It was in 1985 that Conway native Mike Dunaway announced himself to the world as not only one its most powerful drivers, but possibly golf’s savviest self promoter. On the cover of Golf, the former UCA linebacker stood atop a mound of money and boasted that he would pay anyone who could drive a golf ball farther than he could, that person could take the entire $10,000 beneath his feet.
“One soul stepped up to the tee, was thrashed, and the magazine bested its previous single-issue sales record,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bobby Ampezzan wrote in 2009. That exposure and success propelled Dunaway, who died Monday at age 59 in Rogers, into becoming a one-man marketing hurricane in the niche sport of long driving, in which the act of hitting as much hell out of a ball as is physically possible with a piece of graphite becomes something like science.
“Long driving back then, you kind of got your name out there from folklore,” Dunaway told Ampezzan. “I mean, I’d do exhibitions, and I would hit the ball farther than anybody. But then if I came back in five or six years, to hear people talk about the distance, it would take two shots to match it — with an air cannon! Folklore and bar talk. But that’s all fishing was until they started those $1 million bass tournaments.”
Over the decades, Dunaway penned numerous instructional articles and appeared in videos touting his technique. In the 1990s, he hosted the TV show “Golfing Arkansas” and appeared at events with 1991 PGA champion and fellow Arkansan John Daly. PGA Tour great Greg Norman said of Dunaway: “This is the longest driver in the world,” according to a 1991 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article.
For Dunaway, the notion “Drive for show, putt for dough” did not apply. For years, he used a pure technique honed at the feet of the sport’s Yoda and a powerful 5-11, 245-pound frame to make a living from whacking living daylight out of pebbled sphere. In the early 1990s, he won a $25,000 distance shootout in Texas and $40,000 from the world’s richest long-drive contest in Japan. His longest drive in competition was a 389-yarder in Utah.
For someone hailing from the breadbasket of America, Illinois native Bret Bielema sure knows how to cut against the grain. The second-year Arkansas head football coach has most famously eschewed the up-tempo philosophy adopted by so many of his peers to build a fearsome, old-school running game that has transformed the Razorbacks into the nation’s best slow-down* offense, and sixth-best overall.
The question of how good 3-1 Arkansas really is will be answered this Saturday when Hogs, who have cracked CBS Sports’ Top 25, take on undefeated, No. 4 Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. Buoyed by an unexpectedly strong defense, the Aggies have crushed each of their four opponents including South Carolina on the road. In his third season at Texas A&M, head coach Kevin Sumlin has his up-tempo Aggies clicking on all cylinders, churning out 612.5 yards a game under the direction of quarterback Kenny Hill, as surprising an Heisman Trophy candidate now as Johnny Manziel was almost two years ago.
Arkansas is a 9 point underdog but whether it wins or loses on Saturday, one thing’s for sure: Bielema’s not changing tact any time soon. He’s not falling in line with the Malzahn and Sumlin-ites around him. Indeed, sometimes he’s contrarian without even intending to be. For evidence, look no farther than his post-game press conference after Arkansas’ 52-14 decimation of Northern Illinois last weekend.
In it, Bielema’s does his thing, talking in rapid fire fashion and making reporters chuckle with quick asides, when he starts praising his team’s special teams effort. He lauds kickoff specialist Adam McFain, an unrecruited walk on who’s on the brink of also becoming Arkansas’ long-range field goal kicker. Then, with the signage of Razorback athletics sponsor Farm Bureau Insurance behind him as usual, he describes a couple defensive special teams formations unveiled against the Huskies because “we knew they would take some chances in the kicking game.”
The first is “a punt safe look” he tells the reporters is called “Allstate.” As in Allstate Insurance Company.
Then, with that Farm Bureau signage still behind him, he praises freshman cornerback Henre’ Tolliver for making a clutch tackle of Northern Illinois’ quarterback on a 4th-down running attempt. So what was the defensive formation called on that play?
Geico. Yet another insurance company not named Farm Bureau.
Bielema and his staff could have easily labeled one of their formations “Farm Bureau,” but I find the fact they didn’t to be marginally refreshing. Major college football is such big money these days, with so many corporate ties, it’s nice to see that the names of coaches’ plays and formations don’t have sponsorship tie-ins.
