Entertainment » Jim Harris

Coyote ugly in Fayetteville

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A friend from Fayetteville reminded me over the weekend of the “Coyote moment.” Of all those “Roadrunner” cartoon episodes, Wile E. Coyote managed one time to actually capture his prey. Then he looked up and raised a sign that read, “What do I do now?”

And so the supporters, boosters, trustees, Chancellor John White and everyone else associated with the University of Arkansas had their “Coyote moment” last Saturday when Athletic Director Frank Broyles was nudged out the door, with a nice wad of cash to follow after he finally moves from the Big Cheese office to a smaller one saved for the emeritus overseer. There is an emeritus office in the Broyles Complex, right?

So, what do we do now? Apparently, the more venomous of the Hog backers insist this is only a start, and that a wholesale purge of the athletic department (read: men’s football and basketball coaching staffs) must follow. All is certainly still not well in Fayetteville, from anyone’s perspective.

The funny thing about all this is, had Frank Broyles had his way, he wouldn’t have hired Houston Nutt or Stan Heath. Camden native Tommy Tuberville might still be Arkansas’s head football coach, instead of Auburn’s, and Bill Self would be leading the basketball program. But politically, Broyles couldn’t hire Self and pay him more than Nolan Richardson had been making before Broyles and John White removed Richardson as head coach in 2002. As for football, Broyles in late 1997 had viewed Tuberville — with his SEC head coaching experience, his big-time resume and his turning around Ole Miss in light of major NCAA sanctions and lack of scholarships — as the right man for the right price to improve the Hogs’ football fortunes. But first-year Boise State coach and Little Rock native Houston Nutt paraded into Fayetteville with an entourage — no serious big-time candidate could afford to do that — and wowed the chancellor and half of the six-man selection committee. When that committee wasn’t going to unanimously go with Tuberville under any circumstance, they (former Hog quarterback Bill Montgomery grudgingly) all went with Nutt.

To be fair, Nutt is 5-4 in head-to-head meetings with Tuberville (including 4-4 since Tubby went to Auburn from Ole Miss) since 1998. But since 2000, Nutt is 28-28 in the SEC while Tuberville is 42-14 over the same span.

Broyles did hire John McDonnell, whose track and field program continues to dominate nationally (though it faces NCAA inquiry over problems with a former assistant coach), and Dave Van Horn, whose baseball program is a national power. Golf has gone hot, cold and hot again as Broyles has made changes there. Tennis is competitive.

But who cares, right? It’s really only about football and basketball. And, for the average fan on the women’s side, it’s only about basketball, where women’s AD Bev Lewis and Chancellor White ran off the successful but stubborn Gary Blair to hire Susie Gardner away from Austin Peay. Blair has turned previously woeful Texas A&M into a Big 12 contender and a nationally ranked program. Gardner probably should have been relieved last year when her team tanked at the end, but started out 15-1 this season. Since then, the Lady Backs have gone 3-9 and lost seven straight in a streak that’s likely to hit 10 before they lock up the basketballs for the year.

The pattern here is obvious: Those hirings feature the prominent guiding hand of Chancellor White. He says he is taking the solo reins to hire Broyles’ replacement, who then will have to deal with Nutt and Heath, if any dealing is to be done. Gardner, who’s making nearly $300,000 a year, may not make it either. We have to think, though, that while White is claiming to now be in charge of the decision-making, the folks who contribute the serious cash to his school, both academically and athletically, will have some behind-the-scenes say.

So far, when it comes to athletics, White’s hires have left something to be desired. Let’s hope he can at least bat .250 and get one out of four — not Hall of Fame material, but people do remember the Bobby Thomson/Bill Mazeroski-like, out-of-nowhere, title-winning home run, too.

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