Monday, April 18, 2016

So Long for Now

So Long for Now

Robert Shields

This will be my last column.

Until August. Or maybe longer.

I know many of you who do not like when I am critical of the Razorbacks wish I would have ended it with the first sentence.

Just like a large portion of fans who have taken a break from going to Razorback basketball games for the last 10 years, I am taking a sabbatical from this column and all the wonderful responses it generates each week.

After 18 straight years of writing From the Bench every week, it is time for a break, and so I will hang a “Wally Hall is on vacation” poster in its place until Razorback football resumes and I can again remind everyone that I called Austin Allen being named the starter by Bret Bielema without any question of there being competition for the job over the summer.

During the last 18 years, I got to cover some amazing events that will reverberate through Razorback history including the hiring of Houston Nutt, the firing of Nolan Richardson and the lawsuit that followed, the NCAA investigation into the Razorback program and subsequent probation, the arrival of Gus Malzahn and his Springdale players, Nutt leaving with golden handcuffs, the hiring of Bobby Petrino and his motorcycle incident, John L. Smith telling everyone to smile, and then Bret Bielema setting an historic losing streak that will probably never be broken.

But what I am best known for is writing about the Great Stadium Debate. I was the spokesman for the issue when no one else cared (enough) and Frank Broyles had shut everyone up from dissent.

But the Great Stadium Debate is over. And we lost. We meaning everyone.

GSD columns are always fun to write because it is something I am passionate about, but some columns are tougher to write than others. You would think a person could breeze through hammering them out, but it is difficult to strike the right balance in being critical while not being too critical.

The column has been a labor of love and when I started it I never appreciated how involved producing just one column a week could be.

I am also deeply appreciative of the many readers from across the state who took time to write me, and without readers a column does not exist.

From the Bench started back in 1998 – before the Internet message board era – as a way to provide a surly fan’s perspective that really wasn’t available anywhere else. Many identified with that tact and maybe for a time I lended them a voice as my Razorback experience was shared with them in parallel.

Some challenged me to be more controversial and to cover unpopular topics with the general fan base.
A wise writer once said, “If what you are writing isn’t likely to offend or annoy anyone, go back and try again.”

It is in that spirit that many From the Bench columns began, and if it ever made you laugh, that was always one of my goals. Sometimes the readers were in on the joke, sometimes they weren’t, and many other times they liked to tell me that I was the joke.

Some of the things that people wrote me are things I will never forget. I have always finished my column with a line to send me your comments to me by email.

One time I finished with “send me your Dogpatch experience,” and a person named Buddy wrote saying he was a Vietnamese refugee and his foster family took him and his siblings to the iconic park. On the way, Buddy, like most small children, acted up and as punishment they left him in the van on purpose on a hot afternoon. Luckily for him, a sheriff noticed him scrambling around inside the van panting and rescued him. Needless to say, his sister was glad to see him still alive.

Over the years, I have also received a few messages from parents of more than one Razorback quarterback chastising me for what I had written about their sons. As I have always done no matter who wrote me, I responded with, “I appreciate you reading my column.”

I look back with gratitude as so many weekly papers supported my endeavor. I am glad that I got to help some of them win Arkansas Press Association awards.

I have only had one unexcused absence when writing my column and that was when I broke my hand. For the next six weeks, I wrote my column pecking on my keyboard with my index fingers. I enjoyed writing the column and I appreciated those who supported me and sent me kind notes. It’s the reason that I seldom took a week off even when I had surgery.

I love writing and have written a few books also, many with titles that the Internet bullies love to give me grief over. But those comments are negated when I get a good review on Goodreads from someone who read the stories after friends’ recommendations. I have three more books that I have started, and who knows with this time off I may just finish them.

To all that have read my columns and written me over the years, I appreciate you very much as you challenged me to be a better writer.

Is this the end of From the Bench? I would probably say no, but I didn’t think it was the end after “Flash Gordon” either.

See you in the funny papers.



Send your Springer’s Final Thoughts on From the Bench to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

From the Bench

So Long for Now

Robert Shields

This will be my last column.

Until August. Or maybe longer.

I know many of you who do not like when I am critical of the Razorbacks wish I would have ended it with the first sentence.

