With the news during the weekend that University of Arkansas officials and Bobby Petrino have worked out an employment arrangement that runs through 2017, it appears the Razorback football coach has committed himself to this state for the long haul.
After all, the buyout provisions are perhaps unprecedented, and there’s a noncompete clause with all of the other Southeastern Conference schools.
Could it be that Bobby Petrino has made the same decision that a famous Georgia native named Frank Broyles made all of those decades ago?
Broyles, who certainly could have returned to his alma mater of Georgia Tech as the head football coach, instead decided that he would be an Arkansan, raise his children as Arkansans and die an Arkansan (though I’m beginning to think Coach Broyles is immortal).
That’s not to say Petrino wasn’t welcomed previously. He was welcomed with open arms. But many of our state’s residents always had a nagging feeling that the Arkansas job would be a steppingstone to a traditional national college football power — a Florida, a Texas, a USC.
Those of us who were born and raised here find ourselves thinking that good things won’t last — we’re too small, we’re too poor, we’re not educated well enough. That’s what we tell ourselves.
By signing this agreement, here’s in essence what Petrino is telling us: “Not only do I like it here, I know I can win national championships here. I reject the idea that you can’t recruit the best talent nationally to Fayetteville. I reject the idea that Arkansas will consistently be on the level of Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the SEC West rather than LSU, Alabama and Auburn. You can be the best in the country while being based in Arkansas.”
So welcome to our family, Coach Petrino. We have fewer than 3 million residents, meaning we’re one extended (though at times dysfunctional) family.
We enjoyed Lou Holtz, but we always sensed he was passing through. We knew Danny Ford would return to raise his cattle in South Carolina sooner rather than later. Going way back, Bowden Wyatt accepted our gift of a Cadillac and promptly drove it to Knoxville.
Suddenly, perhaps even unexpectedly, it appears you may be more Frank Broyles than Lou Holtz.
We like that. We like it a lot. If feels good when someone wants to be one of us.
So now that you’ve signed on as an Arkansan, we’ll explain a few things about ourselves. We know. We know. You’ve been here for three years. But you’ve been busy (which we appreciate). For you, “National Championship Under Construction” wasn’t a sign to put on a wall. It’s a mission to be accomplished through hard work rather than worthless talk and slogans.
To start with, we’re a proud people.
We’re proud that Sam Walton built the country’s largest business right here in Arkansas.
We’re proud that a member of the Rockefeller family decided to come live among us during the 1950s and spend the rest of his life here. We would say to each other: “He could live anywhere in the world, but he lives with us!”
We’re proud that an Arkansan bought the Dallas Cowboys, much to the astonishment of those braggart Texans, and built it into the most valuable professional sports franchise in the country.
Though he never coached here, we’re proud that the most famous college football coach in history was a native Arkansan, raised poor in the pine woods near Fordyce.
We’re proud to have produced musicians such as Johnny Cash and writers such as Charles Portis.
And even though some of us rarely agreed with him politically, we’re proud an Arkansas boy fought and clawed his way to the White House and then named a fellow Arkansan as his first White House chief of staff.
Those were heady days in the 1990s with an Arkansan in the White House, the fanciest restaurants in Washington selling Mountain Valley Water from Hot Springs just because Arkansas was suddenly cool, a team owned by an Arkansan winning three Super Bowls and the Hogs winning the national championship in basketball.
It was the era of Arkansas chic. Reporters from around the globe flew into our state to try to explain this strange place to the rest of the world. Most failed miserably in their attempts to analyze us. We’re not an easy people to explain to outsiders.
What does it mean to be an Arkansan?
It means that though you reside in the shadow of Texas, you live in an amazing little state that continues to produce remarkable business leaders (think not only Sam Walton but also Jack and Witt Stephens, Bill Dillard, Don Tyson, J.B. Hunt, etc.), remarkable political leaders (think not only Bill Clinton but also Wilbur D. Mills, J. William Fulbright, Mike Huckabee, Joe T. Robinson, John L. McClellan, etc.), remarkable musicians (think not only Johnny Cash but also Charlie Rich, Al Green, Glen Campbell, Louis Jordan, etc.) and more.
Texans feel the need to brag. We just quietly smile.
It means you live in one of the most beautiful places in America. People pay big money to come camp here, hike our trails and float our streams.
It means you live in a mecca for hunters and fisherman. Discuss duck hunting or trout fishing anywhere in the country, and Arkansas will enter the conversation.
It means you live in a place that helped give birth to the blues, rhythm and blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll — almost all of the great genres of American music.
It means you live in a state that has some of the best cooking in the world. We’re known for our barbecue, our fried catfish, our pies and our meat-and-three lunches.
It means you live among the nation’s friendliest folks.
What does it mean to be an Arkansan?
It means you value your family, your friends, your school, your church.
It means you stand up, pull off your cap and put your hand over your heart when the national anthem is played, thinking of those you know in the armed services. Don’t forget that this state is one of the leaders in the percentage of residents who volunteer to protect our country.
It means you treasure traditions like Friday night football, Sunday potlucks after church and the first week of deer season.
It means you know how to tell a good story and laugh at a good joke.
It means that one sizable snow a year is quite enough (this ain’t Montana) and that the long string of hot days in the summer simply makes the swimming hole feel better.
It means that you teach your kids to call the Hogs as soon as they can talk, know to “hang up and listen” when calling a talk radio station, understand that camouflage is high fashion and that a visit to Mack’s in Stuttgart is far more fun than a visit to Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan.
It means that you can still feel your eyes misting up when Tommy Smith at 103.7 plays those Paul Eells highlights set to music.
It means that you worry that people outside the state don’t appreciate this place as much as you do. Though you know you shouldn’t care so much, you resent the Arkansas jokes. In fact, you liked Lou Holtz a little less after that joke about being able to see the end of the world from Fayetteville. He couldn’t help himself; it was the Ohio Yankee coming out in him.
For those who worry about what others are thinking, I refer you to this quote from Brooks Blevins in his wonderful book “Arkansas/Arkansaw”: “My advice? To the Arkansawyer, keep on doing whatever it is you’re doing, unless what you’re doing is illegal, in which case I’ll take no responsibility for advice offered. To the Arkansan, embrace your inner Arkansawyer, relinquish your uncalled for resentment of Bob Burns and get over yourself. Don’t get so bent out of shape over a joke or two.”
To that, I might add that we should all follow the example of Bobby Petrino, who simply ignored the hate spewed by the talking heads at ESPN when he left Atlanta. He never lashed out at them. He simply went about his business.
Coach, you’ve inherited a sacred trust. Politics might divide us, but Razorback football unites us unlike anything else in this state. The Wal-Mart millionaire from Bentonville, the cotton farmer from Eudora, the log hauler from Stamps and the waitress from Osceola all have something in common when it comes to the Hogs.
We’re glad that after three years here you’ve decided to cast your lot with us for the long haul.
You’ll like being an Arkansan. If you don’t believe me, just ask Frank Broyles.
They don’t call this the Land of Opportunity for nothing.