After a week off “Ask Mike” is back as our veteran analyst Mike Irwin answers your questions about Arkansas Athletics.
Before we get started you want to announce a change in the way we do this every week.
A. Yes, this was my idea. I went to both Alyssa and Tera with it. We actually started it last week. I want both of them to take a more active role in Ask Mike.
I will still answer the questions but their input is encouraged too. I don’t like to sit here and flap my gums for 30 or 45 minutes. I like feedback. So if they have questions or want to provide feedback I welcome that. I want this to be more like a conversation, not just me talking.
Q: Our first question comes from HotlantaHog who wants to know: Do we know what the Arkansas football schedule will be like for 2021? It’s pretty clear Covid will be mostly over so we can get back to a normal schedule. Do you know? When will it be released?
A. The schedule is supposed to come out in the next day or two, Every indication is we will have a normal college football season this fall. That means non conference games will return along with a conventional SEC West schedule with two cross over games. Hunter Yurachek has also said that he’s planning on having normal crowds by this fall. Texas is due to come to Fayetteville and if COVID social distancing is no longer a thing we might see a record crowd for that game. 78 thousand or more. However, the vaccine is a big part of that and at this point it’s not clear what percentage of the population will take it. If it’s a requirement to be part of the crowd that might knock the size of the crowd down for that and other games.
Q. HangTenHog asks: In your time on the hill covering football for the hogs (1) Who was the best recruiter as a head coach? (2) Who developed talent the best? (3) If you could sit for an evening over dinner and drinks, which head coach would you choose? (4) Outside of football, who was your favorite coach (of any sport)?
A. The best recruiter was Frank Broyles hands down. Arkansas had pitiful facilities in the 60s and yet Arkansas was a top five national program for the decade. Compare Arkansas current game day locker room to the half houses that were used back then. Even by the standards of the day Arkansas was behind most other SWC schools. Frank and his staff did an amazing job recruiting.
The best developer of talent was Lou Holtz. He took a 5-5-1 team from Frank’s last year and turned into an 11-1 team a year later. Lou could coach. He was hard to get along with but he could coach.
Who would I have dinner with? Norm DeBriyn. In fact in did that at an NCAA regional baseball site in Waterbury, Connecticut. We ate some pizza together and had a great time talking. Arkansas had just lost to Le Moyne College in the first round and everybody assumed they’d be knocked out of the tournament the next day. He was completely relaxed. We didn’t talk baseball at all. Had a great time laughing and talking about a number of subjects including Frank Broyles, who we both admired. Surprise of surprises Arkansas came back and won that regional and advanced to the College World Series.
Who is my favorite coach in any sport? Nolan Richardson. One of the smartest guys I’ve ever known and one of he most fun to have a conversation with. Nolan had a way of making you look at certain subjects in ways you never even considered before. Plus he tells great stories. I miss being around him a lot.
Q. H-TownHawg asks: Is there a reason why the University doesn’t claim the 1977 national championship in football? At the end of the season the FACT poll (one approved by the NCAA) split the title between ND, Texas and the Hogs. We all know that Alabama claims questionable titles. It seems logical that Arkansas could claim this one.
A. That’s strictly up to the school. A decision was made to go along with the two major polls and the college football writers each of which awarded a version of the national title, None had Arkansas as the national champion. Lou Holtz lobbied for it after the game. Made a very good argument for why Arkansas should get it. But the way things worked back then, the only way Arkansas was ever going to be awarded a national title was if it was the only undefeated team and there were four of them with one loss. Arkansas ended up voted 3rd.
I was told by somebody that was on the SID staff at he time that Frank Broyles never brought up the possibility of the school claiming a national title. My guess is, he didn’t want to look cheezy like when Alabama used to do that.,
Q. Snout team says: Now that we are just a little over half-way through the basketball season, what grade would you give the team:
1. Offense 2. Defense. 3. Coaching. 4. Team effort. 5. Team chemistry.
A. I don’t like to do things like this based on a partial season but right now I’d give B’s across the board. Arkansas has lost four SEC games to the top four teams in the conference. Three of those were road games. That was a heck of a schedule to get thrown at them right off the bat. But it’s over and things are looking better. I have a feeling that this team will play much better against Missouri, LSU and Alabama the second time around.
Q. hobhog wants to know: How is Will Wade still coaching basketball?
A. Will Wade is LSU’s basetball coach and the question is in reference to a Yahoo Sports story from a few years ago where the FBI wiretapped a lot of people who were suspected of making money by delivering players to certain schools. Sports agents, people who worked for equipment manufacturers, etc. Will Wade was supposedly on one of these calls discussing what he would pay. Nothing has been done because to my knowledge the actual audio of that conversation has never been released. Just a transcript of a part of it by Yahoo sports. I’m pretty sure Wade had an attorney backing him up on this, basically telling LSU officials that a Yahoo sports story is not poof.
Is the NCAA investigaing this and did they get a recording of the actual phone call? Who knows? If they did, at any time they could announce an official inquiry into LSU’s basketball program, Or it might not happen if the NCAA doesn’t feel that there is it enough evidence to go after LSU’s basketball program.
Jumpty asks: Would you mind commenting on the reasons Rion Rhoades and Jon Cooper were either moved to an off field position or let go? Also, how do you like the replacements for their positions and the new WR coach, Kenny Guiton?
