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Q&A: Gene Lyons, part 1

In our introductory posting, we stated that we wanted to follow the Hogs "in a spirit of good humor, balance and perspective." Few people do that better than Gene Lyons. You may know him as a weekly political columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A National Magazine Award winner and former general editor of Newsweek, he’s also published articles in Harper's and The New York Times Magazine, and has penned several books, most recently "The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton," which he co-authored with Joe Conason. (Click here for his full bio.)

Gene Lyons

But, he’s also an avid sports fan, and he brings the same shrewd eye and acerbic wit to following his favorite teams that he does to his day job. We recently e-mailed him a list of Razorback-related questions, and he was kind enough to respond. We can’t thank him enough. Without further ado, here's part one of our Q&A with Gene Lyons.

What is your reaction to the whole Mustain/Malzahn/Nutt soap opera? Is it more annoyance or amusement?

I followed it only in the sense that I also read "Dilbert" every day. Back in August 1966 when I first drove to Arkansas from Virginia to meet my wife's parents and bring her back to school, I remember being astonished at all the Razorback football coverage in the old Gazette.

First of all, the season was a month away. There were still two months left in the baseball season. The big news the day I arrived was that two brothers, both linemen, had a fistfight at practice. Orville Henry portrayed it as a sign the Razorbacks had a lot of spunk.

Now me, I'd lived with football jocks for 3 years at Rutgers. (Smaller, maybe not quite as quick as the Hogs in those days, but football players are football players.) So I saw it as a sign the Razorbacks were pretty much like football jocks everywhere: animals in need of obedience training.


We had this Pennsylvania country boy at Rutgers who amused himself shooting pigeons off his frat house roof with a handgun loaded with rat shot. Freaked out a lot of pedestrians to see this big hairy arm sticking out the window with a revolver. He was a tackle, and a friend of mine. So I wasn't shocked. For that matter, I could have made a living refereeing fights between football jocks. But what's that stuff doing in the newspaper? The season's still a month away. Haven't you folks got any real sports news?

I had a similar reaction to the Mustain/Malzahn business at first. Don't bother me, the Cubs just signed Alfonso Soriano. The Phoenix Suns are in the NBA playoffs. Have you ever seen Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire play? Get a sports life.

I have a good friend, a history professor who also runs a cattle farm, who immersed himself in all the charges and counter-charges as a way of distracting himself from loathing George W. Bush. He's a Christian, and he hated the way seeing Bush on TV made him feel. So he read all the books, pored over Houston Nutt's phone bills, all that.

He came away thinking Malzahn and Mustain got a raw deal, and maybe Houston's not very nice.

What? A football coach with a bad temper? Bring me some smelling salts. Next thing you'll be telling me he made them run extra laps and do pushups. So my off the cuff response was: Boys, this is the SEC. You're not coming here straight from high school and taking over. Even if you're right, you're wrong. You've picked a fight you can't win.

Now that Mustain's gone to Southern Cal, he may have conceived a desire to comfort poor Lindsey Lohan in her sorrows. (I know I would.) Maybe they can help each other, because they appear to have had a similar upbringing: the Stage Mother from Hell. Me, I thought the whole point of going to college was to get away from Mommy.

Maybe that's a lot of it. He seemed to think he was still at Springdale High, where he was MVP and Mommy was a VIP. To me, he showed flashes of brilliance along with tentativeness and uncertainty. Like most freshmen. I wouldn't have called him "Mr. Interception King," but I'd have sat him down too if I were running the team and my job depended on winning. With Jones and McFadden in the backfield no coach would have built the team around Mitch.

Maybe he'll be All-World at Southern Cal, and maybe he'll be third string. But I can tell you one thing: his Mommy won't be calling the shots, and if she makes a publicity-seeking fool of herself, they'll quit returning her calls. If he wants to transfer again, he can transfer. Besides UCLA, their competition is the LA Dodgers, the Anahiem Angels, the Lakers and the NFL. They're not gonna make an "As the World Turns" melodrama over a soph QB, and the LA Times will pay little heed if he goes into a sulk.

If somebody hurts his feelings, he's gonna have to deal with it. If he announces Pete Carroll's a "dork," people will laugh at him. If Mommy wants any ink, she's gonna have to beat out Kobe Bryant's wife. Good luck.