Jim Harris: This Is Not the Season for Razorback Fans To Turn into Boo Birds


It would be at about this point, if Frank Broyles were still around, that the Arkansas football media would try to corner him at some touchdown club meeting and ask him to recall his early days as Razorback football coach, and how he dealt with a 0-6 start. The Arkansas fan base in 1958 was hoping for a return to that one glimpse of glory that Bowden Wyatt had provided in 1954 before driving off to Tennessee in his fan-purchased Cadillac.

Even the next unexciting three years of, Jack Mitchell after Wyatt’s departure were OK. This, however, was Otis Douglas bad. Zero and six. Imagine social media’s existence in 1958 when athletic director John Barnhill had promised Hog fans an offensive genius as head coach and Broyles’ vaunted new offense managing 3 whole first downs in a 12-0 loss to Baylor in the opener in Little Rock before he immediately dumped it.

I don’t personally remember that 1958 season, as I was just a year old. I do remember being in the southeast corner of War Memorial Stadium in the 1970 opener vs. Stanford when the first boos I’d ever heard rang out from the stands. Hog fans sat stunned as their team, ranked No. 4 nationally, trailed 27-0.

“Booing? They’re booing? Are they booing Bill Montgomery?” I said to my friend and classmate, Douglas Kimball. This was new for us. Arkansas football was as on top of the world then as it ever would be, two games removed from “The Big Shootout” against Texas the previous December, and quite a few fans were willing to express their sudden displeasure. Frank Broyles had a hot-shot sophomore quarterback with a golden arm, Joe Ferguson, waiting in the wings to eventually replace three-year starter Bill Montgomery, who had lost just three college games to that point. The fans wanted change now with the Hogs seemingly being embarrassed in national TV. There was a noticeable rumbling of discontent in the stands, with a few boos thrown in.

At this point, in came Ferguson instead of Montgomery to add a new dimension to an attack that Stanford’s stout defense had well prepared for, and Joe responded by driving the Hogs into the red zone. Then, back came Montgomery, and suddenly those boos rained down throughout. Montgomery quieted them by scoring a touchdown, then leading another TD drive before halftime thanks to a backwards-running catch by another sophomore sensation, Jon Richardson. Arkansas kept battling, even after falling back behind by 20, and would get it as close as 34-28 in the final minute before Montgomery was stopped on a fourth-and-1 keeper at the Stanford 5. Thankfully, fans didn’t leave booing, but rather were just worn out by a great college game.

So, booing from Razorback fans didn’t start Saturday in a 44-17 loss to North Texas in Fayetteville. When Cole Kelley came out to resume the quarterbacking job for Arkansas facing a 37-10 deficit on his first possession of the second half, a good number of the frustrated fans remaining were standing and booing. I really believe these weren’t directed at Kelley, who was having a bad day with three interceptions to that point (he’d have another), but at Chad Morris and his staff for not replacing him. When the team is struggling, the backup quarterback is always the fans’ favorite.

Later, I took note of some fans’ defense for the booing, or their acceptance of it: “The fans paid good money to watch this, it’s their RIGHT to boo if they don’t like it,” etc. etc.

Sure, it’s your right. But is it an intelligent use of your energy? When frustration has moved on to anger, and anger has taken over, intelligence and good decision-making goes out the window. 

A good portion of Arkansas’ fans need self-control when the first decision is to boo their team. Is such a reaction intended to make the players perform better? That didn’t work. Is it going to prompt Chad Morris to say, “You know, it is time to pull my starter out”? Do you believe Morris kept trotting out a struggling Cole Kelley for no reason other than to set off your frustration? The Hogs have played just one-quarter of their season and hope they can find a quarterback that gives them a chance at some point in 2018.

Now, did you expect a better team performance? Certainly. We all did. I forecasted Arkansas to lose, but even I was shocked that the result looked more like the Razorbacks absorbing an SEC beatdown than one from Conference USA squad. Still, it wasn’t as shocking as seeing selfish fans deride the decision-making of a coach in just his third game with a cascade of boos. If, on the other hand, they were directed at Cole Kelley, then shame on you.

Morris is in the early stages of rebuilding a roster and a culture. That wasn’t going to happen with simply a new coaching hire. It will take a great recruiting class this year, followed up by two more, before you’ll see real fruits of the labor. Mississippi State found itself in the same boat with Dan Mullen in 2009 after the Sylvester Croom era came to a flopping conclusion. Mullen and MSU lost to Maine at home 8-7 in 2009. That’s powerhouse Maine. It was discouraging, as were a succession of big losses to the SEC powers until Mullen had changed the culture and built the talent base up. His program hit No. 1 in the middle of the 2014 season, and he left it in great shape as he headed last off-season to Florida, where he’s having to change the culture there with lots more resources and talent on hand. By the way, while they struggled, the Bulldogs enjoyed a long run of sellout crowds and seriously expanded the stadium. While it was disappointing at times in Starkville, their victory-starved fan base DID NOT stay away. On the other hand, Arkansas’s fans have hardly shown up before the rebuild has started and many boo when they do.

Morris may start out 1-6, and he may go 1-11 this season. There will be moments where it looks like everything is a dumpster fire. This year is one for fans to bite their tongues, hold off on the booing and just bear with it. Let the building proceed. Don’t submarine recruiting efforts (any recruits and their families on hand Saturday were probably aghast seeing Hog fans booing their own program). Pick out some of the young players like freshman linebacker Bumper Pool and support them and watch as they improve. Cheer on one of the quarterbacks to rise to the top and lead as Arkansas hits the last stretch of games this season. But avoid rash judgments just because you’re a frustrated Hog fan.

Thank goodness there was no social media in 1958, or Frank Broyles might not have been given enough time to become the second-winningest coach of the 1960s alongside his pal Darrell Royal at Texas. After that 0-6 start and with most fans’ hopes out the window, Arkansas ran off four straight wins in November, then went 9-2 the next season with a Southwest Conference tri-championship. There was nothing in the past performances from the previous four season to forecast such a surprise. And, bigger things awaited. That scenario, and Broyles’ success, may never be repeated here. But why would fans do anything that would assure it won’t?

razorback coach chad morris


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