A. It appears to be related to recruiting. From what we are told, Sam Pittman learned from his time at Georgia just how important it is for a head coach to have a staff where each coach is out there recruiting his tail off. For now Pittman and his staff will do what otrher coaches at Arkansas have done. Take good athletes and coach them up. But the goal is to do what Alabama and others are doing. Recruit great athletes and coach them up,
Guiton is the new receivers coach. He replaced Justin Stepp who was not fired. Stepp left for South Carolina which is where he’s from. Guiton has worked with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles before and Pittman almost certainly hired him on that recommendation.
Michael Scherer, who was defensive quality control coach at Arkansas, replaces Rhoades as a linebackers coach. This was almost certainly done on the recomendation of defensive coordinator Barry Odom because Scherer played for Odom at Missouri. I know very little about him other than that but I assume that they believe that he can coach and recruit.
As of right now, on Monday afternoon, Cooper’s replacment has not been named. There’s specuation that Pittman is looking for a coach with Arkansas ties that can recruit the state of Arkansas. Someone like what Barry Lunney Jr was on previous Arkansas staffs.
Q. AlabamaHog says: I’m sure you have discussed this through the years, but would you explain the reasons why our basketball program, with exceptional facilities and fans, has floundered and not been a consistent top 25 program since Coach Richardson’s departure?
A. First of all Nolan should have never been fired. Secondly they failed to hire a coach after him that could coach or recruit on Nolan’s level or anywhere close to it. Some of the hires have been downright silly. Like using a search committee to hire John Pelphrey. That was John White bright idea. Pelphrey was a disaster. Mike Anderson, a great guy and a very good coach, made a mistake in taking what he considered his dream job, Most coaches will tell you that coaching is a business and as long as you do your job and treat it like a business you will be fine. These so called dream jobs often don’t work out. You tend to get comfortable and don’t have the edge you had in other jobs,
It remains to be seen how successful Musselman will be here. Some will tell you that he’s never stayed anywhere very long. Does that man he’s here for three or four years and gone? I don’t have any idea. What I would say about him right now is that he recruits better and has a better staff that the three head coaches that proceeded him.
Q. Lanny says: I’m hearing lots of grumbling about the ticket packages offered for baseball this season. Seems like a bunch of season ticket holders are opting out. What’s going on?
A. It’s complicated. Bascially, there’s no way to offer season tickets to all season ticket holders because the seating is limited to around 4,000 and there’s almost twice that many season ticket holders. So the athletic department has created limited packages for each season ticket holder. In this package you might get Friday tickets to one SEC series, Saturday tickets to another and Sunday ticket to a third series. Again this is done to spread the tickets out equally.
The problem is two fold. Some fans are mad because they’d like to attend every game of a series but most don’t like the increased ticket prices.
I was told that the ticket price increase is necessary because with season tickets fans are paying for midweek games that more than half of them don’t attend. This year only those midweek games are available as single ticket purchases. They are not part of a ticket package. This should be good news. You are not paying for a game you can’t go to because of work. And if you don’t want to pay for a packages of tickets you can pick and choose the midweek games you want to attend. But the price per game of the packages is going up.
This is not coming from the athletic department but from what we have heard and I will try to explain it.
Some of the increase is simply because the athletic department needs the money because of COVID related revenue shortfalls. Most of the baseball season was cancelled last year. They know that Hogs fans love their baseball and they believe that most will pay extra this year to get back into the stands.
However I think something else is at work. The demand for tickets for Razorback baseball is going up as the program has become more successful over the last five years or so, There are a lot of football and basketball season ticket holders who are now interested in season tickets for baseball and they are willing to pay more money than has been charged in the past. It’s simple economics. If a product is in more demand, the price goes up. The athletic department is not going to tell its traditional season ticket holders that they are out but they are going to charge more money for those season tickets and probably require a bigger donation. That’s what I see in the future as long as this baseball program is going to Omaha on a regular basis.
Q. RazorbackRedneck says: I’ve heard that baseball fans who sit behind the first base dugout are going to be moved over behind the third base dugout whether they want to or not. Is this true?
A. I’ve not seen anything official on that but it’s probably true. The question is when will it happen? It might be late in this season or it may not be until next season. This has to do with the team switching dugouts because their locker room is moving to the new performance center behind the right field wall. A tunnel will connect their new locker room with the first base dugout. When they take possession of the performance center from the contruction crew they will switch dugouts. Those people who have been sitting behind the home team dugout are probably going to want to keep doing that. Since the team moving has nothing to do with them it seems logical that the athletic department will let them move over to the first base side too,
Why would this upset people currently on the first base side? Some of them probably think this is a lucky break for them and they should be allowed to stay where they are. But most of those who don’t want to move apparently don’t want the sun in their eyes during day games. Either way the athletic department is going to make some people mad as a result of improving the facility for the players. There’s no way to avoid it.
Q. You missed Ask Mike last week because you had your wisdom teeth cut out. How are you feeling?
A. That was a week ago and I’m fine. A lot of my friends my age had that done years or even decades ago. A lot has changed since then. I had a really good oral surgeon. My bleeding stopped before the first day was over. Didn’t need the gauze after that. Didn’t have a lot of pain. They have a new pain medication that lasts 72 hours. By the time that wore off all I really needed was extra strength Tylenol.