We endured another hogaholic binge last week. This one was more comical than most. All the principal characters wound up victims of their own overexcited indiscretion.
The University of Arkansas football program, once a source of great achievement and pride, got disparaged as usual. That’s the nature of hogaholism, a debilitating disease.
You had the cartoon character of a coach, Houston Nutt, professed lover of the Razorback helmet, who proved himself so in need of public validation in his oversensitivity to criticism that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut about a call from LSU wanting merely to put him on a string in its search for a new coach.
You had the athletic director, Frank Broyles, who, for the second year consecutively, didn’t seem to much care about losing Nutt, but managed to get mad anyway.
You had the television sportscaster, the veteran “voice” of the football Hogs, who started babbling on statewide television without any requisite brain engagement and ended up declaring the preposterous fiction that LSU had offered Nutt a $2.5 million salary that he had only 48 hours to accept.
All that had happened was that LSU’s first three prospects to replace Nick Saban, who doesn’t believe in defending the deep pass at the ends of games, had been insufficiently eager, considering LSU’s perception of its prominence. Tommy Tuberville at Auburn had uttered the word Nutt couldn’t say in the first place -- no. A guy named Petrino at Louisville seemed a little full of himself in his salary demand. The guy at Oklahoma State wanted to show his current players the courtesy of waiting until after his team’s bowl game to ponder abandoning them.
So, LSU decided to feel out Nutt in case things got that desperate. Nutt knew the recruiting territory, having lost a host of prospects to LSU. He had a certain motivational aptitude, like a teary Swaggart hawking a used pickup. He’d shown in 1998 that he could breathe fresh life into someone else’s good players. Never mind that things went south after the team became his own.
Fans got mad at Nutt for making this an annual stunt, considering that he had flirted with Nebraska last year and secured a big raise and annuity out of it, as well as the uncommonly generous permission to have a no-account team for a season or two. Broyles talked publicly without the least discretion about how he didn’t appreciate Nutt’s talking publicly without the least discretion, thus diminishing the Hogs. The program is not big enough for two egomaniacal motormouths, as Lou and Eddie and Nolan found out.
Told by Broyles to fish or cut bait, Nutt decided the fishing wasn’t all that promising. He professed his devotion to a program he had expressed a willingness to flee only hours before. Arkansas sports journalists reported that Nutt had turned down LSU. He’d done no such thing. LSU had offered nothing.
Nutt’s apologists in the Arkansas sports media did what they always do, which is make excuses for him. And it wasn’t only the local yokels. During one of the nationally televised bowl games on New Year's Day, an announcer said that LSU had put Nutt on its short list because “he does more with less than just about anybody.” In other words, Arkansas is second-rate and Nutt is too good for it. That ought to impress potential recruits: Go to Arkansas where the players are bad but the coach has good PR.
It’s myth, of course. Arkansas once was a powerhouse and could well be again, considering facilities, fan obsession and a statewide monopoly. Nutt had a half-dozen NFL draftees on his team in 2003 and still produced the usual mediocrity. We saw over the holiday weekend that good coaches can succeed at places like Utah and Louisville.
Oh, well. What would I do for laughs if these guys -- Nutt, Broyles and the typewriter jocks and microphone jocks -- were proficient and discreet?