ARKANSAS VS. JACKSONVILLE STATE
‘One bad day’
20 years after he was fired following a loss to The Citadel, Jack Crowe isn’t bitter
BOB HOLT ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
FAYETTEVILLE — Harold Horton was used to seeing Frank Broyles and Jack Crowe on Sunday mornings. Their families attended the same church. But Horton noticed something different on Sunday, Sept. 6, 1992, and what he didn’t see concerned him. Horton — Arkansas’ football recruiting coordinator — realized Broyles and Crowe weren’t sitting in their normal pews the day after The Citadel, an NCAA I-AA military school from the Southern Conference, had beaten the Razorbacks 10-3. It was the first time the Razorbacks had lost a season opener at Fayetteville since 1906, when Chilocco (Okla.) Indian School beat Arkansas 6-0. “I thought, ‘No Coach Broyles and no Jack at church. This can’t be good,’ ” said Horton, who recently retired as Razorback Foundation executive director. “I just had a bad feeling something was going to happen.” Broyles, Arkansas’ long-time athletic director and former football coach, was meeting with Crowe, his third-year coach, at the Broyles Center. Crowe, recalling the meeting recently, said he wished he had talked to Broyles on Saturday night after the game rather than waiting until Sunday. “I should have gotten in my car and driven straight to his house, because Frank didn’t need to sleep on that game,” Crowe said. “I mean, the guy I got to on Sunday, it was done. There was nothing I could do or say. The bread was toasted.” Broyles and Crowe argued about the direction of the program, some of Crowe’s staff hires and whether he should have turned over playcalling duties to new offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “He vented, and I vented back, and the hotter he got, the hotter I got,” Crowe said. “I think I said, ‘Frank, this is going to be a lot different a week from now, because we’re going to South Carolina, and I guarantee you we’re going to win. If we don’t, you can fire me.’ He said something like, ‘I don’t know if I can wait that long,’ and that ticked me off. “I said, ‘I’m going to lunch. Call me if I’m still your football coach.’ He didn’t call.” Broyles fired Crowe one game into the season, Arkansas’ first as a member of the SEC after moving over from the Southwest Conference, creating national headlines and ending Crowe’s Arkansas tenure after 24 games with a 9-15 record. “I had one bad day at Arkansas,” Crowe said, “that Sunday after The Citadel game.” PAYING ‘OUR BILLS’ Crowe, who came to Arkansas
PAYING ‘OUR BILLS’ Crowe, who came to Arkansas in 1989 to be Coach Ken Hatfield’s offensive coordinator, will mark the 20th anniversary of The Citadel’s upset by returning to Fayetteville as Jacksonville (Ala.) State’s coach to face the 10th-ranked Razorbacks in Saturday night’s season opener. Jacksonville State plays in the Ohio Valley Conference in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA — just like The Citadel. “It seems weird, doesn’t it?” Crowe said. “But I never gave any of that a second thought in all this.” Crowe, entering his 13th season at Jacksonville State, said his motivation in contacting then-Razorbacks Coach Bobby Petrino two years ago was in the hopes of scheduling a game with a hefty financial guarantee. The Gamecocks will receive $450,000 from Arkansas for the game. “I wasn’t thinking about The Citadel or what year it was, that it would be the 20th anniversary of that game,” Crowe said. “I’m a football coach trying to do what I can for my team and my program. “We had an open date for a game, and we needed the revenue, and I knew somebody I could ask that I felt would try to help us, which Bobby did.” The coincidence of coaching against Arkansas on the 20th anniversary of his firing didn’t hit Crowe until he received the contract and saw the date in print. “I can’t tell you exactly the word I used,” Crowe said with a laugh. “But it’s water under the bridge. We needed this game to pay our bills.” ‘HOW DID WE LOSE TO THE CITADEL ?’ The Citadel had financial motivation when it played at Arkansas 20 years ago, but the team returned home to Charleston, S.C., with what’s still considered the school’s greatest victory. “What I would tell the Arkansas players as they get ready for this Jacksonville State game is — do not take anything for granted, because you never know what can happen,” said Dean Peevy, a senior safety for the 1992 Razorbacks who is now a banking executive in Montgomery, Ala. “When I get together with my teammates from 20 years ago, we still ask ourselves, ‘How did we lose to The Citadel?’ Everybody keeps asking, ‘How did we lose that game?’ ” Arkansas had seven drives inside The Citadel’s 40, but the Razorbacks’ only score came on a 25-yard field goal by Todd Wright that put them ahead 3-0 with 14:08 left in the fourth quarter. “It was one of those games where you felt like we’re not playing like we should, but we’ll eke out a win and then have something to gripe about to the players all next week,” said Louis Campbell, who coached Arkansas’ defensive backs in 1992 and is now Sheridan High School’s coach. “I don’t think actually losing the game crossed anybody’s mind until that fumble.” Arkansas senior E.D. Jackson rushed 29 times for 167 yards (the Hogs gained 287 yards overall), but Jackson lost a fumble when he took a handoff on second-and-4 from the Razorbacks 37. The Citadel defensive end Garrett Sizer got a hand on the ball and knocked it loose, and defensive end Judson Boehmer had it bounce into his arms at the 34. He ran untouched into the end zone to put the Bulldogs ahead 7-3 with 9:47 left. If the same play had happened a year earlier, The Citadel would have taken possession at the Arkansas 34. But this was the first game after a new NCAA rule had been enacted allowing a fumble recovery behind the line of scrimmage to be advanced by the defense. “I always thought it was ironic that the touchdown they got in that game was because of a new rule, but that’s the way football is,” said Joe Kines, Arkansas’ defensive coordinator in 1992 who was promoted to interim head coach after Crowe’s firing. “That’s the reason the ball is oblong. It bounces funny, and those funny bounces change people’s lives sometimes.” Arkansas drove to midfield after the touchdown, but The Citadel intercepted a deflected pass to set up a field goal for the 10-3 final. The Bulldogs finished the season 11-2 and were ranked No. 1 among IAA teams before losing in the playoffs to Youngstown State. Arkansas was the fifth consecutive Division I-A team to lose to The Citadel, which since 1988 had beaten Navy twice along with Army and South Carolina. Crowe recalled several dropped passes that would have kept drives going during the game, and quarterback Jason Allen, a redshirt sophomore coming back from knee surgery, struggled to complete 11 of 23 passes for 110 yards. He was sacked twice and pressured constantly as the Bulldogs used man-to-man coverage. “This was a one-game shot, and we let it all hang out,” Citadel Coach Charlie Taaffe said after the game. “We challenged them.” Allen, who lives in Fayetteville and is vice president of sales for Pace Industries, said he might not have been ready for it. “I had convinced myself that physically I was ready to play, and the fighter spirit in me wanted to be out there,” Allen said. “But as I look back on it, I realized in that game I was probably 75 percent. “What really was a struggle was being able to step into my throws. I battled being able to transfer my weight with confidence, and the result was I sailed a lot of passes.” Allen said he remembers feeling numb after the game and barely speaking during dinner with his parents. “I didn’t know what to say, or even think,” he said. “I was in shock.” ‘DID THEY FIRE COACH CROWE ?’ Arkansas’ players got an idea something was up Sunday when afternoon player meetings were canceled. “In the back of our heads, we were going, ‘Did they fire Coach Crowe?’ ” said Scott Long, a senior defensive end on the 1992 team and a former college assistant coach who lives in Fayetteville and sells pharmaceuticals. “But we kept thinking, ‘No, not after one game.’ But then at a team meeting that night, Coach Broyles walked in and Coach Kines walked in behind him, and we knew Coach Crowe was gone.” Kines told the players they’d been dealt a hand, and they could either play it and see what happened or fold. The players agreed they wanted to play it out. “That whole 24-hour period was just a blur, really,” said Kines, who is retired and living in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “It was a blur then, and it’s still a blur. “It didn’t happen slowly. It happened with the speed of light.” Taaffe, who is now Central Florida’s offensive coordinator, said it was difficult for The Citadel to celebrate beating Arkansas after hearing about Crowe’s firing. “If I’d known going in one victory was going to result in this outcome, I don’t know if it would have been worth the price,” Taaffe said. Arkansas assistant coaches were watching film the day after the loss when they were herded downstairs into a locker room by associate athletic director Bill Gray while Broyles met with Crowe. Broyles didn’t want any of the assistants talking to media members until after the coaching change was announced. “There was a very strange, awkward silence,” Campbell said. “No one wanted to say anything, but we all knew what was going on upstairs. “You just wondered, ‘Is everybody getting fired? Is it just Jack? What’s going to happen?’ “It was one of those situations I’d never been in before, and fortunately I haven’t been in since.” Crowe met briefly with the coaching staff after he had been fired. “It was hard on him, but emotionally he was under control,” Horton said. The Citadel game was Fitz Hill’s first as a full-time assistant for the Razorbacks after he had returned from a tour of duty as an Army lieutenant deployed to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War. He coached defensive backs and linebackers. “From Friday to Sunday, it was a weekend full of emotions,” said Hill, who is now president at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. “On Friday you’re excited about the season starting, just like everybody is this weekend, and then by Sunday you’re dealing with