State Of The Hogs: Paul Eells

Just after a media session with Houston Nutt on Tuesday morning to discuss the passing of Paul Eells, the media stood in a somber circle in the football museum area of the Broyles Center. No one really knew what to do. It was a helpless feeling.

Some wanted to interview others. Some waited as football coaches passed through the area to ask for their thoughts.

Mainly, we just stood around in shock.

All of us had seen Paul just hours before during our golf outing with the Arkansas football coaches at Stonebridge Meadows. Many of us were still shaking our heads over the hug Paul gave us the day before.

We took turns heaping praise on our fallen colleague. It was all weak compared to what the man deserved. But at least we were trying.

Someone asked Rick Schaeffer if he remembered the days when Paul became "the Voice of the Razorbacks." Indeed, he did. He talked about it, although I didn't take many notes.

Two days later, I decided that would be the subject of my next column. It hit me when I was talking to older brother Butch as I explained the arrangements for Paul's memorial. Butch was the associate athletic director and sports information director (Rick's predecessor and boss) when Paul came to Arkansas.

Now retired in Aiken, S.C., Butch heard the news of Paul's death early Tuesday. He immediately called me for confirmation. I've had more than a few of those type calls. It didn't dawn on me Tuesday that Butch had been involved in Paul's hiring. It was on our second visit Thursday that we discussed 1978 when Paul left Vanderbilt to become our radio announcer.

"First, the thing I remember most about Paul is that after listening to tapes with Coach (Frank) Broyles and Rick in my office, you just lost interest in listening to any of the other tapes," Butch said. "This is going to sound funny, but Paul made Vandy football sound exciting. The next thing I remember is that the weather man at his station in Nashville was Pat Sajak. That was a classy tandem, right?"

The other thing Butch recalled was that Paul was flattered that Arkansas wanted to hire him, but he seemed to think he was going to turn it down.

"He told us he was happy at WSM and thought he was going to stay," Butch said. "Then when he told his superiors at WSM he was turning Arkansas down, they told him that their station had lost the rights to Vandy football for the following year and asked him to rethink it because he was going to suffer a pay cut if he stayed. They did not want him to leave, but thought he needed to have all of the info when he made his decision. He called us back and took the job."

Of course, it was KATV that he called back. KATV holds the rights to Arkansas radio broadcasts and handles the football and basketball coaches television shows. That's always been the deal at Arkansas. The Hogs approve the announcers, but it is always going to be someone with ties to the rights holder and that's KATV.

"I think what you have to remember is that Paul came to us during the golden age of Razorback sports. That was Lou Holtz football and Eddie Sutton basketball. Inside his first year he had gone with us to the Orange Bowl and the victory over Oklahoma, the Fiesta Bowl and the tie with UCLA, the Final Four in basketball and we were also rolling in baseball with a runnerup finish at the College World Series.

"We were doing it with a lot of players from the Little Rock area. You had Dan Hampton, Jimmy Walker, Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph, Kevin McReynolds ... all of them to be All-Americans from right there close to KATV's signal."

We heard the way Houston Nutt remembered Eells and the way he always seemed to have the right way to guide him through his weekly replay show, whether it was after a triumph over Texas or a 70-17 loss to Southern Cal. Chuck Barrett recalled watching the two tape the show after the debacle against SC. Chuck said it was like Paul took the coach by the arm and led him through the show.

"That's the way Paul always was with the coaches show, but I always thought he deserved battle pay for having to put up with Lou Holtz," Butch said. "Lou was unpredictable with a camera on him. You never ever knew what he was going to say on his show. He told his one-liners and they might cover up play after play. Paul had to make sure they talked about the game."

Butch said it was a relief when Paul took the job. The Hogs had been through two failed attempts at replacing Bud Campbell. Steve Smith and Dave Woodman just didn't cut it and Paul's arrival relaxed everyone. It was obvious that he was the perfect fit from his first day on the job.

"Everything he did was smooth, just like silk," Butch said. "That was what that first tape sounded like to us when we heard him the first time."

Butch didn't say it, but my conclusion after all of that was that Paul Eells went on to a great career. Pat Sajak flopped and is still just spinning his wheels.



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