Arkansas Football Editorial: Loss of Horton Controversial Subject among Fans


Arkansas Razorbacks football coach Bret Bielema is under fire by Arkansas media for not retaining running backs coach Tim Horton. Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Fayetteville, Ark. – Since Bret Bielema took over the helm of the Arkansas Razorback football program he has easily put together one of the best coaching staffs in the nation. The one controversial spot for Hog fans has been the handling or mishandling of former running back coach and recruiting coordinator Tim Horton.

Since Tim Horton made an official decision to join Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn on Friday Jan. 4, Razorback Nation has heated up over the pros and cons of his absence. For some reason more fans and talking heads seem to blame Bielema for letting Horton slip away than recognizing Horton may have made his own decision. After all Bielema did offer Horton a $30,000 more a year to stay on board.

Horton is a University of Arkansas graduate with deep ties to the program dating back to his playing days in the late 1980’s as a punt returner and receiver for the Hogs. Horton’s father was a coach on staff as well only further intertwining the Horton name along the walls of Razorback football history.

Former head coach Houston Nutt hired Horton in 2007 as his running backs coach replacing his brother Danny after he resigned due to reoccurring problems from internal bleeding from his brain stem. In 2008 Horton was recognized for his recruiting efforts and coaching abilities when new head coach Bobby Petrino named Horton his recruiting coordinator and running backs coach.

The first class to come under Horton was an amazing class. Currently four players from that class have made NFL squads in 2012; Jerrico Nelson, Joe Adams, Greg Childs, and Jarius Wright. Another three players from that class seem to be shoe-ins for an NFL roster next year with quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Dennis Johnson, and tight end Chris Gragg now preparing for the NFL Combine and the upcoming Arkansas Pro Day. Add defensive end Tank Wright to the possible mix and that makes eight players from one recruiting class becoming NFL players, a strong accomplishment for any program.

Of the eight players mentioned only two were from out of state, Jerrico Nelson Destrehan, LA, and Tenarius Wright, Memphis, TN. That same year Arkansas pulled a rare feat signing all top 10 players in-state with the No. 11 player, Jake Byrne, signing with Wisconsin.

Since the 2008 class the Arkansas Razorbacks have not faired as well in-state and one could argue the amount of in-state talent has not been nearly as good.

In 2012 the Razorbacks recruiting class ranked No. 34 with two four-star recruits, in 2011 they were ranked No. 24 with four four-star recruits, and the 2010 class is ranked No. 49 with three four-star recruits.

The 2009 class was ranked as the 16th best class with one five-star (Darius Winston) and eight four-star players. The three-star players in that class outshined the four and five-star recruits with Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo, Jr. being the highlights of the four-stars and Cobi Hamilton, Travis Swanson, and Alvin Bailey being the haul of the class as three-star players.

The 2009 class was also the last time the top rated player in the state of Arkansas stayed home (Darius Winston).

The top player from the state of Arkansas in the 2013 recruiting class is North Little Rock running back Altee Tenpenny. Tenpenny is verbally committed to Alabama but rest assured the current coaching staff will do their best to sway him to stay in-state with an opportunity to play sooner in front of his friends and family than he would be able to do for Nick Saban.

The top player in the 2012 class was four-star running back Zac Brooks from Jonesboro. Brooks transferred to Jonesboro from the east coast and let it be known that he wanted to go back to that area. Brooks followed suit signing with Clemson.

In 2011 the top player in-state was Shiloh Christian quarterback Kiehl Frazier. One could argue that Brandon Allen (the state’s No. 3 ranked player, also a four-star recruit) was as good of a high school quarterback as Frazier. And within that argument the Razorbacks could have secured the best player in-state, with all respects to Brey Cook (No. 2 ranked player). Still, for the purposes of this editorial we will stick with the rankings provided by Rivals.

Another argument can be made that Gus Malzahn’s connection to the Springdale area, more specifically as Shiloh Christian’s former head coach, helped pull Frazier to Auburn over the Hogs.

Little Rock Christian running back Michael Dyer was the top in-state player in 2010 choosing Auburn over Arkansas. Dyer went on to rush for 1,000 yards as a true freshman, was named MVP of the BCS National Championship Game after helping the Tigers beat Oregon for the crystal trophy.

The loss of Dyer was contributed to Malzahn and his connections with the high school coaches in-state not to the depth of talent the Hogs had at running back with Knile Davis, Broderick Green, and Ronnie Wingo, Jr. returning.

