My first reaction to writing this was "TOO FREAKING SOON!" So if you don't want to read further, I get it. The option is yours.
It's not like Arkansas is without its share of disasters in program history. Most are known just by one word. Shootout. Citadel. Stoernover. Fish. Springdale. We have our share of coaching what-ifs. What if we hired Tommy Tuberville instead of Houston Nutt in 1997? What if we'd gone after Jimmy Johnson instead of Ken Hatfield in 1983?
But nothing can compare to the sheer scale, the epic absurdity, the mix of sadistic comedy and tragedy of 2012.
I thought it might be better, if we wanted to drag it out and make a series, to break up 2012 into different moments and let people vote. We could do different segments on the motorcycle incident, the John L. Smith hire, the ULM game, SMILE!, and whatever else, but that didn't seem fair. It's all too connected.
It's the type of story that includes, "and then, and then, and THEN, AND THEN, AAAAND THEEEEN...."
On January 21, 2012, Razorback fans enjoyed just about a perfect day. The basketball team was hosting a top-10 Michigan team, the football team would be celebrating its Cotton Bowl victory at halftime, and it was a gigantic recruiting weekend, headlined by Dorial Green-Beckham, the top overall recruit in the country, who was widely considered to be leaning toward Arkansas at the time.
The game was awesome. The Hogs hit their first 11 shots and stormed to a 29-10 lead. The arena was as close to the mid-90s glory years as it had been since those days, and the team hung on to claim the upset victory. Green-Beckham was seen calling the Hogs in the stands and the football team was celebrating a top-5 ranking and looking forward to what everybody hoped would be a dream season. And on that day, there was absolutely no reason to believe anything would go wrong.
And for all intents and purposes, that was the last good day Razorback fans would have until December*.
Arkansas whiffed on all those recruits at the basketball game. The basketball team completely bombed in February. And the football team, oh the football team.
(NOTE: From here, we're retelling the basics of the story for competition purposes. We're just like every other Arkansas fan at this point in that we're only really worried about 2013 and try to forget 2012 as much as possible. We sincerely apologize if this ruins your day.)
The Razorbacks began spring practice and it seemed everything was fine. Then we first heard about the motorcycle accident. And although it was pretty weird, it turned out to be kind of funny what with the famous picture of the scraped up and braced Bobby Petrino at his press conference. We found out about the accident on Monday. On Thursday, the bombshell police report dropped and we all found out about Jessica Dorrell.
From Thursday afternoon through the weekend, nothing got done. There was a collection of media trucks camped out behind the Broyles Center. ESPN went through downtown Fayetteville and found their share of local yokels to film and represent us. Fans orchestrated a "keep Petrino" rally that had about 200 or so people show up. There wasn't time to breathe because we didn't know when Jeff Long's verdict would come.
Then finally Petrino was fired on Tuesday. And then the question became who would lead Arkansas through the dream season. Would Jeff Long be able to find an actual coach in mid-April or would Arkansas have to settle for an interim coach? Then John L. called up Long and said something like, "hey, what about me? what could possibly go wrong?" And Long was sold.
The rest of the offseason was pretty quiet. Most fans believed Petrino's staff would be good enough to coach the team as though Petrino was actually there. Arkansas fans weren't even thinking much about a coaching search that would likely happen unless they did have a magical season.
This was going to be the year Arkansas fans hoped for when they made the efforts, and there were some serious efforts, to get rid of Houston Nutt. This would be the vindication that despite the horrific first few years after joining the SEC (sans 1995) that Arkansas could compete with the elite in the nation's best conference. So what if our replacement coach was discovered to be tens of millions of dollars in debt during the summer? That wouldn't, couldn't affect what would happen on the field.
(Note: in retrospect, most every Razorback fan is willing to admit that Arkansas' defense wouldn't have been championship level even if Petrino was coaching. But any good team has hopes of a magical year even if they're not the favorite. Even if I didn't buy into national championship hype, I don't blame those who did.)
The unspeakable game. The football gods were truly aligned against the Razorbacks in Week 2. Arkansas didn't just lose. Tyler Wilson was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The team's best defensive back, Tevin Mitchell, nearly broke his neck and laid on the turf as though he had. Kody Walker broke his leg. Kiero Small hurt his foot that week in practice. ULM converted six of seven fourth down attempts, including at least their last two touchdowns. Paul Petrino called plays like he was playing a video game and decided he was only trying for touchdown passes.
The team never recovered. They suffered their second consecutive historically awful, worst-loss-ever contender the next week against Alabama. John L. Smith made a national joke of himself the next day. Then he told the Little Rock Touchdown Club this was "the state of Alabama's program" and by October, most fans were just wishing what they hoped would be a dream season would just end.
For the record, an 8-month coaching search isn't healthy for anyone. Every coach in America gets "rumored" at some point. And everything just sucks until the coach is eventually hired. But that Les Miles thing was pretty interesting/scary/fun for the day that was going on.
Frankly, I could've gotten into a lot more detail, but I'm getting pissed off just thinking about it. ESPNU aired the ULM game as part of their Top 25 games of 2012 series, and it was still surreal.
The only reason I would listen to an argument that the Shootout was a bigger disaster is that the effects of 2012 don't appear to be long-lasting. With the hire of Bret Bielema, fans are excited again and have mostly forgotten about last year. It's argued that The Shootout defined the Arkansas program for generations. There have been books written about it and movies made to document it. But in the end, the basis is that Arkansas lost a heartbreaking game. Most every program has a game they can point to and say "that's when things changed."
But nobody else has a 2012 story. Teams have disappointing years, but I don't know of one that was accompanied by and caused by such extraordinary off the field events.
So, yes, Arkansas in 2012 is our Razorback submission as the biggest disaster in SEC history.
And, seriously, on to 2013.
*But the baseball team did find a way to make it to Omaha and that was cool