ARKANSAS SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Dean Weber more than a trainer for Hogs

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2018
Former Arkansas trainer Dean Weber works with campers Sunday, June 2, 2013, during the Northwest Arkansas Passing Academy football camp at Fayetteville High School.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Former Arkansas trainer Dean Weber works with campers Sunday, June 2, 2013, during the Northwest Arkansas Passing Academy football camp at Fayetteville High School.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A phone call from one iconic hall of fame coach to another 45 years ago sent Dean Weber to a place he'd never been and on to a hall of fame career of his own.

Not only had Weber never been to Arkansas in 1973 but he also wasn't exactly sure where the state was.

"I actually had to look on the map," Weber said. "I thought Arkansas was where Kansas is."

Weber not only came to Arkansas, moving from assistant athletic trainer into the lead position before the 1973 football season, but he also made it his home. His 41 years is believed to be the third-longest tenure among University of Arkansas, Fayetteville athletic department personnel, behind only Frank Broyles and Norm DeBriyn. He didn't miss a football game in his tenure as the top trainer, totaling 416 games in a row through the Cotton Bowl after the 2007 season.

Weber is following Broyles and DeBriyn into the the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame with his induction in the 2018 class. The Washington, D.C., native, who was raised in Chantilly, Va., already has left a legacy with the Razorbacks, having been inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Honor in 2000 and for having an endowed scholarship in his name -- created by the seniors on the 1979 Southwest Conference championship team -- in the master's program for athletic training.

"I'm more proud of that than anything," Weber said. "That's a big deal to have a scholarship named after you."

Weber had been on the training staff at the University of North Carolina for five years when an opening on head trainer Jim Bone's staff at the UA opened. Weber, who had been offered a position at James Madison, applied at Arkansas but had waited several weeks to hear whether Broyles, the athletic director, would offer him the job.

Weber was basically at wit's end before bringing up the issue with Tar Heels basketball coach Dean Smith.

"He knew Frank from the FCA," Weber said. "I said, 'I don't think they're going to make a decision.' This had dragged on for about six weeks. Frank wouldn't pull the trigger.

"Dean said he'd call him, and I went downstairs. In about an hour, he had called Frank and I think that was the final straw. Frank was getting ready to go to Augusta for spring break, and he was tired of messing with it. He took Dean's word for it. Then Jim called and said, 'Hey, you've got the job. Come on out here.' "

Bone resigned as head athletic trainer after spring football in 1973, and Weber took the top position for the next 35 years, working for eight head coaches.

Because Weber and his wife had not been to Arkansas, he made one more phone call to Broyles, asking whether they could come out to see the campus.

"He said, 'You're back there in North Carolina and you've got mountains and trees back there, don't you,' " Weber said. "I said, 'Yes sir.' He said, 'We've got them, too.' I said, 'OK, that's enough.' "

Weber's sense of humor made him a favorite among many football players.

"That's one of the things that brought us closer together," two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up running back Darren McFadden said. "As a younger kid, some adults you might not crack jokes with them. But me and Dean, we had that kind of relationship where you could crack jokes.

"They may not be appropriate jokes, but it was always fun and games, and we had a good time. But he's one of those guys also, when it was time to get down to business, he was going to let you know that you have to take care of your business and stay on top of everything."

Steve Cox, the Hogs' top kicker and punter in 1979-1980 before going on to an eight-year NFL career, said Weber had the ability to "tell you what you need to do and don't need to do and be very stern about it, but he actually made it fun for me to go in there.

"He not only had the ability to heal you physically, but he worked on you mentally while you were in there. Arkansas was lucky to have him."

McFadden stays in touch with Weber and always drops in when he's back on campus.

"I still talk to him on a regular [basis] to this day," McFadden said. "He's just been a great guy that helped me get through college. He's a great trainer, first and foremost, and a great person and a great human being with everything he did for me."

Weber's strong relationship with players was on display in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2007. The Razorbacks had roared back from a 31-10 deficit to take a 38-31 lead, and Alabama could not stop McFadden. Then he suffered a concussion.

Weber would not let the star running back go back in, ending a dominating performance that included 195 rushing yards, 211 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns. The Crimson Tide rallied for a 41-38 last-second victory.

"Once you make a commitment that you care for someone, this is it," Weber said. "You have to stick to it. That's really not hard. That was what was best for Darren.

"Now, as far as the game goes and having a chance, yeah, I wanted the sucker to play, absolutely. But you can't let that influence it."

Cox, who was appointed to the UA System board of trustees this year by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, tells about the time he stubbed his toe and sprained his foot on the Monday of the Texas game in 1979.

"It was so tender I couldn't even hardly kick," Cox said.

Weber set up a regimen of ice, heat and electro-stimulation for Cox that meant the two of them had to be in the training room at 10 p.m., 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Each day, Weber would ask Cox whether there was any way he could kick. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Cox said, he felt there was no way the top of his foot could handle the pain.

"He asked me Thursday, and I said 'I think I can kick,' and by Friday I said, 'I know I can kick.' I went out there on Saturday and had the best game I ever had," Cox said of the Hogs' 17-14 victory. "Dean Weber wasn't concerned about himself. He was getting up at night, leaving his family and coming down there to do that for me. And listen, I was a kicker. This guy sold out for me."

Former Arkansas receiver James Shibest (1983-1986), now the special teams and tight ends coach at Virginia Tech, said his relationship with Weber is still active.

"Dean was more than just a trainer," Shibest said. "He was more like a dad away from home a little bit. He was always there for me and all the players.

"The great thing about Dean was he always told you straight up about how he felt, whether that was good or bad. You always knew where you stood. I think players deep down respect that."

Weber's humor was on display as he talked about how the 1979 team came up with the idea to honor him at a 25-year reunion in 2004.

"They wanted to do something to commemorate our relationship. I said, 'You can pay off my mortgage.' They didn't want to do that, so they established this scholarship," Weber said.

Weber said he learned that keeping humor alive in the training room was valuable.

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"You've heard the expression 'laughter is the best medicine,' well it really is," Weber said. "I was blessed to have a sense of humor. I could joke about things and get you to laugh.

"This was an acquired thing over the years. If I could get you to laugh, maybe your sprained ankle didn't hurt so much and then we could go along from there.

"I pretty much realized that ... if I showed you that I cared -- and I really did, you can't fake it with kids -- but if I showed you that I cared about you as a whole person and not just about your sprained ankle or this next game coming up, we developed a bond of trust and I could tell you whatever you needed to do and you would do it because you trusted me."

Sports on 03/29/2018

Dean Weber Glance

Birthdate Sept. 4, 1945 (Age 72)

Hometown Chantilly, Va.

Alma mater Bridgewater (Va.) College (BA, 1967)

Family Sons, Matt and Ben; 6 grandchildren

Positions University of Arkansas head athletic trainer, Razorback Foundation

Noteworthy Served as head athletic trainer at UA from 1973-2008. … Has an endowed scholarship in his name, initiated by the seniors on the Razorbacks’ 1979 Southwest Conference championship team, in UA master’s program for athletic training. … Previously inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Honor (2000), the Arkansas Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame (1998) and the Southwest Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame (1993). … Selected to the United States Olympic team in 1984 as athletic trainer after participating as a trainer at the National Sports Festival three times. … Served as UA director of equipment operations (2009-2014) before moving to the Razorback Foundation. … Worked as trainer at University of North Carolina (1968-1973) before moving to Arkansas.

The second in a series profiling the nine newest members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is April 6 at the Statehouse Convention Center.

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