Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Getting the right guy is all that really matters
University of Arkansas chancellor G. David Gearhart, from left, athletics director Jeff Long, and former head football coach John L. Smith listen during a Sept. 14, 2012 ceremony for the university's new football center in Fayetteville.
COLUMBIA, S.C. Gloom was the word that came to mind as the handful of Arkansas Razorbacks fans gathered at the airport here Sunday morning after the Hogs’ 38-20 loss to South Carolina.
Doom, though, was not in the air.
Not after SEC newbie Texas A&M and first-year coach Kevin Sumlin knocked off the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.
All Jeff Long, Arkansas’ athletic director, has to do is hire the right coach and the Hogs will beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
OK, maybe it isn’t that simple, but it starts there.
Sumlin replaced Art Briles at Houston. It was Briles, now Baylor’s head coach, who laid the foundation at Houston, but Sumlin built on it. Now, he’s taken a team that underachieved last season and blew halftime leads, and led it to 8-2 and a victory over the Tide, the defending BCS national champs.
It helps that Sumlin inherited Johnny Football, the name redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel has become known by.
Manziel could be the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and the first to do so without being allowed to do an interview. Sumlin put the multitalented quarterback off limits to the media, as he does all freshman, this season.
Manziel’s popularity is spreading like wildfire and his family already has been warned by the NCAA it cannot make money off his nickname or he could lose his eligibility.
Razorbacks fans should remember Manziel well. He completed 29 of 38 passes for 453 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for another 104 yards and a score when the Aggies whipped the Hogs 58-10.
Saturday, he led A&M to touchdown drives of 73, 41 and 73 in the first quarter to stake the Aggies to a 20-0 lead. He rushed for 92 yards and completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Aggies held on to win 29-24, but that’s when coaching kicked in and Sumlin never panicked.
In fact, with A&M faced with fourth down and 40 seconds to play deep in its territory, it appeared Sumlin called for his team to go to a hard count and told it to jump the first time a Bama defender moved.
That’s what happened: The Aggies got a first down by penalty and ran out the clock. Assistant coaches were seen running up to Sumlin saying great call.
The Aggies appear to be headed to the Cotton Bowl for yet another game with their arch rival Texas.
The Hogs would have to win their final two games to be bowl eligible. And while they wouldn’t have the option of saying no, they might wish they could because it would just prolong this long, difficult season by another month and it would end in a very low tiered bowl.
So how does Long find the next Sumlin?
Obviously, there are proven winners out there who would consider Arkansas a promotion: Mike Gundy, 45, at Oklahoma State; Art Briles, 57, at Baylor; Tommy Tuberville, 58, at Texas Tech; Gary Patterson, 52, at TCU, and a couple of up and comers in James Franklin, 40, at Vanderbilt and Sonny Dykes, 43, at Louisiana Tech.
All six have rebuilt programs, and three of them have their teams ranked in the BCS Top 25.
Tuberville won at Ole Miss and Auburn in the SEC, so he knows what it takes to win in the country’s toughest football league. Franklin is in the SEC now.
Gundy, Briles and Dykes have put once downtrodden programs on the national radar.
Patterson has done that, too. But he makes between $3.25 and $3.8 million, is building a new home and his wife, who is very involved with the program, is from Fort Worth.
Plus he gave his word to boosters he would stay if they updated football facilities. They did.
Long has had seven months to find the right guy. Allegedly, he has told the UA board of trustees he’s got his man in place.
One thing is for sure: Kevin Sumlin proved coaching makes a difference, even in your first season. It’s something Razorbacks fans have realized, too, the hard way.
Sports, Pages 15 on 11/13/2012