Columns » John Brummett

State of the Hogs, to the contrary

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It happens whenever the state goes on one of its hogaholic binges, as recently with another inept football season and the termination not of the football coach, but the basketball radio commentator. Some people — not a lot, but some — inevitably urge me to give over a day’s space to supplementing the commentary of the sportswriters. These few readers seem to like the detachment born of the fact that I don’t much care about the Razorbacks and want and need absolutely nothing from them — not access, not a ticket, not personal validation. I simply cannot take these matters and these people seriously. Yet an entire state obsesses self-destructively on them, one controversy after another, one loss after another. Houston Nutt strikes me as a cartoon character. He lets in the network television cameras as he passionately exhorts his players Swaggart-style to give him five good minutes; they obey precisely, then get drubbed through-out the extensive balance of the contest. On the recent Friday after Thanksgiving, he began waving to the crowd imploring it to make noise as LSU took control of the ball near its own end zone. This was cheerleading, not coaching. The only similarity was his effectiveness: On the very first play, an LSU player ran nearly half the length of the field. So, let us consider recent hogaholic escapades, beginning with the sudden termination as basketball radio commentator of a very large individual named Joe Kleine. I had sustained the misfortune of briefly hearing Kleine’s radio performance. It offered sounds alternately exulting and agonized, sharing only their resemblance to the moans of a badly wounded moose. But that’s not to say he should have been fired three or four games into the season. That’s no way to treat anybody, especially someone Arkansas ought to embrace. Joe is from Missouri and went to Notre Dame. He didn’t like it there and transferred to Arkansas to become star center at a time when Eddie Sutton, at the time a cartoon character himself with personal woes and funny hair, had no other players. Then Big Joe chose to settle in Little Rock, stimulate the local restaurant scene and engage in assorted charitable enterprises. That is a much more ingratiating biography than, say, that of Nutt, who often is mistakenly referred to as a local hero, and who is not being terminated though he coaches with sounds similar to those by which Kleine commentated. Nutt tried to play quarterback for the Hogs, but was too slow and could do nothing other than throw way long and way incomplete. So, he fled for Oklahoma State, where he wasn’t much good either. Somehow, in spite of that, he sold himself for our coach’s job as a devoted favorite son. As the coach of seven seasons he’s proven himself all bombast, spin and excuses. Since his successful first season, for which he inherited a strong roster from a widely ridiculed and wholly indecipherable cartoon character named Danny Ford, his teams are below .500 in conference play. They show no signs of incremental improvement. Still he manages to present himself as the man building a program, this in brash defiance of the fact he’s systematically made it chronically mediocre. His teams have lost to LSU the last two years by a combined 60 points. He got a raise after the first and blamed it all on an employee after the second. Last year’s margin was 31 points; this year’s 29. At that rate, the hideous boot of a thing that the ubiquitous and irritating David Bazzel dreamed up as a winner’s trophy in this wholly contrived Arkansas-LSU rivalry will return from Baton Rouge to Fayetteville in 15 years, no doubt to the delight of the 94-year-old athletic director. All I know to do is keep laughing. I kind of like this Stan Heath, though, except that he forgot to recruit a shooter and took Dick Vitale seriously.

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