The Arkansas Sports Media Is Turning On Bret Bielema

Three of the state’s leading sportswriters lay into Bielema following the Coastal Carolina debacle

For years, Bret Bielema and the Arkansas sports media enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon. On the whole, columnists, reporters and broadcasters enjoyed covering him and he seemed to enjoy riffing with them. In the times I interviewed him his first couple years, his enthusiasm and swagger always made for a fun, interesting conversation.

Bielema, after all, is a likable guy. And it helped that in his first three seasons at Arkansas, his teams clearly improved. Perhaps the culmination of the good times with local media came near the end of 2015 season, when sports radio host Bo Mattingly began producing a feel-good, behind-the-scenes mini series on Bielema and his program. No doubt, Bielema knew such a project could only help market his personality and the Razorback brand to potential recruits and fans.

Public image, after all, is so important in the entertainment industry. That’s one reason Jeff Long signed on to be the chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Commitee, a position that for two years gave him and Arkansas much national exposure.

This year, though, as the 4-5 Hogs have seemingly regressed in every phase of the game, the local media has begun to turn on Bret Bielema. And things are getting more heated in the aftermath of Arkansas’s worst win of the modern era, a 39-38 unthinkable catastrophe-aversion against Coastal Carolina, a 1-8 Sun Belt team.

The local media doesn’t turn on coaches on a whim, like so many fans are apt to do. Media members understand that their access to covering games and interviewing players and coaches depends on maintaining a standard of professionalism and accuracy. Calling for a coach’s head after one bad game, or two or even three, is the kind of quick-trigger reaction-ism most professionals avoid.

But when enough bad efforts and worse executions happen over a long enough stretch, as they have in Arkansas football since last fall, then it becomes obvious that the issue is something systematic. And now, some big names in the Arkansas sports media landscape are calling this out. To wit:

1. Wally Hall, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist

Today, in his game recap column, Hall writers earlier this season Coastal Carolina team had lost to Arkansas State—traditionally only the second-best program in state—by 34 points and 10 of the Chanticleers’ points came against A-State subs. After lamenting the Hogs’ woeful defense, Wall also delivered this indictment:

Perhaps the biggest concern should be the leadership at the UA, and that means at the top. Who allowed a program that was in the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season to slip to the point it has to charge back to slip by a visiting team that hasn’t won a Sun Belt game?

It should be noted that Bret Bielema wasn’t even hired until 2012. Regardless of whether “leadership” here means Bielema, or athletic director Jeff Long, or both, Hall is no longer holding back on the public criticism. That’s a bad sign for Bielema’s future at Arkansas.

2. Kurt Voigt, Associated Press Arkansas sports reporter

Speaking of Bret Bielema’s future at Arkansas, that’s a topic which in late October Voigt wanted to interview Long about. Most AP reporters strive to stay objective and report “just the facts.” But since that request Voigt hasn’t been afraid to chime in with observations and details that cause a buzz.

Continue reading The Arkansas Sports Media Is Turning On Bret Bielema

That Time the Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 1

In other states, Arkansans have played major roles in some of the biggest team protest/strikes in college football history. In 1969, for instance, Sparkman native Fred Milton precipitated an Oregon State football protest generating national headlines by simply refusing to cut his hair.

Later that same year, Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore became one of Wyoming’s “Black 14” who boycotted an upcoming game against BYU.

In 2015, of course, the entire Missouri football team went on strike in advance of a game against BYU — though for different reasons than the Wyoming players. Russellville native Mitch Hall* was on that Mizzou squad.

Far less known than the above incidents is the time practically the entire University of Arkansas football team went on strike. In happened in January, 1912, and before diving into specifics, let’s take a wide-lens look at some of the most dramatic ways Razorback football was then so different:

  • Under the leadership of Hugo Bezdek, the program was coming off the most statistically dominant stretch in its history. From the start of 1909 to halfway through the 1911 season, Arkansas went 17-1 and outscored its combined opposition 617-42.
  • Touchdowns were then worth five points each.  Not only the 1912 were they worth six points.
  • It would be another two years before Arkansas joined the SWC as a charter member.
  • Its captain-elect, Dan Estes, would go on to coach at what’s now called UCA for 17 years. Today, Estes Stadium in Conway is named after him.

So, back to the strike: What exactly happened?

