FAYETTEVILLE — When Arkansas jumper Mychael Stewart found out who the Razorbacks' new track and field coach was going to be Friday morning, the junior admitted he was a little disappointed.
But he read some information about Northern Iowa's Chris Bucknam. Then he sat up front during Bucknam's introductory news conference Friday afternoon. And Stewart came to a conclusion: Bucknam might not be Arkansas assistant Dick Booth, but he might not be a bad choice.
"A lot of us have been lobbying for Coach Booth so it kind of hit us hard," Stewart said. "But I think everybody on the team is mature enough to say, ‘I'm going to give this guy a shot and see what he does.'"
The Arkansas men's and track and field team won't be able to call Booth their head coach next season, but started learning about the new guy Friday afternoon. Bucknam assured the assembled crowd — which included three team members — he wasn't shy about stepping into McDonnell's enormous shadow and would be dedicated to maintaining a complete program.
He also made his first major decision when he announced his plans to retain Booth as an assistant.
"We were really happy he was going to keep Coach Booth around," distance runner Scott MacPherson said. "I think everyone is kind of interested to see where his first couple steps are and keeping Coach Booth was a good one."
The Razorbacks made public pleas for Booth to get the job in the past few weeks. The most notable was an online petition created by Stewart, who created an online petition to show his support.
It caught on. Athletes, parents and Arkansas fans voiced their thoughts and feelings on Booth as a decision neared.
"We knew ultimately that we weren't in control of who gets to be head coach, we just kind of wanted to put it out there that this is who we would like to have," Stewart said. "I would've felt upset if I hadn't done anything."
Long said he was aware of the Web site and took their thoughts into consideration. But he believes Bucknam was the right choice for Arkansas.
"My decision out there was to hire the best coach for those student-athletes," Long said. "Was I concerned they started a Web site? No, I wasn't concerned as long as they represented their thoughts and feelings in an appropriate way. And they did. ... But while, yes, I need to understand and appreciate what our student-athletes want in a coach, they have to understand and appreciate I have a bigger picture."
Stewart believes most of the Razorbacks will understand the hire as time goes on. He said Bucknam's enthusiasm was evident during Friday's press conference and believes the new coach does respect the past.
It may not mean everyone will be satisfied with the decision and remain with the team. But MacPherson said their new coach deserves a chance.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know him," MacPherson said. "The team is optimistic about the future and it sounds like he wants the same things."
They'll Give Him a Chance
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