LITTLE ROCK — Biased by a friendship with John Thompson, how about the long-time defensive coach for a spot on Bret Bielema’s staff?
More than likely, Bielema has somebody in mind and I’m spitting into the wind by reciting highlights of Thompson’s resume. In the business more than 30 years, Thompson is an Arkansan with ties throughout the state and he’s been around the SEC while at Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida, and South Carolina so the speed of the players and the passion of the fans would be no surprise.
The coup de grace is the exemplary character he displayed at Arkansas State University, putting the football team ahead of self. Two years in a row, ASU’s head coach moved up the ladder — Gus Malzahn to Auburn and Bryan Harsin to Boise State — and Thompson was named interim head coach for ASU’s bowl game.
With Thompson in charge, ASU was 2-0. This year, Thompson knew he was not going to be promoted, but deflected talk about his future and put the players first in preparation for the GoDaddy Bowl. Compare that to the disarray at Arkansas when Houston Nutt left for Ole Miss and the Razorbacks were embarrassed by Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
When Blake Anderson succeeded Harsin and hired his own defensive coordinator, Thompson — the recipient of an emotional standing ovation at a fan-favorite restaurant in Mobile — was out.
Not that it matters to anybody outside the business, but Thompson is extremely cooperative with the media. I dealt with him while he was at Arkansas and after he became athletic director at the University of Central Arkansas. In that capacity, he had a news conference in Little Rock and noticed an uncomfortable reporter in the back of the room.
Questioned by Thompson, the man with the notebook said he had shingles.
Sorry, Thompson said.
Months later, the reporter answered a phone call from the representative of a roofing company.
“Thompson roofing, just wanted to check on your shingles,” he said.
The quick read on Chris Ash’s move from Arkansas to Ohio State is that he believes he has a much better chance to succeed in Columbus than in Fayetteville.
If Ash is like most assistants, he wants to be a head coach. Another bad year by the Arkansas defense would besmirch his credentials and could set him up to be a scapegoat. Also know that after Everett Withers left Urban Meyer’s staff to become the head coach at James Madison, Meyer said he needed to make a “home run” hire to replace Withers.
The co-defensive coordinator label is no knock on Ash; he held the same title in 2011 when he worked for Bielema at Wisconsin.
The loss of Ash and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge is not likely to have an impact on the recruits currently committed to Arkansas although Partridge was an elite recruiter with strong ties to South Florida. Ash’s strength was following up with athletes.
Rather than risk revocation of my curmudgeon card, I point out that Arkansas’ euphoria-producing victory over Kentucky will rank as a homecourt anomaly unless the Razorbacks beat Georgia today in Athens or Tennessee next week in Knoxville. Although unlikely, a sweep would put Arkansas at 3-2 in the SEC — the record cited earlier as a sign that the Razorbacks were on track to finish 12-6 or better in the league.
The recipe for winning on the road is the same as for beating Kentucky — compete until the final buzzer, get extra possessions via turnovers, and make critical shots. Rehashing the overtime victory, the talk is about Michael Qualls’s spectacular dunk. His play meant something because Rashad Madden made a 3 for 70-70, Alandaise Harris beat the shot clock with a three-point play for 74-71, and Qualls, Harris, and Bobby Portis made 7-of-8 free throws in OT.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.