By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine
One week and one point make a world of difference at LSU. Ed Orgeron is a native prince for at least another seven days after a 17-16 survival mission at Florida. He is nine wins away from a national title as he preps his unit for a date at home with powerful Auburn.
A victory over the War Eagles will send ticket prices soaring for LSU’s Nov. 4 date at Alabama. A loss to Auburn, no matter how close, will reignite a chorus boo birds to blast the boy from the bayou.
Last week, it was Orgeron’s ticket to ride on the merry-go-round of college coaching chatter. The loss to Troy had some naysayers wondering if Coach O could last the season. The Florida victory provided a reprieve for LSU’s leader as the SEC firing squad left Baton Rouge and moved to Fayetteville until further notice.
Brett Bielema is 27-29 in five years at Arkansas after going 68-24 in seven years at Wisconsin. Bielema’s crew lost 48-22 Saturday at South Carolina where the Hogs arrived as three-point favorites.
Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, the director of the Miracle on Markham Street against LSU in 2002, is taking aim at the wide target who is in charge on the sidelines at the U of A. In a tweet after the mauling in Columbia, Jones put it this way.
“I luv my hogs…I will always bleed razorback red…this is not it…I hate it for all the hog fans…coach B is not the answer.”
Arkansas entered the SEC 26 years ago as did South Carolina. Neither school has won a single SEC football title, and a 26-point loss to the Gamecocks is not acceptable for Razorback lovers who pine for 1964 in the same way LSU fans once yearned for 1958.
Frank Broyles won seven Southwest Conference championships as Arkansas head coach from 1958-76. He also captured a national title in ’64 and left the cupboard full for Lou Holtz, who led the Hogs to an 11-1 season and No. 3 ranking in his maiden voyage in 1977.
In retrospect, it was a mistake to break up the SWC. The league which included Arkansas, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, SMU, Baylor, Rice and Houston might rank with the SEC if the members were still together. Singularly, the member schools have not fared as well participating in other leagues as they would have collectively in the SWC.
The conference thrived from 1914 to 1996, and Arkansas was the first to bolt. This turned out to be a disastrous move by Broyles, who served as athletic director for the Razorbacks from 1974-2007. The Hogs love the SEC money, but hate the competition and would have earned as much in the SWC if the league had retained the schools that comprised it in 1991.
The days of Arkansas winning conference and national football crowns are gone. Bobby Petrino provided hope for the Hogs for a brief period during his brief but memorable reign as head coach from 2008-11. His teams improved from 5-7 to 8-5 to 10-3 to 11-2 during his tenure.
A motorcycle accident with his mistress cradling his back sent Petrino to the doghouse complete with a dog collar. When it was revealed his side friend was on the payroll, the son of a Montana preacher man was packing for Kentucky where he found work at Western Kentucky and Louisville. There is infinitely more forgiveness in Bluegrass Country than in the Ozarks for violating the Big A of the Ten Commandments.
If Arkansas AD Jeff Long had known the last six years would be so dismal, he likely would have accepted Petrino’s repentance and moved forward. Instead, one year with John L. Smith and five with Bielema have been putrid for the northern neighbors of LSU in the highly competitive SEC West.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is one of the most influential newspapers in the South because of its statewide reach. Longtime Arkansas columnist Wally Hall poured his heart out to his readers on Sunday.
“What is obvious is that the program has slid below mediocre,” Hall noted with sadness as he surveyed the ashes of a fallen power.
“Last week, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva took heat from coast to coast after Troy beat the Tigers. Head Coach Ed Orgeron, who was promoted from within, had been given a $12 million buyout.
“Now expect the national media to shift some attention to Arkansas AD Jeff Long and Bret Bielema’s $15 million buyout that started at $18 million after he got a contract extension after the 2014 season for beating a bad Texas team in the Texas Bowl.
“When Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club recently, he said those type of buyouts are a ‘bad business model.’
“Watching Saturday’s debacle is hard to put into words, at least words that can be printed in a family newspaper.
“It certainly wasn’t entertainment for the proud Razorback Nation.
“Bielema answers to Long, who answers to Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, who answers to UA System President Donald Bobbitt. They all answer to the UA board of trustees. Someone in that bunch owes the Razorback Nation an explanation and some hope.”
It is certain that Orgeron and Bielema are not facing the gripping pressure that Charles McClendon did when his Tigers suffered their first losing season in year 14 of his head coaching stay.
McClendon was earning less than $75,000 per year when his team stumbled to a 4-7 record in 1975 on the heels of a 5-5-1 record in 1974.
At age 52, Coach Mac faced the possible end of his career with no buyout and minimal savings. That was pressure. When he was fired four years later, Mac did not retire. He took a post as head of the American Football Coaches Association. He needed to work.
Today, failed coaches become millionaires by not showing up for work because of the insane buyout trend. Orgeron and Bielema are competitive men, but deep in their hearts, they know it is not the end of the world if they are fired. The situation for McClendon was much different.
McClendon faced not only humiliation, but possible bankruptcy if he lost his job. His descendants in the coaching fraternity sometimes hit the lottery when they are given the axe. Mac would be proud that he helped improve the lot of his successors while serving as their ambassador with the AFCA.
When Jerry Stovall was fired in 1983, he took a job at a bank until he found another post in athletics. Don’t expect to see Bielema at a teller window in Fayetteville if he is canned at the close of the season.
With universities across the country facing a loss of public funds, it is unseemly for hard-working fans to pay top dollar for tickets to help pay off fat cats who couldn’t cut it. But if Bielema is handed his walking papers, look for the next coach at Fayetteville to receive a buyout at least as large as the one signed by his predecessor.