Nearly every Razorback football coach had a catch phrase or a term they used often to explain either what they wanted out of their team or to describe their team or players.
Frank Broyles, who coached the Hogs from 1958-1976, simply wanted his Razorbacks to be better — or “bett-ah” as he pronounced the word with his Georgia accent — each day, each practice, each game.
Most of Bobby Petrino’s on-the-field catchphrases aren’t publishable for a general audience. If the man had a sense of humor, I’d guess that he studied the work of Richard Pryor and George Carlin to develop his vocabulary. Profanity isn’t uncommon on the football field, but Petrino could have given a master’s class on the subject.
Houston Nutt’s folksy turn of the phrases were fun until they became annoying to some in his final years on the job. The term that sticks out to the most to me was when he described a player as “special.”
While some use the word in derogatory sense, Nutt didn’t. When he called a player “special,” it was his highest form of praise. He used it for players like Darren McFadden, Brandon Burlsworth, and Anthony Lucas among others.
With Ken Hatfield, who coached the Hogs from 1984-89 and has the best winning percentage among all Razorback football coaches, it was “execution.”
I’m pretty sure I learned the meaning of that word through the context of its use in daily sports stories written by Orville Henry and Nate Allen for The Arkansas Gazette.
Danny Ford, who coached the Hogs from 1993-97, liked to use “oneness” to describe the type of trust he intended to build within the program. Ford felt if every player performed his job, the squad would function as a single entity.
When you get down to it, there wasn’t a lot of difference between what Hatfield wanted when he coached his Hogs to execute and what Ford meant when he talked about oneness.
It seems the word that Chad Morris favors is “consistency.”
He is looking for it in the quarterback battle between junior Ty Storey and sophomore Cole Kelley, and from several offensive linemen, who are working to earn starting spots.
Consistency is key for coaches because they want to know how a player, particularly a quarterback, is going to react in all situations.
When you’re making a critical play call, the coach does not want to be worried about or guessing how his signal caller is going to react. He needs to know so he can make the best call for the team as a whole.
Under pressure, the emotional component of a player’s performance can superseded his training. That’s not what a coach wants. A coach wants a player to perform as trained, not to revert to natural instincts. Natural instincts can feel right, but be wrong.
It feels right for an offensive lineman or a linebacker to stand up when they are tired, but in football, the low man usually wins around the line of scrimmage. Players that stand up usually find themselves on the ground, and you can’t make a play when you are off your feet.
Often eye candy is built into plays to lead or influence an opponent away from the point of attack. A defender can’t chase that candy. He has to perform his job, keep to his training so that he doesn’t leave another teammate exposed. Plays and schemes are designed for 11 to work together as one. If a player is inconsistent, no matter how talented, it throws everything out of alignment. Well-coached opponents will take advantage of those tendencies.
Eleven players doing their own jobs, working as one is what Morris is seeking from his Razorbacks.
That’s consistency. That’s execution. That’s oneness. That’s getting “bett-ah.” And if Morris and his staff can get that from their Razorbacks, this season won’t be profane, and it might end up being relatively special.
Morris’ proactive approach good sign for Hogs’ future
It happens every year, almost like clockwork.
There’s a point in preseason practice where the coaching staff has to give the team some extra encouragement to push the players through a practice.
It’s usually at the point where the first game still seems far away and when the newness of opening practice has completely worn off and grind has set in.
Preseason camp is grueling. The NCAA doesn’t allow football coaches to run physical two- or three-a-day boot camps like they once did, but what isn’t there physically now has been replaced with meetings, time in the training, weight, and film room. The intensity and stress is still there, just in a bit different format.
According to various practice reports, Chad Morris’ Razorbacks hit that wall Monday instead of “that line” as popularized in the “Razorback Fight Song.”
Instead of trotting or jogging between practice fields, Morris caught some of the Hogs walking, which is a no-no in Morris’ hammer-down approach to the game.
Morris addressed it quickly with a series of up-downs.
“Up-downs” or “bellies,” if you aren’t familiar, are an exercise where a player jogs in place, and when he hears the coach or drill instructor’s whistle, he falls to the ground prone on his belly and chest. The he springs back up to await the whistle and the next belly flop.
Up-downs can be particularly tough when you’re already tired. Nobody likes doing them.
If you know a member of the 1995 Razorback defense, ask him about up-downs.
That season, the Hogs’ defensive coordinator was Joe Lee Dunn. Dunn was a defensive guru of sorts, known for turning defenses around with his unorthodox and aggressive schemes that led to big plays one way or the other.
Dunn was also a champion of the up-down drill. He used it to physically and mentally train his defensive units.
His defenses would perform up-downs at the end of each practice, starting with a minute or two of the drill on the first day of preseason camp and working their way up to doing 20, solid minutes of up-downs on the last day of preseason camp.
I honestly don’t know how the players did it, but they did. It toughened them mentally and physically, and that team did win Arkansas’ first SEC Western Division title that season.
However, some believed the defense wore down late that season because of the preseason work took too much out of them. Others believed Dunn’s scheme was just too high risk. Either way, Danny Ford fired Dunn following a 20-10 loss to Mac Brown’s North Carolina squad in the CarQuest Bowl. The Hogs gave up a number of big plays and 13 points in the decisive third quarter.
For players as well conditioned as the Razorbacks, doing a number of bellies on Monday was a slap on the wrist or a wake-up call for them to pick up the pace.
What was telling, though, was a quote by junior tight end Austin Cantrell published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Paraphrasing, Cantrell said last year’s staff didn’t address the team’s sluggishness in a practice as proactively as Morris did on Monday.
Though Morris has yet to coach a game Arkansas, I personally already love his proactive approach to the game. That type of discipline is what it takes for a program like Arkansas to be in a position to overachieve in the Southeastern Conference this season and in the future.
To overachieve, a team has to have a toughness and an edge that somehow got lost along the way during Bret Bielema’s tenure as the Razorbacks’ head coach.
One hopes Morris and his staff are bringing that edge and toughness back to stay.