FAYETTEVILLE - John Pelphrey made his last Arkansas press conference one to remember and exited stage right – literally and figuratively - in a classy manner.
Pelphrey was fired Sunday after four years as the Razorback head basketball coach and decided to meet with the media on Monday – saying he wanted to look the state in the eye.
"Four years ago when I came here I said that this was a dream job," Pelphrey said. "I meant that then and I still do. My love and affection for this state, the people, this University and that logo – it has stolen my heart. I will always be a part of Razorback Nation.
"I know where the program started and it was a program that needed a lot of work," Pelphrey added. "I know where we are today – making progress. I absolutely, without question, know where it is going to be tomorrow and that is having repeat success of the past."
Pelphrey, 69-59 in four seasons at Arkansas, also made it clear that while he appreciated the opportunity to coach the Razorbacks – and he thanked a plethora of people to begin his press conference – he was most certainly not happy about his ouster.
Part of that reaping of rewards was going to come because of a 2011 recruiting haul that is regarded as a consensus top five class nationally.
"When I got here the highly-regarded guys in the state were leaving," Pelphrey said. "That is not the case anymore. These guys are staying home and becoming Razorbacks."
Pelphrey had recruited the three in-state signees – Aaron Ross, Rashad Madden and Hunter Mickelson - for three years.
"I spent basically my whole existence here after those guys," Pelphrey said. "I have spoken with them. I told them for whatever amount of time it was that the University of Arkansas was the best place for them and I still believe that."
He clearly had a bond with those kids and their families.
"I just love my relationship with those people," Pelphrey said. "Those five young men, their families and their coaches. That is a long time – two-and-a-half to three years is a long time."
There were several Arkansas players at the press conference in tears.
"My message to those guys was ‘I know what it feels like, I have been in your shoes, you are going to feel different in three days than you do know, don't say anything, just be out of harm's way and be with those close to you because you are going to feel different. You don't want to say anything today and have to say if I had been a little bit stronger, a little bit tougher, I wouldn't have acted that way or said those things.'
"One of the things I have always tried to tell the guys is that you don't always control what happens to you, but you can always be in control of your response," Pelphrey added.
Pelphrey, whose buyout is $1.8 million over three years, basically challenged fans to come support the program.
Actual attendance dipped to under an average of 9,000 per game this season.
"It's time," Pelphrey said. "Everybody hear me. It is time for the fans, who say you love that logo with every fiber that is in you. I know how you care about that logo. It is time for you…it is time for you to show up and support this program and get behind these players because there is a basketball season coming. It is time for everybody to spread the good word, to buy your tickets and to show up – it is time for all of us to show up and answer the call."
Pelphrey went through a coaching change himself when Eddie Sutton was relieved of his duties at Kentucky.
"I have a loyalty issue," Pelphrey said. "I don't put one foot in and keep one foot out, I don't make excuses. I put my heart and soul into every day being here. Nobody got more of me than my players. I have no illusions that it was harder on me than them.
"…One of the things that I told them yesterday was I understand what you are going through because I lost my coach," Pelphrey added.
Pelphrey listed off some of the improvements he believed had been made during his tenure.
"We are better today from a discipline standpoint because we all believed in the Razorback way – hard work all together all the time," Pelphrey said. "If you had a problem with that, then we would never make a apology for disciplining a student-athlete because I still to this day believe the greatest form of love is to discipline someone.
"Academics, we are far better," Pelphrey added. "As a matter of fact there was one point in time here where I had an administrator tell our staff that everyone one else should kind of look around at what you are doing because it's awesome.
"G.P.As are up, 955 APR score of a year ago – people said we could not hit that mark," Pelphrey continued. "We have four young men that are all set to graduate here in the spring and a possibility of another young man graduating in December. I don't know another time when that has happened. That's pretty special and I look forward to being there in the spring to see those guys walk cross the stage. Two of the young men are getting ready to go in the Masters' program."