something you never expected. “There were so many emotions. It was a very trying time. But it wasn’t war.” ‘TRYING TO SELL TICKETS’ Broyles said at the time it was an “agonizing” decision, but he was convinced a change needed to be made. “It’s obvious our program isn’t where it should be,” he said then. Perhaps most troubling to Broyles about The Citadel game, Arkansas’ first as a member of the SEC, was the announced crowd of 35,868 — Razorback Stadium’s capacity at the time was approximately 51,000. In subsequent days, Broyles talked about how the fans needed hope for the future by rallying behind a new coach rather than speculating about Crowe’s job security. “During the Sunday meeting, Frank said that our support was more critical than it ever had been and that we couldn’t let low expectations keep the fans from supporting our move to the SEC,” Crowe said. “He felt a lot of pressure about that move. He thought it was all on him for that to work.” With 20 years of perspective, including a stint as San Jose State’s coach, Hill said he has an understanding of Broyles’ thought process, even though he might not have agreed with Crowe’s firing. “Coach Broyles felt a change was necessary not so much for the team, but for public perception,” Hill said. “Us losing was to The Citadel was drastic, so he felt that he had to respond with a drastic decision to level off everything. “I don’t think it was a situation where he was trying to punish Coach Crowe. He was trying to sell tickets.” A few weeks before Crowe’s firing, his contract was rolled over at Broyles’ direction and extended through the 1996 season. Broyles later said he didn’t believe Crowe could recruit effectively unless his contract was extended. Crowe, who got a buyout of about $500,000 from the Razorback Foundation, said the contract gave him a feeling of security, even after The Citadel game. “In the back of my mind, I’m going, ‘I just signed an extension of my contract, and it was Frank’s idea,’ ” Crowe said. “He called me in to do it. I didn’t ask for it. He said, ‘Jack, this is going to be a tough year going through the SEC, and I think we need to go ahead and get this out of the way,’ so it was rolled over. “I’m thinking, ‘Surely this game didn’t change that.’ But it did. The contract obviously didn’t mean anything.” ‘I WOULD NEVER QUIT ON A TEAM’ The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Crowe was fired, but many media outlets nationally said he resigned because that’s how Broyles phrased it in his announcement. “I’m not blaming Frank Broyles for anything, except for saying that I resigned because it was best for the program,” Crowe said. “That made me mad. I would never quit on a team.” Broyles, who retired as athletic director after the 2007 football season, and Crowe remained on good terms despite the firing and have talked several times the past 20 years. Crowe has an autographed picture of Broyles hanging in his office. “He signed it, ‘To a fine coach who has paid the price of success,’ ” said Crowe, who has a 12-year record of 81-52 at Jacksonville State. “It’s a very nice, personal message, and I appreciated it.” Crowe said he has fond memories of his time in Arkansas. “You won’t find any better people than in that whole state, top to bottom,” Crowe said. “Those are real folks and the relationships I made never ceased after I left there. They didn’t throw me away just because I got fired.” Crowe found himself on the other end of a Citadel-Arkansas-like outcome when he led Jacksonville State to a 49-48 double overtime victory against Ole Miss and Coach Houston Nutt to open the 2010 season. Nutt, the former Arkansas head coach, was Crowe’s receivers coach with the Razorbacks. Crowe said the Ole Miss game featured some “personal history with Houston,” but primarily was about Jacksonville State gaining national publicity that has helped recruiting. “There was no similarities whatsoever between that and any other kind of scenario that I had been in,” Crowe said. “None whatsoever.” Crowe said he plans to be “zoned in” on his team when he returns to Arkansas for Saturday night’s game. “The only emotion I’m going to feel is when they play that fight song, because I think that’s the only thing that hasn’t changed tremendously since I’ve been there,” Crowe said. “I don’t think I’m going back to the Arkansas I left, and that’s really a compliment. “I do know the words to the fight song, though. I promise you when they play it, I’ll be having the words in my head. I just hope they don’t play it that much.”
AP file photo/GARRY JONES Twenty years after being fired by former Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles, Jacksonville (Ala.) State Coach Jack Crowe said he wished he had spoken to Broyles on the night of the loss to The Citdel, rather than waiting a day. By Sunday, “The bread was toasted.”
Democrat-Gazette file photo Former Arkansas Coach Jack Crowe speaks to reporters during the Razorbacks’ media day in 1992. Crowe, who brings Jacksonville State to Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday, was fired by former Athletic Director Frank Broyles one game into his third season, a 10-3 loss to The Citadel.