I have some 20 years experience in the news media – writing, editing, publishing, and as much as I love sports, I’ve never written a single sports story. Today will be different, however, if just an educated observation.
College sports in the South is business. Football is serious stuff. It rocks our world. And a major tremor hit here in Arkansas last night. The magnitude and collateral damage could be significant. Only the dawn of Wednesday will tell.
First – hats off to University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Faced with pressure from all points we can only imagine, Long fired a Razorback coach who put a team in contention for a national championship last season. Bobby Petrino is a winner on the field, but we now know that he’s only human, not a superhero, off the field.
There was every reason in the world for Long to find a way to allow Petrino to stay. Millions of dollars were at stake, and the diehard win-at-all cost fans wanted him to remain.
But at a 7 p.m. press conference last night, Long announced Petrino’s termination, no strings or perks attached. He’s done, and the collateral damage Petrino has brought onto himself is now his alone with which me must deal. It’s no longer a professional issue for Petrino. The consequences will last forever. I hope his family heals and forgives over time.
But what of the future?
Here in a remote corner of the state is Arkansas State University, the stepchild, clambering for attention for decades and making strides with a magnificent season last year under coach Hugh Freeze, who immediately afterward RAN to the SEC leading the Ole Miss Rebels. You can’t blame the man, but from ASU’s standpoint, it’s hard to be the doorman at a revolving portal.
Then – as if manna from Heaven – ASU pulls its own miracle hiring coach Gus Malzahn, an up-and-coming SEC star courted by many reputable schools, and some how, some way, ASU financial supporters court Malzahn well enough to convince him ASU would be a great place to take a program it its next level.
Billboards go up across the state. Game On, they say. It’s the era of Howlzahn. Finally, the stepchild is getting some well-deserved attention.
Now, 300 miles down the road, there’s an SEC opening anyone would kill to have. When Malzahn came to ASU, there were even rumors the U of A Foundation helped make it all possible, setting Malzahn up for his next job at U of A.
Unless Malzahn comes out TODAY with the announcement he’s staying put – it’s on.
We’re about to find out. It’s going to be one of those hot, humid, sticky days in Arkansas where you can just feel something coming headstrong through tornado alley. We will look to the western horizon to see what develops. It may just be a famished, blood-sucking Razorback with sharpened tusks looking to wreak havoc on Jonesboro.
Did Jeff Long go into his press conference last night knowing he had an Ace in the Hole? Stay tuned. It won’t be long. If I were a betting man, I’d double down.
ASU fans have long-awaited the day they would match up with the Razorbacks on the gridiron. Well, game day is here, and it’s the Perfect Storm.