Just like with the strikes at Wyoming and Missouri, this student protest started with non-athletes. In Arkansas’ case, it started with the university administrators trying to put the clamps on an underground student-run newspaper called The X-Ray. This publication, helmed by 36 students, aimed “to correct university failings by condemning everything from campus litter to favoritism among discipline and scholarship committees,” Brady Tackett wrote for The Arkansas Traveler in 2012.

Another specific complaint levied by The X-Ray editors: “While we are too poor to keep our campus look neat at a nominal cost, we are able to build ten thousand dollar tracks and football fields that are never used.” Notably, the editors (who included their names on the paper’s masthead) included sons of members of the board of trustees, UA baseball stars and, apparently, Dan Estes himself.

This publication infuriated UA administrators, especially UA president John Tillman. It violated a 1905 law, prompted by the board of trustees, banning “unauthorized publications and assemblages.”


This was Part 1 of a two-part series. Go here to read the rest.


*The 2015 Missouri football team strike was inspired by a black student organization’s protests against racially charged incidents on campus and a cut to health insurance for graduate students. I don’t know if Hall, who is white, supported the protest or not. Not all the Mizzou players did, after all. One white player anonymously told ESPN: “As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed. If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Missouri football has struggled mightily since the start of the 2015 football season, winning only three SEC games in that span and producing terrible Tweets like the below. It’s has about 1000-to-1 odds of winning the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.

 

That Time Black Muslims Interviewed Chicago Bears Legend George Halas: Part 1

The integration of the NFL followed a jagged path, starting with a trickle in the 1920s, coming to a halt in much of the 1930s through mid 1940s and then slowing building in steam again. By 1963 every team had at least one black player. At that point, however, none of them played quarterback.

This was all the more surprising given not only were black quarterbacks excelling in traditionally black colleges, but they had also led major college programs like Michigan State, Minnesota and UCLA to national renown.

The question of why blacks in the early 1960s hadn’t yet gotten regular playing time at quarterback inspired a series of interviews which ran in Muhammad Speaks, then the name of the periodical produced by the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad. To tip off the series, a Muhammad Speaks writer spoke to George Halas, the longtime Chicago Bears founder/coach/owner and “O.G.” among NFL patriarchs.

Below is the first part of the interview, which originally published on January 31, 1963*:

“I don’t care what color a man is. I’m interested in winning games,” the Chicago Bears’ George Halas told Muhammad Speaks last week. Halas, whose 1962 Bears finished third in the National Football League western division with a record of nine wins and five losses, said: “I’ll use any man who can best play the position, regardless of his color.”

Whatever political complexities have entered the field to dilute this position on player use, the aging, active Halas would not say. However, so glaring is the discrimination against Negro quarterbacks and so important is this key position to the psyche and status of Negro players—it remains for galvanized fan pressures and a football “Jackie Robinson”** to break the barrier.

“Sandy Stephens (University of Minnesota’s All-American quarterback) was good, admitted Halas, known as “Papa Bear” throughout the sports world. “There’s no doubt in my mind Stephens could have made it. I would have used him myself if he could have beaten out Bill Wade.” (Wade is the first-string quarterback).

Below are my own notes:

*The Bears were then on the cusp of an 11-1 season in 1963, which would be the last NFL championship team Halas coached. Don’t look for glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most prognosticators have Chicago finishing with a losing record that starts early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.

** Technically, the NFL’s first black quarterback was Fritz Pollard in the 1920s. He played, however, before an unofficial ban against blacks beginning in 1933. Coincidentally, Kenny Washington, a UCLA football teammate of Jackie Robinson himself, was the first black to play in the NFL post-ban. It had taken Washington seven years to break through in 1946 after not being picked in the 1939 draft, “even though Chicago Bears coach George Halas tried to convince NFL coaches to lift the ban on black players for the Bruin star,” according to this ucla.edu press release.

Here’s a teaser for the film made about Washington and three other pioneering Bruin teammates:

Read Part 2 here. Subscribe to be notified of future interesting historical/sports posts.

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.

