Arkansas Fans reveled with delight when former Arkansas coach Jack Crowe lead his DI-AA Jacksonville State team to a 49-48 victory Saturday over Ole Miss and former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. On the surface, the coincidence almost stretched to irony because former Arkansas coach Jack Crowe’s current DI-AA team, the same Jack Crowe who in 1992 lost his job at Arkansas after losing to DI-AA, The Citadel, beat former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt’s team at Ole Miss. Below the surface, Jack Crowe’s Jacksonville State victory represented something harder to describe.
On September 5, 1992, in the game immediately before Arkansas’ historic entry into Southeast Conference football against South Carolina, Jack Crowe’s Arkansas team lost 10-3 to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. Some time that evening or in the early hours of September 6, 1992, Jack Crowe no longer coached the Arkansas Razorbacks as decided by the who’s who of Arkansas Razorbacks Football.
Long-time Arkansas sports reporter Harry King described Crowe's firing shortly after it happened this way:
All around Razorback Stadium, Arkansas football fans were complaining. They were stung by a 10-3 loss to The Citadel.
Fire Crowe, they said.
Upstairs, on the fourth floor of the press box, Jack Crowe looked like a man in trouble. But he still prepared for his television show. And he was talking with the co-host about changes he wanted to make in the future.
There was no inkling that he would be out of work one game deep into a new five-year contract.
Saturday night, athletic director Frank Broyles met with some of the Arkansas hierarchy. The subject was Crowe and the football program.
The meeting resumed at 7:30 a.m. Sunday and continued until noon. Associate A.D. Wilson Matthews was present. So was senior associate A.D. Terry Don Phillips, associate A.D. Bill Gray and Razorback Foundation president Chuck Dicus.
“We discussed the options that we had to play for the rest of the season,” Broyles said. “I think the primary focus…was if we were going to make a decision, whether it be in the middle of the season or at the end of the season, then the program would be much better off if we made it now to let the new coach have a full season to accomplish his goals. We were either going to make it now or at the end of the season.”
Arkansas was 3-8 in 1990 and some people wanted Crowe’s scalp before the 1991 season ended, the Razorbacks’ last in the Southwest Conference before starting play this season in the Southeastern Conference.
The hard core didn’t want to hear that Arkansas was 5-2 before quarterback Jason Allen tore up his knee. After three straight losses, there was talk that Crowe would be canned if he didn’t handle Rice. They did, 20-0, and would up in the Independence Bowl against Georgia.
Still, there were grumblings.
Arkansas hired Greg Davis as offensive coordinator and switched to the one-back offense with promises of pro-type passing and excitement. More than once, the Arkansas offense was mentioned in the same breath with that of the Washington Redskins.
During the summer, Broyles said the Razorbacks were in the offense of the 21st century.
On Saturday, against a Division I-AA opponent, the Razorbacks made 287 yards. They completed 11 of 23 passes and their wide receivers caught one ball.
Early Sunday afternoon, Broyles and Crowe talked.
At a news conference with reporters, he handled questions without giving a clue that his tenure was over. Afterward, the announcement was crafted – the company line was that Crowe had stepped down.
Crowe said it in 65 words; Broyles in 52.
“It was obvious the program is not where we want it to be and not where it should be,” Crowe said in his one-paragraph statement. “It is in the best interests of all concerned that the head coaching responsibility be turned over to someone else.” “Jack Crowe and I have discussed the status of the football program during his tenure as head coach and I agree with his assessment,” Broyles said in his statement.
A couple of hours later, Broyles introduced Joe Kines as interim head coach.
When asked if Crowe was fired, Broyles said, “We both agreed that we weren’t at the point that we should be. The decision was made mutually.” He gave another rambling answer to a similar question, but slipped up when he said the Razorback Foundation would pay for Crowe’s $84,000-a-year contract. “The Foundation is, by contract, committed to fulfilling contracts in the case of dismissals,” he said.
Arkansas lost Saturday when a defensive end picked up a fumble and ran 34 yard for a touchdown. Broyles said he and Crowe discussed, at length, whether one game did in Crowe.
“It was a decision of the ’90 season, the ’91 season, the progress that we hoped to be at,” he said.
He also mentioned Saturday’s attendance of 35,828, one of the smallest crowds in Fayetteville in years.
“The hard core fans were there but the ones that pick and choose weren’t,” he said. “It’s not any one person’s fault. It’s an accumulation of the last five years.”
