Arkansas’ relationship with its fans is unlike any other in the country; they’re family
SEC Country reporter Eric W. Bolin will candidly answer your Arkansas Razorbacks sports queries each weekday in our Mailbag Question of the Day. Join the conversation by sending your questions via Twitter to @SECCountryHogs or by email to Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arkansas Question of the Day: Wednesday, Nov. 22
Family. The state of Arkansas’ relationship with the University of Arkansas is unlike any state and school in the United States. Truly. In both good and bad ways.
Most every other state has two teams, at least, competing for the bulk of the fan base. These are your Oklahomas, Alabamas, Iowas, Oregons and so on. A few states are like Arkansas in that, really, there is only one primary school that gets the attention. Nebraska has the Cornhuskers. Minnesota has the Golden Gophers. Connecticut has UConn. Wyoming has the Cowboys.
That’s it, though. Other states with just one major school aren’t major players in football. You could even argue UConn and Wyoming aren’t significant enough, either. Minnesota is more of a professional sports state. Nebraska is the only truly similar school to Arkansas when it comes to the school’s relationship with the state.
Unlike Nebraska, Arkansas’ cultural identity comes from being Razorbacks, though. The state’s governor was regularly seen donning Hogs gear when he was running for president, for crying out loud. There is a bond between the University of Arkansas and the state of Arkansas unlike any other.
People from the state, especially the most ardent of Razorbacks fans, feel that within their souls. This is, as alluded to in the first word of this piece, a family. They’re wary of outsiders. It doesn’t mean they dislike, but anyone who isn’t from the state or have ties to the state, some measure of trust has to be earned.
Jeff Long never won over the fans. Bret Bielema did for a period, but only somewhat. Both their attitudes were simply not a fit with the cultural dynamics that make up a majority inside the arbitrary lines they call the state border.
Someone from within, however, doesn’t have to earn any of the trust. Jimmy Dykes was hired as women’s basketball coach in 2014 and despite zero experience, people loved him immediately. Dykes carried Razorbacks blood, he worked at local high schools and he had the public moral compass that many preferred to see. Nevermind he was woefully unqualified to become women’s basketball coach.
Gus Malzahn is beloved, still, in most parts of the state. He spent one season as Arkansas offensive coordinator. But he’s from Fort Smith, coached for years in Springdale and has expressed, after leaving the state, his fondness and warmth for the Natural State.
Personally, I would argue Van Horn and Anderson are “Arkansas men,” too. Van Horn played here and began his coaching career here. Anderson spent the bulk of his coaching years here and in Arkansas’ best days. They may not have started as Arkansas men by birth, but it came early in their lives and they built that desired trust.
These things matter here. They don’t in other places. For better or worse, these are the types of things Arkansas – fans, donors, the board – has valued as important. Maybe not the most important, but it’s a sought-after quality. Less “Best Man For the Job.” More “Right Man For the Job.”