Courtesy of Arkansas athletics
Bud Walton Arena

How a heart attack led Arkansas to finding its next women’s basketball coach

With your bacon, have some Hogs for Breakfast. It’s SEC Country’s weekday column and roundup on all things Arkansas. Opinion, numbers, inane babble and more! And now with ironic exclamation points. There is no place like it on the web.

A heart attack at age 29 changed Mike Neighbors’ life forever.

Never would he have thought back then, 19 years ago, his life would take him where it has. Now, he is about to come full circle.

Neighbors is expected to be hired as the next Arkansas women’s basketball coach, according to multiple sources and first reported by The Seattle Times.

The 48-year-old is a native of Greenwood, just about an hour or so down Interstate 49 from Fayetteville. He coached high-school basketball in his 20s in Arkansas at both Bentonville and Cabot. Then the heart attack happened.

Neighbors had to take stock of his life. He wondered if he was doing what he really wanted to be doing. So he quit the job in preps, where he went to a state final, and took a job as a director of operations at Arkansas under then-coach Gary Blair. Blair even tried to talk Neighbors out of the job because it came with a drastic pay cut.

He didn’t listen.

“My first job as a college coach was to get Coach Blair’s Diet Coke to practice,” Neighbors told me in an interview in 2013. “It’s really glamorous. I went from running my own program to being his Diet Coke guy.”

Neighbors helped Blair for a few seasons before heading to Tulsa then Colorado as an assistant. He then returned to Arkansas for one season in 2006-07 as a full-time assistant under Susie Gardner. But she was let go at the end of the season and along with her, Neighbors. That’s when he hopped on with Kevin McGuff at Xavier. After a few seasons in Cincinnati, McGuff was hired at Washington and brought Neighbors with him. When McGuff left for Ohio State, UW brass hired Neighbors to replace him.

That’s where he’s been since, having taken Washington to three straight NCAA Tournaments, including a Final Four two seasons ago.

Now it appears he’s coming “home” for a third time. Home to his dream job. And it never would have happened without some bad luck.

Rhoads doing it his way

Paul Rhoads is in his second year at Arkansas and his second year coaching Razorbacks defensive backs. And in case you forgot, he’s also coaching the entire defense.

arkansas-paul-rhoads-razorbacks-alzheimers
Arkansas defensive coordinator and DB coach Paul Rhoads (Jason Kersey/SEC Country)

Rhoads was promoted to the team’s defensive coordinator just a couple weeks after Robb Smith left the gig and took over as DC at Minnesota. Rhoads was always the favorite for the job, but the question came up what would happen with the Hogs’ secondary.

That unit is still his. That’s the way his boss prefers it.

“I coached linebackers when I was coordinator. That’s the way I’ve always had it,” Bielema said. “The only time I broke away from that was Robb. He was kind of a little bit of a walk-around. I always think from the back-end forward. It’s good to have your eyes as a coordinator because you see things as it unfolds.”

Arkansas finished 75th in FBS in total defense last year and 85th in scoring defense.

Still in 1st

So, you might want to make plans to head out to Baum Stadium next weekend. The Diamond Hogs are still in first place in the SEC West after three league weekends.

sec-baseball-standings-arkansas

Arkansas came up with a series win at Alabama this past weekend after an 8-5, ninth-inning victory over the Crimson Tide. Carson Shaddy came through with a two-out, two-run single to break a 5-all tie and Dominic Fletcher tacked on a run of insurance to seal things.

The Razorbacks have now matched their SEC win total from *all* of last season and with their third SEC series win, they’ve now surpassed their league series victories from last year, as well.

Arkansas will host LSU on Friday, Saturday and Sunday after a two-game set with Grand Canyon on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Pro Hogs – Baseball Edition

Ex-Arkansas players dotted Major League rosters across baseball on Opening Day. Nine former Diamond Hogs landed on rosters to begin the season.

  • Andrew Benintendi, outfield, Boston Red Sox
  • Logan Forsythe, second base, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Brett Eibner, outfield, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • James McCann, catcher, Detroit Tigers
  • Matt Reynolds, shortstop, New York Mets
  • Craig Gentry, outfield, Baltimore Orioles
  • Drew Smyly, pitcher, Seattle Mariners
  • Dallas Keuchel, pitcher, Houston Astros
  • Blake Parker, pitcher, Los Angeles Angels

None of the nine played during MLB’s official Opening Day on Sunday as only three games took place.

arkansas-andrew-benintendi
Current Red Sox and former Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi (Courtesy Arkansas athletics)

Benintendi, Forsythe and McCann are all expected to be starters for their respective teams. Benintendi is a favorite for Rookie of the Year, as well. Keuchel is Houston’s ace and Smyly will, when he returns from injury, feature in Seattle’s rotation.

Coulda been Arkansas

Might be a little bit of a stretch, but Vic Schaefer, the women’s basketball coach at Mississippi State, interviewed for the Arkansas job back in 2003. Media folks who were around Fayetteville back in that time say out loud that Schaefer wanted the job.

Since that time, the Razorbacks have made three NCAA Tournaments. Schaefer just took the Bulldogs to their third straight and, Sunday night, had them in the national championship game.

Coincidentally, Mississippi State also has a former Arkansas player among its team. Jordan Danberry transferred from Fayetteville during this past season. She sat out the rest of the year. Danberry is a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas and was the first recruit for former head coach Jimmy Dykes. She will be eligible to play second semester next year.

Schaefer and Neighbors were, according to sources, athletic director Jeff Long’s top two choices to replace Dykes.

ICYMI

  • After a dynamite start to the season, the Razorbacks softball team is in a bit of a skid now. Arkansas has lost six games in a row after being swept by the second-ranked team in the nation, Florida, this weekend. The Razorbacks are in last in the SEC with a 2-10 record through four SEC series.
  • Arkansas’ gymnastics saw its team season end after a third-place finish at the NCAA Regional over the weekend. But two gymnasts — Jessica Yamzon and Braie Speed — advanced to the NCAA Championship as individual competitors. Yamzon will perform in all-around and Speed is a vault specialist.
  • The university announced details for HogFest, which will take place ahead of the football Red-White spring game on April 29. The fan festival will take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. before kickoff at noon. It’s located in Lot 60 outside Bud Walton Arena.

Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas

Do you live in Stuttgart? Perhaps you just stopped there recently to buy a lottery ticket? If so, you may be in possession of a winning ticket worth $177 million.

Which is nice.

The winning amount is a record for the state of Arkansas, according to this story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Skip Breakfast? C’mon. It’s too important. Catch up with previous versions here.

Listen to SEC Country’s “Borderline Erotic” Arkansas podcast

Official Partners