John Pelphrey was introduced as Arkansas’ basketball coach at a press conference on Monday afternoon in Bud Walton Arena. Following is a partial transcript of the opening comments from Chancellor Dr. John White, Athletic Director Frank Broyles and Pelphrey.
Chancellor John A. White
“Thank you all for coming. I am reminded of Yogi Berra’s ‘It’s déjà vu all over again’ comment. I have to admit that I also feel like I’m Bill Murray in the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ but don’t plan on coming to a press conference next Monday. Enough is enough.
“As I thought about today’s announcement, I was reminded of the remark that I made the first year I was President (at Arkansas) at our annual SEC meetings in Destin (Fla.). Because Myles Brand, the President of the NCAA, was present I took advantage of the moment to talk about why the SEC was so outstanding. Schools in the SEC carry such heavy responsibilities in the states that they serve. In fact, if you travel the SEC and you start here and you travel down through the Ozark Mountains into the bayous of Louisiana; then you go over through the Magnolia and the Kudzu corridors in Mississippi; through the forests and the sandy soil, the sandy roadways of Alabama; up through the rugged terrain and Smokie Mountains of Tennessee; to the coal mining and Bluegrass of Kentucky; through the pine forests and the peach orchards of Georgia; to the low country of South Carolina; and finally through the swamps and citrus groves of Florida, you would miss the true picture of the SEC if all you saw along the way were Fayetteville, Baton Rouge, Oxford, Starkville, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Nashville, Knoxville, Lexington, Athens, Columbia and Gainesville. You need to move away from the interstates and explore the hearts and minds of the people who live in those states. You have to get away from the glitz and the glamour and away from those college towns. For when you do, you will understand why the people there care so much for their athletic programs. Because thousands upon thousands of those who live in the SEC, the only bright spot in their lives are the bright spots brought to them by the victories on the field and on the courts by their Universities. Many of them live in abject poverty and are struggling to make ends meet day-to-day, but they cling to the hope that they will be winners because of their teams. When we win, they win. When we lose, they lose. And the plight of the state rises and falls with the Razorbacks.
“Each of us as we go through life encounter bumps along the way and we encountered one last week. Each time I have encountered setbacks, each time I have disappointments, I try to sit back and turn those into a learning experience. Last week was no exception. The lesson I have learned from last week is what I call the importance of fit. By fit, I mean fits the culture, the culture of the school, the state and the conference. I consider fit every time I hire, promote or grant tenure to a faculty member. I consider fit every time I make an appointment of a dean or a vice chancellor. I realized that after last week, I had not considered fit in the selection of a men’s basketball coach. Fit became very important as we moved along last week, but fit alone is not enough. Style of play and a record of success are also very important. I think our guardian angel was looking out for us because we found a person that has played an integral role in the achievement of success at two of the SEC universities – Kentucky and Florida.
“We found someone who was recruited and played for Eddie Sutton, who played for Rick Pitino, who coached with Eddie Sutton and coached extensively with Billy Donovan. We found someone who Billy Donovan called a phenomenal coach and a terrific human being. We found someone who Jeremy Foley, Florida’s athletics director, thought so highly of that he called Coach Broyles and he called me to make sure that we considered him, but he did so after he knew that Billy Donovan was staying at Florida. We found someone who Rick Pitino called one of the brightest young coaching stars in collegiate basketball. We found someone, who I believe, fits perfectly, like a glove, with the University of Arkansas. Coach Broyles would you introduce our new men’s basketball coach?”
Arkansas Athletics Director Frank Broyles
“I sure would like to have gone first because I am going to have to change everything I was going to say. Nolan Richardson had a great quote. He said you don’t hire a coach and make him fit; you hire a coach that fits the job. I want to repeat some of the other things that make him the one that fits this job. When you think about it, he coached in this arena. He coached with Billy Donovan in this arena against the Razorbacks, so he has been there. That is the one question I would ask when I hired an assistant or a head coach, ‘Has he been there before?’ Yes, this coach has been there before. Let me go back, as a player in the state of Kentucky his senior year, he was voted the outstanding player in the state, so he has been there as a player. Then he was recruited by Eddie Sutton, who is going to be a Hall of Fame coach, at Kentucky. He played one year for Coach Sutton and then Rick Pitino took over and he played three years for Rick Pitino. If you look at the press guide his senior year, a quote from Rick Pitino says ‘I wouldn’t trade John Pelphrey for any basketball player in America.’ He has been there as a player under two great coaches.
“Eddie Sutton thought enough of him to hire him as a coach when he came back from Europe playing professional basketball. So he coached with Eddie Sutton. Then he went with Billy Donovan to Marshall for two years and then down to Florida for six years. He has been there recruiting against other SEC teams. When Billy Donovan called me and Jeremy Foley called me, they made it clear that they thought he would be one of the star coaches anywhere in the Southeastern Conference. They all talked about how he has been there. He has been there with good teams. You can’t always hire guys that have been there, but if you can, hire a coach that has been there. He has been there in this arena and been there recruiting against everybody in this conference. He has worked for three great coaches and played for two great coaches, and he has been there for what you think will be a fit for the University of Arkansas. I want to introduce John Pelphrey as our new men’s basketball coach.”
