Much has happened in my absence including last week’s firing of nearly 10-year Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long and what most assume seems impending the departure of Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema.
Bielema and Arkansas are generally presumed to part company after the Razorbacks close their current 4-7 overall/1-6 SEC football season hosting the Missouri Tigers in Friday’s 1:30 p.m. CBS televised SEC game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Long’s perceived high national standing as the first chairman of Division I football’s College Football Playoff Committee and as a past Athletic Director of the Year in some business publications likely makes some nationally and even within Arkansas surprised he was ousted.
As supporters of the late J. William Fulbright can tell you, an Arkansan even of national renown can lose in Arkansas if he hasn’t sufficiently touched base with the folks back home.
A 4-year Razorbacks football letterman, UA student body president ultimately become the president of the entire UA after earning Rhodes Scholar status studying in England at Oxford University, Fulbright to this day historically remains regarded among the most influential senators in foreign affairs. Fulbright represented Arkansas in the U.S. Senate from 1945-1974.
However Fulbright became so much a Washington fixture spending so little time in Arkansas that then young Governor Dale Bumpers defeated him handily for the Senate in the 1974 Democratic primary.
Ohio native Long established few lasting relationships in Arkansas upon succeeding Frank Broyles who built the Razorbacks on relationships during his 50 years as Arkansas’ athletic director and or head football coach.
Changes on the Board of Trustees and a change of chancellors preceding this losing football season rendered Long vulnerable to be ousted regardless of national awards.
Bielema, generally far more liked but vulnerable with this 4-7 season following closing 2016 losing lopsided halftime leads in losses to Missouri and in the Belk Bowl to Virginia Tech, devotes this week trying to send his seniors out victoriously against Missouri.
Though redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley is reinstated following his one-game suspension after a charge of DWI, expect Friday to be Austin Allen’s show as the fifth-year senior from Fayetteville quarterbacks his final Razorbacks game.
Last year’s SEC passing leader, Allen has missed four games with an injured throwing shoulder but started the Razorbacks’ last two games.
Allen is Arkansas’ only original 2017 senior starter still active and was part of Bielema’s first Arkansas recruiting class in 2013.
“Austin I know had big dreams and aspirations going into this year and unfortunately sometimes the powers that be don't let it happen,” Bielema said. “It wasn't from a lack of effort. It wasn't from a lack of preparation. I think it's been affected by his health to be quite honest.”
All-American candidate center Frank Ragnow was lost for the season with a severe ankle injury during the season’s seventh game.
Senior Jared Cornelius, the Razorbacks’ returning leading receiver, suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon during Arkansas’ third game.
Ragnow is expected to go in the 2017 draft and still be a high draft pick, Bielema said.
Cornelius ponders options whether to try the draft, return for an available fifth-year with the Razorbacks or possibly transfer as a fifth-year eligible grad student should Arkansas change coaches and he not feel he fits.
Ragnow will participate in Senior Day introductions but Cornelius won’t since he might return.
In addition to Allen and Ragnow, safety De’Andre Coley, deep snapper Robert Decker, linebacker Dwayne Eugene, offensive lineman Jackson Hannah, linebacker Josh Harris, nose guard Bijhon Jackson, running back Connor McPherson, offensive linemen Paul Ramirez and Jake Raulerson, nickel back Kevin Richardson, linebacker Karl Roesler safety Josh Liddell cornerback Henre Toliver and running back David Williams comprise the 16 seniors introduced before Friday’s kickoff.
Walk-ons Harris of Pine Bluff Watson Chapel and Hannah of Bentonville actually have 2018 remaining or eligibility but plan to use it as graduate transfers seeking increased playing opportunities, Bielema said.