PTN’s Ask Mike: Fayetteville Regional, Kevin Kopps, Future of DVH & More

Pig Trail Nation

Q. Our first question is from tom-arkansawyer who asks: If Arkansas were to win a National Championship this season, do you think that reinvigorates DVH and he stays at least 15 more years, or does he retire after reaching the mountain top? I don’t even want to think about him retiring, but how long do you think he wants to continue the grind?

A. DVH is probably the only one who really knows the answer to that question but it’s my impression that he will coach for several more years. Everything he’s worked for is finally in his hands. The recruiting advantage of the new Hunt Performance Center is obvious to anyone familiar with college baseball. There’s nothing quite like it right now though I suspect there will be down the road. Especially in the SEC where you build something and five or six years later half the rest of the conference has something like it.

DVH has accomplished what I call a slow build. He’s 19 years into his time at Arkansas and this is his best season ever. Their baseball program’s reputation is firmly established. I think he wants something like Cliff Gustafson had at Texas, or Skip Bertman at LSU. He wants Arkansas to dominate college baseball. But to do that you need more than one national title. You need several. So I would say, after he wins the first one, he’ll be after some more.

Q. Eddy Lynn asks: What do you think about the field for the Fayetteville Regional? Who will the Hogs play in the Super regional?

A. The top national seed is supposed to have the weakest tournament field to play as a reward for being the best team in the tournament field. Arkansas starts off with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a team that was 26-22. They won the American East Conference Tournament by default. Their first appearance ever and NCAA Regional.

The only Power 5 team in the field besides Arkansas is Nebraska. The big 10 played a conference only schedule. Nebraska won it with a 31-12 record but it’s hard to get a feel for them because they didn’t play any team outside the Big 10. They’ve got numbers similar to Arkansas but the Big 10 is considered to be the weakest of the power five conferences in baseball. None of those teams are ranked. The Big 10 got just three teams in the tournament field. That’s the lowest of the Power Five.
So I can’t say the Fayetteville Regional will be a cake walk but it’s nothing compared to playing in the SEC or the SEC Tournament.

If they win the Fayetteville Regional they are probably going to play either Louisiana Tech or Alabama. Arkansas was 2-1 against both of those teams in the regular season.

Q. Dr. Starcs says: The college umps have been awful from what I’ve seen. Do you foresee the NCAA ever moving to the electronic zone, and if so, when? Has Dave Van Horn ever been asked his thoughts on the issue that you know of?

A. I can’t recall him discussing it but I don’t hear everything he says. I hesitate to say never because attitudes change over time but I don’t see electronic strike zones anytime soon in college baseball.

Q. NashWPS18 wants to know: What are the chances that Kopps can win the Golden Spikes? I know it’s rare for a pitcher to win, but Kopps is also rare. It’d be insane for recruiting.

A. If Arkansas wins the national championship I think he be Arkansas’ second Golden Spikes winner IF he continues to do what he’s been doing. Right now he’s 10-0 with 10 saves. If that goes to say 12-0 with 14 saves that would be 26 games he directly impacted. He’d be a shoo-in IMO.

Q. HotlantaHog says: I would love to see the Hogs included in some major November/December basketball tournaments, which would be good experience and for NCAA seeding & strength of schedule — like the Maui Invitational, Battle4Atlantis, etc. Anything like this in the works/scheduled for 2021, 2022, 2023?

A. They don’t tend to set basketball schedules in as far in advance as football. The location is not glamorous but Arkansas is set to play in the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City in late November of this year. The field is impressive. Cincinnati, Illinois and Kansas State will join Arkansas in that tournament. Those schools have Three National championships and 21 Final Four’s among them.

In 2022 Arkansas will make it’s fourth appearance in the Maui Invitational. Cincinnati is in that even too along with Arizona, Creighton, Louisville, Ohio State, San Diego State and Texas Tech. That’s quite a field.

The Maui Classic has not been good to Arkansas. In ’91 Nolan’s Hogs were No. 2 in the nation but got knocked out by Michigan State. Ended up 2-1 in the tournament. In 2005 Stan Heath’s team went 1-2 and in 2015 Mike Anderson’s Hogs were also 1-2. So maybe Musselman’s guys can win this thing.

