John Pelphrey by the Numbers

Photo: Todd Gill
Based on what you see here, has John Pelphrey earned the right for another year at Arkansas?

Who likes numbers? I mean, aside from mathematicians, scientists and financial planners? To some, numbers mean it’s time to take a nap. To others, it’s a dose of reality that’s hard to escape.

In this case, the numbers could represent a chair, or a seat (maybe even one of the hot variety). It’s the same seat that Arkansas Razorbacks head basketball coach John Pelphrey sits upon right now. Roughly 50% of Arkansas fans say that Coach Pelphrey should be fired. The other 50% say he should remain coach. Regardless of the argument, pro OR con, nearly 100% of fans have a tendency to get emotionally charged when debating the subject.

The heated nature of said conversations makes sense. Especially knowing that ALL Arkansas fans want to see the Razorbacks getting back to the higher level of competition and success that was experienced under Nolan Richardson in the 1990s. You know, the days when > 20 wins and post-season play were expected and not a question mark.

The most rudimentary of numbers show us that Coach Pelphrey does have an improving record over the past three seasons – 14-16 in 2008-09, 14-18 in 2009-10 and currently 18-12 this season. But the numbers also show that the caliber of competition on Arkansas’ schedule (and in the SEC) hasn’t been that great over the past three seasons.

A little digging around yielded more interesting numbers regarding John Pelphrey’s experience as head coach – both at South Alabama and Arkansas.

Academic Progress Going Down, then Up

It had been widely reported that Arkansas’ Academic Progress Rates (APR) have been in the tank during Pelphrey’s tenure and that Arkansas was close to losing scholarships due to the matter.

A team aims for a yearly benchmark score of 925 (out of 1000) – this keeps the NCAA off the Athletic Program’s back and ensures that all available scholarships are kept for student athletes. If your four-year rolling score (the average of the previous four years’ scores) goes down below 925, you risk losing scholarships.

Arkansas’ current four-year rolling score is 886, well-short of the benchmark. But since Arkansas scored a single-year score of 933 last year, the NCAA is currently not taking action.

Players maintaining a good GPA bodes well for a University’s APR. Players leaving a program generally don’t, especially if that student isn’t in good academic standing before he/she leaves.

With last year’s 933, it appears that Arkansas might be on the cusp of recovery. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Historically-speaking, Coach Pelphrey’s teams haven’t faired so well in the APR department:

YearSingle-Year APR
2003-04 (South Alabama)796
2004-05 (South Alabama)923
2005-06 (South Alabama)889
2006-07 (South Alabama)904
2006-07 (Arkansas)942
2007-08 (Arkansas)755
2008-09 (Arkansas)933

* It should be noted that Coach Stan Heath’s numbers at Arkansas were 1000 (2003-04), 958 (2004-05) and 915 (2005-06).

Player Suspensions and Players Leaving Program

Over the course of four seasons at Arkansas, John Plephrey has seen 32 kids dress for basketball games. Of those 32 players, 16 of them have been suspended at one time, or another, under Pelphrey’s tenure.

That’s half of the players. Fifty percent.

There are things worse than suspensions, like players leaving the program early. Under Pelphrey’s rule (whether they were asked to leave the team or left voluntarily), seven players have left Arkansas prior to graduating:

  1. Patrick Beverly
  2. Andre Clark
  3. Courtney Fortson
  4. Jason Henry
  5. Montrell McDonald
  6. Brandon Moore
  7. Nate Rakestraw

One might ask why these players left, or were asked to leave? If Coach Pelphrey recruited them (with the exception of Beverly), was there not enough vetting done to make sure they were good fits with his coaching style? Sure kids and coaches will always be at odds and most teams will experience some turnover here and there. But seven kids in four seasons? And … FIVE kids from ONE recruiting class?

Aside from those players who left, you have to wonder about the rumors of Rotnei Clarke almost leaving the program a year ago and the recent Marshawn Powell “no comment” remark on his relationship with Coach Pelphrey. Not to mention Jemal Farmer’s random leave of absence this season.

More troubling is this post from last summer regarding the struggles that South Alabama has faced with their APR and subsequent loss of scholarships. It reports that during Pelphrey’s final three seasons at South Alabama, 10 players left the program. Additionally, twice under Pelphrey’s watch, South Alabama was faced with scholarship reductions. APR concerns anyone?

And some quick math will tell you that in 3 years at South Alabama and 4 years at Arkansas, 17 players have left the program that John Pelphrey has been head coach at. Is that your typical “coaches and players at odds” sort of thing?

