Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
UA volleyball coach finds letter from Sutton three decades later
Arkansas volleyball coach Robert Pulliza watches a 2009 practice at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas volleyball coach Robert Pulliza has long been intrigued by Eddie Sutton.
The seventh-year Razorbacks coach has an office on the second floor of Barnhill Arena. It's the same corner office used by Sutton and other Arkansas coaching legends like Nolan Richardson and John McDonnell through the years.
Pulliza also has an affinity for books, in particular those at the famous Dickson Street Bookshop. During a recent trip there, one book about the history of his employer piqued his interest.
He couldn't believe what he found once he opened the cover.
Inside was a letter Sutton, who turned Arkansas' program into a national contender, had written to a fan on March 25, 1985 - just nine days before he was introduced as head coach at Kentucky.
The letter was written on Razorbacks letterhead and was in response to a letter to the editor the fan, Curtis A. Spencer of Harrison, had written to both the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette defending Sutton, who had come under scrutiny following a 22-13 season that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Sutton even cut out the newspaper clipping and attached it to his letter, which read:
Thank you for your encouraging letter. People like you make Arkansas a special place to live and work.
This season has been a trying one, but the loyal fan support that has made Arkansas great in the past has supported us.
We appreciate your loyalty, and hope that you will continue to be a Razorback.
"How cool is that?" Pulliza said. "It was pretty neat from a personal standpoint for me since I share the same office he and Nolan had back in the day. What was really cool was that he took the time to write back to that fan. What I really love about the letter is the passion and support from the fans, and the loyalty the fans have in the state of Arkansas. This is a special place and the fans support us through the good times and the bad times."
Sutton's career at Kentucky would go on to be defined by a NCAA probation, though he had his greatest career success later at Oklahoma State. Sutton found favor with Arkansas fans late in his career when he received a standing ovation at Bud Walton Arena during a 2003 game and since retiring has returned to Fayetteville multiple times.
Pulliza's team has had plenty of good times the last two seasons, advancing to the NCAA Tournament both years. With three consecutive nationally-ranked signing classes, he is hopeful the Razorbacks will continue that run.
Arkansas opens its season this weekend with matches against Michigan, Stephen F. Austin and Tennessee State at Barnhill Arena. Pulliza said the team is hoping for what would be a record 3,000 fans at the Michigan match Saturday night.
"As we started preseason, the expectation to be good was there," Pulliza said. "We expect to go to the NCAA Tournament. It's creating a culture of work and when you've been there back-to-back years you know the expectation and know what it feels like, and you want more."