I suppose it is now time for me to weigh in on the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the one that no one seems too terribly shy to discuss, but much less enthusiastic to observe. I will not address my remarks to Mr. Long, because my remarks can not be sufficiently addressed by Mr. Long. My remarks go to all who wield power, however great or marginal, however implicit or explicit, over the athletic department to which I have dedicated years of my life, love and longing, and inches of valuable real estate on my own skin, in the form of a Razorback tattoo. To the movers-and-shakers of this fine institution, I implore an open and reasoned dissection of the words I here present, and ask that you fully consider their implications when deciding how to move forward.
I will not delve into politics, but let me begin with an auto-biographical parallel. I am a strict free-market conservative, fiscally. I am a believer that that which is offered that is weak will eventually be supplanted by that which is preferable. At the time this is being written, hours before our 5th SEC basketball contest of the 2009-2010 season, our program can hardly be called anything other than weak. We are 1-3 in conference so far this year, giving us exactly 3 SEC wins since 2008. That’s 21 games. 3-18. A 14% success rate. I could practice for a couple of hours and reach the point where I could bounce a basketball of the ground and into the basket more than 14% of the time. Our program now succeeds at a lesser rate than Larry King’s marriages. Our economy is at least tangentially based upon the idea of open competition, and in open competition, right now, we can not compete. How long until the customer, that taken-for-granted individual who has invested so much in this program, decides that he is no longer content to commit so much with so little in return? How long before the smaller schools in-state begin to poach our fanbase, and we lose Southern Arkansans to the likes of LSU or the Big 12?
I can easily give you the answer – it is already happening. Even now, Mike Anderson’s Mizzou games get many Hog fans more excited than our own. How have we come to this point? How can a program that was capable of building something like Bud Walton Arena just 17 years ago now claim that it takes 4 years, at a minimum, to not be the worst team in the SEC West? Our glory days past, and the decisions that have brought us to this point, have been repeated more succinctly and more convincingly by others in the previous few days, so I will leave that to another time and place. But we remember. We remember what it was to devastate the good teams, and scare the elite. Why this is especially important is simple – we know what is possible here. It’s been done. We therefore have no reasonable logical obligation to accept a situation exponentially removed from those days. If we continue to object to this situation, eventually, alternatives are sought.
In the free market, a CEO or Board is well within their rights to make the personnel decisions that they deem to be necessary and apt. If these decisions fail them, they ultimately answer to those who truly own their enterprise – their stock holders and their customers. If they lose their customers, they lose their market share. If they lose their market share, they lose their stockholders, and eventually their jobs. I submit to you that I am the customer AND the shareholder. It is the Razorback fan who owns the program, and never forget that – for, the moment you do, you will lose both your customers and your support, and without them, you can not hope to sustain your own quality of life.
I am a fan and I am angry. I hate to mention the fact, as many assume it is only mentioned to garner support, but I left the Army after almost 10 years in 2008. I IMMEDIATELY moved back to Washington County. I promised myself in Iraq that if I made it through alive, I would not miss Arkansas games ever again. And, to a large degree, I haven’t. Until this basketball season. I live 5 minutes from campus, and I will not be attending the game tonight, or any other game this season. It hurts me to do it in a way I can not describe, but if I don’t stand for my convictions in this world, I am a nobody deserving of nothing. As of now, I still watch the games on television. I can not guarantee that I will continue to do so if I can not find a legitimate reason moving forward. If you were to ask any single person who knew me during my time in the military, even only as an acquaintance, to sum me up in one word, I believe a majority would select either “Razorbacks” or “Arkansas”. I refused to obey a direct order to evacuate a soft-top building during a mortar attack, because I had to see the last minutes of the 2006 Tennessee football game, a game that had already been decided. The only leave I ever remember taking from the Army for any reason other than coming back to Arkansas was to drive down from Maryland to see us play in Rupp. Interestingly enough, the events following that game are impossible to ignore in this whole sordid tale. This is who I am. I don’t claim to be a bigger fan than anyone, but I don’t think you can deny that I am a passionate and dedicated fan, and you are losing me. You are losing ME. I would ask you what that might mean for those who do not invest in the program the way I do, but I think the empty seats in Bud Walton have definitively answered on that score.
I am the fan, and I am angry. I sat back and supported what I could, and bit my tongue on the rest. This has resulted in disaster. I can no longer, therefore, perpetuate a pattern of behavior that creates such results. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not the same fan as many from whom you have already heard. I have been quite vocal in my belief that Pelphrey should be allowed (or forced) to finish this season out. I hold no ill will against the man. Had the job been offered to me at the time, I gladly would have accepted it. Unfortunately, the results he has been able to muster thusfar are not significantly greater than they would have been had we hired a committee of Sri Lankans to run the program. As it applies to college basketball, 0-21 is not enough of a departure from 3-18 to make any logical claim of real improvement. I am a logical being. I don’t believe that I can morally uphold policy which I know to be fundamentally flawed logically, and a continuation of this coaching regime beyond the current season without something concrete, such as an NCAA appearance or a winning record in conference, is not only illogical, but insane. I do not share the views on Coach Pelphrey that many do, as I feel some of the criticism he has received is not totally warranted, due to this same philosophical demand for logical consistency. I have, until this point, supported the firing of only one coach in any sport in Arkansas history. I do not, at this point, support firing Coach Pelphrey. But his window to save his own job is perilously close to closing, and if you fail to recognize that moment if and when it comes, the window may indeed close on Razorback Basketball, forever.
Forever. That’s one hell of a long time. You have a decision to make, and you have a short time to make it. Do not willfully deceive yourself into believing that you can “make no decision” where our program is concerned. Lack of action in the face of undeniable justification and need IS a decision. Your decision will change the future of Arkansas Basketball, and the future of your own jobs and legacies. I am but one man, but the logical groundwork that drives all human experience will eventually judge your decision – perhaps it is time you turn to that logic to aid you in its making.