Auburn 56, Arkansas 3: What They’re Saying

Some of the best commentary following 2016’s “Massacre on the Plains”

Ah, the age-old ugly flip side to winning as a team.
Losing as one.
Boy howdy did Arkansas accomplish this feat Saturday night throughout pretty much the entirety of a 56-3 meltdown at Auburn.
Razorback football insiders point out practically every part of the team, save field goal kicking, deserves strong blame here. Here’s a look at some of their best insight:

  1. Matt Jones, WholeHogSports:

Arkansas’ run defense was supposed to be the team’s strength this season. The Razorbacks returned starters at almost every position from last season’s unit that was a top 15 national run defense. It was a group that held eventual Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to his lowest output of the season, and LSU’s Leonard Fournette to his second-lowest output last year.
With as many as 10 defensive linemen thought to be SEC starting quality, stopping the run was going to be a given with this group, even if the back end continued to struggle to defend the pass.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Arkansas’ run defense is the worst in recent memory. You can say the same for the defense as a whole. The Razorbacks are allowing 8.3 yards per rush attempt in SEC games. That’s almost a first down every time the opponent carries the ball.

2. Trent Wooldridge, Arkansas Fight:

Two years ago I watched a team that was in the middle of an historic losing streak go out every week and play their hearts out. They lost game after game, but it was obvious that nobody wanted to play them because it was apparent that every contest would be a battle. Last night, I watched a ranked Arkansas play a game against a team that was obviously licking it chops before facing the Hogs. I watched Arkansas play a team that knew it could make them quit… Life in this league is short and brutish, Coach, but a 53 point loss stays with you forever. A 53 point loss is so bad that it has Jack Crowe shit-talking you on Twitter.

JACK CROWE LOST TO THE CITADEL AND WAS FIRED ONE GAME INTO HIS THIRD SEASON HERE. AND HE’S TALKING SHIT ABOUT YOU. THAT IS HOW BAD LAST NIGHT WAS.

3. Mitch Petrus, former Razorback offensive lineman:

I’m gonna put it all on the offensive line. I’m gonna take this whole game and put it on the offensive line. It’s all your fault offensive line… I’ve never seen a game where guys don’t care so much — we got our chips down and we just give up. I can’t have that as a coach.

4. Jimmy Carter, WholeHogSports.com:

Like the Alabama game, Arkansas struggled stop the run outside the tackles, which allowed the Tigers to gash the defense for big gains. Too often, corners failed to set the edges and linebackers were stuck inside, either too slow to react and fit outside gaps, suckered in by false steps or effectively walled off by solid blocking. The safety issues, detailed below, didn’t help matters, with 6-yard runs turning into much longer, chunk gains several times.

On safeties Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez regressing after standout performances against Ole Miss:

Each missed a number of tackles, failing to wrap up on some and going for big hits on others, the latter an area Bret Bielema stressed the coaching staff was working to correct. Against Ole Miss, Ramirez’ late big hit didn’t connect squarely with Chad Kelly but forced the fumble that allowed the Razorbacks to secure the win…

Auburn didn’t have to throw often, but it was able to take advantage of Ramirez for a big play in one key instance when it did. The sophomore left a wheel route uncovered late in the second quarter, gifting Tigers quarterback Sean White a 45-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-0…

Receiver Eli Stove scored a 78-yard touchdown on a jet sweep on the first snap of the game. Arkansas didn’t react to the motion at all, leaving Ramirez and cornerback Jared Collins in space as the only defenders with a shot at stopping Stove. Neither did and Auburn quickly gained momentum.

On the linebacker corps featuring Dwayne Eugene, De’Jon Harris, Brooks Ellis and Khalia Hackett at the “SAM” position:

The weakside spot has been a question mark without injured Dre Greenlaw. Ellis struggles in space at times and doesn’t have the luxury of being spelled by a backup. The entire group struggled to fill gaps and get off blocks Saturday, regularly being locked up by Auburn blockers and unable to get off blocks to make a play.

Ex Governor David Pryor Condemns Hogs’ “Nuclear Arms Race” Mentality

On September 8th, University of Arkansas trustee David Pryor cast a “no” vote for the bond issue behind the largest stadium construction project in state history. Below is a detailed explanation of the former governor’s reasoning, as laid out in a letter earlier in the summer.

Ultimately, Pryor’s veto was in vain.  By a vote of 6-2, the UA board of trustees approved the final step needed to launch the Razorback Stadium north end expansion. The other “no” vote belonged to Monticello lawyer Cliff Gibson. I got Gibson’s take on the issue here.


June 15, 2016

Dear Trustee:

For our Thursday morning meeting, I have requested the opportunity to discuss my reasons for opposing the North End Stadium project for the Fayetteville campus.  I write this letter to you and my other colleagues on the Board as time may not allow me to cover the salient points of my argument during the oral presentation before the full Board.  I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts and certainly hope you realize that my position is being taken after much thought, discussion and input.  This is not an attempt to “lobby” you for your vote, but to simply share one Trustee’s belief as to the wrongness of going forward with the North End project.

