Doc Harper: Winning Is About Substance More Than Style


Winning Is About Substance More Than Style

Doc Harper Bio PageI’ve never really bought into the theory that Arkansas has to run a specific style of offense to be able to win games.

I find the notion that Arkansas is trying to out-Alabama Alabama to be strange. At this point, Arkansas can’t even out-Mississippi-State Mississippi State, unless you consider that program to be so bad Arkansas was able to out-bad them this weekend.

To beat a team that is better than you, two things have to happen. You have to play really well, and hope that the other team doesn’t play up to their ability. Or hope that something totally fluky happens like what happened at Auburn last week.

When Alabama has lost since this great run began, they don’t lose just because the other team has a mobile quarterback or the other team runs a spread offense. They’ve lost because they made mistakes. They missed field goals against LSU in 2011. They turned the ball over in key situations against Texas A&M last year, and against Auburn in 2010. And besides, they’ve beaten their share of mobile, spread quarterbacks. Heisman winners Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow both fell to the Tide. They knocked Colt McCoy out of the National Championship Game.

If it was simply about style, Alabama would have lost more than one game against that type of offense in the last three years.

How many times have we heard a losing player or coach say something along the lines of, “We just didn’t execute. We need to execute better. It was a lack of execution. If we’d executed, that’s a touchdown”?

Football is about 11 players doing what they’re supposed to do on any given play. Blocking, filling lanes, tackling. All the fundamentals have to be there no matter what scheme a team is running.

A good team must have good players who not only fit the coaches’ system, but, possibly even more importantly, fit the coach. Some coaches are fortunate enough to inherit a better-fitting situation than others. However, there is a reason three of the brand new SEC coaches are a combined 1-20 in SEC play this year.  The other new coach, as has been mentioned ad nauseam, re-inherited many of the players he originally recruited. Those are players who believed in him, committed to him, and signed with him. They dedicated their college careers to play for him.

Gus Malzahn was not thrust upon them the way Bret Bielema, Butch Jones and Mark Stoops were thrust upon their teams.

That makes a significant difference, and I believe that more strongly than ever after watching the beginning of this year’s Arkansas basketball team.

The players Mike Anderson invested in recruiting and coaching since he came back to Fayetteville, primarily the class of 2012, are theWinning Is About Substance More Than Style Mike Anderson players making significant improvements on the court. None of those players (namely Michael Qualls, Anthlon Bell, and Coty Clarke) were particularly highly rated prospects, but the difference in their first Razorback seasons to their second has been enormous.

Qualls and Alandise Harris have unquestionably been the team’s best two players since the official season began. Harris wanted to be a Razorback and play for Anderson badly enough that he was willing to sit out all of last season. Now he’s playing so well he’s further tarnishing John Pelphrey’s we-didn’t-know-it-could-get-worse tenure, simply for not going after him – even though Harris was just a 2-star prospect according to Scout and few, if any, observers questioned why he didn’t pursue Harris at the time.

These players are even mimicking the way Anderson describes the game. As we all know, Anderson wants fast-paced basketball with a lot of movement. He’ll use “stagnant” to describe the team when that’s not happening. When asked about those moments in games, the players this year say they get “stagnant”. They’re in-tune with their coach. They’re not “sluggish” or “stale” or “uncertain” or “lacking intensity”. They’re “stagnant”. That’s what they all say. They’re listening.

BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, despite both being highly rated players out of high school, didn’t gel with the team in this same way. While Powell still had a good season last year, Young actually regressed from his freshman season. But this year’s team so far appears more invested in making the team better, and it’s paying early dividends. (Feel free to ignore all of this if they have an awful week in Maui. But the early performances in Fayetteville have been promising.)

This is the kind of team Bret Bielema needs. He needs players who are as fully invested in him as he is to them. It’s impossible to escape the truth that the upperclassmen on this Razorback team were seriously burned in April 2012. They’re coach didn’t leave for a better job or get fired for losing too many games – those things are understandable. He was the leader of a group of college kids and he was fired for doing spectacularly stupid things. And the coach hired to replace him in the interim became a national joke. It’s not crazy to understand why they might not be completely invested in their third coach in three years, especially once things begin failing to go according to plan.

Bielema needs players who are fully bought into him, his style, and his system. That’s going to take a while. It’s more than bringing in a new quarterback (and if you think Rafe Peavey is going to come in as a true freshman next year and turn this program around immediately, I assume you can also tell me where Tupac was most recently seen), it’s a new team. It doesn’t have to be a spread team or a hurry-up team. It needs to be his team. If he wants to call it Normal American Football, then he needs to find players who believe in Normal American Football.

By no means does this mean Bielema and the coaches are without fault for what has happened this season. Any Hog fan can point to play calls, statements to the media that became punchlines, lack of the development fans were promised, wonder if Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell really weren’t better than AJ Derby, and even question the sense to wear a windbreaker for luck when you’ve lost eight straight games. There are definitely things fans should be frustrated with.

But even if some of those things never happened, this team wasn’t winning many more games. Bielema won’t be able to be successful at Arkansas until he has a roster filled with his types of players. I do believe he’s a good coach, and knows what type of players he wants, which is why he was successful at Wisconsin. That means, like Anderson, he knows his identity. That means, like Anderson, he can be successful if he can bring the right type of players into his program.

The challenge now is finding players who can look past the last couple of years in Fayetteville and buy into what Bielema’s attempting to build. If he can do that, he’ll be successful. It’s hard to imagine he’ll ever have a recruiting class ranked higher than Alabama’s, but if he can find talented players who fully buy in, and get a few breaks along the way, they’ll eventually have a chance to compete with Alabama.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.


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