Just like a large portion of fans who have taken a break from going to Razorback basketball games for the last 10 years, I am taking a sabbatical from this column and all the wonderful responses it generates each week.

After 18 straight years of writing From the Bench every week, it is time for a break, and so I will hang a “Wally Hall is on vacation” poster in its place until Razorback football resumes and I can again remind everyone that I called Austin Allen being named the starter by Bret Bielema without any question of there being competition for the job over the summer.

During the last 18 years, I got to cover some amazing events that will reverberate through Razorback history including the hiring of Houston Nutt, the firing of Nolan Richardson and the lawsuit that followed, the NCAA investigation into the Razorback program and subsequent probation, the arrival of Gus Malzahn and his Springdale players, Nutt leaving with golden handcuffs, the hiring of Bobby Petrino and his motorcycle incident, John L. Smith telling everyone to smile, and then Bret Bielema setting an historic losing streak that will probably never be broken.

But what I am best known for is writing about the Great Stadium Debate. I was the spokesman for the issue when no one else cared (enough) and Frank Broyles had shut everyone up from dissent.

But the Great Stadium Debate is over. And we lost. We meaning everyone.

GSD columns are always fun to write because it is something I am passionate about, but some columns are tougher to write than others. You would think a person could breeze through hammering them out, but it is difficult to strike the right balance in being critical while not being too critical.

The column has been a labor of love and when I started it I never appreciated how involved producing just one column a week could be.

I am also deeply appreciative of the many readers from across the state who took time to write me, and without readers a column does not exist.

From the Bench started back in 1998 – before the Internet message board era – as a way to provide a surly fan’s perspective that really wasn’t available anywhere else. Many identified with that tact and maybe for a time I lended them a voice as my Razorback experience was shared with them in parallel.

Some challenged me to be more controversial and to cover unpopular topics with the general fan base.
A wise writer once said, “If what you are writing isn’t likely to offend or annoy anyone, go back and try again.”

It is in that spirit that many From the Bench columns began, and if it ever made you laugh, that was always one of my goals. Sometimes the readers were in on the joke, sometimes they weren’t, and many other times they liked to tell me that I was the joke.

Some of the things that people wrote me are things I will never forget. I have always finished my column with a line to send me your comments to me by email.

One time I finished with “send me your Dogpatch experience,” and a person named Buddy wrote saying he was a Vietnamese refugee and his foster family took him and his siblings to the iconic park. On the way, Buddy, like most small children, acted up and as punishment they left him in the van on purpose on a hot afternoon. Luckily for him, a sheriff noticed him scrambling around inside the van panting and rescued him. Needless to say, his sister was glad to see him still alive.

Over the years, I have also received a few messages from parents of more than one Razorback quarterback chastising me for what I had written about their sons. As I have always done no matter who wrote me, I responded with, “I appreciate you reading my column.”

I look back with gratitude as so many weekly papers supported my endeavor. I am glad that I got to help some of them win Arkansas Press Association awards.

I have only had one unexcused absence when writing my column and that was when I broke my hand. For the next six weeks, I wrote my column pecking on my keyboard with my index fingers. I enjoyed writing the column and I appreciated those who supported me and sent me kind notes. It’s the reason that I seldom took a week off even when I had surgery.

I love writing and have written a few books also, many with titles that the Internet bullies love to give me grief over. But those comments are negated when I get a good review on Goodreads from someone who read the stories after friends’ recommendations. I have three more books that I have started, and who knows with this time off I may just finish them.

To all that have read my columns and written me over the years, I appreciate you very much as you challenged me to be a better writer.

Is this the end of From the Bench? I would probably say no, but I didn’t think it was the end after “Flash Gordon” either.

See you in the funny papers.



Send your Springer’s Final Thoughts on From the Bench to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, April 04, 2016

From the Bench

Bad Sign for Razorbacks if Next Quarterback is Not Named Allen

Robert Shields

There has probably never been a more maligned quarterback in Razorback history than Brandon Allen as his vehicle burned and his residence egged. There is little doubt he received a lot of hate.

Yet, he finished as one of the more memorable quarterbacks in the program’s history winning back-to-back bowl games, which is something his predecessors never did. You want to leave on a high note and he did just that.

