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.
Fast starts no guarantee of immortality
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema reads his notes during a practice Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014 at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Judging strictly by the first head coaching years of Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and Terry Bowden at Auburn, Bret Bielema ultimately could have a better down the road parting from Arkansas than Gus Malzahn at Auburn.
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First-blush success, it seems, can come with the romantic price of a first crush soured to scorn.
Sometimes like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, the slow starter, over the long haul, overcomes what appears to be an insurmountable deficit at the race's outset.
Malzahn is playing the part of the hare rocketing insurmountably ahead while Bielema is portrayed as the tortoise with perhaps a Mack Truck bearing down the road from behind as they prepare to start their second seasons as head coaches in the SEC.
They will meet for the second time -- Auburn won 35-17 last season-- at 3 p.m. Saturday at Auburn, Ala., in a game to be televised on the SEC Network.
Little was expected from either last year, with Bielema taking over an Arkansas team that had gone 4-8 and Malzahn inherting a 3-9 Auburn team.
Bielema fared even worse than expected at 3-9, closing with nine consecutive losses.
Broyles started out 0-6 in 1958, his first season, before closing 4-6.
He won his first Southwest Conference championship in 1959 and retired from coaching by his choice in 1976 as a Hall of Fame coach becoming a Hall of Fame athletic director.
Petrino began 5-7 at Arkansas before building to 8-5, 10-3, 11-2 success. He crashed certainly not from his coaching on the field but his unchecked reckless arrogance off of it.
Malzahn currently is the toast not just of Auburn but college football.
How could he not be, assuming in 2013 a program gone SEC winless in 2012 and soaring it to a 12-2 season, SEC championship and national runner-up.
But Holtz's first Arkansas season similarly sizzled at 11-1 capped by routing prohibitive favorite Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Closing 1983 he was fired.
Nutt in 1998 took over an Arkansas program off successive 4-7 seasons and went 9-3 with a share of the SEC West title to national acclaim.
In 2007 Nutt was given "golden handcuffs" and a ticket to Mississippi.
During their first-year euphoria Holtz and Nutt were hailed for taking mediocre teams of the previous year to greatness.
During their partings many of the same fans who had hailed them increasingly regaled that Holtz and Nutt had their best success coaching their predecessor's players.
Nobody could better Bowden's 11-0 beginning at Auburn in 1993. By midseason 1998 Bowden was forced out off a 1-5 start.
Bowden doesn't stand alone among Auburn devouring its own.
Tommy Tuberville took the Tigers 13-0 in 2004. By 2008 he felt compelled to resign.
Gene Chizik was head coach and Malzahn his offensive coordinator for Auburn's 2010 national championship.
By 2013 Auburn showed Chizik the door and summoned Malzahn from Arkansas State to replace him.
Odds of course indicate it won't happen, but three-touchdown underdog Arkansas springing an upset Saturday would have both schools' fans at least fleetingly casting their coaches in a different light.
Sports on 08/25/2014