It began as a coming-out party for a pair of Southeastern Conference debutants, Arkansas and South Carolina. It ended with newly minted Razorback coach Joe Kines being doused and carried off the field at Williams-Brice Stadium by his players. "A bath and a ride," said Kines, clutching the game ball he had just been presented. "Lucky me."
Unlucky South Carolina. "We ran into a buzz saw," said Gamecock coach Sparky Woods after the Razorbacks' 45-7 victory last Saturday. What they also ran into was the nation's most embarrassed team. A week earlier Arkansas had lost 10-3 to The Citadel, a Division I-AA school. The very next day Razorback athletic director Frank Broyles neatly deflected attention from the school's most humiliating defeat in 50 years by firing third-year coach Jack Crowe and replacing him with Kines, the team's defensive coordinator, an excitable, 18-year assistant with a penchant for folksy aphorisms.
How will Kines approach his new job? "My grandma used to say that life's hard when you take it by the yard," he replies. "Take it by the inch, it's a cinch."
SEC officials are loath to admit it, but Saturday night's game was a battle of unwanted stepchildren. When the conference decided to expand in 1990, it lusted first after Miami, which ultimately reaped a bonanza by joining the Big East instead. The SEC also coveted Florida State, but Seminole coach Bobby Bowden opted for life as a big fish in the somewhat smaller pond of the ACC. Texas A&M and then Texas were invited to join the league, but neither could disentangle itself from the Southwest Conference. When at last the SEC worked its way down to Arkansas, Broyles jumped. To round out its membership at an even dozen, which would allow it to split into two divisions and hold a lucrative annual playoff game, the SEC needed one more school. With time growing short and candidates scarce, it invited the lackluster Gamecocks aboard.
So move over, Vanderbilt, there's a new doormat in town. Maybe two, in fact. Against Arkansas the Gamecocks yielded nine sacks, five interceptions, an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 39-yard return of a bungled onside kick that led to the Razorbacks' final TD. "Coach Kines's excitement just rubbed off on us," said Arkansas quarterback Jason Allen. "Some people just have that ability."
And some don't. While opprobrium from coaches and columnists rained down on Broyles for the abrupt termination of the personable Crowe, one group was conspicuous by its lack of opposition to the personnel move: the Arkansas players. The night after the loss to The Citadel, when Kines was introduced to them as their interim head coach, the Razorbacks broke into applause. They closed that meeting by singing the school's fight song. "It was a very positive atmosphere," says linebacker Darwin Ireland. Crowe was already a fading memory.
Congregants at the 11:40 service at Fayetteville's Central United Methodist Church that morning had been the first to suspect that Crowe was in trouble. Broyles has not missed that service, unless sick or out of town, in 35 years. While the churchgoers noted his absence with knowing nods, Broyles was holed up in his living room with his kitchen cabinet—assistant athletic directors Wilson Matthews, Terry Don Phillips and Bill Gray, and Razorback Foundation president Chuck Dicus. Crowe, who had lost 15 of 24 games since Broyles appointed him coach in January 1990, was history.
Unaware that his fate had been determined, Crowe conducted his regular Sunday-afternoon press conference at the Broyles Athletic Complex. He was then summoned to Broyles's office, where he was handed a typed statement. It mentioned that by "mutual agreement" Crowe should step down. (Crowe has declined all interviews while he negotiates his compensation package—the Razorback Foundation is expected to pick up the tab of $84,000 for each of the five years remaining on his contract—but his lawyer, Thomas McCutcheon, says, "I will tell you this: Jack did not resign.")
Meanwhile, in Bud Walton Hall, the athletic dorm, most of the Razorbacks were taking in an NFL game. "The news went across the bottom of the TV screen, like they do with thunderstorm warnings," says guard Isaac Davis. "We all just walked into the hall in a state of shock."
Crowe was personally well liked by his players, but it was difficult to find a Razorback who would speak out against the firing—even off the record. Though he recruited well, when it came to motivating the players, says longtime Razorback watcher and local columnist Orville Henry, "Crowe is a good book, while Kines is Terminator 2." Says one assistant, "Jack didn't have the aura of head coach."
How did things go so wrong at Arkansas? The Razorbacks had won 10, 9, 9, 10 and 10 games in five seasons under Ken Hatfield before he unexpectedly resigned as head coach early in 1990. After the '87 season Hatfield's recruiting had begun to suffer: Rival coaches were scaring his prospects away from Fayetteville by claiming that he was on the outs with Broyles.
Which, indeed, he was. And in January '90, when he learned that Broyles had signed a new five-year deal as athletic director, Hatfield took the head job at Clemson without even visiting that school's campus. His departure left Broyles in a bind. It was too late to land a name coach. The day that Hatfield and most of his staff left town, Broyles had Phillips drive to the airport and pull Crowe, the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator, who was bound for Clemson with Hatfield, off the plane. Days later Crowe was Arkansas's new head coach.
It was a rare impulsive decision for Broyles. Crowe had no head-coaching experience at a major college. He had never played college football and had been fired as coach at Division II Livingston (Alabama) University after two years and a 5-15-1 record. But at Auburn, Clemson and Arkansas, he became known as an offensive wunderkind. Broyles likened his play-calling acumen to that of former Razorback coach Lou Holtz and said of his choice, "There was no reason for us to let him get away and be a head coach somewhere else."