Arkansas Head Basketball Coach John Pelphrey
“I can tell you that sure has never sounded so sweet (referring to Calling the Hogs). It has always been a little intimidating before. I want to start out by thanking a few people. At South Alabama, President Molton and Joe Gottfried and the University of Arkansas right now with Chancellor White and Coach Broyles. A few more people real quickly as well, C.M. Newton, Jeremy Foley, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan, Eddie Sutton and nobody more important, my wife, Tracy.
“Five years ago when I left the University of Florida, I knew I had to get out on my own and try to stand on my own two feet. Coach Newton told me I need to go and find out if I can be a decision maker instead of a suggestion maker. I take great pride in what we have been able to build there (South Alabama) and win two championships (Sun Belt – regular season and tournament) over the past two seasons.
“I have been a great, great admirer of the University of Arkansas for a long time, both as a player and as a coach. It is an honor and a privilege for me to be a part of the University of Arkansas and I am going to take great, great pride in being the Razorback coach. You have to understand, my whole life my blood has bled blue and I still love my alma mater. But today, my blood bleeds Arkansas Razorback red. This is a dream job for me. I played in the SEC and coached in the SEC as an assistant coach. I have been very, very fortunate and privileged to recruit some great players who have had great success in this league. I have an unbelievable comfort coming here. This is a place that I know a lot about. Obviously, I have had a chance to be a part of some very successful teams as both a player and a coach in this league. If you can compete in this league, in the SEC, then you can compete nationally. I wanted the opportunity to have a chance to put a team together. I know at the University of Arkansas you can compete for SEC championships and if we can compete in the SEC then we can compete nationally. And these (NCAA Tournament) banners prove that.
“When I was a player at Kentucky for Coach Sutton, who I owe a great deal to, he is the guy that taught me college basketball as both a player and a coach. Today is obliviously a very special day for me and thanking him. He used to always talk about the Razorbacks. I was told stories about the 1978 Final Four team. I know the Triplets – Moncreif, Brewer and Delph. I know about U.S. Reed’s big shot in the NCAA Tournament (halfcourt shot to beat Louisville). I know about Barnhill Arena. I know that Reunion Arena was named Barnhill South. Part of that is something that I have admired and wanted to be a part of because of him. As a player and a coach, who competed against Coach Richardson, I always admired and respected him. I loved his style of play, ‘40 Minutes of Hell.’ I really had a great admiration for how hard his teams played and certainly the way they won. He even broke my heart in 1992 when the Hogs came into the SEC and they roared into Lexington to play us in Rupp Arena and we had only won 23 in a row in the SEC, and that day didn’t turn out too good for us because we were going against May-Day and Oliver Miller and the rest of those guys who snapped our winning streak.
“I know where Arkansas has been in the past, and I know where it can be in the future. As a player for Coach Pitino I had more success playing his style of play – his running, pressing, three-point style of play – than any other style. As an assistant coach I had more success coaching with Billy and his up-tempo, pressing, running, three-point style of play. So much that it helped us win a couple of conference championships and play for the national championship in 2000. As a head coach, I have had similar success. It is my personality. It is the way I think the game should be played, up-tempo, pressing, running, three-point style of play.
“I want our teams to constantly attack both offensively and defensively. I want our teams to be as disruptive as they possibly can. We don’t want to let our opponents do what they do every day in practice. We want to make them feel uncomfortable. It is a mother-in-law defense, constant pressure and harassment. I love my mother-in-law. On offense, I want to take good shots and value the basketball. If we want to press and run and force 20-plus turnovers a game, it is going to do us no good to turn it over 20 times a game. We need to turn it over 12. If we force 20-plus and keep our number to 12, that’s a great differential and puts us in position to win. Bottom line is we are going to play extremely hard. We are going to give maximum effort and we are going to work with every ounce of perspiration in our body to make this University proud of the product we put on the floor.
“Lastly, I would say for me I think the greatest part about this program, and make no mistake, there are a lot of great things about this program; we have talked about past coaches, we’ve talked about winning championships and we have talked about some of the Hog greats, but the greatest thing about this program is that we have the most passionate fans in the country. I have seen the way you have followed your basketball team and I am so happy and excited to be a part of that. When I go into that arena, I no longer have to worry about what that sound is when the Razorbacks come in. I now know that I am going to be a part of that when you guys Call the Hogs, and I can not tell you how special that is. We need to get this state rallied back up. I want you to know that your style of play is back and that we are going to compete and play hard and get back to winning games and championships in the SEC. I know if we do that, it is going to put us in an unbelievable situation nationally. I am proud to be your coach, and I am looking forward to it.”