In the two years prior to Crowe, Arkansas went 10-2, 10-2 under Ken Hatfield and won back-to-back SWC titles.
Broyles gushed about Crow when he hired him Jan. 22, 1990 to replace Ken Hatfield, who left his alma mater for the job at Clemson.
Arkansas was Crowe’s first head coaching job on the major-college level. No sweat, Broyles said. He told a search committee that he would have recommended Crowe if he had three months to find a coach. “Most of you know that I put a lot of confidence and a lot of faith in a coach who knows how to call signals,” Broyles said at the time. “I’ve always thought that Lou Holtz was the No. 1 signal caller in the college game today. I now tell you that in my opinion our new coach is his equal.”
While plainly more was involved in Jack Crowe’s leaving than simply losing to The Citadel, Arkansas fans knew some matters needed correcting in 1992. Maybe he wasn’t the coach for Arkansas, but in hindsight, his firing after the first game of the season and an embarrassing loss was heavy-handed, even by football standards.
Chapters in a lengthy book might begin to address all of the sides and currents found in Harry King’s 1992 beat-reporter story. For here, they are only outlined in summary fashion.
“The hard core fans were there but the ones that pick and choose weren’t,” [Broyles] said. “It’s not any one person’s fault. It’s an accumulation of the last five years.” In the two years prior to Crowe, Arkansas went 10-2, 10-2 under Ken Hatfield and won back-to-back SWC titles.
Wrapped into four lines were themes that vexed Razorback football for two decades.
Were there “five years” of events that culminated in Crowe’s firing? Harry King didn’t believe it and essentially says, “If you are telling the truth, then how do you explain two 10-2 seasons immediately before Crowe? Why are you laying this on Hatfield?”
Whether right or wrong, the apparent distrust of the “company line” evident at Crowe’s firing defined the era for time to come.
Maybe Mr. King was wrong in failing to consider that one game in 1987 exposed Arkansas’ football program on all levels, and maybe Mr. King was wrong in failing to consider whether Broyles’ statement might be true before intimating that it wasn’t. In 1987 No. 10 Arkansas lost to Miami, FL, 51-7 at the hands of former Arkansas player Jimmy Johnson. A No. 10 Arkansas ranking coming from the Southwest Conference meant zero. Arkansas wasn’t in the same game as Miami that year, and moreover, the Razorback offense repeatedly tried to pound the ball between the tackles and couldn’t throw the ball. On the field was a much more glaring choice not made. As good of a man Ken Hatfield is, was, and always will be, he was chosen over Jimmy Johnson after Lou Holtz left the Arkansas head coach position. Hatfield was pummeled on the field in ‘87 and was now getting thrown under the bus while it could be viewed that Broyles made the wrong choice of coaches for Arkansas when Hatfield was hired.
For Crowe and every coach, a lack of people in the stands is always an issue.
"Arkansas hired Greg Davis as offensive coordinator and switched to the one-back offense with promises of pro-type passing and excitement.
More than once, the Arkansas offense was mentioned in the same breath with that of the Washington Redskins.
During the summer, Broyles said the Razorbacks were in the offense of the 21st century.
On Saturday, against a Division I-AA opponent, the Razorbacks made 287 yards. They completed 11 of 23 passes and their wide receivers caught one ball."
Crowe’s “offense of the 21st Century” was certainly reflective of fan desires in 1992 in name. Other than some moments in the 15 years that followed, Arkansas fans waited for a passing game but saw similar passing numbers put on the board from offenses to come. Fans even lamented the lack of a passing game during the best running attack in the history of college football with McFadden and Jones. The reality was that throwing the ball might have made the 2006 or 2007 seasons even better especially with a wide-open, Gus Malzahn offense. Malzahn went elsewhere while the promises made as early as 1992 failed to be realized again. It was simply too much.
"At a news conference with reporters, he [Crowe] handled questions without giving a clue that his tenure was over. Afterward, the announcement was crafted – the company line was that Crowe had stepped down. …He [Broyles] gave another rambling answer to a similar question, [sic] but slipped up when he said the Razorback Foundation would pay for Crowe’s $84,000-a-year contract."
