LITTLE ROCK — Although more than a week remains in 2012, there is no reason to delay The Year in Review in Arkansas sports.
Nothing could overshadow the concentric circles that emanated from an April 1 motorcycle accident on Highway 16 southeast of Fayetteville and consumed virtually every sports fan in the state for months on end.
At the center was Bobby Petrino, a brilliant football coach who compounded an egregious error in judgment by lying to his boss. From there, the ripples spread to Jeff Long and John L. Smith and Bret Bielema.
The timing of Bielema’s hire was such that Gus Malzahn leaving Arkansas State University received deserved attention, but was still a distant No. 2 to the news conference in Fayetteville on Dec. 4.
Long’s decision to name Smith as interim head coach and the wealth of lofty preseason speculation — remember ESPN’s Beano Cook had Arkansas and USC in the national championship game — elevated the football team above the coaching search for most of the summer. During those months, anticipated accomplishments of Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, and Knile Davis were discussed more than Chris Peterson or Gary Patterson or some coach even more ludicrous.
That respite lasted until 10 p.m. on Sept. 8, the very moment Kolton Browning completed Louisiana-Monroe’s improbable overtime victory in Little Rock with a 16-yard run on fourth down.
From then on, hardly a day went by without somebody asking, "What do you think," or repeating something they swore they heard from somebody in the know about the UA coaching search. As the fall progressed, on-field failures were made worse by Smith’s misspoken words.
Beginning in mid-October, there was a three-week window of hope that Arkansas could somehow win six games and become bowl eligible, but that was a mirage, shot down when the Razorbacks traveled to Columbia, S.C.
The rest of the way, the team’s losses and the interim head coach’s language were irrelevant.
In a piece for Hawgs Illustrated, I suggested that many people refused to accept Long’s oft-repeated statement that he would not initiate contact with a coach during the regular season, their distrust shaped by those in the limelight who lie to the public.
Sure, Long said in mid-October, a number of third parties were trying to feed the UA information about those who might be interested, but labeled that "just research …"
That was not good enough for many and, as a result, absurd rumors were never-ending.
An acquaintance contended that Long did not want to hire anybody with Arkansas ties and when I said he was wrong, he wanted to know why Long would not refute that theory. To address one rumor and not all of them would make things worse, I said.
Social media being what it is, Long’s silence gave legs to the rumors.
Media members competed to break the name of the new coach and I salute whoever was first with Bielema. Playing catch-up was disappointing, but a welcome end to a gossip-filled soap opera in which the leading man had few lines.
I’ve been through coaching searches involving Arkansas football coaches from Lou Holtz to Bobby Petrino and have never known anybody as tight-lipped as Long. Before Holtz was hired, somebody provided his home phone in New York and he answered some questions. When there were published reports that Tommy Tuberville would be named, I was told to make certain The Associated Press story also included Houston Nutt.
Even the clued-in national folks were caught off guard by the hiring of Bielema.
Honest and unguarded at the news conference, he won over fence-straddlers. More than anything, his hiring redirected fans and media to the future of Arkansas football.
Two hundred forty eight days of drama left no room in this space for other noteworthy sports accomplishments in Arkansas. Those can wait until the next column.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.