LITTLE ROCK — Casting about for an explanation of the remarkable sale of the Arkansas football program to more than a dozen young men, I was trying too hard.
How in the world had the Razorback coaching staff sold the athletes and their families on Fayetteville? Facilities and tradition are commodities, matched by other schools.
Whether a parent or player is doing the asking, consider the questions that the UA salesmen cannot answer:
—Who is going to be the head coach in 2013?
—Who is going to be my position coach at Arkansas?
—Will you be on the staff when I arrive?
The mistake in the attempted analysis was differentiating between selling football scholarships and other products. The common denominator is trust, a point hammered home during the recent pursuit of a car to replace a 12-year-old vehicle.
Trying to get a feel for what’s out there, we toured car lots loaded with new vehicles, checking sticker prices, looking inside a couple that were unlocked, eyeballing capacity. It was a preliminary excursion.
Two days later, a personalized note arrived in the mail from the sales manager of one of the car dealers. He promised $1,000 more for our trade than the deal we had negotiated with a salesman. We never talked to a salesman; that car dealer was crossed off the list.
A week later, a salesman showed us what his dealership paid for a particular vehicle and how the mark-up was a couple of hundred dollars more than on a larger, more difficult-to-sell SUV. During a conversation about colors and interiors, the sales manager did not interfere except to strike a common man chord with the mention of a heaping helping of lunch for only $5.
Trust is built on truths of all sizes.
When John L. Smith was given a 10-month contract in April, there was much angst over recruiting. Some people contended Arkansas would lag far behind in lining up commitments for 2013, that nobody would sign with a school where the head coach is in limbo.
On the early August day that the Razorbacks received their 12th commitment, I asked recruiting insider Dudley Dawson how that compared with the number of commitments at the same time in recent years. Last year, there were 13 on the same date. The year before, there were only seven. From 2005 through 2009, the number ranged from four to 12.
Since then, Arkansas has two more commitments, and only five are from Arkansas, where being a Razorback is a dream for many. The quality of the athletes who have committed will not be known for a couple of years, but that’s the nature of the beast known as recruiting.
Remember, that those doing the selling are employees without any long-term guarantees. All of us in the workplace have known someone who is on the bubble when it comes to continued employment. Often, those people spend their time preparing their resumes instead of busting their rump.
Even before hiring Smith, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long talked with the assistants. No doubt, he told them that nobody knew what was going to happen at the end of the season, that none of the assistants who might be under consideration to be head coach had lost any ground, that he knew each coach would have to look out for his best interest, but that they needed Arkansas and Arkansas needed them.
To sweeten the pot, a "Longevity Incentive Compensation," clause was included in their contracts. Coaches who complete the season, including bowl games, will receive a 25 percent bonus. If a coach takes another job prior to a bowl game, Long can still award the extra salary. In exercising his discretion, Long may consider, among other factors, "the best interests of the football program and the coach given all circumstances relating to the football program …"
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.