Such revenue pursuit, of course, follows in line with other major college football programs because every other school – especially in the brutal SEC West – is pouring more and more tens of millions of dollars into its most lucrative sport. But the business logic is sound: With enough winning, those tens of millions of investment can lead to tens of millions of profit. That’s why Texas A&M looms as a pivotal game for a rising Arkansas program. Bielema knows, too. He said last weekend his players have shown “a certain mentality and attitude that has not been here since I’ve been here.”
If that translates into the Hogs’ winning on Saturday by slowing the nation’s most deadly offense**, and in the process shocking pundits around the nations – then the players’ deeds will match their already sky high confidence. And, so long as SEC wins result, Arkansas’ corporate sponsors should hardly care what’s written on the pages of a playbook.
*Arkansas ranks as far and away the nation’s most deadly methodical offense (which takes into account the team’s % of drives with at least 10 plays), according to the number crunchers at Football Outsiders.
** Texas A&M has the nation’s most efficient offense, when measuring ” its actual drive success against expected drive success based on field position.”
Want to know what the hell the above abbreviations mean? Here’s some light shed, thanks to Football Outsiders:
OFEI: Offensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team’s offense.
OE: Offensive Efficiency, the raw unadjusted efficiency of the given team’s offense, a measure of its actual drive success against expected drive success based on field position.
Ex: Explosive Drives, the percentage of each offense’s drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
Me: Methodical Drives, the percentage of each offense’s drives that run 10 or more plays
N.B. You’ll notice above Arkansas’ record is 2-1, not 3-1. That’s because stats from Arkansas 73-7 win over FCS foe Nicholls State don’t count here. The numbers above are filtered to eliminate games against FCS opponents, first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores.
Nice quick preview below for the Arkansas-Texas A&M by Little Rock native George Schroeder. For a much more technical, detailed preview (from the Aggies’ perspective) see the following: http://tamu.247sports.com/Article/Texas-AM-Arkansas-Myles-Garrett-Kenny-Hill-Trey-Williams-31403224
Much has been made about the surge in the Razorbacks’ recruiting prowess under head football coach Bret Bielema. By early September, he’d been able to get commitments from more ESPN300 recruits than at any time since 2006. A large part of this success comes from the state of Florida, from where Bielema, assistant Randy Shannnon and others have been able to pull in major game-changing talents like running back Alex Collins and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland.
There could be another game-changing talent coming to Arkansas from Florida. Although this time, it would come in the form of an Arkansan – not a Floridian. KeVaughn Allen, a top 50 national recruit in basketball, is a North Little Rock High School senior who has announced he’s attending the University of Florida. K.J. Hill, Allen’s teammate and also an elite recruit in football, has other ideas.
Hill, who recently committed to Arkansas, told Sync’s Nate Olson he believes he can convince Allen to de-commit from Florida and become the latest high flyer to join Arkansas’ program. “When I go back to basketball I will talk to him even more,” Hill said. “It’s on my mind. I think I can get him to come [to Arkansas].”
The 6’1″ Hill, who said he received interest to play basketball for the likes of Wichita State, Baylor and Michigan State, is considering playing football and basketball for Arkansas next season. “Coach Anderson wants me to start talking to him about it,” Hill told Olson. “I think he wants me to play.”
Although his long-term athletic future is likely as a dynamic wide receiver, in SEC basketball, Hill projects to be a disruptive defensive force at guard. If he can get Allen to flip, though, likely his most impressive collegiate assist would arrive before he ever plays in an official game.
On the football front, it appears K.J. Hill is most interested in the rebuilding efforts going on at the biggest programs here and in the Buckeye State:
Q: You have said you are going to look around a little bit and visit other schools. But Razorbacks fans shouldn’t worry too much about you going elsewhere, right?
A: I just want to see different schools and just see how different schools are. I’d like to see Ohio State and Urban Meyer. I have never been up there. I want to see the facilities and the campus.
Q: Will Gragg, a Dumas 4-star tight end, is going to make a decision soon. Do you feel confident he will pick Arkansas? And do you think you can get La’Michael Pettway, a Nashville 3-star athlete, to commit, too? What are your strategies to get them to commit to Arkansas?
