State of the Hogs: Early Christmas

HI.com Publisher Clay Henry takes a look at the arrival of new football coach Bobby Petrino and what it means for the Razorback Nation.

Over the last couple of years, circulated on the Internet was a column written about 10 years ago by a state-wide columnist on the arrival of Houston Nutt as Arkansas football coach.

The clincher to the commentary from Orville Henry is now famous. It was championed by those wanting Houston Nutt gone. OH wrote simply, "I am furious."

I don't have the ability to work through the Bobby Petrino hire the way OH did a decade back. I'm going to jump to the end result much quicker. Jeff Long, the new athletic director, got it right. And, so did chancellor John White when he found Long.

It's what I've been suggesting on the radio for the better part of two weeks. We don't have the knowledge or the ability to hire a football coach. We don't know the ins and outs of doing this job, but Long did.

This was what Long was trained to do. This is what he was hired to do, go find the best football coach for Arkansas.

There have been times that I wasn't crazy about John White. But I do remember the day my late partner, Bentonville's George Billingsley, sat me down in his office to give me a bit of scolding for doubting White. George, with his sockless feet propped on the corner of his desk, told me that White was highly capable of doing his job and understood the mission of the University of Arkansas better than most.

This was advice coming from perhaps our area's smartest business mind, a man who admired Frank Broyles. No, he thought Broyles was the king, the best man for Arkansas who ever lived, unless it was that man who wrote that column 10 years ago. Billingsley explained that the academic vision that White had for Arkansas was the very thing that would put Arkansas business on the map. Bring the brightest young people to the UA, then keep them in Northwest Arkansas in our wonderfully successful mega corporations. That's the ticket, George told me.

I didn't grasp those thoughts then. I still don't understand all of it. But I know George did and that is good enough for me.

What I know is that men like Merv Johnson and Richard Bell trust Long. So does Pat Jones. I've talked to all three of late and each time those football men said Long also knows football and what it took to hire a coach.

All three gave me top praise for Long in the last few days. Johnson worked with him at Oklahoma. Bell coached with Long at Duke. Jones is close to Dave Wannstedt, the current Pitt coach, a man hired by Long.

I listened as Long explained late Tuesday night that the task of hiring Nutt's replacement didn't scare him or make him nervous. Never mind that his future depended on that very hire. What he said made perfect sense.

"This moment, this hire is what I have trained for all my life," Long said after the news conference to announce Petrino. "This is what every stop in my life, both as a coach and in athletic administration, prepared me to do. So I didn't feel any pressure. I felt prepared to do my job and I went about it."

Many doubted Long and then White for hiring Long over the past three weeks. It was only normal. We didn't know Long. We had no trust. How could we? We had seen little of his work. We couldn't help ourselves.

We've seen it now. We've seen the coaches he targeted and the way he went about it. Some of it slipped out during the process as those in Long's sights leaked information that got into print, on the radio and on television.

It wasn't until Petrino resigned at Atlanta and then quickly signed with Arkansas that we saw the full scope of Long's ability. He moved on solid coaches. And, he appeared to have more candidates, probably Will Muschamp and Brent Venables, in his back pocket if Petrino hadn't become available.

When Petrino made his move, Long came after him with contract in hand. He shook with Long on the deal before boarding the plane. The deal was signed somewhere over Georgia air space soon after takeoff on the trip back to the Ozarks.

To me that was the only thing that mattered Tuesday night in the question and answer session after Petrino's introduction. It's the only question I asked, did Petrino sign a contract.

"Yes, I did," came the response. It was enough for me. I knew all the rest about Petrino. I knew he'd call his own plays. I knew he would demand accountability — from players, coaches and probably from his bosses, too.

I also figured there was going to be fallout over his decision to leave before his first season with the Falcons was done. The national media horde was going to have their way with that. None of that matters anyway. Let them write what they want. None of them know Arkansas, our state or what we want. And, none of them know what Bobby Petrino wants. They weren't in his shoes with the Falcons. They didn't have to go out there Monday night and see an empty stadium or a sorry team that can't win games. They didn't have to deal with the Michael Vick mess the last six months.

I don't really care if anyone at ESPN or the various dot.coms assigned to write national football commentaries are unhappy with us or our new coach. They don't know what's best for us. They probably aren't real happy when we are happy anyway.

I do not have a vision for the next 10 years or whether or not Bobby Petrino will be here then. My clincher on this coaching search is simple.

What I know is that Christmas came a couple of weeks early for the Razorback Nation. I am happy.


State of the Hogs is published every Friday. Email Clay Henry at clay@nwaonline.net.

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