First of all no one loves JFB more than me. He is an Arkansas Icon having done more for our states self image and pride than anyone in my lifetime. But his meddling with Ken Hatfield’s football decisions resulting in Ken leaving for Clemson was the beginning of the downfall of Arkansas football. Prior to that our teams won at these levels:
1958 - 1976. J. Frank Broyles 708% winning %
1977 - 1983. Lou Holtz 735% winning %
1983 - 1989 Ken Hatfield 760% winning %
The only decent winning % since then was Petrino at 667%. None of the rest were above 500%. I’ve believed for years that losing Hatfield hurt more than we can ever imagine. And who knows how Ken would have made it in the SEC. But the years from 58 - 89 are still the glory years for the Razorbacks.
Winning at a clip of over 700% would be huge today.
I like the players CCM is bringing in to get those winning days back. I hope he gets it done.
The sudden departures of Hatfield and Petrino both pushed us into a period of lost momentum. Nutt had some great teams but as we know NW Arkansas politics forced him to look for other opportunities. We tend to shoot ourselves in the foot and then say it is because we are a small state and can’t recruit like the big boys. As stated above, 1959 to 1989 would say otherwise.
It was a lot easier to have a higher winning percentage playing in the SWC than the version of the SEC that has existed since we entered the league. When half the schedule or more were cupcakes those wins were easier to pile up.
The nostalgia for those years almost always overlooks the fact we generally did not do too well against good teams from other conferences. Go back and look at those season records during that time in bowl games and quality non-conference games. What you will find is that we won less than half of those games.
So all those nice winning percentages were built on playing in a much weaker league combined with generally soft non-conference schedules. We had a good to really good SWC program, but the SWC in that period was never a good conference from top to bottom, and many years was not very good from top to middle.
I love being in the SEC. It really does just mean more, mainly because it is so damned hard to win. There was no downfall, we just moved up a level or three.
Great post. You summed up most of my thoughts. Joining the SEC might simultaneously be the best and worst thing to happen to Arkansas’ football program. I understand why it had to be done, but it increased the competition level exponentially and made it more difficult to win championships.
Prior to joining the SEC, Arkansas struggled against SEC teams. Even the great Frank Broyles was 2-10 against SEC teams. Lou Holtz was 4-2 and Ken Hatfield was 5-3-1. Jack Crowe was 0-3.
So during what was generally considered the golden era of Arkansas football, the Razorbacks were 11-15-1 against the SEC, or a .407 win percentage. The Razorbacks’ SEC record since 1992 is 90-123-2, or a .419 win percentage.
The SWC was a sort of façade. Winning it was great, but the records show that we should have known we had bitten off a 4big-time chew when we joined the SEC. The Big 12 might have been a better fit, but I’m $EC proud even if we are struggling.
I hope my grandson looks back at the hiring of Coach Morris as the time when the beginning of the fall was the start of the upswing. I may be long gone, but he will say one day, after we compete for the SEC Championship, get selected to the BCS Championship, “See Opa, he was a good coach just like you said he would be.”