Q. SED76 wants to know: Why do you think Danny Ford didn’t win more at Arkansas? He had recruited some good players but it just didn’t translate to wins for whatever reason.

A. Ford was a very good recruiter. The guys that Houston Nutt used in ’98 to almost knock off top ranked Tennessee and share the SEC West title were recruited by Ford. But Danny loved conflict. He believed that arguing stirs the competitive spirit. In his case that extended to his own players and coaches arguing with each other. There was an incident at Auburn, I believe it was the 96 season, where quarterback Robert Johnson was supposed to throw a screen pass to running back Oscar Malone. Johnson dropped back while Malone worked his way to the edge but Johnson ran over toward Malone and threw maybe a two yard pass to Malone. The pass rushers, who were going after Johnson, we led right to Malone and the play blew up. Coming off the field Johnson walked by offensive line coach Larry VanDerHayden. VanderHayden said something to him and a few seconds later VanDerHayden went nuts. The next Monday at practice VanDerHaden was nowhere to be seen. Later Ford admitted that he was no longer on the staff.

Nobody would tell us what happened but a few years later I ran into Malone at the mall and I asked him what happened. He said that VanDerHayden said something to Johnson like, ‘Do you even know what a screen pass is? You’re supposed to draw the pass rush away from the receiver but instead you led those guys right to Oscar.’

Johnson supposedly said, “Blank you old man” to VanDerHadyen and that’s when VanDerHayden went nuts. The next day when Ford would not support his assistant coach over a player who cussed him, Vanderhaynen quit.

A year or two later his offensive and defensive coordinators developed an open feud and it affected play on the field. Frank knew about it and that was the last straw for Ford.

Q. @mousetown says: I noticed that you posted some negative thoughts about Vanderbilt on Twitter last week during the SEC baseball tourney. What is it about Vandy that you don’t like?

A. I don’t like what Vanderbilt does to get extra baseball scholarships. As a private school they can provide financial aid to students from low income families that, in effect, gives them way more than the 11.7 limit on athletic scholarships for baseball. In 2008 they created a program called “Opportunity Vanderbilt” which basically reduces tuition to whatever a specific family can afford. Tuition at Vandy is about $80,000 a year so if you reduce that to almost nothing, suddenly a high school player who might go directly to the minor leagues because his family can’t afford to go to college, can now get a private school education and play baseball.

It’s legalized cheating in my mind.

But the comment I made on Twitter had nothing to do with that. It was about the SEC Network and several others in the media billing Arkansas and Vanderbilt as the game of the year in the SEC. Vandy lost three SEC series in the regular season and finished 4th in the overall standings. In my mind Tennessee was/is the better team. So to me there were four games of the year in the SEC. The four times Arkansas and Tennessee played.

Q. robs4516 says: I’ve seen some of the national media pick Arkansas to upset Texas this fall. What are your thoughts on the game?

A. Ever since Mac Brown was fired Texas has been the most underachieving team in college football. They’ve got the biggest athletic budget in the country. They are top five in recruiting almost every year. They’ve hired high profile coaches for top dollar who have won at other schools and they keep having to fire them. So now they have Steve Sarkisian who seems like a rather odd choice. His credentials as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator is unquestioned. However he has not been successful as a head coach. He’s just 45-36 and he was fired at USC because of a drinking problem. So can he get Texas back to where it was under Brown? His history suggests not but maybe he learned a few things working under Nick Saban.

The only question I have about Arkansas is at quarterback. Feleipe Franks had a big part in helping Arkansas in Sam Pittman’s first season and he’s gone. But Texas will have a new starter at QB too. Hopefully the game will be a sellout. Maybe the largest crowd ever at Razorback Stadium. The atmosphere should be really special especially coming off of a year of COVID restricted crowds.

Q. Texhog 188 asks: What’s the story behind Muss getting a new “Marketing” title?

A. I had thought that it was a tongue and cheek thing since he’s always on Twitter promoting Hog basketball. But apparently it’s real. Musselman has advertised for positions related to marketing the basketball program. Maybe this will become a new thing. Coaches who actively promote their own programs on social media with a staff to help them.

Q. hobhog is mad and says: A 1pm kickoff Labor Day weekend for Rice is just wrong. Why would anyone think playing in literally dangerous on field temps in August is a good idea especially since it’s only on the SEC Network +?

