schools.

In 2010, Shiloh Christian School, during the 2000s one of the state’s premier programs at any level, traveled to Texas for an early season matchup with Euless Trinity, which entered the season at the top of the state’s highest classification. Although Shiloh was doubtless the underdog, their performance was seen a barometer of how far Arkansas high school football had come relative to the nation’s best.

It wasn’t a contest. The Saints hung with Euless for a quarter, but couldn’t match the Texans’ overall size, speed and depth as the game wore on. Trinity triumphed 80-26, and for many Texan apologists this was validation Arkansas had been put in its place.

The last two summers, North Little Rock sent some of its players to Cowboys Stadium for the Nike Football SPARQ Combine, a variety of contests measuring speed, agility and power. Of the roughly 1500 participants, North Little Rock produced two top place finishers (Altee Tenpenny and Kavin Alexander) and this year had 10 of the top 20 finishers, says North Little Rock head coach Brad Bolding.

The Texans didn’t take kindly to this, and made sure to inject some interstate trash talk.

“There was a lot of chirping going on from some of those Texas players after we had won it” in 2011, Bolding says. “They were talking about ‘Shiloh this,’ ‘Trinity that.’ I didn’t get caught up in all that. The players were telling me that.”

Rarely are massive central Arkansas public schools and private northwest Arkansas schools in the same boat, but when it comes to toppling Texas, Friday will prove an exception.

Continue reading North Little Rock looks to avenge Shiloh Christian in upcoming trip to Texas