Crowe stepped off that plane and into a mess. The day after he was named to the top job, junior fullback Barry Foster announced that he would forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. With the signing date for high school talent only three weeks away, the recruiting was thrown into disarray. The other fullback, Juju Harshaw, got into a scrape with the law over the summer and was booted off the team. There were academic casualties. And then Broyles announced that in 1992 Arkansas would join the SEC. Suddenly every SWC school had added incentive to thrash the turncoat Razorbacks.
And thrash they did. In 1990 the Hogs lost to every league opponent but Southern Methodist, by a combined score of 287-145. The defense was a disaster during this 3-8 season, and at Broyles's prompting, Crowe brought in Kines as the defensive coordinator for '91. Kines, a plainspoken, rough-edged Georgia native who professes his "strong faith in God," had most recently been the linebacker coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Such is his devoutness that during his days in Tampa he taught a Sunday school class in the off-season. He would get excited during his lectures, and his voice would carry. Once while holding forth he was interrupted by a tug on the arm. "Mr. Kines," said a perturbed teacher from a nearby classroom, "I appreciate your enthusiasm for the Lord's word, but you've just disrupted 14 classes."
Kines has a similar passion for his job. Occasionally rattling a face mask to drive his points home, he whipped the defense into shape last season. Arkansas jumped to a 5-2 start. But talk of national rankings and conference championships was scotched by three straight losses.
The penultimate loss of the season came at Texas A&M, 13-3. Early in the game Razorback publicist Rick Schaeffer, who does color commentary for Arkansas radio broadcasts, proudly noted that the Hogs had prevented the Aggies from scoring on their first possession. In all of A&M's games that year, said Schaeffer, the Aggies had scored the first time they had the ball. Broyles jumped down his throat the next day. "So what!" he shouted. "They're not supposed to score anytime!" When Broyles's daughter, Betsy, cheerily observed after the loss to the Aggies that the Razorbacks had played a good game, the old man about bit her head off. "You mean to tell me you're happy because we played somebody a good game?" he railed. "We cannot survive with that attitude!"
When Holtz or Hatfield lost a game, mail poured in. "Now when we lose, hardly anyone writes to chew us out," says Broyles, who has seen a gradual lowering of expectations in the state. After arriving in Fayetteville to coach the Razorbacks in 1958, Broyles won seven conference crowns and a share, with Alabama, of the 1964 national title. Since becoming athletic director in '74, he has overseen $38 million in new construction and improvements to existing facilities, paid for with contributions from the school's 11,000 active boosters. "Our fans bleed Razorback red," Broyles says. "They will support us as long as they have hope. And we were beginning to lose hope."
Broyles was worried even before the kickoff against The Citadel. Only 35,000 fans attended, the smallest crowd since the stadium was expanded seven years ago to seat 51,000. Broyles was willing to absorb the brickbats: Crowe had to go. Broyles is most credible when he paints his decision to fire Crowe as essential to prevent the unraveling of his life's work—"everything we've worked for over the last 35 years!" He is less credible when he is attempting to cast the dismissal as a humane gesture, done out of concern for Crowe and his family. "If a decision like this is inevitable and you prolong it, it's punishment," says Broyles. Allowing Crowe to finish the season, he says, "would be like cutting off his hand a finger at a time."
And Broyles is at his least credible when he descends to pseudoanalytical quackery, insisting that based on his "45 years in college football," he can calculate that the fans' lack of confidence in Crowe was so palpable to the players that it cost the Razorbacks "a minimum of 12 points a game."
The win over South Carolina takes some of the pressure off Broyles and places it on the shoulders of Woods, who has now lost six straight. At South Carolina the Gamecocks storm onto the field at Williams-Brice Stadium just as the theme from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey reaches its thrilling crescendo. Perhaps that date is prophetic for South Carolina in its first SEC season; in falling to a 31-0 halftime deficit against Arkansas, the Gamecocks looked to be a good nine years away from contending for the championship of their new league. Woods's teams have slid steadily from 6-4-1 in 1989, his first season in Columbia, to 3-6-2 last year, and the good feelings that accompanied his arrival are fading fast.
With Alabama on deck for the Razorbacks this Saturday, Broyles knew he had to act quickly. With the appointment of Kines as interim coach, he says, "I've given the fans renewed hope." And if that hope is vain, and the Razorbacks win, say, just three more games this season? "We always have the option of going to a big-name coach later." In other words, Joe, don't redecorate your new office.
But Broyles may find it difficult to lure an established coach to Fayetteville because of his reputation as an athletic director who is hands-on to a fault. It was not a coincidence that Hatfield fled to Clemson shortly after learning that Broyles had signed that five-year extension. Did Broyles's meddling contribute to Hatfield's surprise departure? "His name is on the building down there," says Hatfield. "Let that be my answer."
"I don't know if we'll be able to hire a top head coach from somewhere else as long as Frank is here," says George Billingsley, a past president of the Razorback Foundation and one of the few Arkansas boosters to give voice to that view. "If Holtz and Hatfield had known what they'd have to put up with, working for Frank, I doubt they'd have come."
Broyles can't help himself. This is his baby. As he sees it, a license to meddle is his reward for long, meritorious service to the program. Despite being wooed many times, he says, "I have never considered going elsewhere. Longevity makes the important things and the little things in life all the sweeter."
That's something that Jack Crowe will have to discover elsewhere.