Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SPORTS >> Pelphrey turns Final to farewell

Leader sports editor

It was hard to miss the tall blond guy in the suit.

Soon to be ex-Arkansas Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey was at courtside in Hot Springs’ Summit Arena on Saturday, taking in Jacksonville’s 6A state championship game against Little Rock Parkview.

We can only guess at what motivated Pelphrey, dismissed after four years as head Hog on Sunday, to make an appearance.

He had to know he was on his way out at Arkansas after his team’s first-round, SEC Tournament loss to Tennessee, or at the very least he had to know he was hanging by a thread.

So what was the point in making the trip to Hot Springs? Does Pelphrey just like hot water?

It’s not like Pelphrey had anything else to do after the fourth-seeded Razorbacks bowed out to the fifth-seeded Volunteers, though he could have stayed in Fayetteville to get the Hogs ready

for a possible berth in the NIT.

Was it a public-relations trip, one last stab by Pelphrey at saving his job?

Did he want the Razorbacks fans to know he was still out there evaluating talent for future rosters and shoring up the commitments he already had from players like Parkview’s Aaron Ross?

By all accounts Pelphrey is a decent guy, no matter what his 69-59 record with the Hogs might say about his coaching. It is possible he was simply jumping at his first chance to show up and support one of the three high school recruits he had competing for state championships.

Pelphrey missed seeing Rashad “Ky” Madden score 15 points and grab seven rebounds to lead East Poinsett County past Parkers Chapel 53-38 in Thursday’s 2A championship.

Pelphrey also missed his chance to get another look at Sylvan Hills’ junior five-star prospect Archie Goodwin, who scored 29 points in the Bears’ 80-64 loss to Alma on Friday night.

Pelphrey did catch recruit Hunter Mickelson, who scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds for Jonesboro-Westside in Saturday’s 60-54, 4A championship loss to Clarksville.

And Pelphrey had nothing but smiles and a big hug for Ross after Parkview edged Jacksonville 50-44.

Some media smart-alecks joked Pelphrey might have hung on a little too long, both to Ross and at Arkansas, but at least there was nothing inappropriate about Pelphrey’s contact with that particular player.

The same couldn’t be said about Pelphrey’s contact with Goodwin.

Life got more complicated for Pelphrey when a photo surfaced of Goodwin and teammate Trey Smith posing with the coach at the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway in December.

The photo, taken by Smith’s mother, was evidence of a secondary, NCAA recruiting violation for off-campus contact and it came to light just before the SEC Tournament and just after the Hogs closed out the regular season with a pair of losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

I think the photo, just like Pelphrey’s show of support for Ross, speaks to what a decent guy the coach is at heart.

You’re a well-known coach and someone’s momma asks you to pose for a photo with her son and his buddy. What would you do?

It’s likely Goodwin, who may have the pick of the litter among schools like Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, isn’t going to Arkansas anyway.

But now it remains to be seen if Pelphrey’s committed recruits will play for the Hogs’ new coach — possibly Mike Anderson or Tubby Smith — or bolt elsewhere.

Maybe some of the players will follow Pelphrey to wherever he ends up, but it likely won’t be a marquee school after his middling run at Arkansas.

It’s certainly a tough situation for the Razorbacks.

The outcry in favor of Anderson means the program is going to have to at least make an effort to get him, and that means finding a way to top the $1.6 million base salary and $2.2 million in incentives Anderson is getting at Missouri.

And this comes after football coach Bobby Petrino got his nice extension and his whole staff was retained following a Sugar Bowl season.

Plus Arkansas is looking at yet another, pricey football facilities upgrade.

On top of that, Pelphrey gets a buyout in the neighborhood of $1.8 million paid over three years, so he doesn’t have to be in a hurry to rush out and find himself another job.

With that kind of money, even nice guys like Pelphrey don’t finish last.