BIRMINGHAM, Ala - If you are expecting to see a dead coach walking at University of Arkansas this season, John Pelphrey says that you are looking in the wrong direction if your are eyes are on him.
After a thrilling 12-1 start last season that included wins over a pair of Top 10 teams nationally, the Razorbacks skidded to 2-15 finish, had a roster turnover and recently suffered through some unwelcomed headlines in the newspapers.
But as he met with a group of reporters Thursday at SEC Basketball Media Day, Pelphrey made it clear that he is looking to the future, believes in himself, his team and his plan for the program.
"I would say that we have all been challenged, but that is going to make the rewards that much sweeter," Pelphrey said
He doesn't look at himself as under fire heading into year three of his tenure at the helm of the Razorbacks, who were picked fifth in the SEC Western Division preseason predictions.
"I believe that we have a plan in place and the hard work is going to show so, no, I don't see it like that," Pelphrey said. "But, yes, I do think that I am smart enough to understand that with anybody's program – whether it be college basketball or pro football or somebody's corporation out there in corporate America or Wall Street, we have all got to deal with stuff. Nobody is immune."
Pelphrey – one of 12 SEC men's and women's coaches who met with the media on Thursday – said he has not heard an overwhelming amount of criticism from the public.
"Believe it or not, I don't hear a lot of it," Pelphrey said. "Everybody that I run into has been incredibly supportive. Everybody that I came into contact with or work with – I truly believe understands the situation that we have been given and that we are moving in the right direction to hopefully have some repeat success of the past.
"That is what I believe," Pelphrey added. "I think we are very, very close to a lot of hard work taking hold and that we are going to reap some benefits of that."
Pelphrey took the program to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his first season as Arkansas coach, but had to replace his top seven players.
"If you lose your top seven of anything, that's hard," Pelphrey said. "That's half your basketball team. Especially when you don't have two or three years in preparation for that. That was probably the hard thing for us is that we didn't have two years of recruiting laid out. We just got the job."
He admits that having four of last year's six signees no longer in the program is evidence that some character and player gambles did not pan out.
"With regards to our situation, when you lose that many guys, you have to sign somebody," Pelphrey said. "We had to have a team last year. They were not going to be tolerating not having a team so we had to have somebody.
"…Coming through the door, you kind of go for talent," Pelphrey added. "You get the best players that you can possibly get because you have to fill a team. I am a little surprised that it didn't work out better with some of those guys. Very surprised actually."
Pelphrey believes that with two four-star guard commits in the 2010 class in Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott, another possible addition this weekend in multi-talented Marvell Waithe (6-9, 215) and a fourth signee this spring, the future is looking up.
Not to mention the fact that he and his staff have recruited kids in both the 2010 classes and 2011 class for a long time now and have clear ideas about what type of kids and players they would be getting.
"I think in the recruiting process with the guys that we've got now and the guys we are going to have a chance to get later on, we will have a relationship, we will have recruited them for a year to a year-and-a-half to two years," Pelphrey said "We will have a pretty good feel character wise. That doesn't mean it is always going to be perfect because it's not because recruiting is not an exact science.
"…I do think that because of the guys we have had a chance to be around, some of the things that we have had a chance to witness – I am very excited about where we have a chance to be one year from today in terms of the whole thing because of who we are going to have a chance to sign, where we are with the next one. I think we have a chance to be a lot better."
Pelphrey said he is very aware that fans want results right now and understands that very well because of his former coach Rick Pitino.
"Coach Pitino always talks to us about how we live in a microwave society – not just in basketball, but in anything," Pelphrey said. " There is a sense of entitlement that everybody to be able to throw it into the microwave and 15 seconds later have whatever it is.
"But it just doesn't work like that," Pelphrey added. "If you are starting a company and you don't plan on having a long-term commitment to making it work, it is probably not going to last very long. You may be able to slap some band-aids on it and may be able to do well in the short run, but it is not going to last.
"So I think that always where I have been, we have always tried to build it from the ground up and will be something that can withstand the storms, can stay there and compete and be a part," Pelphrey continued. "That is what Arkansas has done for such a long period of time and that is be great and that is what we want to be is great."
He was asked if he feels like he has been snake-bit with bad luck this year.
"My dad always told me that I was born under a star and that I was the luckiest guy on the planet," Pelphrey said. "I was a 6-foot-7 red-headed kid that was about 172 pounds that went to college and had a chance to play and compete and got his jersey retired at Kentucky, won the Mr. Basketball award, had a chance to coach with Billy Donovan and play for Rick Pitino and now I get a chance to coach Arkansas – I would say that I am pretty lucky."
"I feel like I have worked very hard and been very fortunate and had a chance to play at the right time, came in with the right people, the ball has bounced my way and I have been very, very fortunate," Pelphrey added. "But I have also had to go through some very trying times. When we went through probation at Kentucky, that was as difficult as anything I have ever had to go with."
Things like the fact that he, Florida coach Billy Donovan and new Alabama coach Anthony Grant all had children pass away while on the same staff and the aforementioned Kentucky probation period have prepared him for this challenge.
"I have been fortunate to be around some great, great people and we have been challenged with certain things that have given me experience that somebody maybe 40, 50, 60 years old hasn't had to go through," Pelphrey said. "So I do think it has helped me stay the course. My faith is very important to me and I believe I am doing what I am supposed to do and my resolve with that is very strong."
He said he will definitely not coach with fear of losing his job this season, only with a desire for success and development.
"I try not to let my thought process be of the world, but obviously we all struggle with that because we all have such expectations, things we want to get accomplished, things we want to do," Pelphrey continued. "But the thing I have to focus on is being the best that I can be, making our players the best they can be and no matter what comes up, win or loss or whatever the case may be, is to deal with it the best we can. Make the best decision we can at that moment in time and continue to march.
"I have no reservations at all that we have a chance to do some special, special things and I aspire for that to be this year and if not this year, very, very soon."
Pelphrey Pushes Forward
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