Whatever the outcome of this important decision by the Board, I will honor your position and the reasons for your vote – regardless of whether you vote to approve or disapprove this enormous commitment for the State of Arkansas.

Some months ago, I proposed that we adopt the “cost/benefit test” as we proceeded to decide this project.  As you know, the stadium expansion will be the largest bond issue in the history of higher education for the State of Arkansas.  It is a monumental commitment of resources, and to some extent, our Board will be establishing by our support that a few luxury boxes and special seats in a football stadium used some six times a year is the highest priority for the institution we all revere and serve.  I personally do not believe this project is the highest priority for the University of Arkansas.

There is a great applause line we all hear and sometimes ourselves repeat:  “We must always put students first.”

The stadium expansion does not put students first.  In fact, the some 26,000 students on the Fayetteville campus will not benefit one iota.  There are no extra student seats added.  In fact, there are no general admission seats added – but only some 3,000 “special seats” for those fans in the upper income levels.

Not one student has contacted me to express support for this project.  To the best of my knowledge, not one student organization, alumni group or chapter, or booster club has voiced their support for the North End expansion.  To the best of my knowledge, not one sports writer or newspaper has endorsed this expansion.  In fact, I have received several hundred e-mails, phone calls and citizen expressions of opposition to this mammoth bond issue which obligates the entire State of Arkansas to support a “chosen few” fans to enjoy an “enhanced game day experience.”

Between 2009 and 2013, our Board chose to support several athletic program projects, establishing a deeper footprint in the Southwestern quadrant of our campus.  In 2013, we voted on the concept of enlarging and improving the North End.  At that time, the estimated cost was not the $160 million price tag of today’s proposal, but $78 to $95 million.  I have yet to see how this enormous cost escalation has occurred in such a short time.  There has been no explanation.

It is now estimated that “only” $120 million will be required of bonded indebtedness, given that $40 million of private funds can be applied to the expansion.  Assuming a bond issue of $120 million, the 20-year cost of principal, interest, and servicing fees, we are facing an obligation of approximately $186 million dollars!

We will not just be endorsing a project costing $160 million but $186 million.

We have just raised tuition, thus adding to the backbreaking debt load our students and their families bear.  With state funding for higher education stagnant, where do we get the dollars for future classrooms for the fast growing student population?  How do we equip our labs and find scholarship support?  Can we continue being in last place in faculty salaries, according to the Southern Regional Education Board (16 southern states).  Are we to accept as a given fact that we are 45th in the nation of those states with the lowest percentage of college degrees?  And, is our answer to these and many other questions going to be, “Let’s use our resources to add 3,000 luxury boxes and high end seats for our football stadium?”

Some have recently said that this addition will help with “recruitment” in enticing prospective Razorbacks to Fayetteville.  Do any of us actually believe that an 18-year-old potential from Conway, Judsonia or Smackover really cares or is impressed by the fact that we have 75,000 stadium seats rather than 72,000?

The Athletic Department states that the expenditure of $160 million on the stadium’s north end will enhance the “game day experience” for Razorback fans.  Will two new elevators, a new Broyles Center, a multi-million video board in the south end, adding some 3,000 new luxury seats truly add any benefit except for a privileged few?

Should we ever decide to issue bonds for classrooms, labs, scholarships, tuition or faculty salaries, count me as a supporter.

A South Arkansas banker e-mailed me that this project is “ill advised.”  Another wrote:  How many student scholarships could we provide with these millions of dollars?  Several former University Trustees have recently stated their opposition to the North end expansion.

In some 8 ½ years as a Trustee, I have voted for many bond issues, every tuition increase and all athletic facilities proposed by the Athletic Department.

I cannot support this proposal.  It makes no sense.  In fact, it defies common sense and fairness that has always been a part of the Arkansas character.  Well known and respected sports writer Nate Allen recently added some true wisdom to this discussion:   “Reserve the Razorbacks just for the rich and they become a brand who fewer can afford and for which they will lose their passion.”

In America, college football has become a nuclear arms race.  Yes, it is BIG BUSINESS.  Fancy stadiums, outlandish salaries, luxury amenities.  We all know that.  On this vote, we now have a rare chance to become the school that takes the bold step of stating what our priorities are really all about.

I look forward to our Thursday discussion of the stadium issue.  You have been kind to read these comments, and to hear me out — and I am grateful.