The team’s modus operandi had been folding in close contests in the fourth quarter up until holding on to a narrow fourth-quarter lead at Tennessee. From that moment, the team would win heated contests in overtime against Auburn in Fayetteville and Ole Miss at Oxford. Then in that mix the team put a whooping on LSU at Baton Rouge.

Brandon Allen’s career at the end was all wins but for one, and that loss against Mississippi State is on the coach for stopping the unstoppable offense called by Dan Enos and executed by Allen.

Now enters into the huddle another Allen -- Brandon’s younger brother, Austin, who will be your starter in the fall barring injury.

Austin is probably a better athlete than his brother, and in my estimation will have a more successful career at Arkansas. Brandon will be remembered fondly because of the way he finished and was never a quitter, which in the end made him a winner.

Austin enters as a winner. He is a two-time winner and MVP of the state championship game at the highest classification. Then there was the game where he had substantial playing time against Ole Miss in the 2014 season, and he won. And he will win the starting job.

It has been said his demeanor is different than his brother’s. Where Brandon was an extreme competitor as witnessed by the fact he never quit when almost all others would have, Austin is said to be more laid back and maybe not as nervous.

Being brothers, you can hope that their delivery is not greatly dissimilar as that would make the ramp-up rate between the quarterbacks and the receivers small. It was obvious by the end of the year that the receiving corps of Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle, Dominique Reed, Drew Morgan, and Jared Cornelius was in syncopation with their quarterback.

If Austin Allen steps in to the position and throws the same as his brother, the receivers will not miss a beat. I believe this will be the case, and if given a running back that can block and be a threat out of the backfield, Austin will look all the better.

I have high hopes for Austin. He has had a year preparing for the Enos offense. He was the backup that saw the most game preparation during game weeks. By the end of spring, he will be receiving the bulk of the work.

If this is not the case, it is probably a bad sign unless one of the quarterbacks waiting in the wings is an underrated superstar that nobody knew about.




Send your hopes of Austin Allen to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 28, 2016

From the Bench

Trouble Ahead for Razorback Football Heading Into Spring?

Robert Shields

The Razorback football team will face growing pains next season much like it did last year when the defense had to be rebuilt after losing most of its playmakers.

The defense last year, in a word, stunk. It was a defense that could never get off the field, and its issues became evident early in the season against Toledo.

For the most part, the Razorback defense comes back intact for the 2016 season, and defensive coordinator Robb Smith will be expected to have them well-groomed and ready. The linebacking is still thin, but they have had a year to build on it.

The offense managed by Dan Enos faces the same problem entering 2016 that Robb Smith had for 2015. Enos has to rebuild the offense. He lost most of his playmakers including Brandon Allen, Alex Collins, and Hunter Henry. All those just mentioned were a huge proportion of the offense and points generated and are a big reason why the offense seemed unstoppable by the end of the season.

Next season, the offense starts with a new quarterback, which for any team is the most important place to start building. Austin Allen will be the person to take that position as explained here before because he has all the experience and will be your starter.

Frighteningly, Allen is not the biggest question mark for the offense. The line has to be rebuilt with the departure of Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola, both of whom did a great job anchoring the line that defended Brandon Allen and allowed him to execute the Enos offense. Austin Allen may not be afforded that same luxury.

The problem with replacing those two big guys on the line is that the number of players available for offensive-line duty this spring is sparse. Those who are there have the ability, but injuries at the position could expose a weakness quickly.

Then the team has to find its workhorse running back with the departure of Alex Collins. The team may have to turn to a true freshman unless Juan Day or Denzel Evans develops quickly as major contributors. Rawleigh Williams coming off a significant injury would be gravy if he returns to last year’s form.

The strength of the offense will be the receivers as Dominique Reed, Drew Morgan, Jared Cornelius, Keon Hatcher, and Cody Hollister all return. That’s great news. It would be even greater news if the Razorbacks were a pass-first team with a proven quarterback. Next year, that will not be the case and the Razorbacks under Bielema are undoubtly a run-first team to set up the play-action pass.

The offense next year is one big question mark, and that could spell trouble for a schedule that does not start off that easy.

All this is compounded by the fact the kicking game is uncertain when it comes to making field goals.

So as a fan to start next season, you’re hoping the defense can grow up from last year’s debacle to be the stability of the team as the massively uncertain offense gets its legs under them.

The expectations on the season, though, will be high following last year’s eight wins including the bowl game against hapless Kansas State. Many fans will be expecting something better than what will be on the field, at least in the spring.



Send your expectations to fromthebench@yahoo.com.


Monday, March 21, 2016

From the Bench

Phantom Hold Biggest Penalty in two Decades to Fans

Robert T. Shields

Just like ESPN Classic, today you get the "Best of" From the Bench as we go back to October 2003 when the Razorbacks had the Auburn game stolen from them. The Razorbacks had beaten No. 5 Texas and Alabama on the road, a rare feat, to move the Razorbacks to No. 7 in the nation and a match-up against Auburn in Fayetteville. So the stage is set:

Just pick it up, please just pick it up, I said to myself. They didn't, and the biggest play of the year for the Razorbacks – maybe in five years, no maybe in over 30 years – was wiped off.

Matt Jones had one of his worst days in his career, yet he still delivered the game-breaking 78-yard play for a touchdown. But to no avail as a phantom holding call canceled it.

Of course, on Auburn's big run from Cadillac Williams, no flag dropped, and that means their blocking must have been pristine since there was more holding going on the Auburn offensive line than there was during the halftime homecoming ceremony. Forget the pass interference in the third quarter on Auburn on a third-down play at the seven. The brilliant Auburn defense though could not do it on its own and the only two times the Hogs broke through the Tiger defense the officials bailed Auburn out and that is the way Hog fans will remember it.

Granted the Hogs still had their chances but missed them all, such as turning the ball over on four downs three times deep in Auburn's territory, fumbling on the Auburn 8, missing a field goal, not scoring a touchdown when it had first down at the Auburn 7, dropping a touchdown pass, the two huge penalties, the late hit before halftime that sent Auburn into the end zone (probably the biggest play of the day since it led to the only touchdown), a pass that would have gone for 7 to Chris Baker if Jones would have delivered it properly instead of lofting it to him allowing the defense to catch up to him to make the tackle, and six trips inside the area Auburn kicks off to only get three points.

What fans will always remember, though, is the phantom holding call on the long touchdown run by Jones. Auburn fans will say it was a hold, and Arkansas fans will say it was not. The call was marginal and extremely judgmental, but the flag was thrown well after Jones had cleared the area. The fact people keep breaking that play down frame by frame tells you how close a call it was.

The Auburn fans will say their defender was tackled, and Hog fans will say it was a clean block that took the defender down. The bottom line is both may be right. George Wilson blocked the Auburn defender and both players were going down. Wilson's arm was first to hit the ground, knocking it to the inside where the supposed holding occurred. Wilson's arm loosely covered three fourths of the falling defenders leg. It was really incidental contact with the ground that precipitated the hold, if one occurred, and no advantage was gained by Wilson because the block was already made that stopped the defender.

Why does an official risk his officiating career on such a lame penalty? I have a feeling this call will come back to haunt Official Leatherwood and, unfortunately, the whole team of officials for that game. The outcry from the Hog faithful has been too loud probably to ignore. The difference of that penalty, though, is that Hog fans will talk about that call forever because of its impact.

If the converse would have happened, I seriously doubt Auburn would be crying today over a hold that was not called because it happens every play just as it did on Auburn's lone touchdown run. And Hog fans are not talking about that today.


Send your memories of that sad game to fromthebench@yahoo.com


Monday, March 14, 2016

From the Bench

Little Rock Trojan Resurgence Contrasts With Razorback Mediocrity

Robert Shields

The last time the Little Rock Trojans stormed into the NCAA basketball tournament with this much fanfare was the 1985-86 season when bumper stickers arrived proclaiming the Trojans as the state’s NCAA team.

The Trojans completed the feat again this past weekend winning the Sun Belt tournament to guarantee them a spot in the Big Dance where they ended up as a No. 12 seed.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Razorbacks have missed the NCAA tournament yet again, which has become more common than not in the last two decades.

The Trojans finished the regular season with the best defense in the NCAA and tied with the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks for most wins in the country. In Little Rock, the excitement has grown over the season to the point that they are finally packing the Stephens Center with the atmosphere it deserves.

This Trojan team with its disciplined defense taught by new coach, Chris Beard, will be a challenge for any team in the NCAA tournament. Great shooting sometimes disappears in the pressure-packed environment of one and done of the tournament, and when facing a team that buys into being all about defense, it can be difficult to get your shooting groove on track. (Sound familiar, Razorback fans older than 20?)

The Trojans are not lacking famous lore with one of the most historic upsets in NCAA tournament history when they beat a top 10 Notre Dame team in 1986.

That year, the Trojans started slow losing a few early on, but fairly new coach Mike Newell righted the ship and the Trojans rallied to go on a 20-1 winning streak. In hindsight, the team was loaded with talent with guys like Pete Meyers, Michael Clarke, and Myron Jackson being the big stars. They had enormous support from guys like Paris McCurdy, Curtis Kidd, Michael Covington, and Ken Worthy. The bench was deep, and Clarke was a solid rebounder and one of the best in the nation in field-goal percentage.

After shocking the world in Minneapolis with their defeat over Notre Dame, they faced a tough North Carolina State team that was only a couple years removed from a national title. The Wolfpack was too much and sent the Trojans back home. Yet, the excitement of that season still echoes.

Will this trip to the NCAA tournament hold the same promise of making Trojans great again? The oddity is that Chris Beard did it in one season. While there is some crowd that thinks coaches need years to build a team, Beard proved you can do it rapidly. And with SEC basketball being at historic lows, how difficult is it to turn around a program?

However, if history repeats itself, good things were around the corner for the Razorbacks the last time the Trojans had this kind of success.

-

Razorback Football Approaches

Spring practice for the Razorback football teams starts soon, and Bret Bielema is going to embark on a new path by holding practices in a more compressed time period as compared to other schools. In 2015, Bielema also embarked on his own path and skipped the two-a-day practice system.

Some contend that decision hurt the team’s toughness, blocking, and tackling early in the season. It is doubtful that Bielema will do that in August. But the question will arise if the compressed spring schedule will deliver benefits or have its own set of consequences.



Send your Trojan Man memories to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 07, 2016

From the Bench

Spirit of Barnhill Nowhere to be Found in Bud Walton Arena

Robert Shields

On Saturday, the Razorback basketball team fell behind by 27 points at home in Bud Walton Arena. Shameful, but the team did rally to cut that lead to nine points late in the game with the opportunity to reduce it even further. That was as close as they would get, though. It ended up not even being close.

Getting beat at home after blowing a lead against a team like Auburn is not uncommon because there has really been no home court advantage for a long time.

The reality is that since moving to Bud Walton Arena in 1994, the marquee big wins have been very few if you remove the Scotty Thurman and Corliss Williamson teams.

The Razorbacks enjoyed a span from 1990 to 1996 the likes that few basketball program get to enjoy. During that time, the Razorbacks won more games than any other team, went to three final fours, won a national championship, were runner-up in another season, went to a regional final in another, and never exited the NCAA tournament before reaching the sweet sixteen.

They won the SEC when it was a great basketball conference that would put two teams in the final four. They also beat the perennial powers of college basketball like North Carolina, Duke, Arizona, and Kentucky coached by the legends of Dean Smith, Coach K, Lute Olson, and Rick Petino. They also beat the Fab Four at Michigan and a Shaq-led LSU team.

The Razorbacks were the best team in the nation over that span and lost so rarely that the opposing teams’ fans would rush the floor on the few occasions a team would pull an upset.

But the program has been in decline really ever since that moment that Scotty Thurman and Corliss Williamson announced they were leaving early for the NBA.

Then when Nolan Richardson was fired, the foundation of Razorback basketball was crushed and has yet to be rebuilt.

Since that time, a team bused over from Coastal Carolina to beat the Hogs in Bud Walton Arena. Oral Roberts also put a whipping on the Hogs, and I’m sure you have your favorite terrible loss of this era at Bud Walton Arena etched in your memory.

Former LSU coach Dale Brown often talked about how Barnhill Arena was one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball. He was there the night the lights went out when they supposedly filled some glass dish with the spirit of Barnhill and moved it Bud Walton.

But news flash – the spirit never made the transfer. If you look real close, the dish is empty.

When it opened, Bud Walton Arena was grand seating almost 20,000 people. The actual record attendance against Kentucky was 20,320. Back then, you could pack it to the brim because a victory over Kentucky was expected, not hoped for.

I grew up watching great Razorback basketball starting with Eddie Sutton. The Triplets arrived in Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph, and Ron Brewer. Their first year together, they ran off an incredible record of 26-2 and made the NCAA tournament.

The next season was historic as the Triplets took the team to the final four and on the way easily dispatched the monster basketball machine of UCLA. That season originated maybe one of the most iconic covers of Sports Illustrated with Sidney Moncrief dunking over Texas in of course Barnhill.

The memories in Barnhill are legendary with the Razorbacks beating teams that seemed unbeatable like Phi Slamma Jamma and Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston, a Jamal Mashburn Kentucky team, Jon Koncak and the paid players at SMU, or even the BMW (Blanks, Mays, Wright) group of Texas.

Arkansas not only beat great teams in Barnhill, they typically humbled them. The venue was awesome with only 9,000 and the design made it feel like every seat was barreling down on the floor. It was a crazy atmosphere and one where Jim Robken and the Hog Wild Band actually made a difference.

Many great teams such as Duke and Gonzaga still play in smaller places. I am nostalgic, but I think this is more than just that. Barnhill Arena really gave the team a home-court and recruiting advantage unlike today where the team is playing in an empty hall.

The games will never be moved back because of money, but if I were viceroy of athletics that is exactly what would happen. One thing that cannot be denied, the great teams including the national championship team where all recruited when the team played in Barnhill Arena

Something needs to change about the home-court experience.



Send your memories of Barnhill Arena to fromthebench@yahoo.com.



Monday, February 29, 2016

From the Bench

Common Questions for Uncommon Answers

Robert Shields

The responses to recent columns keep flowing in, so it’s time for me to empty the old mail bag since some time has passed from the last time that I responded openly. For sure, I respond personally to all emails that are sent to me every week, but here are some catch-all questions that I want to respond to publicly since I have to field them all the time. Consider this a public service announcement.


Q) Who will start at quarterback this year?

A) I wrote back in January that it will be Austin Allen. That opinion has not changed. Austin Allen has all the experience. He took almost all the second team snaps in practice in preparation for games each week. He has played in SEC games. He has broken the huddle in game-time situations. This puts him way out in front. People want to believe there might be a quarterback competition in the spring, but there will not be unless Allen gets injured unexpectedly.


Q) Will the defense be better next season?

A) A very fair question to ask since they were deplorable last season. I have to believe the answer will be yes. The defense comes back essentially intact and it will have more depth than in the past. The linebackers may even get help. I do believe Robb Smith is a good defensive coach and he will have this group with its experience more prepared. What Smith faces, though, is that other SEC offensive coordinators know him and his scheme better now than his first year. The one area they have to improve on more than any other is getting pressure on the quarterback. Pressure was non-existent on the opposing quarterback last year. Even Kansas State playing a wide receiver (he should have been wearing No. 85) as the fourth-string backup quarterback had success against the Razorback defense. The soft linebacker play last year made it difficult to bring blitzes from the corner or safety position last year and on occasion when the Razorback rolled the dice the blitzer was usually picked up. That has to improve.


Q) What is your prediction for the Hogs next season?

A) Right now I will go with 8-4 in the regular season and a bowl trip maybe to Atlanta. I reserve the right to amend my prediction from the point after two-a-days to prior to the season starting. I also predict a bowl victory. With the offensive production having to be reloaded, it’s hard to know how this season will turn out.

Q) Why does Bielema lose so many assistants?

A) He has had a high turnover ratio at Arkansas and he lost plenty of assistants also at Wisconsin. All head coaches lose assistants, but Bielema’s have been at a slightly faster pace. You can blame it on a couple of things. He hires qualified people that go on to better things. Also, when you’re newly hired and have to fill an entire staff, you’re going to have some misses. Bielema hires very qualified people, and when you do that you take on the increased risk of losing them. Bielema also doesn’t seem to hire wallflowers so I can only imagine the discussions between coaches can get lively.

Q) You're a bad fan.

A) The message comes in different forms but that is the basic underlying premise sometimes with spicier language. I am a University of Arkansas graduate, love my alma mater, and want nothing but success for my school. But, I am not a fan when it comes to writing this column, and I think too many in the media covering the Hogs are just that – fans. And so you get no critical thought but instead mostly propaganda from what I call the Incestuous Razorback Press Clique. They are the ones telling you it’s going to be fine even after you lose your head coach because the quarterback can run the team. You cannot be a fan and do this job. The UofA has a whole department that does a great job putting out the propaganda. It's the media's job to challenge it and not take it as gospel. This program has gotten into a lot of trouble over the years because the media has not been there to provide the check or the balance.



Send more questions and critiques to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, February 22, 2016

From the Bench

Razorback Basketball Still in Downward Spiral From Firing of Nolan

Robert Shields

The Razorback basketball team is collapsing going down the stretch, and it will be a battle to get back over .500 in winning percentage before the regular season ends.

The team has battled but continues to come up short, and the loss to Auburn was humiliating. Blowing a large lead at home in the second half is unacceptable.

Some of you may not believe this, but the basketball program at one time long ago was a perennial national power where fans actually worried about tournament seeding.

But in the last decade it is typically a far cry from even making the big dance. It used to always be a matter of where the team would go, not if they would go at all.

Razorback basketball is and has been painful to watch.

Back in the ‘90s, you could expect the Razorbacks to beat the likes of Oklahoma, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, and Kentucky. But those days are long gone, and the basketball world changed at the worst possible time for the Razorbacks.

When the UA administration fired Nolan Richardson, the only Razorback coach to win an undisputed national championship in a spectator sport, I knew then it would be tremendous setback.

But I had no idea the depth that it would sink the program and render it to a place that it could never return.

From the hiring of Stan Heath and then his firing, the momentary hiring of Dana Altman just long enough to do an uncomfortable hog call with Broyles, and then the failure of John Pelphrey, it was one wrong move after another to rebuild a foundation that was scorched to the ground and then dynamited.

I was high on Mike Anderson. He had success everywhere he went. I also felt he would finally heal the rift in the basketball program and things could return to greatness. That has not been the case, and to add insult to injury, the Razorbacks continue to struggle in an SEC that has by and large been terrible.

It’s a tough thought, but if Anderson cannot get it done, who can?

There is one place worse than losing that a college athletic program can reach, and that is apathy. It’s better to have fans mad and disappointed than get to the point of not caring anymore. At least if they are mad, they still care.

But I fear the Razorback basketball program has gone to an even lower place that apathy. The fans are not even apathetic anymore. Apathy means you know about the basketball team, but you just don’t really care.

These days, some previously great Razorback basketball fans don’t even know the team is playing and if they did would purposefully watch something else to avoid it.

Years ago, I remember the hit series “Lost” being bumped to late night so the Razorback game could be shown live in its place. Fans of the show called to complain. Today, it would probably be the Razorback game that would get bumped and there would be far fewer people complaining than the “Lost” fans.

I never thought this would happen, but the only moderately successful Razorback baseball team has surpassed Razorback basketball in enthusiasm. It would have been unfathomable to think that would ever happen in 1994.

Anderson should get one more year, but what happens if he can’t get it done? Can the basketball program ever be resurrected?

The best players leave the state, and it seems impossible to get high-quality difference makers on the squad now. Is there even a way to turn it around at this point?

The Little Rock Trojans did it in one year.



Send your Razorback basketball memories to fromthebench@aecc.com.


Monday, February 15, 2016

From the Bench

The Arkansas Obscure Hall of Fame Inducts First Members

Robert Shields

In the bowels of Verizon Arena, there exists the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. We pretty much know all these guys and gals in it and what they did. And to be honest, it’s a popularity contest to get into it.

So From the Bench has started its own Arkansas Obscure Hall of Fame for those sports figures who have made great contributions in the eyes of the fans but will never be remembered by their achievements being preserved in a glass case.

This year’s award ceremony for the new hall of fame will be held at Buffalo Wild Wings, which won in a tight contest with the selection committee to host it over Twin Peaks and Hooters.

The date is still to be determined and this is an open letter to Rick Schaeffer to come and introduce each inductee as he certainly knows them all and loves a good wing.

