GWU Coach Is Quite A Character

FAYETTEVILLE – When Gardner-Webb took a 3-2 lead on a Brian Bender trey a minute and 15 seconds into Saturday's game against Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena, 10th-year Runnin' Bulldogs coach Rick Scruggs had a brainstorm.

"I should've just pulled the fire alarm and ran like crazy," Scruggs said. "I can run pretty fast for an old man.

"If I knew how it was going to end, I would've pulled that fire alarm."

Somewhat sluggish Arkansas finally got past the pesky Runnin' Bulldogs, building its first double-digit lead (57-47) on a Darian Townes free throw with 7:56 left in the 79-63 win.

Don't get Scruggs wrong. The little program from Boiling Springs, N.C., isn't easily intimidated. Though playing in just their fifth season of Division I, the Runnin' Bulldogs also will play at Georgia, UNLV and Colorado this season.

They have played tit-for-tat at Kansas State (a 68-65 loss last season), with Tennessee (leading by 17 before falling 71-69 in Knoxville two seasons ago) and South Carolina (a 42-36 halftime lead before an 83-74 loss in Columbia last season).

Scruggs was kicking himself after the loss at Tennessee and said his team just "never got control" at South Carolina. You got the impression he felt a bit rooked on a last-minute charging call at Kansas State.

Not so Saturday. Asked to compare these 4-0 Razorbacks to the aforementioned teams, Scruggs did not hesitate.

"These guys are a lot longer and get better court coverage," he said. "We made passes against East Carolina (during last week's 90-60 win, the program's first against a Conference USA team) we couldn't make today. That really impressed me.

"I was real impressed. I like how (Arkansas coach) Stan (Heath) does things. He's a class guy and he seems to do things right."

Speaking of such, Scruggs, 49, described himself as "unconventional," but said, with a wry smile, he's straightening up his act.

With his glasses and hairstyle, he looks a bit like talk show host Jerry Springer, which is why Arkansas fans, particularly the rowdy ones in the student section, often chanted, "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" toward him.

"Never heard that one," Scruggs said. "I've been called a lot of things, but never Jerry Springer.

"Must be the haircut."

Until recently, Scruggs – a good buddy of unconventional former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins and the holder of a Georgia master's degree – wore his hair quite long and sported a goatee.

"So (opposing fans) would call me ‘mullet' or ‘Beatle,'" he said.

Thanks to wife Deanie, he also has parked the motorcycle. Perhaps even for good.

"Trying to be respectable," said Scruggs, grinning.

His uniqueness aside, Scruggs can flat-out coach. He's at No. 56 on the Division I list of active coaches with 296 wins, which puts him ahead of guys like John Calipari (Memphis) and Bobby Lutz (Charlotte).

Saturday, he was outmanned, but he didn't change his style.

"We play the same way because we're just trying to get ready for (Atlantic Sun Conference) play," Scruggs said.

Main adjustment he makes for matchups against big-timers is rotating more players to keep them fresh and "try to avoid big runs. We could not do that today."

Saturday, Scruggs pushed his players further outside to create gaps because the swarming Hogs were disrupting Gardner-Webb's "normal offense."

Still, the Runnin' Bulldogs mostly kept pace with the Hogs.

Despite the loss, Scruggs – who has ties to Arkansas assistant Rob Flaska and athletic director Frank Broyles and has worked with former Arkansas GA Kenny "Boo" Roth and former UA walk-on Matt Mitchell – was sold on the Hogs.

"I spent more money in Hog Heaven than I've spent anywhere," said Scruggs of the UA's gift shop. "You know, I could walk around in there naked and nobody would know who I am. I'd like to see (Kentucky coach) Tubby Smith do that!"

We wouldn't.

"And I double-dipped," Scruggs said. "Flaska gave me an armful of team stuff, too. So I'll be decked out in Razorback gear for a long time.

"I just want to tell everybody that this was a great crowd. Man, you look around and see the (1994) national championship banner ... It's a class organization.

"There are just too many crazy things going on today."

Along those lines, Scruggs mentioned the Dec. 28 trip to Colorado.

"My players wanted to stay where the Colorado football recruits stay," said Scruggs, still grinning. "So I called to find out where they stay, and we're sure not staying there."

Scruggs would love a rematch here.

"We'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said. "The people were great to us and we had a blast.

"Just keep in mind – if you hear a fire alarm go off, it's me.

"And I'm off and running."

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