Respectfully,

David Pryor

Nick Saban On Why Alabama Consistently Gets Hosed By Ole Miss

And other insights from the Alabama football head coach from the transcript of his 15th SEC Media Day appearance


Not exactly what Mark Stoops experiences

NICK SABAN: The one thing that I will miss is I’m usually up here responding to some barb from Coach [Steve] Spurrier, who is no longer with us and is retired, and probably playing a lot of golf, which we just wish he and Jerri the very best in the future. He’s made a tremendous impact on the game and I’m sure will continue to do that with his leadership and deeds and actions even though he’s not coaching.

Verne Lundquist who is the only person that I know, and there may be somebody else out there in the media or somewhere, that has spanned my entire career. Verne tells my wife Terry about a game that I was coaching at Kent State when I was first coaching 40-some years ago that he actually covered. So he — and he’s done a tremendous amount for the SEC on CBS in terms of the great job that he’s done with his telecast, and we wish him very well after this season, because this will be his last…

One of the very difficult experiences for us this summer was the terrible flood in West Virginia, which is where we’re from. And I think you probably all know we made a statement about trying to get some equipment for I think seven high schools that lost just about everything. So anything that you all could do to promote that to get equipment for these young people so that they’ll be able to participate and have a season this year, because otherwise they won’t, would certainly appreciated.

But after this week, our coaches will be back, and we’ll be making final preparations for our season. Our players report on August 3rd and we practice on August 4th, and we’re certainly looking forward to that. We continue to try to develop our players in so many ways, even over the summer, where we have all of our players now for summer school in terms of personal development programs, whether it’s mental conditioning for success, peer intervention for behavioral issues, leadership, communication, all of these things that create value in players that help them be more successful in life, and obviously academics is a big part of that.

We’re really, really proud of what we’ve been able to do to create a very positive history of academic success with our players in terms of — I think our graduation rate is well over 80 percent for several years now. One of the tops in the country, one of the leaders in the conference. Also a number of graduates that participate in playoff and bowl games and championship games. Last year we had 29. Three guys who already had master’s degrees, guys out there playing against Clemson that already had their degrees. I think we’ve been the leader in that regard for the past three years as well…

I’m really proud of the players that we have here representing our team. Jonathan Allen and Eddie Jackson on defense. Both players will graduate in December. O.J. Howard, who has already graduated and working on a master’s degree in sports medicine. All three of these players probably could have gone out for the draft and chose to stay in school and sort of enhance their draft status as well as finish their education or continue their education…

Our team has had a very good offseason. I’ve been very pleased with the progress that we made. We obviously lost some really, really good players from last year’s championship team, good leadership, good people. Great team chemistry. All things that are intangibles that are difficult to build, and our challenge is to recognize as they develop, because those things just don’t happen overnight. You know, it’s a work in progress. And it’s certainly been the case with our team this year.

But a year ago I didn’t know that we were going to have that kind of team chemistry when I stood up here and talked to you. I didn’t know we would have that kind of commitment. I didn’t know we would respond to adversity the way we did. And even though we’re trying to work on creating those things with the personality of this team, we don’t know that for sure either. But I’ve been pleased with the progress that we’ve made in the offseason, the spring practice that we had, the summer conditioning program.

We obviously had some challenges. For the third year in a row, I’m standing up here talking about somebody’s going to be a new quarterback for us. Somebody’s got to win that job. Somebody’s got to win the team. You know, that has not necessarily happened yet and, you know, I’m not going to sit up here and sort of try to, you know — I don’t know the right word, but give you some statistics on who’s winning the race and how the race is going and who’s ahead, are they on the back stretch or in the final turn. That’s something that’s going to happen probably in fall camp. I hope in fall camp.

We have three starters back on the offensive line, which is a good start of building a good nucleus there, and we have some good young players that can develop at that position. You know who our receivers are, and we have a pretty talented group. This is the first time for many, many years that we have not had an experienced, talented running back who has proven his value, whether it was way back when Glen Coffee played, it was Mark Ingram. Mark Ingram came back and played with Trent Richardson. Trent Richardson played with Eddie Lacy. Eddie Lacy played with T.J. Yeldon. T.J. Yeldon played with Derrick Henry.

We always had one of those guys coming back. This year we lost both guys in Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. This will provide opportunity, even though they are less experienced, for some other players who are talented players to have a chance to succeed at that position.

