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At Arkansas – And Elsewhere – Unanswered Prayers Are Sometimes Best

prayingFans want “big name” hires.  They want the flash and hoopla that surround bringing in a proven coach from another program.  And why shouldn’t they?  Swiping a top coach from somewhere else ups a program’s street cred and earns plenty of “SportsCenter” pub to boot.

There’s really just one problem with the “big name” hire.  That’s the fact that name hires are just as hit or miss as up-and-comer hires.  Just ask an Arkansas fan.

Arguably, Razorback athletic director Jeff Long has been America’s best go-getter AD since 2007.  In football he stole Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Bret Bielema from then-Big Ten champion Wisconsin.  In hoops he swiped former Hog assistant Mike Anderson from neighboring Missouri.

In terms of pleasing the ol’ fanbase, Long has been hitting on all cylinders with his hires.  And how’s that worked out for him?

Well, Petrino blew himself up with a scandal that could have left the University of Arkansas in legal trouble and Long without a job.  The first-year of Bielema’s rebuild earned Arkansas its first-ever winless season in conference play and it’s first-ever nine-game losing streak in a single season.

In basketball, Anderson has failed to take the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament in his first two years and it’s looking doubtful he’ll make it in Year Three.  After a loss at Tennessee last night, Anderson’s Arkansas teams are now just 2-21 in true road games and just 3-27 in games outside the Natural State since his coronation.

Long swung for the fences three times in a row.  One is already a strikeout.  It’s too early to make a call on the Bielema and Anderson hires, but suffice to say they’ve not turned into home run hires just yet.

This isn’t a knock on Arkansas, mind you.  It’s just a reminder that praying for a big name or a hot name doesn’t always pan out.

For every Nick Saban or John Calipari who lives up to expectations there’s a Bobby Petrino who leaves a program worse than he found it.  For every hot up-and-comer who pans out (Gus Malzahn, Billy Donovan) there’s an equal number of fast-risers who never quite reach the heights folks expect (Anthony Grant, Tony Barbee).

Sometimes the “who’s he?” hires — James Franklin at Vanderbilt, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss — are better than the guys everyone dreams about.

Will what’s happened at Arkansas over the past few seasons prevent Jon Gruden rumors from popping up the next time a football job opens in the SEC?  Of course not.  Everyone will always want their school to hire a splashy name.

But sometimes the unanswered prayers turn out best.

 

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Arkansas’ Long Didn’t Want The Texas Job, But He Will Take More Money

jeff-longKudos to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long for turning one school’s reported interest in him into a tangible bump in salary.  The Dallas Morning News reported last weekend that the Razorback AD was on the three-man short list of AD candidates at Texas.  Long put out a press release stating: “I do not comment on the searches of other universities or on unsubstantiated rumors… Further, I am not seeking a position or engaged in the search process of another university.”

Here’s why: Arkansas boosted Long’s salary to $1.1 million per year, gave him a $100,000 bonus for sticking around, and upped his buyout to $1.3 million through June of 2015.

The Associated Press got hold of Long’s amended contract — freshly cut last Friday — via an open records request.  They found that UA officials conceded in the pact that they were aware that “another institution of higher education with significant resources” had come a’calling.  Also, the new monetary benefits to Long were “in exchange for your agreement to remover yourself from consideration for another position and to retain you at the University of Arkansas.”

It was a smart move by the Razorbacks.  Long has become one of the most respected ADs in the nation by always landing the coaches he desires (Mike Anderson in hoops, Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema in football), by proving to be an excellent fundraiser, and by taking the high ground in the Petrino situation (which was not an easy move to make).

As for those Arkansas fans who won’t like Long angling for a raise, put yourself in his shoes.  If the biggest company in your field wanted to talk to you, wouldn’t you consider moving?  And if your current employer was willing to up your pay in order to keep you, wouldn’t you happily take the cash?

This was a win-win for all involved.  Long’s staying in Fayetteville and he’s making more money.  Arkansas maintains stability at the top of its athletic department by holding on to a proven leader.

Good times.

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Basketball Media Days: Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson answers questions at the SEC Basketball Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

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SEC Headlines 6/27/2013

headlines-thuSEC Football

1. “There’s no way to dress this up: Alabama’s schedule is awful…It couldn’t be set up better for a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game.”

2. About Oregon’s NCAA punishment.  “It may be left to Alabama to punish the Ducks in the final BCS Championship Game.”

3. Jeff Schultz  is bullish on Georgia:  ”I can foresee a scenario where the Bulldogs lose their season opener at Clemson and win every other game.”