When Bielema was hired on Dec. 5, 2012, the Razorbacks were not among the top 35 or the top 40 recruiting classes in the nation, depending on which recruiting service one reads. The Razorbacks currently sit at No. 50 on Rivals team recruiting rankings with one 4-star commitment.

Who is to blame for the lack of recruiting power behind this year’s class after the Razorbacks started the season preseason No. 10 then finished with a forgettable 4-8 record and an embarrassing interim coach overseeing everything; no one. Most recruits would not commit to any program that does not have an established head coach especially a recruit with top offers across the nation.

But what is Arkansas really losing here? No former Arkansas players on staff or no “Arkansans” roaming the sidelines with a whistle? Why should that really matter one way or another?

Some recruits from the state of Arkansas may want to play for an Arkansan thus will be stolen away by Gus Malzahn (from Texas), J.B. Grimes, Rhett Lashlee, and Horton. But if the student athlete is really “Arkansas Strong” or full of state pride wouldn’t that same recruit want to stay in-state regardless of where the coach is from at another school?

The in-state ties may open doors for a conversation but at the end of the day shouldn’t the close on National Signing Day be about winning games, receiving the best coaching at one’s position that is possible, and for some players preparing for a professional career in the NFL? Obviously omitting academics, campus activities, social life, etc…

Recruiting is about building relationships not about where you are from and how long one has been on staff at said school. Recruits want to play early, play on national television, compete for a national championship, and have a shot at playing in the NFL someday. Who’s to say that newly hired running backs coach Joel Thomas is not a better recruiter or running backs coach than Horton?

As a group is Razorback Nation supposed to dislike a talented coaching staff because none of the coaches were born in Arkansas or played for the Hogs?

Under Horton’s watch since 2007 in-state recruiting has not faired well despite his great association with high school coaches and his beloved status among media members.

All the blame for in-state players leaving for out of state programs cannot fall on Bobby Petrino’s relationship with Arkansas high school coaches. Nutt’s last season as the Razorbacks head coach overseeing recruiting (2007) saw three five-star players leave the state; Lee Ziemba to Auburn, Kodi Burns to Auburn, and Broderick Green to USC. While Horton was not the recruiting coordinator at that time he was on staff and all before Malzahn was at Auburn.

The in-state bond between the University of Arkansas and high school football programs seemingly can be traced back to the “Springdale Five” situation between Houston Nutt and Gus Malzahn in 2006.

The dynamics between all parties contributed to the Razorbacks losing their head coach (Nutt), their offensive coordinator (Malzahn), the top quarterback recruit in the nation (Mitch Mustain) along with one of the best receivers in the nation (Damian Williams, Tennessee Titans) after they transferred from Arkansas to USC.

Nutt handled the “Springdale Five” situation along with the addition of Malzahn on his staff as an offensive coordinator poorly, among other player-parent relationships, but it takes two to tango.

Somehow the view from certain Arkansas media members is one supposed to think the loss of Horton will be the loss of all quality in-state players for Arkansas going forward. Is this how the majority of Arkansas media want to represent to the less informed? They want to build up Horton without recognizing all that has gone on to get the Arkansas program to this point? Does the University of Arkansas football team no longer rule the state after Top 10 finishes in 2010 and 2011? Do in-state high school players no longer have Arkansas pride because Horton is gone?

Bielema has hired several highly recognized college recruiters that have more than a paycheck at stake in the outcome of Arkansas Razorback football games going forward. Horton was offered a position as tight ends coach along with a $30,000 a year raise on Bielema’s staff and turned it down.

What all went into Horton’s decision is between him and Bielema and him and Malzahn. Horton accepted the same position at Auburn that he would have had at Arkansas. At some point some of the blame has to fall onto Horton as well, if one really wants or needs to find fault or lay blame.

Razorback fans should always be grateful for the time, blood, sweat, and tears Tim Horton put into being a player and coach for the Hogs. In return Arkansas fans and the university have given Horton as much respect as one could receive, an opportunity to play college football, an opportunity to coach college football, and a nice paycheck.

The loss of Horton has been blown way out of proportion and does not signal the end of Arkansas Razorback football as we know it, it signals the beginning of an exciting new chapter. After all if Bielema and staff cannot close Tenpenny it’s not like Arkansas has been able to keep the top player’s in-state since 2009 with or without Horton.