It's been a while since last we recorded a classic Arkansas hogaholic binge. But now we're on another one.
By that I mean an intense outburst in this state's chronically destructive obsession on the perpetual cycle of hype, hope and horror that is University of Arkansas Razorback football.
The last recorded episode came two years ago when the state ran off a massive coach whom it had cheered only a couple of years before, when the UA gave that coach a fat new contract with a giant buyout that it ended up having to fork over.
Bret Bielema had taken the Hogs to an 8-5 record in 2015, which fans and administration officials, beset with the blinders of hogaholism, saw as a signal of even better days. In truth, it was about the best anybody could ever do with the recruiting disadvantages besetting Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference, the nation's toughest.
Because it's closer to the open farmland of Kansas than the heavily populated centers of Georgia and Alabama and Florida, and closer to country music jamborees in Branson than the recruiting-rich hotbeds of Texas, Arkansas seems sentenced to less talent than all its conference opponents except Vanderbilt regularly and maybe Kentucky or South Carolina or Ole Miss or Mississippi State occasionally.
The Hogs can attract a recruiting class ranked 25th in the nation--and celebrate that in keeping with the destructive hogaholic cycle--and overlook the fact that the joy is being expended for the 11th-ranked or 12th-ranked recruiting class in its conference.
That luring of marginally less talent within its conference has a compounding effect over four years. You end up in Oxford lined up against Ole Miss, a low-tier SEC foe, and suddenly even the Rebels have a few more quality athletes on the field.
The Arkansas football program as a member of the SEC is a Buick Skylark in a showroom of Porsches.
And Arkansas keeps going on hogaholic binges and paying a Porsche price for the Skylark.
There was the binge when an offensive genius produced a two-year run of uncommon high-ranked success at Arkansas. But Bobby Petrino--who had run out of player talent, by the way, as the state would soon learn--got so bored one offseason Sunday afternoon in Fayetteville that he took a motorcycle down the side of a mountain with a female graduate assistant in tow.
He lied about that and had to be fired, forcing a one-year interim during which the Hogs were coached by a strange man who claimed his name was John L. Smith, and who ordered sports journalists to smile at a news conference.
They didn't smile, I'm told, which was odd, considering that Arkansas sports media people almost always do as they're told by Razorback football coaches--meaning regurgitate the hype.
Before that, Houston Nutt had mixed success but lived a soap opera and wound up in some kind of email scandal having to do with a personality conflict with a prized high school quarterback recruit from Springdale.
Before that, Ken Hatfield lost to Miami by 44 and said, "Jesus wept," and Danny Ford called his players by numbers as if he didn't know their names, and Lou Holtz did splendidly for a while and then got carried away with his national celebrity and was fired by the late Frank Broyles.
It was Broyles who was the last consistently successful Razorback football coach, but that was a half-century ago and only in a small conference with church schools and before black athletes began playing for Southern schools and changing the size and distribution of the talent pool.
And now the cycle thrives, going like this: You have insular local hype generated by coaches and regurgitated by local sports media to produce ticket sales to pay the coach's fat salary, causing irrational hope that can be rewarded occasionally by a mild hogaholic buzz that will always be a forerunner to a bender and a crash.
And that brings us to the left lane, where our latest and oddest hype-meister, a Texas high school coach named Chad Morris, told us he was going to drive us with the hammer down.
For some reason, people bought his spiel absent any existing demonstration or previous evidence.
He's now coached the Hogs for 14 games and lost 11 of them, including all nine of his conference games. It's partly because he inherited scant talent and partly because the better players he's recruited are unseasoned and still the 11th-ranked or 12-ranked in the conference.
But it's also because he drives in that left lane as if his accelerator is stuck. He was going so slow a couple of weeks that cyclists from liberal Oregon nearly passed him.
Still, he put out the word, and the typewriter jocks regurgitated it--and the fans scarfed it--that he'd had Ole Miss long circled on the schedule and that the Rebels were going to get an eyeful of previously unseen hammer-down activity.
We got a couple of flea-flicker plays copied from drawings left in the dirt after an intramural contest, both going for negative yards.
So I was asked on a digital podcast the other day what I'd recommend for the troubled Hog football empire.
I have no idea. I merely chronicle and analyze and quip. I nickname the condition and record it. I don't treat it.
But I know the worst thing that could happen right now for the hogaholic cycle. It's for this newly installed starting quarterback to hurl the Razorbacks to 6-6 and a piddly bowl game, after which we'd start drinking again and give Mr. Left Lane a big buyout that we'd have to fork over in 2021.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Web only on 09/11/2019
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