Continue reading Nick Saban On Why Alabama Consistently Gets Hosed By Ole Miss

Groupies, Drugs & Unbending Love: London Crawford’s Story

Former Razorback receiver London Crawford recently gave one of the more open and raw interviews I have ever heard with a Hog. The 29-year-old didn’t shy away from a single hardball question sports radio host Carter Bryant lobbed his way. Take the following exchange, for example:

Q: You are a handsome guy. Were the girls all over you in college?

 Yeah, sort of. I did my thing when I was in college, man, and you know it was fun. I’m glad I got it out of my system. Now I’m at the point where I need to to be focused on trying to find marriage. That’s what I’m looking for now. In college I did my share of bad things and rip and ran, and went to parties and hung out with girls — like, with a lot girls. I carried myself well so I was liked a lot, but thank God I made it out of there the right way.

Q: What’s it like having groupies?

Man, in that state of mind when I was in college, it was great to have woman all over you — women to love you or women to want to be with you or do whatever but as you grow mentally you think, “Is this worth it? What are you really benefiting from it? What are they giving you that’s going to make you really care or think about them beyond that time?”

Q : I feel bad, London, because I do radio and when people see me they’re like, “Oh my god, you look like this?!” Though I have a lot of listeners, I don’t have groupies man. What do I need to do to step my game up?

It’s not about how you look man, it’s about how you carry yourself. You carry yourself high, you carry yourself with confidence and you dress well, you smell well, you live well, you live clean. A lot of woman are drawn to the mind frame now. It’s not the old days where they’re drawn to how you look or what you got at the time because back in the day it was about, like “Oh, he got this amount of money.” But now it’s like what is his brain like? What kind of mind frame does he have? They want that longevity… They want the guys with the degree, the guy with the secure job, so things changed man.

Bryant also catches up with how Crawford is doing these days as a professional arena league football player. They talk about his young son — “he’s a very smart, handsome guy, love sports, loves video games” — and how grateful Crawford feels to have the opportunity to mentor him, to be the involved dad he did not have at the same age.  Crawford’s childhood was far from stable, but he nonetheless credits the early gang-related activity and street temptations as a source of strength. “Growing up in that tough environment, and growing up going through the drugs, and the fighting, and all of that stuff, it made me a better person. It made me a better man today.” He adds:

I’m happy my father has gotten himself to be able to be the dad in my life that I needed him to be and he’s a great grandfather in his grandson’s life. My mother she’s still having her struggles but I’m not ashamed of her struggles. The drugs are strong man, they take over people, and it’s hard for some people to come back from it… crack addiction is tough and I’ve watched it my whole life within my mother. She had bouts where she gets off of it but she relapses. I know it’s her because she’s asked me for help and I’ve tried, and she just relapses. It’s just something that is hard to control. A lot of people don’t have a strong mind frame like I have. A lot of people can’t overcome a lot of things. With that being said, regardless of what she does, she birthed me. I wouldn’t care if she goes through it for the rest of her life and I would love my mother like she’s always been in my life.

Q: Did it make you want to do drugs? Did you do drugs in high school?

To be honest with you man, I had a time where I went through where I wanted to sell it but for me to use it, to watch my mom go through the things that she went through and to watch me not have the things that other kinds had, to see my mom how bad she was looking when she was on that stuff … Man, I steered away from that.

Carter Bryant also spoke with Crawford about a white couple who essentially adopted him in high school and college. More insight about this unique  situation, often compared to Michael Oher and Lee Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, is provided in an accompany Fox Sports Arkansas piece.

Q: Janice Givens and her wonderful husband Bryan Givens took you in. They’re white, you are black – was there racism? Was there pressure with them to take you in? 

… They treated me as if God never gave any human a color, he gave us a name, that’s how they treated me. They treated me exactly like they treated their two kids, Jonathon Givens and Thomas Given, if not sometimes better to be honest. Anything I needed, they were there. Every football game in high school, once they got in my life, every football game in college after they dropped everything — their jobs, everything to move to Arkansas because they felt like I needed someone to be there for me, they were there. Anytime I needed to talk to them about anything, advice wise, family wise. When I didn’t want to forgive my dad they told me “Look, we love you regardless of what you do. Your mother is your mother, your father is your father. You have to forgive in order to forget.” And I forgave.

janice givens Q: I guess I should rephrase the question. Did they face racism? Were people chirping about them?

