Most everyone with interest in the Razorbacks sat on pins and needles Thursday as the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees met in executive session with Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz and athletics director Jeff Long.
The reports, rumors, and gossip were flying fast and furious throughout the morning and into the early afternoon until no announcement was made by the Board.
Much ado about nothing?
It’s not odd that Steinmetz or Long met with the Board on Thursday. Long usually doesn’t attend unless there is UA athletic department business on the agenda.
However, the fact that it was in executive session, which is closed to the media and public, is a big signal that they weren’t there for a taffy pulling.
When a board opts to go into executive session it usually deals with confidential matters concerning personnel. The Razorbacks’ football struggles makes it seem obvious that Long was there to discuss Bret Bielema’s five-year tenure as the Hogs’ football coach. However, rumors and gossip swiftly devolved into Long being on the “hot seat” as well.
At the moment, we don’t actually know what was discussed, but we do know Long never entered the session. He waited in the wings, but never got the call.
Under Long, Arkansas’ athletic department has been notoriously tight-lipped. Nothing of great import has leaked out that wasn’t intentionally leaked.
Over the years Trustees haven’t been as guarded when speaking with trusted members of the media and offered the cover of anonymity. Certain off-the-record information and direction has been given, but who knows in this case if what was discussed in the meeting will actually leak out, and if it does, it will likely be hard to know if the information is accurate.
If the information doesn’t come from a direct source, the chances of inaccuracy grows exponentially.
One thing is for sure, the Board meeting in executive session with Long in attendance really did the football team’s efforts to prepare for their game with LSU at 11 a.m. on Saturday no good.
There was already enough talk about Bielema’s job for it to be a distraction for the him, his assistant coaches, and the players without adding this into the mix.
Even if the executive session had nothing to do with Bielema’s future or lack there of on the hill, the meeting with Long in attendance only opened the door for more speculation, thus making focus for the coaching staff and the players even more difficult.
Whether Bielema is fired or not at the end of the season or at some point before, my assumption is that all Razorback fans want the Hogs to beat LSU on Saturday, and I also assume the Board members want that as well.
So, why muddy the waters even further two days before the game?
Why did Steinmetz have Long at the meeting? Or did Long just attend on his own? That seems unlikely.
When this season is over, it seems to me it’s going to be evident the direction in which the program needs to go. I don’t think it’s going to take three and a half hours of discussion to make the decision, and if it does, that discussion could have waited until all the games were finished.
If Long and the UA General Counsel’s office are doing their jobs, contingencies plans for all possible scenarios should already be in the works.
With the Razorbacks a 17.5-point underdog when they board the plane to Baton Rouge, La., does the meeting almost seem politically calculated to undermine the Razorbacks’ efforts?
I hope I’m just being paranoid, but just because a person is being paranoid doesn’t make him wrong.
The LSU series has been an odd one ever since the Razorbacks began play in the SEC in 1992. The game was generally played late enough in the year for both team’s trajectory to be set going into the game. Under those circumstances, sometimes the team that appeared to be the odd man out upset the perceived favorite.
Obviously, that’s what the Razorbacks (4-5, 1-4 SEC) hope when they face the Tigers (6-3, 3-2 SEC) at 11 a.m. in Baton Rouge, La. for an ESPN-televised game.
Really this game seems pretty simple. Can the woeful Razorback defense find enough lead in its pants to halt LSU’s vaunted rushing attack led by the formidable Derrius Guice. Guice trampled over the Razorbacks for 252 yards and two touchdowns last season, and no doubt he’s licking his chops for a similar performance this year.
Conversely, can the Razorbacks run the ball enough against a stacked LSU front seven to force the Tigers to commit safety help to the run game. That would open up passing lanes for the Hogs, and might give them a chance to score enough points to be in the game.
Based on the way the Razorbacks have played all season, it’s hard to believe either of those scenarios will happen. But there is always a chance. Right? Maybe? No?
With Austin Allen nearly 100 percent, but his own estimation, I do think the Hogs have a better shot at the Tigers. Allen is more experienced than Kelley and that open up more of offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ playbook. Allen, when healthy and with a measure of protection, is more accurate than Kelley, too, although the 6-7 redshirt freshman does have a stronger arm.
Bielema has the option of playing both which could work in their favor or blow up in the Hogs’ face.
Despite the fact that Kelley led the Hogs to back-to-back comeback victories, I’d start Allen if he is truly healthy. Either way it will be interesting to see which way Bielema goes.
Prediction: LSU 38, Arkansas 17
Hoop Hogs open with Samford
It seems like the 1990s all over again.
It’s November, the football team is struggling, but the basketball team signed a promising recruiting class, and the tipoff of basketball season brings much needed relief.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting the 2017-18 Razorback basketball team is a return to the hey days of the early 1990s, but the Razorbacks should be respectable once again this season and in the hunt for a return to the NCAA Tournament again this spring.
That’s good news for a program that has struggled to sustain success since the turn of the century.
Mike Anderson’s Hogs begin their journey back to the NCAA Tournament in their opener at 7 p.m. in Bud Walton Arena against a respectable Samford squad that is capable of pulling off an early season upset if the Razorbacks are not on guard. The game can be streamed through SEC Network-Plus.
The Bulldogs were respectable last season with a 20-16 record, but with five returning starters and the infusion of former Alabama guard Justin Coleman, who lit the Hogs up for 22 points as a freshman in a 93-91 over time loss to the Razorbacks, makes them even better.
Junior center Wyatt Walker (6-9) and senior guard Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (6-5) are preseason All-Southern Conference selections who can score and defend.
This is not a pushover opener for the Razorbacks, whose roster is short three players with usual starter Dustin Thomas and backup Arlando Cook on suspension and Khalil Garland unable to play because of a medical condition.
The Razorbacks won their exhibition games against Central Oklahoma, 78-66, and Missouri Western, 88-74, but struggled at times in the games as Anderson mixed and matched players.
Senior guards Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, and Anton Beard are probable starters along with senior forward Trey Thompson. Promising freshman forward Daniel Gafford might join them in the starting lineup.