Crowe never became a part of the establishment, and Crowe admitted his faults. Unlike Crowe, when Nutt encountered problems effecting Arkansas' football team which weren’t considered to be of his making, Nutt had his contract in hand and was given essentially a two-year pass, losing or not, to remain as head coach. The cozy relationship made Nutt the equivalent of a union leader who sides with management. Neither Nutt nor Frank Broyles' Administration would admit their faults.
"A couple of hours later, Broyles introduced Joe Kines as interim head coach."
Kines was now the third coach in three years to be followed by Danny Ford shortly thereafter, and Nutt after him. Coaching transitions kept Arkansas football unstable for the better part of the 1990s while Nutt was hired instead of potentially Tommy Tuberville. On more than one occasion sports reporters in Arkansas have said that Pete Carroll’s expressing interest in the Arkansas job went unreturned. The succession of Arkansas’ coaches might have been Broyles, Holtz, Johnson…Tuberville..Petrino. Plainly Crowe’s firing was indicative of things to come, and the succession of coaches gave the Arkansas administration more than one opportunity to bring in a coach with an offensive style which Hog fans wanted for a decade. However, when Nutt was on the hot seat, a mutually beneficial arrangement with Nutt kept the same ol’ same ol’.
For all the good Frank Broyles, his methods and standards brought the University of Arkansas, it wasn’t until he had announced his retirement that fundamental changes were made to produce what was promised around Jack Crowe’s time.
Although Jeff Long and staff will never have the stature of Arkansas football Titans Broyles, Matthews, Dicus and Phillips, he’s helped to restore some measure of trust in the program after Frank Broyles retired as Athletic Director on December 31, 2007, and Chancellor John White after him. Long may make tough, unpopular decisions and isn’t perfect, but he doesn’t appear to shade his words.
Fate and Bobby Petrino kept Arkansas from having Michigan’s Ron English, (the one at the defensive helm when the Wolverines lost to Division I-AA Appalachian State), Tommy Bowden, or Jim Grobe as a head coach. This time Arkansas hired the best coach available anywhere.
In the same strike, Petrino’s promise of a wide-open spread offense, not terribly unlike the offense Miami employed 20 years before, wasn’t a hollow promise, it was just right. It was fulfillment of 15 years of promises made by others.
Before last weekend, time had changed Arkansas fans to wish for something different for Jack Crowe and for Houston Nutt.
Considering events before Coach Crowe, all that followed since his tenure, and the professional way Crowe handled himself as he was being ushered out the door, Razorback fans have been ambivalent toward Jack Crowe over the years. “Getting fired for losing to a DI-AA school” bound Arkansas and Crowe like the college football equivalent of Bill Buckner “losing the World Series for the Red Sox” or Steve Bartman “keeping the Cubs from the World Series.” No matter how many times the true story is told... that’s the way it’s remembered. Even separate from years of embarrassment, many fans regretted the circumstances for Crowe and Arkansas.
While Crowe worked his way back and even left coaching for a while, Nutt remained in our headlines and came to Razorback Stadium with a conference division foe after banking a $3,000,000 golden parachute. Nutt represented the last visible remnant of the cozy apparatus which couldn’t deliver what fans wanted for 20 years… but which the new system delivered in the first year the organization was gone.
ArkansasSports360.com’s Chris Bahn rightfully called Jackson State’s victory a moment of redemption for Jack Crowe.
Although neither Crowe nor Arkansas fans could remake the past, he may have been the only one who could push it into history faster than time itself. Last Saturday Crowe passed the burden of The Citadel loss to the last person complicit in the system which could have done better for Jack Crowe and could have delivered as promised for Arkansas. It’s only that much sweeter that the team receiving the burden of “embarrassment” was Ole Miss which thought so little of Arkansans’ reasoning that they felt Houston Nutt was the right coach for them. While Nutt was an assistant coach under Crowe and even coached the receivers during Arkansas' loss to The Citadel, he was never involved in any part of the hiring or firing decisions regarding Jack Crowe’s tenure, but after Crowe, he helped the same dull influence extend for years. Now, Michigan, Ole Miss and active coach Houston Nutt are now the references for Division I-AA teams beating BCS teams, effectively leaving Crowe and Arkansas' loss to The Citadel relegated to the distant past before Arkansas began SEC play. Not even The Citadel’s yearly media guide placed its Arkansas win among the school’s most notable games.
Coincidence doesn't even begin to cover what was under the surface.
We are glad for you, Jack Crowe… and thank you.
SharpTusk is a Featured writer on Hog Database
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