Q&A: Jim Harris

Razorback ExpatsSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2008

With the dawn of a new era in Razorback football a mere 48 hours away, we thought it would be a good time to chat with a true Hog expert: ArkansasSports360.com editor Jim Harris. If you’d like to try to convince us there’s someone more knowledgeable about all things Razorback (Max Brantley once labeled Jim “the High Priest of Hogdom”) … all we can say is, “Good luck.” Many, many thanks to Jim for taking time out of a very busy week to answer our questions. Now, read on for his opinion on when Nutt really should have departed, why the national media threw such a hissy fit when Petrino quit the Falcons and how realistic those national championship dreams may be.

Before we move on to the present day, let’s close the book on Houston Nutt. Looking back in 10 years (or more), how will history judge his era?

McFadden and Nutt - South Carolina

Fans will look at Nutt’s era, say, a decade from now, and maybe place him behind Broyles, Holtz and maybe just ahead of Hatfield for what he accomplished, even though he did it in a dog-eat-dog conference from top to bottom and in an era of fewer scholarships. They’ll remember it as, at first, a very exciting period, and then it became the most divisive period in UA football. There will always be a segment of fans, particularly a lot in Central Arkansas, who will believe Arkansas railroaded a Little Rock boy out of here who was accomplishing as much as was possible. But probably another equal amount is convinced that while outsiders thought he did “more with less,” he underachieved and basically quit recruiting. And, not unlike Coach Hatfield, he leaned on a lot of assistants who were less than qualified, compared with the guys both Broyles and Holtz had on staff. What happened to those days?

Nutt said he hired assistants first for recruiting, but where was the recruiting at the end? I mean, for a guy so dependent on a running game, how is there not a veteran scholarship fullback on campus now? We know why we’re so dependent on new receivers who probably wouldn’t have come had Arkansas not hired Bobby Petrino. In 10 years, he never attracted a big-time quarterback from out of state, and apparently didn’t want the one big-time quarterback the state produced in his tenure. He had to recruit during a lengthy investigation in the early 2000s, but what happened after 2003? Except for one year of the 10, he always seemed to have great running backs, though. During the middle years, he had the best secondary athletes I think we’d ever seen in Fayetteville, but on the whole, defense always seemed to be an afterthought in recruiting. The development of offensive linemen was outstanding.

Darren McFadden vs. Tennessee - 2006

Arkansas has produced more pros during his tenure than at anytime, so either the staff must have been great at developing players or the UA’s recruiting was seriously underrated by the out-of-state raters of recruiting. He made two conference championship games, and had a great chance to win one of them; the other was an overachieving team that made it and was simply crushed by talent. He started with a bang, and he re-energized Hog fans who were apathetic at the end of the Ford era, and if we could blot out the last half of Nutt’s tenure, I think he’d be held in higher esteem by a great many fans. I think he should have departed after the 2003 season, frankly. Nevertheless he made people care again, in great numbers.

Compared with his predecessors Holtz, Hatfield, Crowe, Ford and Nutt, how good or bad of a situation has Bobby Petrino inherited?

Maybe slightly similar to Hatfield, though Hatfield ran off 10 or so players before the 1984 season got started. There were some Holtz recruits he just wasn’t going to deal with. Surprisingly, only about four players – at my last count – haven’t hung in there with Petrino’s team this preseason camp.

Hatfield had a talented senior quarterback in Brad Taylor, some decent backs to run his flexbone package, and a couple of dependable receivers. I don’t remember there being a lot of talent on defense, especially in the D-line, but the linebacking situation was a lot better.

Ken Hatfield

Holtz inherited maybe the most talent ever on a Hog team at one time, though I’m not sure anybody (writers, etc.) realized that at the time, since a good group had just graduated. Jimmy Johnson had recruited a lot of those guys, so you know he found some speed. But the thing about Holtz in that first season was, he just blew me away (and pretty much everyone else) with his play-calling. You never saw a lot of that stuff coming. And Monte Kiffin was just a genius coaching the defense. No way Arkansas should have been as close to No. 1 Texas in that 1977 game at Fayetteville. That was just two genius coaches on the UA side at work and some guys persuaded to play beyond their perceived abilities. Same with the Orange Bowl at the end of that season. (Thanks for letting me relive those days, guys. Still warms my heart to think about the ‘77 season, probably my all-time favorite).

You know, Jack Crowe inherited a team with a senior quarterback and even a star senior receiver and a future NFL player at tailback, and he was a darn-good offensive coach. Meanwhile the defense was deplorable. Couldn’t stop anyone, even the mediocre Southwest Conference teams. Crowe did have experienced linebackers though. Petrino does not. Uh-oh.

Ford inherited a lot more players than did Crowe or Petrino. Crowe had recruited some athletes in his short stay, and his 1992 recruiting class was the base for the 1995 SEC West championship.

How long of a honeymoon period does Petrino get?