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:
No way to sugarcoat Arkansas’ 3-9 season
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen (10) drops back in the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Burning a few vacation days at year’s end gives the batteries time to charge for SEC basketball, and it gives time to reflect.
This year, 2013, will leave a mark in Arkansas Razorbacks football history. It will just be about one page instead of a chapter.
As far as football goes, Henderson State and Arkansas State were the state’s biggest success stories.
Many times the past few months the question has been asked: Was this the worst Razorbacks season you have covered?
Under consideration would be the 3-8 Hogs under first-year head coach Jack Crowe in 1990 when they opened the season ranked No. 15 in the nation. That Razorbacks team won one game in Fayetteville (Tulsa, 28-3), one in Little Rock (Colorado State, 31-20) and one in Dallas (SMU, 42-29).
Mostly what I remember about that season was quarterback Quinn Grovey scrambling for his life on what seemed like every play. It probably seemed like more to him.
The 1992 Hogs went 3-7-1 after Crowe was fired the day after a season-opening loss to The Citadel. Interim head coach Joe Kines started freshman Barry Lunney Jr. against Tennessee and got a road victory. All three victories and the tie were in SEC play.
There have been some other down times, and some incredibly good times like 2010 and 2011 when the Razorbacks went 21-5 and played in their first, and only, BCS bowl.
The past two years have been difficult for Hog fans.
John L. Smith seemed like the perfect answer as an interim head coach in 2012. He had been part of the staff that won those 21 games, the players loved him, and except for the integration of two new coordinators hired by his predecessor - Paul Petrino on offense and Paul Haynes on defense - he was keeping intact a staff that had enjoyed great success.
The missing ingredient was Bobby Petrino, the head coach who squeezed every drop of offense out of his team every Saturday. He found ways to win. Without him, the Hogs found ways to lose.
This season the Hogs started 3-0 and led Rutgers 24-7 with about 20 minutes to play. That’s when that nasty 2012 habit of finding ways to lose jumped up and bit them on the behind.
It turned into a long journey down a very bumpy road.
Steve Spurrier and South Carolina never let up and beat the Razorbacks 52-7. Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide did everything they could to hold the score down, and the Tide won 52-0. It could have been much worse.
You get the picture.
Mercifully, it ended the Friday after Thanksgiving in Baton Rouge when the Razorbacks allowed LSU, with its backup quarterback, to go 99 yards for the game-winning touchdown to set an Arkansas Razorbacks record for losses in a season (nine) and consecutive losses (nine).
Before the season began, a national business magazine reported ticket sales were down at the majority of college football venues, including at Arkansas, which reported about a 16 percent drop-off.
The SEC is conducting a study about the game-day experience to try to change the ticket sales trend, some of which can be attributed to the fact that all games are televised.
Note to the SEC: Playing loud music that only the students like is not a good way to keep donors coming to the game.
In the end, the hiring of Coach Bret Bielema was questioned on radio call-in shows. Many blamed everything on Athletic Director Jeff Long.
But this much has been learned during a more than 30-year journey of covering Arkansas sports: One year is never enough to determine if the right coach is in place, even if he endured what is probably the worst season in Razorbacks history.
Sports, Pages 21 on 12/29/2013