Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Bucknam’s Hogs striding to top spot
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam, left, and assistant Danny Greene watch Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, during the Razorback Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE If Chris Bucknam coached any other sport at the University of Arkansas, he would already be enshrined in the UA Sports Hall of Honor.
Razorbacks coaches in tennis, golf, etc., would be exalted for winning nine of the past 13 conference championships in their sport, including 6 of 6. The football coach would be on a throne.
But Bucknam coaches Razorbacks men’s indoor track, outdoor track and cross country.
At Arkansas, it seems conference championships in men’s indoor track, outdoor track and cross country are measured in afterthoughts.
John McDonnell, Arkansas’ cross country coach from 1972-2007 and head track coach from 1978-2008, numbed the Arkansas public to conference crowns in cross country and track. His teams won 84, including an incredible unbroken string of conference cross country crowns from 1974-2007.
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When a few recent Arkansas football coaches talked about winning a national championship, it created a buzz, considering Frank Broyles’ 1964 Razorbacks are the only Arkansas football team to achieve it.
Former Coach Nolan Richardson’s 1994 Razorbacks won Arkansas’ lone basketball’s national championship.
Of Arkansas’ other national championships, McDonnell won the rest. His 42 NCAA championships (40 officially recognized after two were vacated) are unprecedented for all NCAA sports.
That legacy has been Bucknam’s cross to bear. So even after winning the SEC 2011-2012 Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple crown, there’s still a hole that won’t be filled until a national championship trophy is hoisted.
Bucknam’s men, minus injured 4-time All-American long jumper triple jumper Tarik Batchelor, came close in 2012, finishing second to Florida at the NCAA Indoor in Boise, Idaho, by a 52-47 score.
This may be the year Bucknam’s Razorbacks kick down the door as hosts of the NCAA Indoor March 8-9 at the Randal Tyson Indoor Track. They certainly looked the part of No. 1 ranking this past weekend, posting five first-place finishes, including a victory by Batchelor, remarkably recovered from last year’s ruptured patellar tendon, to win Saturday’s triple jump at 53-8 1/2. Arkansas beat No. 3 Florida, 124.5-79.5, to win an 11-team Razorback Invitational loaded with national talent.
Winning the NCAA Indoor is the ultimate goal, though Bucknam believes that it’s best to leave national championship talk and thought to others, with more prep meets, and the Feb. 22-24 SEC Indoor Championships still ahead.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Bucknam said Saturday evening. “Not wishing our life away. We’re starting to see the hard work pay off. Now we can start to sharpen up in the month of February and see how far we can take it.”
Team camaraderie, even in a sport as orientated to individuals as track and field, can determine how far that is, Bucknam said.
“I like the body language of our guys,” Bucknam said Saturday. “It’s good to win as a team.”
Sports, Pages 16 on 01/28/2013