Pelphrey’s Teams at South Alabama

A lot of believers will look at Coach Pelphrey’s success at South Alabama as reason to retain him for another year. The statistics show that while Pelphrey started off slow, he eventually built up a team that went to the NCAA Tournament and the NIT:

Overall Record14-1412-1610-1824-720-12
Conf Record7-8
(3rd in West)
(4th in West)
(4th in West)
(1st in West)
(1st in East)
Post-seasonn/an/an/aNCAA First Round (lost to Florida)NIT First Round (lost to Syracuse)
Conf RPIn/a17121820
Conf SOSn/a18121619
(Nat’l rank)
73.0 (98)65.9 (246)62.3 (289)73.6 (72)71.3 (125)
(Nat’l rank)
31.5 (298)32.1 (293)32.0 (286)33.8 (218)34.4 (146)
(Nat’l rank)
12.9 (214)11.2 (295)11.0 (307)14.1 (126)13.8 (137)
(Nat’l rank)
44.4 (144)41.8 (246)41.6 (261)45.3 (95)43.9 (177)

Here’s the thing, if you’re playing in a conference that ranks 18th in Conference RPI and your Strength of Schedule is 191st, you would sincerely hope that you could at least win the conference and make the NCAA Tournament. The statistics also show that Pelphrey’s successful teams also benefitted from playing weak non-confrence AND conference schedules. Additionally, no team under Pelphrey at South Alabama ranked in the top 125 in Rebounds Per Game or Assists Per Game. Sound familiar?

Pelphrey’s Teams at Arkansas

Most of us are aware of what Coach Pelphrey has done, or hasn’t done, with his time at Arkansas. His first season, with Stan Heath’s recruits, was easily Pelphrey’s best when he guided the team into the NCAA Tournament (and also scored our first tourney victory dating back to the 1999-2000 season). Since then, Coach Pelphrey’s teams have struggled to find an identity and consistency.

Overall Record23-1214-1614-1818-12
Conf Record9-7
(2nd in West)
(6th in West)
(3rd in West)
(4th in West)
Post-seasonNCAA Second Round (beat Indiana, lost to North Carolina)n/an/an/a
Conf RPI3646
Conf SOS4635
(Nat’l rank)
74.1 (73)74.6 (61)74.7 (54)70.8 (118)
(Nat’l rank)
36.4 (116)37.6 (68)34.5 (207)34.5 (195)
(Nat’l rank)
14.4 (100)13.0 (161)13.8 (108)12.0 (240)
(Nat’l rank)
.468 (46).438 (159).446 (105).435 (175)

Basically, the statistics show that our RPI has risen and fallen fairly consistently with our SOS. The harder the schedule has been, the worse our RPI. And only once has any of Pelphrey’s Razorback teams finished in the top 100 in Rebounds or Assists per game.

Player Development at Arkansas

The last area to look at is how Coach Pelphrey has developed his players over his time at Arkansas. The only players we can look at are the ones that have played more than one season for Pelphrey (special exceptions for Beverly, Michael Washington and Stefan Welsh who played one season under Stan Heath):

PlayerUnder PelphreyAverages
Michael Washington
(Not recruited by CJP)
Year One
(under Heath)
Year Two13.
Year Three30.
Year Four25.312.
Stefan Welsh
(Not recruited by CJP)
Year One
(under Heath)
Year Two19.
Year Three29.511.
Year Four19.
Marcus BrittYear One6.
Year Two18.
Year Three20.
Year Four18.
PlayerUnder PelphreyAverages
Michael SanchezYear One23.
Year Two14.
Year Three13.
Rotnei ClarkeYear One31.512.
Year Two34.
Year Three31.615.
PlayerUnder PelphreyAverages
Patrick Beverly
(Not recruited by CJP)
Year One
(under Heath)
Year Two33.812.
Courtney FortsonYear One32.814.
Year Two33.317.
Marshawn PowellYear One31.
Year Two22.611.
Glenn BryantYear One9.
Year Two13.
Jemal FarmerYear One17.
Year Two9.
Julysses NoblesYear One18.
Year Two24.
Delvon JohnsonYear One13.
Year Two28.

Those numbers aren’t too compelling, are they? In most cases, when the numbers are moving up positively, it’s because of a player’s increased playing time/role on the team. For the most part, I’m not seeing any steady marked improvement or notion that Pelphrey can develop players.

So there you have it, John Pelphrey by the numbers. Enough with the arguments of “he should get to coach the kids he recruited,” because you could say that about ANY coach that’s fired from their job. Enough with the it takes at least four years to turn a program around, because other coaches have done it in less time. Let’s strictly talk numbers. Based on what you see here, has Pelphrey earned the right for another year at Arkansas?

If you ask me, based on the numbers, I’d say Coach Pelphrey has around a 7% chance of staying on that hot seat for one more year.

Statistics and figures found at: