Ask Mike: Basketball, Baseball & How Jack Crowe was hired

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Q. Our first question comes from Dr. Strangepork who says: Coach Van Horn is one of the best coaches ever. He has been been at Arkansas for 18 years. He has never said anything that I can find about the possibility of retiring, BUT is there a short list of possible candidates?

A. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that for a while. He’s 60 years old. In good health. Making $925,000 a year. His recruiting is near the top of college baseball these days. It will likely only get better with the new development center. He has his program going to the College World Series on a regular basis. It’s only a matter of time until he wins a national championship and I don’t think he will stop with one. When the time comes, if Hunter Yurachek is still the AD, based on his track record, he’ll find the right successor. One head coach that would probably go after that job big time is Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello. He was a very popular assistant coach at Arkansas under Van Horn and in 2016 was named the second best recruiter in college baseball. He’s also got a lot of friends here. But truthfully, with Arkansas’ baseball facilities and its fan base, that job would attract top coaches from all over the country if it opened up.

Q. Razorback RedNeck says: I see where Arkansas is number one in the country in college baseball this week. Has that ever happened before?

A. They are number one in two polls this week. Keep in mind that there are at least four but that is a big deal for sure. From what I understand Arkansas was number one in a preseason poll. I think it was 2012. They were also briefly number one during the 2009 season. Here’s the thing about polls in college baseball. They change a lot early in the season because, in baseball, teams don’t generally stay undefeated for long no matter how good they are. The key is to stay near the top. If you’re close you’ll probably jump into that top spot more than once during the season. Here’s what would be a big deal. To be the top seed in the entire NCAA tournament field at the end of the regular season. That’s never happened at Arkansas.

Q. hobhog asks: Any word on spring football practice dates?

A. It’s just around the corner. The first practice is a week from tomorrow, March 9th. There will be three practices a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Spring game is set for April 17. The early part of each practice will be open to the media so we are happy about that.

Q. BloodRedHog wants to know: What’s the real story behind the Hatfield departure and Jack Crowe hiring? That move left Hog football unprepared for the SEC. Did Frank really grab Jack off the plane that was taking Hatfield to Clemson?

A. It was the only time in his career as an AD that Frank didn’t have his next head coach in mind beforehand. Hatfield’s departure caught him off guard. It started in 1987. Arkansas was 4-1 and ranked 15 nationally. Texas was 2-3 and unranked.
Texas was down to Arkansas 14-10 late in the game. They were out of timeouts. There was time for one more play. They were disorganized, trying to get a play off before the clock ran out and suddenly Fred Goldsmith, Arkansas defensive coordinator, called time out.

That gave Texas time to come up with last second shot at the endzone. It ended up being a 16 yard touchdcown pass with no time on the clock and Frank was furious. He wanted Goldsmith fired and for that and other reasons. Frank was convinvced that Hatfield needed a better staff starting with the coordinators. Hatfield would not budge on that and Frank tried to fire Hatfield. Chancellor Dan Ferritor said no. Hatfield had won 9 games that year. He didn’t cheat. Had a solid reputation. Ferritor said there was no reason to fire him.

So Frank just got Goldsmith a head coaching job to get rid of him. He had that kind of pull. That ,and the pressure Frank put on that staff, got them going and Arkansas went to back-to-back Cotton Bowls the next two seasons. Frank was happy. He thought Hatfield was. But he wasn’t.

His departure for Clemson in January of 1990 was a surprise. It was too late in the recruiting season to go on a two or three week job search so yes, Frank pulled Jack Crowe off a plane leaving for Clemson and offered him the job.

Crowe was one of those coaches who was a great coordinator but didn’t translate to a head coach. His third season coincided with Arkansas’ first year in the SEC. When Arkansas lost to the Cidadel in the season opener Jack Crowe became the first college coach I know of get the boot one game into a season.

Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines became the Interim head coach. Arkansas won its first ever SEC game that next week. They beat South Carolina on the road but Arkansas went 3-7-1 that year and Danny Ford was hired as Hatfield’s permanent replacement.

Would Hatfield have given Arkansas a better start into the SEC? I think so. He still has the highest winning percentage of any Arkansas football coach.

Q. revolution asks: What do you think is the best possible upside for this Hogs basketball team? Round of 32? Sweet 16? Elite Eight? Dare we dream Final 4?
I’m thinking Sweet 16. Probably not enough tournament experience to survive pressure beyond that point.

A. The NCAA Tournament is all about seeding and the teams in your bracket. As it stands right now I think Arkansas could be a four seed or maybe a three. That’ll usually get you a first round win but the first round is all about upsets so anything can happen. I can answer this question a lot better once I see the actual NCAA Tournament field. Then you can see possible second and even third round opponents. There are teams that can get hot once the tournament begins. You don’t want to run into one of those teams. I’ll take a wild guess and say Arkansas is a sweet 16 team. They’re good enough to go that far but honestly, who knows?

Q. Iwastherein1969 says: A few weeks back there was a minor uprising on social media against Eric Musselman. Who do these people think we could hire if we fired Musselman after two seasons ? Any decent coach wouldn’t come within 500 miles of Fayetteville if that were to happen.

