Arkansas Week continues with a tour of Bud Walton Arena.
No dramatic phrases or poetic license needs to be taken to introduce this week’s team: it’s the Arkansas Razorbacks. Those rat bastards.
In actuality, as many of you probably already know, Arkansas is about as pedigreed and historically significant as any of our new SEC brothers when it comes to basketball. Are they Kentucky? No. Few are. But with their history in the SWC and now SEC, they take a backseat to few.
A Short History
Arkansas was a late-arriver to the sport of basketball, fielding its first team in 1924 which is a good 15-20 years after most other major schools had adopted the sport. But Arkansas wasted no time in making an impact and making themselves known in the basketball world. The program’s first coach, Francis Schmidt, lead the team from its inception in 1924 until after the 1929 season (during this time, of course, he also coached the football and baseball teams). In this time, Arkansas finished 1st in the Southwest Conference four of the first six years going 113-17 overall. With a winning percentage of .869, Schmidt has the highest winning percentage ever by an Arkansas coach. Francis Schmidt, from Downs, ks, was an exceptionally successful coach in both basketball and football for his career. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, where he played football and later received his Juris Doctor, he was an assistant football coach at Tulsa from 1915-1916 before his career was interrupted by World War I. Schmidt served in the US Army and rose to the rank of Captain. He would return to Tulsa as the head football coach and head basketball coach in 1919 and would remain there until after the 1922 season.
After Arkansas, Schmidt coached at TCU (both sports) from 1929-1933, Ohio State from 1934-40 and finally the University of Idaho from 1941-42. His career record in football was 156-58-11 and he was known for razzle-dazzle offenses featuring trick plays involving multiple laterals and non-standard tackle-eligible, even guard-eligible, formations. His football teams were known for high scoring, earning him the nickname "Close the Gates of Mercy" Schmidt from the media. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
From 1930-1933 the Razorbacks were led by Charles Bassett. Though he led his team to another SWC championship in his first season, and would finish with an overall record of 62-29 there, he would not finish above third place with Arkansas in any of his remaining 3 years. Bassett’s departure made room for Glen Rose, and Arkansas would have its first true basketball mind at the helm.
Rose, who played basketball at Arkansas and was All-SWC from 1926-28 and an All-American in 1928 (the first Arkansas player to earn this honor), was an assistant coach under Schmidt and Bassett before taking over the head job after the 1933 season. From 1934-42, Rose’s Razorbacks would take first in the SWC 5 times and in 1941 Arkansas would make its first appearance in the NCAA Final Four. Arkansas won 154 games during this time, losing only 47. Not once did the team finish under .500, and only once did they lose even 10 games. During the 1941 Final Four season, the Razorbacks finished with an overall record of 20-3 including a perfect 12-0 season in the Southwest Conference. Rose would coach the Arkansas Razorbacks football team for two seasons during World War II (1944-45) and would then serve as the head basketball coach at Stephen F. Austin College from 1948-52 going 56-35 there.
Eugene Lambert took the helm for the 1943 season and would last until the 1949 season. Like Rose, Lambert played basketball at Arkansas prior to his coaching days. Lambert’s teams would finish no worse than 3rd in the SWC during his 7 seasons, winning the conference twice and appearing in two NCAA Tournaments, and going to the school’s second Final Four in 1945. Lambert would finish with a career record of 113-60 overall and 62-22 in the SWC. He would go on to coach at Memphis and Alabama in his career. Presley Askew took over for Lambert for the 1950 season but would only last until 1952. After winning the SWC in his first season, his results got progressively worse and he finished with a 35-37 overall record and did not reach the NCAA Tournament. In an attempt to resurrect the basketball program from its first real downturn, the Razorbacks would bring back Glen Rose. While Rose would last from the ‘53 season all the way until the end of the 1966 season, he was unable to repeat his earlier success. During these 14 seasons, the Razorbacks would only win 171 games (compared to 154 wins in 9 seasons during his first stint as head coach) against 154 losses. They tied for 1st in the SWC just once (1958) and reached the NCAA Tournament in that same season. Rose’s overall record for his time at Arkansas was 325-204.
