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Q&A: Gene Lyons, part 3

And now, the final installment of our three-part Q&A with Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons (here's part 1 and part 2):

Three questions: Were you ready to see Stan Heath leave? How did you think the university handled the coaching search? And, what's your opinion on the Pelphrey hiring?

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I defended Stan Heath (privately, understand) as long as I could. He seemed like a classy guy, recruited well, and I had no problem with his calm demeanor.

By the end of last year, I felt he had to go. The team just failed to show up for too many big games. Came out flat, listless, and stayed that way.

I was on a HS team in the late middle ages that went to the NJ state semis one year, lost its star players to graduation, dropped a couple of early season games and went into a self-destruct spiral of bickering and mutual recrimination.

If being on the team hadn't been central to my HS identity, ego--all of it--I'd have quit, because it was no fun at all. Our 25 year old coach used to scrimmage with us. I actually secured permission from my father to hit him back if he caught me with another cheap elbow under the basket. Years later, I realized that was what he wanted. He was trying to wake us up.

(Two years later, he won the state outright.)

Anyway, that's how the Razorbacks played toward the end of the season last year. Like a bunch of guys who didn't like each other much, and wanted the season over.


Maybe it was just the pressure. Whatever it was, I thought Heath had to go. He didn't seem capable of waking them up.

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Purely by coincidence, I watched Pelphrey's team play at Syracuse in the NIT last year. (See, I have an active sports life.) I remember thinking: "This is the guy we need, too bad he's too young."

Well, he's not. I loved/hated him as a player for Kentucky, because he was smart, played real hard, and could SHOOT. (That's how they score that game, and it was a Razorback weakness throughout the Heath era. CLANK!)

So far, everything I've seen of Pelphrey makes me think he's gonna bring back the fun and excitement and he's gonna break our hearts in a few years by going home to Kentucky.

At the risk of getting serious, do you think Arkansans' obsession with all things Razorback is, in the final analysis, harmless enough? Or is it to any significant extent unhealthy or unsettling?

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Razorback zeal unhealthy? Oh, I dunno, it's a reflection of Arkansas provincialism, which has its healthy and unhealthy aspects.

True story. Some years back, I had to be in NYC on business during the SEC basketball tournament. My wife and I were getting dressed at our hotel for some mandatory function or other. I turned on the TV. It was the year one of Nolan's last teams came from nowhere to win the SEC tournament and save his job for another year.

We both got very emotional about it. Could not leave the TV until it was over. Showed up quite late to the mandatory function.

I thought Nolan was a great coach and a fine man who let himself get dragged into a bad place due to almost mad pride.

It surprised me more Arkansans couldn't forgive him that, because it's the state disease.

My advice: subscribe to the MLB Season Ticket, if you can afford it. Or the NBA. Find another team or two to follow besides the Hogs. Get a sports life. It's supposed to be fun.