Oh man! When I was in high school, there was a lot of people asking “Why is she trying to help him? What is she trying to get out of this?” A lot of doubters man. I’m talking about people that was close to me doubting. And when I got to college it was like, “Okay, they see that he’s a great athlete. They trying to get this, they trying to get this and that, doing this for a payoff for when he goes to the NFL…” Ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. Okay, I went to the NFL. I got hurt. That hindered me. I’m here now, living a wonderful life. I’m happy and they’re in my life everyday now. Where’s the payoff? They’re still the same people they were. It’s not this. They love me more now than they did then. So, no. They faced a lot, a lot of ups and downs. I’m talking about through the media, through social networks, everything. They faced a lot, man, but the love that they had for me never showed that it bothered them, ever. They always told me no matter what goes on them, that “We love you and we’re going to always be here for you.”


Like these “Where Are They Now” type articles with former Razorbacks? I write plenty more at my main site BestOfArkansasSports.com. Sign up for my once-a-week newsletter and never miss another new post:

Bret Bielema On Jeremy Sprinkle’s Future As a Potential First-Round NFL Draft Pick

Below is the second of a two-part transcription of Bret Bielema’s 2015 season recap. You will learn about an emerging Chicago-Arkansas recruiting pipeline, injury updates on Josh Williams and Dominique Reed and Bielema’s dream of opening Ye Olde Egg Nog Shoppe  (above photo is courtesy of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.).

On the recruiting reach of the Hogs’ new offensive line coach, a native Chicagoan: 

There’s a lot of good players in the Midwest that have been very successful. Not only in the Midwestern colleges, but also in the SEC. I think we play against Alabama and there’s a [Ross] Pierschbacher kid that I remember came out of Iowa that we all wanted. He’s a very good player for Alabama right now. There’s players up there, Frank Ragnow comes out of Minnesota.

I think about our offensive line. Someone thought they’re all southern kids. You had a tackle from Miami, a guard from California, a center from here, a guard from Minnesota and a tackle was Denver. We’ve got them all over the country and that’s just what we’ve got to continue to do.

On the appeal of playing for Arkansas to kids in Chicago

Bret Bielema: I do. I think the kids love the SEC. We wen 8-2 in bowl games. Kids realize that stuff. There’s more kids playing in the Senior Bowl from the SEC than any other conference. Those things matter and it makes a difference.

On how many new scholarship players Arkansas will likely sign:

Bret Bielema: I think we’re going to get to 24 for sure. I think I’ll probably go to 25, to be quite honest. The by-product of having 3 juniors come out is you have 3 more scholarships become available. We had a couple scholarship players graduate early like Reeve Koehler. When he leaves out that presents an opportunity. All those things I couldn’t forecast a year ago at this time.

Bret Bielema: My vision is to do 12 offense, 12 defense and 1 coach’s discretion. The last 3 coach’s discretion have been 3 kids from Arkansas that have been — Korliss [Marshall] obviously loved to indulge in some things we couldn’t — but he was a good player. The next one was Josh Liddell. I think those guys have proved their worth and what they’re capable of doing.

On his starring role in the new reality TV-style series “Being Bret Bielema”

Bret Bielema: Really, the presentation. Thad and some people had kind of gotten together. I think it started with Chris, did it not? Some people said, “Coach, there’s some things about you that don’t ever get out there.” I haven’t done anything. All I do is slip on a mic and just be me. I’m getting beaten up left and right with my college buddies. Recruits love it. The amount of hits that I’ve gotten and the responses that I’ve gotten from recruits and coaches and donors. It’s amazing to me, but it’s also been a lot of fun. I don’t know where it’s going to end. I think they’re going to pop on the road with me for a couple days. We’ll make sure to follow the … because there’s certain things that you’ve got to do.

I watched the first one a while ago. I hadn’t seen the second one until I had enough people telling me all about it, so I watched it last night. They’d cut some things. I was just having some fun with some K State people there. Just different things. They’re doing a really good job with it…. I’m a big guy in the eggnog thing. If you’d ask my wife, I just think it’s ridiculous we can only have eggnog one month out of the year. Anybody that’s been around me knows that’s one of my pet peeves in life.

I am going to open an eggnog store. I think that’s a good thing…

On Josh Williams‘ health

Bret Bielema: Unfortunately, Josh had another procedure. He’s lost a pretty significant amount of that calf muscle. It’s unfortunately one of the bad parts of our profession and part of our job. He’s really going to struggle to get back to a point of walking and doing things functionally again as a normal person. Hopefully, he’s going to be able to play football again someday, but it’s probably a long ways away from that being able to happen. We’ll address it.

