Crowe came from SEC territory. He'd coached at Auburn and knew all too well about the best football in the nation. And he knew that Arkansas football team was short on talent. It wasn't ready for the SEC.
Still, Crowe asked a favor. He said, "Will you help promote my players to the state of Arkansas and help me sell the program to our fans? We want our fans to believe in them. We want our fans to know them and make them household names in every living room in Arkansas. We want them to know who our stars are and I think Hawgs Illustrated will be a great tool to accomplish that goal."
Okay, coach, who are your stars?
That was my question to Crowe. Obviously, he had none. The best he could give me was a quarterback with a ruined knee, Jason Allen. After a little thought he added Darwin Ireland, a defensive end with SEC speed but not enough experience. The next best player might have been kicker Todd Wright.
Crowe didn't make it to the Hogs' first SEC game. He was fired after the season opener against Citadel.
My, we've come a long way in 18 years!
Fast forward to Thursday at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., where third-year coach Bobby Petrino led quarterback Ryan Mallett, tight end D. J. Williams and defensive end Jake Bequette to the league's writers, sportscasters.
You don't need to ask anyone to make these guys stars. They have it all. Mallett, Williams and Bequette couldn't be more perfect to lead to the interview stage. They socked home runs. They slam dunked. They knocked them dead.
The good news is that there could have been others to take to the interviews. They could have taken DeMarcus Love, Dennis Johnson, Ronnnie Wingo, Broderick Green, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Jerry Franklin, Rudell Crim. And others.
It shouldn't surprise that Arkansas came out of SEC Media Days as the second pick in the Western Division behind Alabama. The Hogs deserve it. They belong.
Part of it is the head coach. Everyone in the SEC knows Bobby Petrino is the real thing. He's no Jack Crowe.
The folks at Alabama and Auburn ... the dominant vote in the assembled media at SEC Media Days ... have seen enough of Petrino at Auburn (offensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville) to know what is about to happen at Arkansas. They've seen the way he's gone about his business at Arkansas.
That's the key to figuring high in anything that comes out of SEC Media Days -- do all of those media outlets in Alabama believe you are for real.
I am convinced this Arkansas team is the real deal. Petrino admits that Ryan Mallett's lack of practice time because of his broken left foot isn't ideal. But if there is one thing that I am confident about heading into this season it's that Petrino will have good quarterback play.
I talked to Joe Ferguson about the Arkansas system last week at a Razorback Club golf outing. Ferguson expects the Arkansas receivers to be much better this year in year three of the Petrino system. He also thinks the execution will be smoother in all phases of the offense.
The key to the Arkansas offense is the mesh between all phases -- quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive line. There is experience in all areas ... three years at many spots.
The recognition of the defense and the ability of the quarterback and receivers to be on the same page is what makes Petrino's scheme click. It's going to click this year. Anyone who thought the offense was special last year doesn't really know what's about to hit.
Williams is a special player, but the tight ends are going to be much better this year and it's not just the bell cow. Williams will be supported by Ben Cleveland, Chris Gragg, Austin Tate and newcomer Garrett Uekman.
The SEC is about talent. There's not a league in America with more talent. But the real key is not the talent in the first team, but the overall depth. No one in the SEC makes it to the end of the season without some key injuries. Can you survive when players begin to go down.
Willy Robinson, defensive coordinator, spoke about that last week at a Razorback Club function in Little Rock. He said he likes to tell his players on the first day of camp that it's the best they will feel all year. From that point on, injuries and bumps take a toll. Get ready for the grind that is SEC football.
The other thing he said that made an impression concerned the way the Hogs sit in the team meeting room. The older players sit in the first few rows with the freshmen in the back of the room. Robinson said when he arrived there were very few juniors and seniors in the first few rows. Those classes were void. Hence, freshmen and sophomores were in the front rows.
That's not the case anymore. And the players in the first few rows have several years of background in this system.
Unlike Jack Crowe's team, this squad is ready for the SEC.