So after the program’s fast start and great successes, Arkansas had fallen on hard times. After the NCAA Tournament appearance in 1949, the next 25 years were very unsuccessful and very forgettable. While the Razorbacks won 13 SWC Championships in their first 22 years, they would only win 1 in the next 25 (1958). After appearing in 3 NCAA Tournaments between 1941-1949, they would only appear in one between 1950-1976 (1958). Their first 26 seasons (1924-1949) all resulted in winning seasons, but only 10 seasons between 1950-1973 yielded above .500 results. Rose’s successors, Duddy Waller and Lanny Van Eman, were spectacularly unspectacular from 1967-1974. Arkansas failed to finish above second place during the tenure of these 2 coaches. But the man that came next would put Arkansas back on the map for a long time to come, even though his stay was relatively brief.
Eddie Sutton of Bucklin, ks, began his collegiate career at the College of Southern Idaho in 1967 where he founded the program. In their first ever season, the Golden Eagles posted a 33-4 record and quickly became a consistent national contender at the community college level. Sutton left CSI in 1969 to coach at Creighton and would take them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1974. Following that season, he was lured away by the University of Arkansas. Sutton was charged with reviving a once proud basketball power, and revive them he did. Over the next 11 seasons, Sutton compiled a record of 260-75 and would win give SWC championships. He would lead the Razorbacks to nine NCAA Tournament appearances including the school’s third Final Four appearance in 1978. In fact, after two seasons to begin his tenure in Fayetteville that did not result in Tournament bids, the Razorbacks would be invited to the NCAA Tournament during every remaining season under Sutton.
Not only did Sutton never have a losing season at Arkansas, he had 9 straight seasons of 20+ wins including a 32-win season in 1978. His record against SWC opponents was truly impressive, only winning less than 10 conference games once (9 in 1976) finishing his stellar Arkansas career with a 139-35 record against SWC competition. In addition to the 1978 Final Four, Sutton’s Razorbacks went to the Elite 8 in 1979, and the Sweet Sixteen in 1981 and 1983. Sutton would be lured away by SEC powerhouse Kentucky following the 1985 season. His stay in Lexington was short, somewhat unsuccessful, and filled with controversy and he would was ousted from the program in 1989. He would take over the reins of his alma mater, Oklahoma State, in 1990 and would go on to be one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. He retired following the 2007-08 season as coach of the San Francisco Dons with a career mark of 888-342.
While Eddie Sutton had done exactly what Arkansas had hired him to do, which was to revive the program, the next coach in line is the name most readily associated with Arkansas basketball: Nolan Richardson. Under Richardson, the Razorbacks would reach their highest of highs, join a new conference and have their longest run of success since the early days of the program.
Nolan Richardson, from El Paso, TX, was not handed an easy path in life. His mother died from a mysterious disease in 1944 when Nolan was only 3 years old, and his father battled alcoholism for most of his adult life so he often did not live with the family. Instead, Nolan and his two sisters (one older, one younger) were raise by his grandmother Rose Richardson, or as they called her, "Ol’ Mama". Nolan would go on to play college basketball at Texas Western College, now UTEP, playing his senior year under the school’s new coach, future Basketball Hall of Famer Don Haskins. After beginning his coaching career at Bowie High School in El Paso, TX, he moved to Western Texas College where he won the National Junior College Championship in 1980. Richardson was the head coach at Tulsa from 1981 to 1985, leading Tulsa to the NIT Championship in ’81 and becoming the first black head coach to win the NIT Championship. Richardson was also the first coach in NCAA history to win 50 games in his first two seasons, and he led Tulsa to Conference Tournament Championships in 1982 and 1984 along with Conference Championships in 1984 and 1985. His tradition of wearing polka dot ties during games eventually led Tulsa students to wear polka dots during home games.
Following the 1985 season, Richardson became the head coach at the University of Arkansas and inherited a team and program that used to a slow tempo style that Eddie Sutton had implemented with great success. Richardson’s style was anything but slow, and his first season was anything but successful. After finishing just 12-16, many Arkansas fans questioned whether this style of basketball would work at this level. Work it would, and well. In just the second season under Richardson, the Hogs were back in the post season with a NIT berth. By year three, Arkansas returned to the NCAA Tournament. The Hogs would stay there for 13 of the next 15 seasons. In all, Arkansas under Richardson enjoyed 15 post season appearances during the 17 seasons of his tenure. Nolan Richardson built the Razorback program into a national power and spoke out often about the unjust stereotyping that he and other black coaches faced. Richardson took the University of Arkansas to the Final Four three times, losing to Duke in the semifinals in 1990, then winning the National Championship in 1994 over Duke, and losing in the Championship game to UCLA in 1995 (obligatory Tyus Edney hatred here). He was named the National Coach of the Year in 1994.
