Tuesday, November 28, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Tennessee mayhem spares UA bad press

Leader sports editor

Arkansas’ final defeat of a dismal season aside, as well as the unceremonious and rude way football coach Bret Bielema was fired, it was a very entertaining weekend for the casual sports fan.

On a regular cycle of sports news, Arkansas’ embarrassing treatment of Bielema would’ve made hours of coverage with the talking heads, but so much delicious irony, brazen hypocrisy and the felicitous announcing for a basketball tournament in “keep it weird” Portland took place, that Bielema’s press conference tears just couldn’t break the surface.

But since this is Arkansas, it’s only fitting to discuss that situation. The UA is fighting the clock. In a year when major program coaching vacancies seem to be at an all-time high, Arkansas has to hire an athletic director first, while other teams are able to make offers to qualified coaches. UCLA has already bagged the available Chip Kelly, and Florida stole Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State. Iowa State secured their coach, Matt Campbell, for the foreseeable future with a contract extension and big pay raises for him and his staff.

Meanwhile, the sports columnist for the Little Rock daily wants an AD stat, but definitely not the interim AD, Julie Cromer-Peoples, who he says led “as self-serving of a news conference as experienced in 38 years of writing columns about the Razorbacks.

Immediately after that statement, he wants you to know it’s not because she’s a woman, but self-defense when no offense has been launched is usually an indicator of, if not guilt, a guilty conscience.

The daily columnist also apparently has a laundry list of things besides coaching success that he thinks disqualifies certain candidates, but won’t openly say what they are.

He only makes veiled accusations like the athletic directory must, “quickly identify the pirates, playboys and politicians, then separate them from the coaches who are willing to work as hard at recruiting as Nick Saban.”

Never mind that Wally Hall harbors a palpable loathing for Nick Saban. He now wants Arkansas to hire a coach like him, and the list of non-coaching professions he finds unacceptable is strange.

Pirate is a clear reference to Mike Leach, who has a well-documented interest in the history of thieves on the high seas. We get no explanation why a hobby disqualifies a coach with an excellent track record of building up programs that are in shambles.

The other two references aren’t as clear, and since the columnist hadn’t the courage to say, we’re left to guess. Playboy was probably a reference to the rumor that Lane Kiffin was fired at Alabama for fooling around with Saban’s daughter.

In one sentence fragment, Wally calls for “someone who will call Alabama and find out the truth about why Lane Kiffin was fired…”

Why can’t the most popular, well-known and well-connected sports writer in Arkansas do that, or at least try to?

Furthermore, Why is that rumor more reason to dismiss Kiffin’s candidacy than the fact that he’s been a failure at three of his four head coaching jobs? I guess that is known only to the daily columnist. And so is whomever he was talking about as the “politician.”

What the animus boils down to is this. The UA administration didn’t want to fire Bielema or Jeff Long. The pressure came from some of the big money boosters and some of the state sports media played the role of their voice.

That got them cut from the loop of the decision process, and then that was rubbed in their faces at the Comer-Peoples press conference.

It’s all really very junior high school, but that’s what you get with people making a living off kids’ games.


Arkansas, however, has nothing on Tennessee when it comes to making a national embarrassment of itself. Wally Hall may have written a couple of incoherent columns eviscerating the interim AD and university chancellor, but no one outside of Arkansas knows about it.

Every football fan in America knows about the debacle the UT coaching search has become.

Popular internet sports blogger and raging UT fanatic Clay Travis led a mutiny against the athletic department when it became apparent that former Rutgers and Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano had been hired.

When the university suddenly reneged on the offer to Schiano, Travis took to his blog and to twitter to declare himself king of Tennessee, and went on a 16-minute rant about who he was going to “allow” UT to consider for its new head football coach.

Travis literally used the language that he was taking the UT AD “hostage”, and that if he wasn’t asked to be personally involved in the search, and if the next selection wasn’t from his personal short list of six candidates, he would wield his populist sword and lead another mutiny.

And Vols fans don’t even seem to mind. So crestfallen are they that they have yielded control of the program to a shallow egomaniac. Travis feigned moral outrage on the grounds that someone said they heard that Schiano knew, and did nothing, about Sandusky’s child abuse while at Penn State. That someone was none other than Mike McQueary, the one person who, without a doubt, witnessed Sandusky’s child abuse and did nothing.

The real hypocrisy comes from Travis’ short list, which included Bobby Petrino and Lane Kiffin. If sexual indecency is a disqualifier, then how do those two make the list?

Kiffin has the rumors floating around, but nothing substantiated against him. However, one of Travis’ reasons for wanting him is that he will bring with him Kendal Briles.

He is the son of and offensive coordinator for, former Baylor coach Art Briles, who lost his job, and by extension so did his son, for covering up the sexual assault epidemic within his own program.

UT is going to end up with its former quarterback Tee Martin as its new head coach because the place has become too toxic and dysfunctional for any reputable head coach. Martin may work out, too.

He’s been a pretty good offensive coordinator at Southern Cal, and he’s a beloved former Volunteer who led the team to its only national championship in the 90s.


On the lighter side of things, Bill Walton’s performance behind the mic at the PK80 basketball tournament was one for the annals of broadcasting lore. Walton was a force inside for UCLA and the Portland Trailblazers in the 70s, but was always a longhaired hippy at heart.

Arkansas fans grew weary of his ramblings, but he didn’t limit them to Razorback games. Fans of every team took to social media, and beat writers for every team wrote articles about Walton’s stream of consciousness musings throughout the one-time-only, Portland tournament in honor of Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.

Among the best during Arkansas’s games was his recounting of all the nice riverside parks and bicycle trails in the Portland area. This went on for about five minutes, with his co-host seeming to egg it on. He also thought it important to say, every time backup Trey Thompson took the floor, that he was the best player on the floor.

At one point, Walton opined that Daniel Gafford makes him believe in evolution, and then never mentioned it again.

Listeners were on the edge of their seats waiting for that explanation, and it never came.

Some on social media wondered if Gafford looks like the missing link to Bill Walton?

Maybe Walton had the opposite in mind. Maybe Gafford, with his 6-foot-11 frame and incredible athleticism, makes Walton think Gafford represents the next step for human development – something like Nietzsche’s ubermensch.

Maybe Walton really had some serious doubts about the theory of evolution, and something about watching Gafford play basketball relieved him of those doubts, and only he knows why. It will just remain a mystery.

Another good Walton run came during the tournament championship between notU-NC (as in not a university because it doesn’t require its athletes to take classes, and the NCAA said it’s ok) and Michigan State. Walton decided to let everyone know that MSU superstar Miles Bridges is not related to the Hollywood Bridges Lloyd, Jeff and Bo, or the Golden Gate Bridge.

He them moves right into his love of bridges, not the player or the actors, but the architectural structures, because “It’s really the ultimate tool, because it allows you to get some place you can’t get on your own.”

That leads Walton into another five or six minute tangent on the 12 bridges between Willamette Falls and the St. John’s Bridge, which he rode a bicycle across the day before.

Finally, he remembered there was a basketball game going on in front of him, and one of the teams was Michigan State. That reminded him of the 1966 Rose Bowl, when MSU played his alma mater UCLA. So he asked his co-host, Roxy Bernstein, who was born in 1972, if he remembered that game.