A: Even before I was committed, recruits from in-state and out of state were asking me where I was going to go. Coach Bielema told me that I don’t realize how much other players are looking at what I do. I wasn’t thinking about it like he was thinking about it, but then when I committed a lot of stuff started changing. Players started asking, “Do you think we can get it done?” and stuff like that. La’Michael Pettway was asking me and then de-comitted, and Will is 100 percent onboard. I think he is going to come. Everyone has been asking me for the longest where I was going to go, so when I decided, that made them think about it.
In other news, below is an interesting excerpt from an ESPN.com article published today. In the wake of Arkansas’ 49-29 win against Texas Tech, it delves into specific reasons why Bret Bielema’s increasingly counter-cultural football tactics are becoming so difficult to prepare for:
“The game has evolved so much while we have stayed consistent,” Bielema said, according to ESPN. “We have remained very, very firm in our beliefs and my philosophy of recruiting a certain player to play in this offense.
“Those programs that don’t recruit fullbacks and tight ends and linemen the way we do, it makes us really get a niche on those players. We really truly can go coast to coast and recruit the best linemen in the country. We did it when I was at Wisconsin and we’re doing it now.”
Arkansas may not play with pace, but it uses plenty of force, and it’s a wake-up call to the increasing number of teams that value speed over power. “Programs just don’t have anyone on their roster to emulate a 250-pound fullback,” Bielema said. “They don’t have a 280-pound tight end. They don’t have a roster of 330-pound linemen to simulate that.”
OK, rest of the world. It’s time to cry “uncle” already.
I’m an American, who appreciates winning, steak, Will Ferrell, and all the rest. But I am tiring of the headlock Team USA has every other nation in. On Sunday, the United States beat Serbia 129-92 in a FIBA World Cup title game that after six minutes held about as much drama as “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The U.S. has now reeled off 63 straight wins, a run that was cool at first, when we had something to prove in basketball after losing three Olympic games a decade ago. Yes, the whole “Redeem Team” thing was fantastic. Millions of Americans tuned in to see the U.S. make a resounding statement in the 2008 Olympics to reclaim Gold.
Less enthralling was the “Confirmation Team” of the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Or Confirmation Team 2.0, or 3.0. We get it: America is unequivocally the sport’s King once more. It’s clear that since American basketball powers actually put their mind to it, the U.S. simply has too large a pool of hyper-skilled, hyper-athletic players – headlined by hyper-athletic, hyper-skilled young superstars ( e.g. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis) – that no other single nation can hope to match.
Spain, of course, appeared to pose a threat this summer. They boasted multiple NBA All-Stars, and a roster that in total had logged more NBA games (3,223) than even the American roster (3,213). But the host nation went cold at the wrong time, against a French team with enough athletic wing players to disrupt the Spanish perimeter offense. With far more disruptive, quicker players, the Americans would have beaten Spain too.
Now that the sun is setting on Spain’s Golden Generation, as it already has with Argentina’s, the United States is accelerating beyond the teams that have hung with them in recent years. “If anything, the gap is widening,” ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla said last week during the Americans’ semifinal win against Lithuania. To the point where no nation poses a legit threat to Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.
France could look best on paper, but they would need four Nicolas Batums to hope to slow a team with firepower including Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Paul George. If the San Antonio Spurs, a favorite to repeat as NBA champions this coming season, were allowed entry they would pose the biggest threat. But despite the Spurs’ Texan roots, they appear unlikely to seek political autonomy any time soon.
Instead of messing with the Olympics, it’s time to form another major international tournament that provides actual compelling and competitive basketball. Provide a venue in which the best players from non-U.S. nations team up by continent. Call it basketball’s “Pan-Continental Cup.”
On their own, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio et al won’t beat the U.S. in the coming years. Spain doesn’t have wing players big and athletic enough to defend the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But with France’s Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw on their side, they have a legit shot. Add long, imposing players like Joakim Noah, an intermittent French national team member, or England’s Luol Deng to the mix, and the U.S. would finally face a foe that rivals it in terms of skill, athleticism and size.