He wasn’t able to go home until last week. He had been in the hospital again when we were in Memphis. He didn’t join us until Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, just a lot of by-product off of that surgery.

Right now, he’s not ready for Spring ball and I don’t expect it to be for Spring. Let me tell you if he could get cleared for Fall football I’d be the biggest, happiest fan of Josh’s in the world. I just don’t know if it’s going to be possible. It’s a bridge that we’re going to have to cross together. If he can’t do, I’d be the first to hire him as a linebacker assistant and let him be involved in every way possible. He has truly been one of the greatest blessings for us. He’s a A-B student. He does everything right. He can play all 3 positions. He’s an absolute coach’s dream.

On tight end Jeremy Sprinkle’s potential:

Bret Bielema: Well, [Jeremy] Sprinkles going to be the first to tell you. He hasn’t even scratched the surface. He’s probably the most creative touchdown celebration, but that’s about all he’s got as a No. 1 spot right now. I think we can get him to 260. I think he could be 10 pounds heavier than he is. I think he’d be the first to tell you he was committed 75% of the time. I need a full 100% commitment out of him because if he can give me a year of his life like he’s never had, I’ll give him the next 30 that are pretty good.

I was talking to one NFL coach who had watched our game the day before and their head coach and him and a couple other of their VP’s were there with their GM and they said, “Can we get both those tight ends to play for us tomorrow in the NFL?” Hunter and him have got all the things that you want. I think we could probably have two of the best tight ends in back-to-back years that anybody could produce, but I need a bigger commitment out of Sprink. I mean from diet to sleep to behavior to accountability to responsibility to everything. He’ll get it. His dad and I will get it. I guarantee it.

On overall position depth:

Bret Bielema: I think linebacker depth is a concern of mine in the Fall and Spring so one would tell you that an ideal shooting number for us is 4. I’d love to get 3 high school and a JUCO. The magic number on defense for sure is kind of 3 to 4 at every position. On offense, even though we lost only 1 tight end, he’s a great one, but we signed a number of tight ends a year ago. Wide receiver, we got a fix number. Running back is intriguing because obviously losing 2 backs in the NFL draft — it’s fun to talk about but it’s really not great to live through.

But Kody, Rawleigh, I think the emergence of hopefully J-Day, I think we’ve done a nice job in recruiting. We’re in some of the most elite backs I’ve ever been involved with and they’re saying a lot of really good things. Those things are yet in front of us. It should be a fun two weeks. We’re fixing ready to hop in the last two weeks of recruiting. It’s probably one of the more enjoyable times for me as a head coach – just to get some finality to certain situations.

Continue reading Bret Bielema On Jeremy Sprinkle’s Future As a Potential First-Round NFL Draft Pick

Nothing Posterior About Little Rock’s National Standing In Tight End Production

I recently wrote a piece for OnlyInArk.com supporting the theory that my hometown of Little Rock is the “tight end capital of the world” (in football, not fitness). My theory is supported by four* great college and/or NFL players: Keith Jackson, D.J. Williams, Hunter Henry and Charles Clay. I realize Williams is technically a Fort Worth, Texas native, but for the purposes of this piece he should be considered a Little Rocker — especially since he still lives there.

Little Rock has a population of about 200,000. That means one out of every 50,000 of its native sons is a world-class tight end!

Not just wanting to rely on blind hometown pride, I decided to drop a little research my theory’s way. Thanks to sports-reference.com, I gathered the hometowns of the best NFL tight ends in history — first-team All-Americans since the late 1970s and winners of the John Mckey Award for the nation’s best collegiate tight end (those winners are asterisked below).

The spreadsheet helps Little Rock’s case** by showing how the town produces so much more on a per capita basis than anywhere else. A few places vie for second place. Torrance, Calif. for instance, produced the greatest TE of all, Tony Gonzalez, and a great collegian in Daniel Graham.

St. Louis doesn’t go quietly into the positional night, either, not with Hall-of-Famer Kellen Winslow and three-time Pro Bowler Paul Coffman to its name. But according to the list, at least, these towns don’t have more than two great tight ends. Sure, it’s possible someone moved into the town as a child or young teen (like D.J. Williams did with Little Rock), but I will need to see those cases first before I admit the slightest of doubts that my theory could be wrong.

Continue reading Nothing Posterior About Little Rock’s National Standing In Tight End Production