A. Musselman was never in any danger of being fired. Hunter Yurachek is the athletic director and the man who hired Musselman. He hires and fires. People on social media don’t. You don’t see those complaints against Mussleman these days. With Arkansas knocking on he door of the top 10 in both the AP and coaches poll the same people who were wanting him gone in mid January are singing his praises today. I do think that some fans have gotten so used to seeing football coaches at Arkansas fired every few years that they think that’s the way it works. It doesn’t. I read social media all the time. Some of it is very good. Arkansas has some really knowledgable fans but there are some kooks out there too, Don’t pay any attention to the kooks. They don’t run things.

Q. MetropolisHog wants to know: With the success of the basketball team and Razorbacks sports as a whole, do you think the powers that be are willing to do what it takes to make sure Musselman and Yurachek are with our program for years to come?

A. Money is tight right now because of COVID but Yuracheck still managed to come up wiith an extension and raise for football defensive coordinator Barry Odom. If the basketball team does well in post season I anticipate Musselman getting a raise. How much will depend on how far the team goes. As for Yurachek if another school comes looking I’m confident that the BOT will do what it takes to keep him unless he get an offer he wants that isn’t about money. Most coaches and ADs have a so called dream job. If they get an offer to thast school they’re likely gone. Some like Dave Van Horn, already have their dream job. I don’t know Musselman or Yurachek well enough to say if there’s a job out there they’d leave Arkansas for regardless of the money offered for them to stay. So the term “years to come” is hard to define.

AlabamaHog asks: Can you provide an update on how Elauna Eaton recovery is progressing? Has she been involved in team meetings and/or workouts?

A. Okay she’s recovering from an ACL injury. There’s no reason to rush her back because Arkansas is loaded with experienced guards right now. She’s at practice every day. The coaches say she’s doing everything they ask. In 2019 she was the player of the year in Arkansas and the number 9 point guard in the nation. With Eaton and Jersey Wolfenbarger, who is the number one guard in the country this year, Mike Neighbors is going to have some serious talent to work with in the front court next season.

Q. austin.hogfan asks: Can you share any insight on who might yet get added to this year’s football team with those last four openings?

A. One of those four had been filled by Ty ‘Kieast Crawford. A transfer from the University of Charlotte. He went there originally because he had not passed the ACT test.. Orher schools needed him to pass it. They took him anyway and then the NCAA dropped the ACT requirement because of COVID. He’ll be eligible immediately. Crawfor is a 6-5, 340 pound offensive tackle and Otis Kirk, our recruiting guru, thinks that Crawford has a good chance of starting right away. He’s that good. That’s probably the biggest recruiting news from the 2021 class. The other three spots probably won’t be fillled until after spring football is over. Otis thinks that Arkansas is waiting to see which SEC players enter the portal who could help Arkansas right away, like Crawford.

Q. littlewheezy is curious and asks: Do we know if the height of the new baseball performance center at Baum Stadium will help to block the wind blowing in from right field, possibly leading to more home runs?

A. It’s three full stories with extra high ceilings so I’d say it’s 35 to 40 feet. Yes, it does appear that will block the wind somewhat at that height and below. A towering shot still might get knocked down some but the line drive type homers should benefit from the building’s location and height. Just remember that works both ways. Opponents will benefit from it too if the wind is strong out of the south.

Q: Superhog1959 says: Over the years I have seen referees, umps and officials make calls against us that cost us many games, even championships. SWC and SEC. Can you name some of the most damaging and obviously blown calls that you’ve seen?

A. Three of them stand out and both happened before I got here in 1975. The first was in the 69 Texas game. I was actually a student at North Texas State at the time but I had a part time job at Leonards Department Store in downtown Ft. Worth selling Boy Scouts merchandise. I took several breaks the Saturday of that game so I could go to the employees break room and watch the game on TV. Chuck Dicus caught a toughdown pass early in that game that was wiped out by a holding call. The flag was on the other side of the field from the catch and the flag came out after the catch. It was highly suspicious especially since there was an all Texas referee crew that day. That touchdown would have made the difference in what ended up being a 15-14 win for Texas.

The second and third calls came in the 1971 Liberty Bowl game between Arkansas and Tennessee. I was in the Army at Ft. Rucker, Alabama and watching on a TV in the barracks. An SEC ref wiped out an Arkansas field goal on what was a phantom holding call on Arkansas. I mean the ref bascially made that call up. The second bogus call was even worse. Late in the game Arkansas fumbled but Tom Reed recovered it for Arkansas. He actually handed the ball to that same ref who quickly signaled that Tennesse had recovered. A few plays later Tennesse scored the winning touchdown. Those call were so bad and so obvious that it prompted a rules change in college football. To this day in bowl games neutral officials from conferences not represented by the two teams are used.

Q. Lanny says: A few weeks ago you said you thought the athletic department would increase the size of baseball crowds later in the season because COVID case swere dropping and because of the vaccinations taking place. Will that happen?

A. Yes and it’s probably going to start immediately. Last week the governor announced that crowd limits on bars, restaurants and large venues were no longer a madate but a guideline. As I understand it technically the athletic department can now do whatever it thinks is safe with regard to crowd sizes.

I’m told, that the university will still work with the governor’s COVID safety panel. They’re not just going to suddenly open Baum-Walker up to full capacity but some additional fans will be let in. How many, I don’t know. The same thing is probably true of Satruday’s basketballl game with Texas A&M and crowds for other events on campus. They will go up some moving forward and if the numbers on COVID continue to drop I could see some much bigger crowds later in the SEC season for baseball.

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