State of the Hogs: Pelphrey

Timing is everything and it was finally right for Arkansas with the hire of John Pelphrey.

Some might not believe this, but Dana Altman may have done Arkansas basketball a favor by skipping out of town last week a day after being named head coach. It delayed the process in time for John Pelphrey to become available.

Chancellor John White and athletic director Frank Broyles both said Tuesday that they had wanted to court Pelphrey in the first place, but that the South Alabama coach wouldn't listen until the Kentucky job was filled. The in-and-then-out process with Altman last week at Arkansas gave the Hogs time to get their man.

When Billy Gillispie, once at the top of the Arkansas search list, took the Kentucky job a few days ago, it put Pelphrey back in play.

Those Arkansas fans now unhappy that Pelphrey is their coach might be surprised that he was No. 2 on the UK list behind Gillispie.

"I know that's true," White said. "We used the same search firm as Kentucky. I not only saw the Kentucky list, but I know the compensation package they had ready for him. He wouldn't talk to us until they had a coach at his alma mater."

Broyles said the same thing, noting, "He wouldn't consider any other job until the Kentucky job was gone. They were going to go to him next and we knew it. Had he been available the first time, we'd sure have had him at the top of our list."

We'll have to wait and see who does best, Gillispie at Kentucky or Pelphrey at Arkansas. But there are those in the UA administration who hope Gillispie does just well enough to keep the brain trust at UK happy -- so Pelphrey won't ever get that call from Lexington.

Jimmy Dykes thinks the Hogs got the right man. Nothing against Gillispie, but he is certain Pelphrey is perfect for the UA job. He is a little biased. He was on the Kentucky staff which recruited Pelphrey, then Mr. Basketball in the Bluegrass State, in 1988.

"I remember that very well, recruiting John," said Dykes, now an ESPN color analyst. "He was the player of the year. But we weren't sure we were going to give him a scholarship. He was the classic over achiever. You could find some with more ability, but he was just such a great kid and really loved the state of Kentucky.

"We finally decided that if ever you were going to take a gamble on a kid, it should be like someone like John Pelphrey. He proved us right."

Dykes said Pelphrey was the kind of player who makes a great coach.

"He wasn't great at anything, but he made himself a great player because of desire, effort and passion," Dykes said. "He was just an excellent defender. He's the kind of guy you want to be your coach.

"I saw his teams play twice, including in the championship game of the Sun Belt a year ago. Every player on that team laid it on the line for 40 minutes. It was the way he played at Kentucky for five years.

"I think that's the most important thing I can tell you about him and the way he coaches. Effort and passion are very important part of what fans in this state want. I know our fans will never leave the arena thinking the other team played harder than their Razorbacks. That's a big, big deal to the people of this state."

Dykes knows plenty about Pelphrey. He compared him to Joe Kleine among UA cage lettermen.

"The people of Kentucky love John the same way our fans love Joe," Dykes said. "There is a reason his jersey is hanging from the rafters at Rupp Arena. He is beloved as few from that program have been.

"The fact is that there are a lot who played there with more God-given ability, just like Joe here. But he played every possession to the best of his ability, like Joe did. No one played the game harder at Kentucky than John Pelphrey and that's the way he coaches."

Broyles saw that passion when he and White met him for an interview over the weekend.

"He's got great passion," Broyles said. "Passion is intense emotion that compels action. You see it in everything he does.

"I know some haven't been happy (with the process), but they don't have all the information that we had. We knew who we wanted when he became available. We saw that passion. We would have gone after him the first time if he'd have listened to us and with the Kentucky job filled we could do that."

White said it was easy to see that passion when he began to speak of the Arkansas tradition at his interview.

"Coach Broyles told me, 'He didn't come here to sell himself, he came here to sell us on what the Arkansas program is and can be.' I couldn't believe his knowledge of our program. He talked about coming to play in Barnhill. He talked about not being able to hear the whistle when he played here."

The returning players were pleased. They already had a taste of the Pelphrey passion when he conducted a 10-minute team meeting just before the public announcement.

"The dude wants to be here, I can tell you that," said forward Sonny Weems. "He didn't even talk about how we were going to play, the style I mean. He just came in there and started cussing and telling us that we were going to get after it. We love him. He wants us. I was starting to believe no one wanted us.

"He told us about seeing a list where we were in someone's top 10 for next season. He told us he'd seen us playing and that he believed that. He said we are going to be good."

Time will tell on that. Right now, the only thing that can be confirmed for sure is to say that his bosses and his players both are glad to have John Pelphrey.



Photos by Zac Lehr

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