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The first text I received after Arkansas’ 31-24 loss to San Jose State last Saturday said, “I wish Frank was still in charge.”
The allusion, of course, was to when legendary Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles fired Jack Crowe one game into his third season as head football coach.
I very clearly remember joking with a friend at church on Sunday, Sept. 6, 1992, that the Razorbacks might have a new coach by the time we got out of services. I’m positive others around the state made similar jokes.
It was the day after the Razorbacks lost to The Citadel, 10-3, and just hours before Broyles announced that he had fired Crowe and promoted Joe Kines from defensive coordinator to interim head coach.
It was a quick decision by Broyles, who relied on his experience, knowledge, and gut as an administrator, just like he did when he was the Razorbacks’ head coach from 1958-76.
Firing Crowe rectified a previous hasty decision he had made when he promoted Crowe from offensive coordinator to head coach when Ken Hatfield exited Arkansas in January of 1990 to become Clemson’s head football coach just weeks before national signing day. Broyles felt promoting Crowe would be the only hope of retaining the recruiting class.
Broyles’ quick dismissal of Crowe sent a message to Razorback fans and the rest of the college football world that losing to The Citadel is something a proud program like Arkansas just wouldn’t accept.
In a sense, it was merciful to Crowe. Broyles had made up his mind a change was going to happen. Why prolong the misery?
Looking back though, it’s hard to see if the move gave Arkansas any true advantage in the search for a new coach. It certainly didn’t help improve the team on the field.
The next Saturday, the Razorbacks traveled to Columbia, S.C. to play the Gamecocks in what was both’s first SEC game. The Razorbacks routed South Carolina, 45-7, but that victory was fool’s gold.
Reality set in the following week when Alabama visited War Memorial Stadium for the first time and walloped the Razorbacks, 38-11. The only bright spot in the game was the touchdown drive freshman quarterback Barry Lunney led late in the game.
Lunney, Arkansas’ current tight ends coach, and the rest of the Hogs delivered one more big moment that season three weeks later when Arkansas upset No. 4 Tennessee at Knoxville, 25-24, in his first start at quarterback.
Many feel that loss slammed the door on Johnny Majors’ head coaching career with the Vols. Tennessee fired Majors late that season before the Vol’s game with Memphis State, and promoted offensive coordinator Philip Fulmer to head coach.
The wins over Tennessee and South Carolina were the only thing to brag about that season, unless you count tying Auburn, 24-24, or beating a struggling LSU squad, 30-6, in the season finale.
Had Crowe stayed on as coach there is no evidence Arkansas would have won more games, but it couldn’t have been much worse than the eventual 3-6-1 finish.
It had been rumored that Kines would have been named head coach following the Nov. 11 SMU game had Arkansas won, but it lost to the Mustangs, 24-19, in Little Rock.
Broyles bypassed Kines for the head coaching job, hiring Danny Ford instead. Ford, whose firing at Clemson opened up the job for Hatfield, came to Arkansas as a kicking-game and offensive consultant to help his old buddy Kines the week after Memphis State beat the Razorbacks, 22-6.
Yeah, that was the game where Memphis defensive back Ken Irvin blocked three Razorback punts.
Following the victory over LSU, I remember seeing Kines on the walkway by Arkansas’ training room. He wore a huge smile on his ruddy face while drying off from the Gatorade shower the players gave him on that cold and misty afternoon.
I also saw that smile dissolve when he met Broyles and Ford shaking hands and smiling together coming out of the coaches locker room.
The following Monday, Ford was named head coach, and as crazy as it sounds, Kines remained as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
Ford guided the Razorbacks to the first of its three SEC Western Division titles in 1995, but he was fired two years later after back-to-back 4-7 seasons. However his player’s laid the groundwork for the early success Houston Nutt experienced as head coach in 1998 and 1999.
Poor attendance did Ford in. It’s been the killer for most fired Arkansas coaches.
The Razorbacks don’t have another home game until Oct. 19 against No. 7 Auburn. How many fans show up for that game will just be one of the things Yurachek will be evaluating as this season trudges along.
Good Razorback showings against the Aggies on Saturday in Arlington and on the road against Kentucky will certainly have a bearing on how many Razorback fans turn out for the Auburn game.