The first inductees in this inaugural season are…

Ricky Norton – He was a tough plugger of a guard who played basketball at Arkansas under Eddie Sutton. He was straight out of Okolona and the original Arlyn Bowers or Corey Beck, a wide-body guard who could shoot when needed. Norton reminded me of a young Norm Nixon from the LA Lakers. He is probably little remembered because he played with two future Olympic gold-medal winners in Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson. But he will be remembered for being on the Razorback team that beat Micheal Jordan’s North Carolina Tar Heels. Robert Shepherd might end up in this spot next year, but it’s debatable if he is obscure enough for those older than 20 who actually experienced good Razorback basketball.

Jimmy Williams – One of the first strong-armed quarterbacks to play for the Razorbacks, he held the record for the longest pass play in Razorback history to Derek Russell that went for an unheard of 87 yards in 1988 against TCU. The reason you have never heard of him is because he played behind Quinn Grovey. His nickname was “Rifleman.” I might be making that up since the movie “All the Right Moves” also came out around that time. John Bland may end up in this spot next year.

John Snively – He was a dead-eye of a shooter from Pawhuska, Oklahoma, but he was no Rickey Medlock at the free throw line. He was the original sharp shooter before Pat Bradley, Alex Dillard, Cannon Whitby, and all those youngsters who loved shooting threes. Snively could shoot the long ball even without the reward of a three pointer. His claim to fame is that he came off the bench to hit a shot to send a game into overtime when Eddie Sutton put him in the game cold to hit the long shot and he did. Oddly, he was on the same team as Ricky Norton. The person who may fill this spot next year might be Kevin Rehl, but Snively was first.

Aaron Jackson – Not to be confused with E.D. Jackson, this Razorback great was around when Ken Hatfield ran the flexbone offense, which was really just the wishbone with the promise of some more passing. In this offense, there was no one that Hatfield like breaking the bone better in the slot than Aaron Jackson. He was quick with some slick moves and a good set of hands to catch the ball. He helped the Razorbacks to some good seasons and Cotton Bowl trips in 1988 and 1989. Freddie Bradley may fill this spot next year.

Keith Hilliard – A product of Memphis, he was very athletic and quick to the goal. He took the ball and went the length of the court to score and beat a very good Houston Cougars team. He played for Eddie Sutton in 1980 and was a Memphis player before Ron Huery, Corey Beck, and Dwight Stewart arrived. He was the Darrell Walker the year before Walker arrived. It’s also hard to believe that the Razorbacks at one point had the guard combination of Darrell Walker and Alvin Robertson. Unfortunately for them, they had to go against the Houston Cougar juggernaut of Phi Slamma Jamma. Hilliard was an exciting player though. Keith Peterson might fill this spot next year.

Pete Raether – He was a good punter on some really bad Jack Crowe coached teams, which meant he had to punt a lot. He was also not afforded very good protection, yet somehow persevered. It’s debatable if he is obscure as he was actually All-Southwest Conference. I’m not sure who gets this spot next year as kickers in general are often remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Mario Credit – Before there was a Vincent Hunter or a Cyrus McGowan, there was Mario Credit, one of Nolan Richardson’s first recruits. He was from Kansas City, Kansas. He had a soft shot that often fell more often than not. He endured the first tough years of Nolan’s march to greatness. He was part of the team that beat Arkansas State in overtime in Barnhill Arena. Candidates for this spot next year Stephan Moore, Nicky Davis, Larry Satchell, and Darian Townes.

Joe Johnson – No, the other one who was one of Ken Hatfield’s first big time running back recruits from Longview, Texas. He is on the list because he verbally committed to Arkansas in my Yocum dorm room. Sometime before the Hunch Punch was knocked over, Donnie Centers (known as DC) turned down Morris Day and the Time singing “Jungle Love” so he could tell everyone that he was coming to Arkansas. It was a fun year as Wilson Sharp was getting a makeover so the football players had to move into the student body dorms. Probably also in attendance were Bono Yarbrough, Casey Keuttle, Charles Washington, David Dudley, Curtis Steggars, and Tony Cherico. All possible candidates for this spot next year except Tony Cherico who should be in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.


Send your nominations to fromthebench@yahoo.com.