LIKE IT IS:

Time to sweep 2012’s mess out the door

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, December 30, 2012
Many coaches’ names were mentioned in newspapers and on television and radio, but Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long kept his cards so close to his vest that he shocked the whole nation when it was announced that Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema was Arkansas’ new head coach.
Many coaches’ names were mentioned in newspapers and on television and radio, but Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long kept his cards so close to his vest that he shocked the whole nation when it was announced that Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema was Arkansas’ new head coach.

— It seems like the perfect day to say goodbye to an imperfect year.

One that started with incredible hopes and dreams.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl and the Arkansas State Red Wolves were in Mobile, Ala., for the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

The Hogs’ head coach was in place; ASU’s had bolted for Ole Miss and the SEC.

The Red Wolves lost that game, but there was still an air of excitement because Gus Malzahn was coming home to take over a program he had once passed on the chance to coach.

The Razorbacks dominated Kansas State to win their 11th game, and 21st in two seasons.

So-called experts who had never seen a game in person, much less a practice, declared the Hogs would be in the next Bowl Championship Series championship game, probably against Southern Cal.

Those so-called experts obviously didn’t study the depth charts and realize how much the Hogs were losing on defense, not to mention losses to the best receiving corps in the history of the program.

Or that USC had no depth.

On Monday, the Trojans take on Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, and while that might be a fall from the BCS championship, it was nothing compared to the slide the Razorbacks would take.

Yet, looking back, this year was a stage set for disappointment. Too much senior leadership, especially on defense, and talent had departed and had not been replaced in the recruiting process.

Then there was the now infamous motorcycle wreck, and there is no need to go into all those sad details again.

What wasn’t anticipated was how Bobby Petrino’s selfish and inappropriate actions would fracture a football program. How the trust, hope and dreams were splintered on a late April Fool’s afternoon.

The violation of basic trust was compounded by his untruths, and many fans were so soured that they lost some enthusiasm.

Second, he was the only guy who could rule the team through his surly intimidation.

Certainly, that was not John L. Smith’s approach to being a head coach. Smith fanned the fires of hope a little, declaring at his first news conference that the goal was still a national championship.

A week before Louisiana-Monroe stunned the Hogs 34-31 in overtime, the Razorbacks gave up two sustained drives in the season opener against Jacksonville State, a possible clue it was going to be a long season.

When the Razorbacks stumbled out of College Station, Texas, beaten 58-10 by Texas A&M, it was obvious the wheels were off the program, at least temporarily.

By the time the season ended in Fayetteville with a 20-13 loss to LSU in front of a national television audience on CBS, no one was talking about the season, but who would be the next head coach.

Many coaches’ names were mentioned in newspapers and on television and radio, but Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long kept his cards so close to his vest that he shocked the whole nation when it was announced that Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema was Arkansas’ new head coach.

At first there was concern, but Razorbacks Nation became more enthused as they learned more about him.

On the day it was announced that Bielema was the new coach, ASU announced that Malzahn, who had continually said he was happy and wanted to make the Red Wolves the next Boise State, was on his way to Auburn, making it the second year in a row that ASU was a feeder program for the SEC.

Malzahn’s leaving was a gut shot, but new hope appeared on the horizon for ASU with the hiring of Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

It has been a long, often disappointing sports year in Arkansas, but a new era has already begun and a new year of hope begins Tuesday.

Sports, Pages 21 on 12/30/2012

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