Shared from the 9/26/2016 El Dorado  eEdition

Hog Report

Scott Reed knew Bender better than most


FAYETTEVILLE - Many around Arkansas knew Mike Bender much longer than Scott Reed knew him. But, few doubly from both Forrest City and El Dorado could mourn Bender more deeply than the football coach he hired for Forrest City High and El Dorado High.

Retired as the El Dorado athletic director after serving as Forrest City’s athletic director and then moving back to Forrest City where his son, Brent, still works for the Forrest City school system, Mike Bender died in his sleep Saturday at 73.

He is mourned statewide as a University of Arkansas graduate and All-Southwest Conference offensive tackle on Frank Broyles’ 1964 Razorbacks national champions. He was an Arkansas offensive line coach as a grad assistant for Broyles and Lou Holtz and then his full-time 1995-1997 Razorbacks offensive line coaching post for Danny Ford in a long career spanning from several colleges and high schools to Canadian football and NFL Europe.

“He was a Razorback in everything he did,” Broyles said when told Saturday night of Bender’s death. “When you graded the film you felt sorry for the guy opposite him because Mike was going to win most of the battles. He was an excellent player and and an excellent coach and an asset to us in every way.”

Ken Hatfield, later Arkansas’ coach from 1984-89 but a Razorback in 1961-64 from Helena as Bender was the same from Strong, said, “Mike was a great player and great teammate. He coached for Fred Goldsmith (the Rice head coach after being Hatfield’s defensive coordinator at Air Force and Arkansas) and Fred thought the world of him. Just a prince of guy.”

Hatfield, Ford, former Arkansas strength coach Virgil Knight and former Bender teammates Bill Gray and Bobby Roper, all praising Bender when contacted Saturday night, knew Bender as a peer.

And Grant Garrett, a Razorback center from Lake Hamilton from 1994-98, for three years, knew Bender as his coach.

“Bender was the best O-line coach I ever played for by far,” Garrett said Saturday.

But of those contacted, only Reed knew Bender as his employer.

Bender was looking for a head coach at Forrest City when Reed was recommended by fellow former Razorback Kim Dameron.

“Coach Bender said he needed my resume at a certain time,” Reed said. “He said he didn’t care if it was written on a napkin, just get it in. The first time I met him I drove to Forrest City and was so impressed.”

That first impression would only mushroom. For he didn’t realize he worked not just for a coach but a carpenter, too.

“We got there and the stadium needed a lot of renovations,” Reed said. “Mike went to the people in town and they were going to redo the bleachers and build a new press box. What I didn’t realize was that Mike Bender was going to do it, too. It was old school sun-up to sundown. He and his group of men would be out there with hammers tearing up the stadium and putting one back together. He had a tremendous work ethic. There wasn’t a job too small.”

Including emergency junior high coach.

“In the second year in Forrest City we lost our ninth grade coach,” Reed said. “We couldn’t find one. I said, ‘Coach I think you need to coach them.’ He kind of balked but it wasn’t long before the do-everything athletic director also was coaching our junior high football team. I think he loved it as much as any level he coached. I know he had the same passion. And those kids got better. It was an awesome experience for my son who was on the team.”

The latter portion of “Greater,” the movie about the late Brandon Burlsworth whom Bender coached from 1995 to 1997, reflects Bender’s dedication to kids dedicated on improving, Reed said.

“He was from the old school generation of football but he was also great with kids,” Reed said. “He set such an excellent example for all of us. If you worked and you were a solid person, he would go to the end with you.”

The movie took Hollywood type liberties. Bender never was first-year hard on Burlsworth from his walk-on visit and first Razorbacks season like the movie portrayed. He wasn’t here yet when linemen Burlsworth, Garrett, Russ Brown and Chad Abernathy redshirted together as freshmen in 1994.

And while Houston Nutt at the “Greater” premier praised Bender, Ford and preceding strength coach Knight for toughening the line his 9-3 SEC West champions inherited in 1998, Bender was not on Nutt’s staff.

Bender did, though, every day embody the tough coach with a gold heart motivating mostly with droll wit.

“If we were having a bad day,” Grant Garrett said, “he’d say, ‘When I blow the whistle lay down on your stomach. If we are going to lallygag around then we are going to lallygag doing it right.’ Bender was a hard-ass but we all liked him. He made it where you want to fight for him as much as you want to fight for yourself.”

It’s what great coaches do.

(Nate Allen covers the Razorbacks for the News-Times.)

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