Column - Nate Allen: Corporate 'cookie cutter' approach leaves many Hog fans out

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sometimes it seems like yesterday and not 1991 marking the demise of the Arkansas Gazette.

Maybe it seems that way from here because covering the Arkansas Razorbacks these days would give Déjà vu to anybody who had worked at the Gazette.

The Arkansas Gazette then, and the University of Arkansas athletic department now, do bear similarities.

Both had regimes of historic greatness finally coming to finishes that shouldn't have happened in the fashion they did.

Replacing them bustled Yankees in suits. They came carrying cookie cutter corporate concepts. And they came without any knowledge of Arkansas or Arkansans and with even less desire to learn. Why ask questions when you know you have all the answers?

The newcomers, never understanding the Arkansas of the Arkansas Gazette, hastened the demise of the Pulitzer Prize winning, oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi.

Of course as long there is a University of Arkansas there will be Razorbacks.

Nevertheless, not understanding the Arkansas pre-facing Razorbacks can dissipate fast the foundation that Frank Broyles built on the working blueprint Broyles learned from John Barnhill.

Both athletics director Barnhill, 1946-71, and head football coach 1946-49, and athletics director emeritus Broyles, either head football coach or AD or both from 1958-2007, came from elsewhere bearing change.

Yet always they worked in concert with Razorback legends there before them, like George Cole and Glen Rose, or those they added like Wilson Matthews, to understand and keep understanding what Arkansas is about.

With new athletics director Jeff Long, it's been subtraction and no addition of Arkansas input. And it shows.

Now not everything about Jeff Long's tenure has been amiss.

Most fans wax confident he hit a home run hire with head football coach Bobby Petrino.

And Long is to be commended for his role in reuniting Nolan Richardson and the 1994 national championship basketball team to Walton Arena during last season's Georgia game. It was a landmark event.

Occasionally it seems Long learns from mistakes.

Since omitting Broyles from the football media guide, an omission as ludicrous as an Old Testament minus Moses, the Long regime has redeemed to profile Frank in every media guide of every sport.

However, for the most part it seems Long doesn't grasp what sets Arkansas apart, what builds this Razorback program and generates its passion.

It is built on relating to Arkansas. All of Arkansas.

He might have learned that had he heeded Broyles' speech at last September's Hall of Honor ceremonies.

Broyles didn't talk "revenue streams" or "the Razorback brand," Long's primary topics upon arrival.

Nor did Broyles even cite the Hogs' most compelling triumphs.

It was about relationships. Relationships sustaining and burgeoning the program for generations.

Relationships, Broyles said, "I was able to build with the former players, the coaches, the press and the fans."

The only fans the Long regime seems interested relating to are the ultra-wealthy, excluding for now a generally wealthy group he's surely offended.

Doctors mostly attain good money, but money doesn't much motivate good doctors. Long doesn't get that, it seems.

On some level, Long and the outside corporate crew, now also involved with the UA, must think the Arkansas doctors providing care for the Razorbacks do so to market themselves.

So instead of gratitude for service coming at sacrifice to the physicians' own practices, profits and family time, Long proposed sending a bill.

He proposed the three organizations handling the bulk of the Razorbacks' care pony up $150,000 each as sponsors to athletic department coffers.

Maybe that flies with some pro teams up north.

Don't see that flying in Arkansas. That it has been proposed needlessly nettles longtime relationships.

As for pricing the Hogs just for the wealthy, Long has taken Northwest Arkansas Times editorial criticism for involving the UA in an annual Texas A&M football game at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium. Tickets range from $85 to $300.

Those prices don't generate applause from this corner, either, but there are advantages to the Razorbacks' recruiting and large UA alumni Metroplex presence to play in Dallas. And that is just one game.

More egregious, in this view, is the privileged-class-here versus you-peons-out-there philosophy permeating at home.

Like the UA party on football signing day.

Used to be all fans wishing to come were welcome to hear the head football coach discuss the recruiting class on football signing day.

Not this past February. Invitation only to the Razorback Foundation's high-level scholarship donors.

Good thing for Long and his accompanying associates in suits that Wilson Matthews wasn't alive to see that. That earthy Arkie might have yanked them all by their neckties.

Because Matthews, as fabled a fund-raiser as he was a fabled football coach, knew the Razorbacks are as dependent on the dirt farmer and the dishwasher as they are on the wealthy.

The statewide all-strata passion, seeing rich and poor and old and young talking Hogs with equal fervor and equal footing and calling the Hogs with equal pride, that's what unites Arkansas like nothing else.

Lose that and Arkansas loses it all. Sure there have always been different levels of Razorback Foundation donations corresponding to better tickets, but ultimately it was always about bonding all for the program, not excluding by social privileges.

Also doubt Wilson Matthews would have been thrilled with those Walton Arena on-court seats.

Skyboxes detached from the crowd are one thing.

But a conspicuous on-court crowd placed in front of the crowd is another. It just seems un-Arkansas. Unsafe, too, given there's no protection from a player lunging to save a loose ball plowing into those seated courtside.

As for the press and former players, there's not much to relate inside the Broyles Center.

The Broyles Center always was a very accessible public part of a very public state university. Now it operates like Dick Cheney's bunker.

Media has been removed from the premises. And good luck on former players visiting football coaches on the second floor. Ft.Knox is easier to penetrate.

Even the museum in the Broyles Center is closed on football game days, the day when old grads best could show and tell their kids and grandchildren about where they played and what they did.

Supposedly a purpose of that vice chancellor's title prefacing Long's athletics director job description is to make the athletic department seem more part of the UA.

Well, it has never seemed less. Good grief, it's so secretive that press was barred from attending something so innocuous as Petrino addressing last weekend's annual Razorbacks reunion.

The late Orville Henry, the esteemed Arkansas Gazette sports editor, would be appalled.

Of course this bunch wouldn't know Orville Henry from Orville Redenbacher, nor care how instrumental Henry's writing was in generating the interest constantly regenerating the Razorbacks.

Frank Broyles wasn't perfect as AD or coach. He had his lapses and his mistakes as do we all. But what he did and how he did it based on relationships worked Hall of Fame well for Arkansas for 50 years.

How long for Arkansas will continuing these current corporate cookie cutter concepts work?

Well, if the Arkansas Gazette is an accurate barometer, not for long and not for Long.

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  • I haven't lived in Arkansas in a number of years but it is where I was born and raised and it will always be home. One of things that keeps me connected is the Arkansas Razorbacks. Since I was a kid, the Razorbacks were important. I still remember the first game that I went to in War Memorial Stadium and reading every word that Orville Henry and Wally Hall would write in the Sunday papers after a game. I cant count the number of times that as a family we would call the hogs in our living room watching the game on TV. My parents were not wealthy and never went to college but we got to go to a game every once in awhile because we were Arkansas Razorbacks. I like to win and I especially like to see Arkansas win but its more important that Kids, regardless of money, grow up to be fans and Arkansas Razorbacks. Maybe Mr. Long can learn that before its too late.


    -- Posted by ARKFAN on Wed, Apr 29, 2009, at 6:25 AM
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