Richardson’s Arkansas teams averaged 27 wins per season during the decade of the 1990s, there were the winningest team of the decade until 1997, and their 270 wins from 1990 to 1999 were more than all but four programs in the NCAA. Nolan’s legendary Arkansas teams recorded a 20-win season twelve times as well as four 30-win seasons during his 17 years.
When Arkansas joined the SEC prior to the 1991-92 season, Arkansas had just come off of two consecutive 30+ win seasons and had gone to a Final Four and Elite Eight. They had won the SWC three consecutive years, winning a combined 42 conference games in those 3 seasons. Joining the SEC didn’t slow them down much. Arkansas would win the SEC West in each of its first 4 seasons in the conference, winning the SEC outright in 1992 and 1994, and wouldn’t finish below .500 in-conference until the 1999-2000 season.
His teams typically played an up tempo game with intense pressure defense - a style that was known as "40 Minutes of Hell." In 2012 his coaching philosophy was featured in the documentary "40 Minutes of Hell" on ESPN as part of the network's SEC Storied series. He is the winningest Basketball coach in Arkansas history, compiling a 389-169 (.697) record in 17 seasons. He is the only head coach to win a Junior College National Championship, the NIT Championship, and the NCAA Championship. Nolan Richardson is also among an elite group including Roy Williams, Denny Crum, Jim Boeheim, and Tubby Smith as the only head coaches to win 365 games in 15 seasons or less. He was the 1994 Naismith Coach of the Year, 1994 NABC National Coach of the Year, 1995 USBWA Most Courageous Award winner, 1998 SEC Coach of the Year, was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
It went south quickly for Richardson. After 15 consecutive winning seasons with Arkansas, the 2001-02 seasons resulted in disaster. On the court, the Razorbacks were 13-14 (5-10) before Nolan was replaced before the season was even over. In February 2002, Richardson spoke out against the administration at the University of Arkansas and its fans. He claimed that he was being mistreated because he was African American, and challenged Athletic Director Frank Broyles by declaring "if they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take my job tomorrow." Shortly thereafter, Arkansas dismissed Richardson as head coach. In December 2002, Richardson filed a lawsuit against the University, the Board of Trustees, and the Razorback Foundation, citing a racially discriminatory environment. Coach Richardson's lawsuit was dismissed in July 2004. He left Arkansas with a 389-169 overall record, a winning percentage of .697. He was 108-67 in the SEC, a .617 winning percentage. His overall coaching record in college was 508-206 (.711).
From 2005 to 2007, Richardson, (who speaks fluent Spanish) served as the head coach of the Panamanian national team. In March 2007, Richardson was named as the head coach of the Mexican national team. In the middle of 2009, Richardson was named as head coach and general manager of a prospective WNBA expansion team in Tulsa. While it seemed unusual to hire a coach before securing an actual berth in the league, the investors behind the expansion effort claimed this proved they were serious about wanting a team. On October 20, 2009, the Tulsa group bought the Detroit Shock and moved it to Tulsa as the Tulsa Shock. It was Richardson's first time as a professional head coach, as well as his first time coaching women.
Richardson's tenure with the Shock was far from successful. His first season ended before it began when key players who had led the Shock to three WNBA titles opted, for various reasons, not to make the move to Tulsa. This forced Richardson to try to build the team around disgraced Olympic track star Marion Jones, who hadn't played a meaningful basketball game since her college days 13 years earlier. The players also found it difficult to adjust to Richardson's frenetic style. A lack of continuity plagued the team as well; all of the players who had come from Detroit had left the team by the middle of the season, and Richardson seemingly juggled the roster on a game-by-game basis. The final result was a dreadful 6-28 record, dead last in the league. Richardson tried to rebuild the team by coaxing Sheryl Swoopes out of retirement, but after a 1-10 start, Richardson resigned on July 8, 2011.