4. A breakdown of the entire Tennessee roster.  How each player was ranked by recruiting services.

5. Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand is a finalist for a series on the Food Network.

6. South Carolina wide receiver Damiere Bird: “Is this the year he puts it all together and becomes a more consistent, every-down receiver?”

7. Is sophomore defensive end Channing Ward looking at a mid-career redshirt season at Ole Miss?

8. Is wide receiver the weakest position at Mississippi State?

9. Stewart Mandel on Johnny Manziel: “I’d be willing to bet that plenty of other former Heisman winners would have gotten themselves into hot water had Twitter existed during their day.”

SEC Basketball

10. NBA draft tonight. Just two former SEC players projected to go in first round.

11. Jay Bilas on Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin:  ”I’ve got him slated as top of the second round. He’s talented enough to be a first-round pick.”

12. Nerlens Noel on his recovery from knee surgery and when you could see him on an NBA court:  ”I’m on accelerated rehab, so hopefully around October, November.”

13. Kentucky coach John Calipari on the player Cleveland may – or may not – take with the first overall pick.  ”If you want to pass on him because someone help win faster, go ahead. But just realize the potential and drive that you’re missing.”

14. Florida’s Erik Murphy projected as a second-round pick.  Hoping to become the 35th player in UF history drafted.

15. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson on guard B.J. Young: “There is tremendous interest in B.J. and his potential.”

16. Phil Pressey’s decision to leave Missouri - “best for all concerned that he made the choice he did.” Orlando in the second round for Pressey? Or maybe...Boston?

17. Complete SEC draft history - from 1949 through 2012.

18. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy on the NCAA reprimand given to guard Marshall Henderson: “Marshall has accepted responsibility for his actions, and we are moving forward.”

19. A crowded backcourt at Tennessee.  Time for a four-guard offense?

20. Mike DeCourcy on the trend toward redesigned basketball courts.  “What’s on the middle of the court at Duke? At Kentucky? At Louisville? Can anyone picture it?” MrSEC covered some of this ground on Monday.

Extras

21. Be prepared to hear the phrase “taken out of context” from attorneys representing Aaron Hernandez. A connection to a Boston double-homicide?

22. Police have made a second arrest in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd.

23. Las Vegas and the Aaron Hernandez effect.

24. On July 1, the Big East officially returns to its basketball-first ways.

25. Kirk Herbstreit isn’t going anywhere.  Signs ESPN extension through 2022.

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With The SEC Out, The Coaching Grades Are In

Report-Card-with-gradesFinally, with Florida’s suprisingly ugly loss to Michigan yesterday,  we can toss the last bit of dirt on the 2012-13 SEC basketball season.  It seems the league’s disappointing season had one last disappointment to deliver before we could lower it into the ground.

For those who care about such things, the Southeastern Conference has now fallen to 9th in conference RPI rank behind the Big Ten, Big East, Mountain West, ACC, Big XII, Pac-12, Atlantic 10, and Missouri Valley.  Ouch.

But despite a poor season on the whole, there were some solid coaching jobs turned in by a few of the league’s coaches.  In our view, offseason attrition — not poor coaching — should be counted as the main reason for the conference’s woes this past season.  That said, below are the final marks from MrSEC.com for all 14 of the conference’s head instructors.

 

Billy Donovan, Florida — A+

Record: 29-8 (14-4 in SEC)

RPI Rank: 9

Florida was picked to finish second in the SEC this year, but the Gators were in fact that cream of the conference.  Donovan’s squad — for much of the season — featured one of the nation’s most suffocating defenses.  At 6-5, the Gators were the only SEC team to finish with a plus-500 record against the RPI top 50.  The team wobbled a bit while sixth-man Will Yeguete was sidelined, but the Gators did reach their third consecutive Elite Eight.  UF fans are probably smarting today, but there’s no question Donovan still places among the top five or 10 coaches in all of college hoops.  Make the Elite Eight, get an A+ on the report card.