Pan-continental teams work. Look at golf, where the Ryder Cup has pitted a Team USA vs. a Team Europe since 1979. Meanwhile, bowling has its own USA vs. Europe competition. In each sport, over the years, the two sides have proven to be pretty much even.
The idea is already a reality at the youth basketball level. FIBA sanctions the Nike Global Challenge, an annual event in which a Pan-Asian team has competed against other nations including the U.S., and a Pan-African team still does. Another event, the Nike Hoop Summit, goes one step farther: It pits some of the United States’ best high school players against the best similarly aged players from all other nations. Just like in golf and bowling, this setup helps raise the game of both sides and provides better competition. Each side has won three games each in the last six years.
The below stats-smorgasbord shows how the rest of the world has been catching up with the United States in terms of national team players with NBA experience. Below, I look at only Olympic rosters dating back to 1992, when NBA players were first allowed to play in the Olympic Games.
To the right of each player, you see the total number of NBA games that player had played before the summer of the competition.
The boldfaced number below each roster is the players’ total number of NBA games, and below that is the average NBA experience of each NBA player on the roster.
North Little Rock High School, Arkansas’ No. 2 ranked team, clashes this Friday night with No. 1 Fayetteville at War Memorial Stadium. It promises to be an epic showdown – ‘dogs vs. ‘cats, Central Arkansas vs Northwest Arkansas and a rematch of North Little Rock’s heart-breaking loss in the 2012 state semis.
Suffice to say, for the players, this warrants getting just a little hype.
I love these cross-generational comparisons, and this is a very good, nuanced look at what kind of offensive player Pippen would likely be in the modern NBA era. I’d love to see a similar one done with Drazen Petrovic – he was an absurdly efficient shooter (with unlimited range) that my intuition is that had the 1992-93 version of Petrovic been dropped into the 2014-15 NBA season, he’d be considered one of the top 5 offensive players in the game.
Arkansas State University is no joke. This is a legit mid-major football program, winner of three consecutive Sun Belt titles, and on Saturday hung tight against a stronger Tennessee squad in front of nearly 100,000 rabid, enemy fans.
The Red Wolves are nothing to lampoon.
Now, the following coincidence that happened at Neyland Stadium is a different matter altogether:
God bless Chevy Chase and the iconic vacation film series his character Clark Griswold spawned. And keeps spawning – on into the next generation. Thanks to this man’s ineffable talent, we now have our latest member inducted into the Arkansas College Football Jersey .GIF Hall of Fame/Infamy.
Perhaps you’ll recall the charter member depicted beneath:
What comes to mind when you think back to being overseas and wanting to be in the league, following it from afar?
Actually when I was overseas I didn’t watch any NBA. I was like, ‘Forget the NBA,’ and this and that. ‘Cause I was hurt that I wasn’t on an NBA team. I kind of was rebellious when it came to that because I was kind of jealous and envious that I wasn’t on an NBA team, so I kind of just focused on my game and focused on overseas.
Most of the interview covers his summer activities (which included a ton of workouts with fellow Chicago natives Derrick Rose, Will Bynum, Tony Allen) but at one point he did have a chance to talk about his two seasons playing for the University of Arkansas:
Do you ever stop and think about your journey, coming from Chicago and going overseas before the league?
All the time. I’ll never forget where I come from. Especially my humble beginnings. I’m appreciative and I’m more humble than anything, especially with me and my grandmother, her still staying in the city. So when I go back, I see all of that again and I’m just in a position where I’m blessed and I can kind of take care of others. It puts me in a position where I appreciate things more, you know?
Chance not taken.
Little wonder he didn’t want to rehash a messy departure that included half-accusations of his Razorback teammates cheating on tests. “Someone from Arkansas was doing papers, was doing me and some of my teammates’ papers,” Beverley said in 2009. “Basically, instead of ratting my team out, I just said it was just me. I was forced to have a year of ineligibility.”
Messiness Schpelphryness, I really I loved watching P-Bev play. (Still do) He remains the best 6-2 or shorter rebounder at the major college level I have ever seen. Put somebody like him on this current Razorback basketball team, and they’re making the Sweet Sixteen.