Stan Heath would take over for the 2002-03 season and would last through the 2006-07 season. During his five seasons, Arkansas would not be able to enjoy the success that they achieved under Richardson. They would not finish above third place in the Western division of the Southeastern conference. They were invited to the NCAA tournament for his final two seasons, although they were eliminated in the first round both times. Heath's final record was 82-70. John Pelphrey was hired as the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2007. He was hired after Dana Altman accepted the job and resigned within a day. Arkansas went 23-12 in Pelphrey's first season, reaching the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament that year. The Razorbacks had an SEC regular season record of 9-7. In his second year, John Pelphrey’s team struggled in conference play after starting the season 12-1 in non-conference games with two notable wins over the nationally ranked Oklahoma Sooners (#4) and the Texas Longhorns (#7). Conference wins were few and far between giving the Razorbacks a final conference record of 2-14. On March 13, 2011 John Pelphrey was dismissed as the head coach of the Razorbacks after an 18-13 season despite an impressive incoming recruiting class.
Pelphrey was replaced 10 days later by Mike Anderson, a long-time assistant under Nolan Richardson, and…well, if you don’t know about Mike Anderson already then I venture you’re on the wrong blog.
Arkansas has already received an outstanding commitment for the 2013 class in 5-star Center Bobby Portis from Little Rock, AR (look at that, Mike Anderson can recruit in-state talent again!). The 2012 class was comprised of a quintet of 3-star players, a very typical Mike Anderson class. Anthlon Bell, a Memphis, TN, SG, Michael Qualls, SF from Shreveport, LA, Dequavious Wagner, PG from Alexandria, LA, and JaCorey Williams, the PF from Birmingham, AL, have all signed and do not appear to be related to Mike Anderson in any way. Coty Clarke, a SF from Lawson State CC, committed to Arkansas on 5/9/12 but has not signed his LOI yet. Anderson’s Razorbacks are poised to take the next step in his 2nd season at the helm, returning all but one player from last year’s roster including all 5 top scorers. Former 5-star recruit B.J. Young from Florissant, MO, (thanks, Mike!) led Arkansas in scoring as a freshman with 15.3 ppg and is considered one of the top pro prospects for the 2013 NBA Draft.
Best Of The Best
The University of Arkansas has had a number of players reach the NBA after their time as Razorbacks: Corey Beck, Patrick Beverley, Ron Brewer, Ronnie Brewer, Tony Brown, Todd Day, Courtney Fortson, Scott Hastings, Stephen Hill, Derek Hood, Joe Johnson, Joe Kleine, Andrew Lang, Lee Mayberry, Clint McDaniel, Mel McGaha, Oliver Miller, Sidney Moncrief, Isaiah Morris, Jannero Pargo, Alvin Robertson, Dean Tolson, Darrell Walker, Sonny Weems and Corliss Williamson. A handful of others have played professionally in other leagues.
Todd Day holds the single-season record for scoring with 786 points in 1990-91. He also holds the career mark at 2,395 set from 1988-92. Derek Hood tops the list for rebounds in a season with 349 in 1998-99, while the career mark belongs to Sidney Moncrief with 1,015 from 1976-79 (just 13 more than Hood’s career number). Kareem Reid’s 219 assists leads the way for a season, set in 1995-96, and his 748 career assists from 1995-99 is tops all-time at Arkansas. Oliver Miller holds the record for most blocks in a season with 112 in 1990-91 and a career with 345 from 1987-92. Clint McDaniel’s 102 steals in a season is not only an Arkansas single-season record, it’s the SEC single-season record, and was set in 1994-95. Lee Mayberry holds the career mark for steals with 291 set from 1988-92.
The Razorbacks play their games at Bud Walton Arena, also known as the Basketball Palace of Mid-America. The arena is named after James "Bud" Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart, who donated a large portion of the funds needed to build the arena which opened in 1993. The arena seats 19,368 and is the fifth largest on-campus arena in the United States. In its early years, Nolan Richardson's teams frequently attracted standing-room-only crowds of over 20,000. In consecutive seasons, 1993-94 and 1994-95, the AVERAGE attendance was nearly 1,000 over capacity and ranked 4th in the national for total attendance.