 

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss — A

Record: 27-9 (12-6 in SEC)

RPI Rank: 45

This one was a toughie.  Kennedy took a chance on Marshall Henderson and, despite some bad pub, that worked out well.  His two forwards — Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner — made up one of the league’s best frontcourts.  The Rebels reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Kennedy and they guaranteed their slot in the field by getting hot in March and cutting down the nets at the SEC Tournament.  That’s all good.  But.  It must be stated that the Rebels had a horrible non-conference schedule and they suffered a pair of what could have been bubble-bursting losses to sub-200 RPI teams.  In the end, however, Kennedy managed the chemistry on his team well — no easy task with a lightning rod like Henderson present — and he led them past the opening round of the NCAA tourney.  That’s pretty good work from a guy who might have been fired had his team missed the tourney altogether.  Oh, and victory-wise it was Mississippi’s best record ever.  A solid A grade for Kennedy is the result.

 

Johnny Jones, LSU — B+

Record: 19-12 (9-9 in SEC)

RPI Rank: 93

The Tigers’ first-year coach left many on the Bayou wondering what he might have been able to do with the team Trent Johnson had a year earlier.  Jones’ team jumped out to a 9-2 start against so-so non-conference competition, but unlike so many other SEC squads, his team didn’t turn into a pumpkin when league play began.  After an 0-4 start, LSU finished 9-5 in its last 14 conference games (10-6 if you count the tourney) to finish mid-table in the SEC standings.  With a top recruiting class coming in, Tiger fans should be happy about what they’ve seen from their alumnus/coach in his first season.

 

Anthony Grant, Alabama — B

Record: 22-13 (12-6 in SEC)

RPI Rank: 64

Meh.  Solid, but not special.  Good, but not great.  It’s likely that had senior guard Andrew Steele been healthy all season, the Tide might have been an NCAA Tournament team.  But he was lost for the month of December and Alabama went 2-5 during that non-conference stretch.  He then missed eight of Alabama’s last 12 games and he was less than 100% in at least four more contests.  Despite Steele’s absence, Grant managed to work his team into the NIT where a one-point home loss to Maryland cost it a trip to Madison Square Garden.  Again, good, not great.

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Young Announces He’s Leaving Arkansas For The NBA

Sophomore guard BJ Young announced via twitter on Thursday he plans to enter the NBA draft.

 

Young, who led Arkansas in scoring this season at 15.1 points per game, is the second Razorback this week to leave early for the draft. Forward Marshawn Powell announced Tuesday he will skip his senior season and enter the draft.

Young finished No. 11 on our list of the SEC’s most productive basketball players this season.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson released a statement Thursday following a meeting with Young:

“This is his dream and as a coach I encourage him to pursue that dream.”

The departure of Powell and Young leaves forward Coty Clarke as Arkansas’ leading scorer next season. He averaged 7.6 points per game as a junior.

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Thought Of The Day – 3/6/13

Congrats on reaching the middle of the workweek, America.  Congrats to Andy Kennedy for getting a much-needed win at Ole Miss.  Congrats to Missouri fans for vanquishing ex-coach Mike Anderson in loud and rowdy fashion.

And there’s plenty more SEC news on the way today.

As for the thought/lyric of the day, it came to my attention when this song popped up on the MrSEC.com iPod today that we push a lot of blues around here… but not a lot of blues by women.  Time to change that.  So please enjoy the supercharged sound of Ms. Koko Taylor.

 

“…When the reflection in the glass that I held to my lips revealed the tears that were on my face.”

 

koko taylor I'd rather go blind

 

Good Lord, that woman could sing.

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SEC Hoops: Hogs Succumb To Tide

basketballsAlabama 59 — Arkansas 56

Alabama improved to 5-2 in the SEC despite blowing a double-digit lead and committing a season-high 21 turnovers.

The Tide is making a habit out of winning close games at home… their last four home victories have been by a combined 11 points.

It was yet another road loss for Arkansas, but the Razorbacks took this one to the final seconds.

Mike Anderson on the Hogs’ loss: “I told our guys, I love the effort and they didn’t lose it.  We just ran out of time.”

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SEC Basketball Media Day – Coaches Roundup

 

 

Hogs’ A.D. Talks Football With Booster Club, Eyes A Coaching Decision By Mid-December

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long met with a number of rabid Razorback fans at the Little Rock Touchdown Club yesterday.  Naturally, the state of his coaching search was a hot topic.

Asked what “phase” his coaching search is in, Long said: “Just research at this point.”  Just a few weeks ago he told another booster group that he’s had no contact with coaches or their representatives.  Here’s hoping he’s lying his rear end off, ’cause if he’s spent the time from April til October simply looking at resumes, he’s wasted a lot of valuable time.  (For that reason, we suspect he is lying his rear end off and has talked to representatives for coaches and perhaps a few out of work ones like Butch Davis and Jon Gruden one-on-one.)

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