Shared from the 9/26/2016 El Dorado  eEdition

Strong native, former El Dorado AD dies

FAYETTEVILLE - If you saw the movie “Greater,” forget some of what you saw in the character portrayed as Mike Bender.

Arkansas’ former offensive line coach didn’t first belittle and then champion Brandon Burlsworth.

From his get-go, Bender championed Burlsworth and fellow 1995 redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Russell Brown, Grant Garrett and Chad Abernathy.

To embellish its docudrama, Bender’s final of three Arkansas coaching timelines was inaccurately extended for the movie about Burlsworth’s rise from walk-on to All-American before an automobile accident ended Burlsworth’s life shortly after being NFL drafted.

Burlsworth and Co. arrived to redshirt in 1994 before Bender’s 1995-1997 tenure under Danny Ford.

So Bender couldn’t initially belittle Burlsworth that first year because he wasn’t there to belittle him. And with the Ford to Houston Nutt staff change, Ford coached Canadian football while Burlsworth blossomed and 9-3 Arkansas co-won the 1998 SEC West.

Bender’s death Saturday at 73 prompts setting the record straight for one that Frank Broyles called “a Razorback in everything he did.”

Bender, of Strong, was a senior captain and All-Southwest Conference offensive tackle for Broyles’ 1964 national champions.

“When you graded the film you felt sorry for the guy opposite him because Mike was going to win most of the battles,” Broyles said Saturday night. “He was an excellent player an excellent coach and an asset to us in every way.”

Certainly Bender and fellow new 1995 line coach Charley North were assets to the crew they inherited from two of Ford’s former Clemson coaches accustomed to better lines than Arkansas early 1990s nadir become brightened by Ford’s 1995 SEC West title.

“Bender came in and saw the good in all of us,” Garrett said. “He molded us into the right type of players. Mike said ‘I believe in you guys. You just have to work hard and we are going to get you there.’ And he did. That’s my memory of Coach Bender.”

Nutt knew who really drew the line for his ’98 senior line. At the premier of “Greater” that Virgil Knight, Ford’s strength coach, Bender and Nutt attended, Nutt extended credit due.

“Houston said, ‘You, Mike and Danny Ford had those guys toughened up to be good football players,” Knight recalled. “Bender was such a strong influence.”

The best coaches are tough and knowledgeable to command respect yet so compassionate to receive lifetime loyalty.

Mike Bender was among the best.

“He was a hard-nosed, old school coach but we all liked him,” Garrett said. “He made it where you want to fight for him as much as you want to fight for yourself.”

Even those outmanned Razorbacks junior varsities Bender coached for Broyles and Lou Holtz always praised him.

Broyles, Ford and Knight and 1964 Razorbacks teammates Ken Hatfield, Bill Gray and Bobby Roper last Saturday extolled Bender for football but above all extolled Bender the man.

“Mike was a great guy and a buddy to you all the time every day,” Roper said. “That never changed.”

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