A. That’s the downside of having every game on TV. Before all Razorback football games were televised, a game like this one would have a 6:30 pm start time. However, early afternoon games in late August/early September are actually a much bigger problem for the fans than the players. The players are in shape. They’re worked in the heat all summer and for three weeks in formal practices before the season starts. They have trainers who are well versed in the prevention of heat exhaustion. Fans have none of that.

But there’s no way to know right now what the temperatures will be like for the Rice game. We might have an unusually cool summer. Or maybe the day of that game he temperature will drop into the 80’s. But if it is blistering hot some fans will stay away completely, others will show up and leave at halftime and some will stay and roast. It’s their choice.

The bottom line, unless fans want to go back to the days when only a few games were on TV, these 11 am and 1 pm start times in early September are here to stay. There are only so many games they can fit on TV in the evening hours when it’s cooler.

Q.Swine American says: I am troubled when I see an Arkansas kid like Desi Sills go to Auburn after playing a productive role for the Razorbacks. Do you think Coach Musselman understands that Razorback fans want to see the real talented Arkansas kids stay here instead of bringing in some one and done “mercenary?”

A. I think he understands that the fans want the Hogs to win games and go deep into the NCAA Tournament. I didn’t hear anybody calling Jalen Tate or Justin Smith mercenaries. The fans appreciated what they did in the one year that they were here. Sills wanted more playing time so he transferred to Auburn. I hope he gets more playing time. Meanwhile the fans I talk to are very excited to see this new load of transfers that just arrived on campus.

Reloading through the portal is clearly Muss’ thing. It may take time for some fans to get used to this system it but if the wins keep coming they’ll adjust.

Q.HogJamesHog wants to know: How much of setback was COVID for the athletic department? Money is one but what other ways has the athletic department been set back? With the resuming of recruiting and stadiums reopening are we officially back to business as usual? Will there be lasting impacts because of the pandemic?

A. Besides money the biggest loss was the early retirement of a bunch of people in the athletic department, who behind the scenes, were very valuable in the day-to-day operation on the Hill. People like Pat Berger who is one of the best grass experts I’ve ever been around. He and his crew kept the football and baseball fields looking top notch. Berger was the man who researched and brought in the special strain of Bermuda that was put down at Razorback stadium two years. It’s a big improvement over what was there.

Then there is Bobby Allen the director of high school relations for football. He goes all the way back to Houston Nutt’s staff. High school coaches in this state love him. He won’t be easy to replace. The loss included secretaries for the head football coach, the head basketball coach and the sports information director: Clarinda Carr, Terry Mercer and Mary Lynn Gibson. They held that place together. I don’t have enough time to talk about all the things they did to keep things going smoothly on a daily basis.

So COVID took a toll. But the 2000-2001 academic year is almost over. Arkansas played every game in every sport. Those coaches and athletes handled COVID as well any other school in the country and way better than most. They did it and they won. Nine conference championships. Best in the SEC by a wide margin.

Financially they lost about 35 million dollars in live gate revenue but, along with other SEC schools, they got 23 million back from the SEC with a payment advance from future projected TV revenues. A zero interest loan if you will. Moving forward they’ll still have some ground to make up but it will really help if Sam Pittman and his staff can fill the football stadium up this coming season. I’m pretty sure basketball and baseball will do their part.

The doom and gloom that was being spread this time a year ago did not happen thanks to a whole lot of administrators, coaches, staff workers and athletes in the SEC.

Q.Let’s end today’s ask Mike on a lighter note. The_Bionic_Pig asks: Which mismatch was worse:

1 Todd Day vs Larry Johnson
2 UA Boosters vs Gus Malzahn Agent
3 LSU Athletics vs NCAA infractions committee

A. Todd Day and Larry Johnson would have been the biggest mismatch but cooler heads stepped in before any damage could be done.

I still think the NCAA will eventually hit LSU basketball and football with sanctions but I don’t think the punishment will be too severe. The NCAA likes to do things like nail No Name U’s bowling team for recruiting violations.

So I will go with choice number two. Jimmy Sexton used decision makers at Arkansas to make him and Gus rich and make no mistake about it Malzahn himself was behind it. They got wads of cash and Arkansas got Chad Morris. Not a good trade.

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