Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs do have history on their side
Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is shown during a football game against Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- What do University of Arkansas football fans have to give thanks for today?
The knowledge that the Razorbacks will rise again some day.
Every fan of a major college team knows the program they love has been up and it's been down. The Razorbacks (2-9, 0-7 SEC) are currently spinning in a trough the program has seldom, if ever, seen.
They will not play in the postseason for a third year in a row for the first time since 1972-74. Arkansas will finish with a losing record for a third consecutive year for the first time since the 1938-43 teams were all sub .500.
Yet, Arkansas historically ranks on the fringes of the top 25 in many categories, such as 21st in number of weeks (417) in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, 24th in all-time wins (717) and NFL Draft picks (271), 17th in bowl games (42) and 29th in consensus All-Americans (25), according to winsipedia.com.
In the same database, the Razorbacks are 37th among the 130 FBS teams in all-time winning percentage (58%).
Second-year Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek rattled off some of those historic statistics at his news conference Nov. 11, the day after he fired Coach Chad Morris.
"I have no doubt that we will have a very strong candidate pool for this head coaching position," Yurachek said. "Why do I believe that?
"First, we are the University of Arkansas. We have a very proud and storied tradition within our football program that includes 42 bowl games, a national championship, 13 conference championships, multiple All-Americans and Hall of Fame inductees. We have and we offer our student-athletes some of the best facilities in the country.
"We compete in the Southeastern Conference and we have a passionate fan base that so desperately wants for this program to be successful. We have many of our athletic programs currently that are competing on a national level and winning national championships within our athletic department. Our football program can be one of those programs."
Arkansas had its first 10-loss season in 2018 in Morris' debut. He didn't make it through Season Two. If the Razorbacks don't upset 12 1/2-point favorite Missouri on Friday in Little Rock, they'll hit that historic low again.
It's hard to argue Arkansas has not been the worst team in the SEC the last two seasons. The Razorbacks have lost 18 consecutive SEC games, a school-record, and 11 consecutive trophy games in their series against Texas A&M, LSU and Missouri.
Playing in the SEC has been a challenge. The Razorbacks have an overall record of 175-164-2 since joining the nation's toughest football conglomerate in 1992.
In the 38 years before that, the Razorbacks had three losing seasons from 1954 through 1991: 4-6 in Coach Frank Broyles' debut in 1958, 4-5-1 in 1967, and 3-8 in 1990. Arkansas has experienced 12 losing seasons in 28 years in the SEC.
Interim Coach Barry Lunney Jr. was the starting senior quarterback on the Razorbacks' first of four SEC West title teams in 1995 for Coach Danny Ford. He knows the cyclical nature of programs in Arkansas' echelon.
"It's a tough league," he said at his introductory news conference. "We all know it's the best league in football. The best division in football.
"But we've all seen there have been ebbs and flows in this over the years. We've seen the Razorbacks fight and be contenders not just for the SEC championship. We've played in the [SEC Championship] Game three times and so it has been done before. I'm a firm believer in what's been done before can be done again.
"What one team in history did here another can do. I'm not saying it's easy, but it can be done."
The next Arkansas coach will be faced with the challenge of an undermanned roster. Morris and his staff saw the exit of more than 30 scholarship players in less than two years. Only a tiny number of those players transferred to other Power 5 schools.
Several ex-Razorbacks said in the last week that Arkansas football can return to its historic heights.
"You look just a few years back and you're talking about beating LSU 17-0, and you're playing Alabama at what 14-13?" said ex-linebacker David Bazzel (1981-85) 103.7-FM, The Buzz, in Little Rock. "So you're not that far off, but it feels like it's that far away because it's been so ugly.
"It's been so ugly it makes it seem like it's impossible to catch up. But I'm telling you, you get good players in and you develop them, I'm telling you in two or three years this program could be back. It just takes a dynamic head coach and dynamic assistants and development and focus and all those things."
Former Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams (2007-10) said the key for a Razorback revival is great leadership from the top down. He equated the top coaching and organizational structure he saw at Central Arkansas Christian, the University of Arkansas and in the NFL with the New England Patriots.
"So you take those three coaches from each level of football in my life and the one common thing that they have is that it's all about discipline," said Williams of KARK-TV in Little Rock. "Discipline as far as attention to detail, discipline about holding players accountable, discipline when it comes to understanding the game and situational football, and discipline in having players do what they need to do when coaches aren't around."
Williams said he found it "amazing" how the top coaches demand discipline from not just the players, but their staffs and everyone involved in the organization.
"When I was at New England, I was impressed by the lady who was the receptionist at the front desk," he said. "She was so attuned to details and making sure there was no stone left unturned. She made me feel like for some reason she knew about my whole history as a football player because it was important to the program. Whereas when I went to Jacksonville, I sat in the lobby for about two hours because the receptionist didn't even know who I was."
Lyndy Lindsey, an Arkansas tight end (1988-91), a son of Razorbacks great Jim Lindsey and the father of current quarterback Jack Lindsey, said the core of the most successful Arkansas teams have revolved around homegrown talent.
"We have to recruit out of state," Lindsey said. "It bothers me a little bit when I hear all these announcers say that Arkansas doesn't have the talent pool to fill a team in the SEC, which is true. We have to have Texas and Missouri, Mississippi, the Southeast, Louisiana.
"We have to have all the surrounding states for a recruiting base. But the nucleus and the heart of Arkansas has to come from the state, which means you might have to go uncover a rock here and there to find a guy that you don't know what position that guy's gonna play yet, but he loves Arkansas and he wants to be a part of it.
"If he's from Magnolia, everybody that's within 20 miles of Magnolia is going to buy into this kid, follow this kid. The kid has the pressure of all those people in that community pulling for him, and when times get tough he falls back on that."
Lindsey said a talent like Dan Hampton, a gangly 6-5 high schooler from Jacksonville, who "couldn't bench press 200 pounds his senior year," might get overlooked nowadays. Hampton developed into an All-American defensive lineman at Arkansas and an Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Former Arkansas quarterback Zak Clark (2000-01), now the head coach at Springdale High, said coaching the Razorbacks comes with challenges.
"I think you've got to sign the 10 to 12 best in-state players every year," Clark said. "I think it's a unique job. You can't fill up a class with Arkansas kids. But the bottom line is it just means more, or at least it did mean more, to in-state guys. There's more buy in.
"You've still got to go out of state and get the best kids you can. But you know, I don't know that there's been a really good [Arkansas] team where six to eight starters on offense and six to eight starters on defense weren't from in state."
MISSOURI AT ARKANSAS
WHEN 1:30 p.m.
WHERE War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock
RECORDS Missouri 5-6, 2-5 SEC; Arkansas 2-9, 0-7
Sports on 11/28/2019
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