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.
Hogs can't wallow in outdoors letdown
Arkansas hurdler Omar McLeod competes during the SEC Outdoor Championships on Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The only University of Arkansas coach who wouldn't draw acclaim for a runner-up SEC finish smiled wanly at the reporter about to interview him.
"You've got time for the guy who finished second?" Chris Bucknam asked.
Texas A&M scored 155.5 points to Arkansas' 116 and Florida's 93 to win the SEC men's outdoor tack and field championship last weekend in Lexington, Ky.
Only a coach who has won nine consecutive SEC championships, including two consecutive triple crowns, would apologize after finishing second in the country's toughest track league by far.
However, between the standard that Bucknam maintained and especially the 84-conference championships achieved before him by retired Arkansas coach John McDonnell, the Vince Lombardi adage that "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" seems always to apply.
Except, even Lombardi didn't win them all. Excluding his incredible 34 consecutive conference cross country crowns from 1974-2007, neither did McDonnell.
After his teams started winning Southwest Conference triple crowns in 1981-82, McDonnell's men lost one SWC outdoor, two SEC outdoor and two SEC Indoor meets. Those rare defeats jarred Arkansans into appreciating those conference championships they assumed McDonnell's men won so automatically.
Likewise, Bucknam's conference conquests deserve retrospective appreciation.
Given Texas A&M won the NCAA Outdoor from 2009-2011 and shared the 2013 NCAA Outdoor title with 2012 NCAA Outdoor champion Florida, it's no fluke A&M finally won the SEC.
"It's just such a tough league," Bucknam said, noting the SEC has 10 teams in the Top 25 nationally and that Florida, A&M and Arkansas rank first, second and fourth. "You are not going to win all of them. It's not going to happen. We try, and obviously look back on why didn't we get first?"
He knows why. His Razorbacks did OK and sometimes spectacularly, like the 1-2-3 long jump finish by Raymond Higgs, Jarrion Lawson and Anthony May and Stanley Kebenei winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run.
But the Aggies clicked spectacularly across the board, feeding off each other like so many Razorbacks teams of conference meets past.
"We were good enough for second. We weren't good enough for first," Bucknam said. "They put together a great meet in a lot off different events. I think their team fed off the [unexpected] 1-2 finish in the 100-meter dash. They smelled blood in the water. It's what we did nine times in a row."
Obviously with their recent NCAA Outdoor championships, A&M and Florida didn't allow their outdoor seasons to end with Arkansas beating them in the SEC.
His Razorbacks won't either, Bucknam vows. Arkansas hosts the NCAA West Preliminary meet Thursday through Saturday leading up to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which will be hosted by third-ranked Oregon on June 11-14 in Eugene.
"Right now we have got to shake it off and and get as many people to Eugene as we can," Bucknam said. "A&M, Florida, Oregon ... they have never been better, but I definitely think we are in the hunt."
Sports on 05/24/2014