FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- John Pelphrey was introduced as
Arkansas' new basketball coach Monday -- and he says he'll still be
Arkansas' new coach when he goes to sleep Tuesday night.
"I'm not going anywhere," Pelphrey said. "But I have heard
the first day is the toughest."
Pelphrey arrived a week after Dana Altman took over the
Razorbacks. Altman backed out the next day and returned to
Chancellor John A. White referenced Yogi Berra's remarks about
it being "deja vu all over again" -- but he said this time,
Arkansas' coach is here to stay.
"Don't plan on coming to a press conference next Monday,"
White said. "Enough's enough."
Pelphrey coached at South Alabama the last five seasons, but he
has plenty of Southeastern Conference ties. He played for Kentucky
under Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino and was an assistant at Florida.
Pelphrey was introduced at a news conference similar to Altman's
a week earlier, but Pelphrey looked a lot more comfortable
partaking in Arkansas' traditional "Pig Sooie" call.
"That cheer has never sounded so sweet," the 38-year-old
Pelphrey said. "It's always been a little intimidating before."
Pelphrey's college playing career ended with one of the most
memorable games in NCAA tournament history. He was standing a few
feet from Christian Laettner when the Duke star made his famous
buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 round of eight.
"Well that's the greatest game according to the Duke fans,"
Pelphrey joked. "Not to me."
After that, Pelphrey became an assistant at Oklahoma State and
Marshall before heading to Florida, where he was an assistant from
1996-02. Pelphrey then went 80-67 in five seasons at South Alabama,
including 44-19 the last two seasons. The Jaguars made the NCAA
tournament in 2006.
Arkansas was without a coach after Stan Heath was fired March
26. The Razorbacks eyed some big-name coaches -- including Bill Self
of Kansas and Billy Gillispie, who left Texas A&M to take over at
Kentucky. Arkansas also received permission to talk to Memphis
coach John Calipari.
Altman's startling reversal led Arkansas to enlist a search firm
to help find a coach, and Pelphrey apparently became a more serious
candidate once the Kentucky job was filled.
"He would not talk to us until after the Kentucky job,"
Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles said. "We knew he was on
Kentucky's short list because the same firm was handling us and
Pelphrey, though, says he doesn't view Arkansas as a stopover.
He even poked a bit of fun at Kentucky's famously demanding fans.
"If I was the Kentucky coach, the moment I hit the ground I'd
be a complete idiot," he said. "That would tarnish what I did as
a player there. This is the best situation for me and my family
Broyles was so impressed with Pelphrey he even cited Nolan
Richardson, the former Arkansas coach who was fired amid plenty of
acrimony in 2002.
"Nolan Richardson had a great quote the other day in the
paper," Broyles said. "He said you don't hire a coach and make
him fit. You hire someone who fits the job."
Pelphrey is well-versed in Arkansas history. He played for
Sutton, a former Arkansas coach, and was an assistant on Sutton's
staff at Oklahoma State. During his speech, Pelphrey mentioned the
1978 Razorbacks, who went to the Final Four under Sutton.
Also endearing to Arkansas fans is Pelphrey's plan for up-tempo
"It's a mother-in-law defense," he said. "Constant pressure
Tom Ostrom, an assistant on Pelphrey's staff at South Alabama,
will join him at Arkansas.
Patrick Beverley, the sharp-shooting guard who was the SEC
newcomer of the year this season, sought to quell transfer
speculation. He said he'll stay at Arkansas.
"When I signed my letter of intent to play for Arkansas, I
didn't sign to play for any particular coach," Beverley said. "I
signed to play for the University of Arkansas."
Arkansas' athletic program has been in a bit of turmoil lately.
Coach Houston Nutt's football team went 10-4 last season, but the
Razorbacks' offensive coordinator left after one season, and prized
freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain is set to transfer.
The basketball coaching search only added to the drama. After
Altman's change of heart, Arkansas issued a release saying two
basketball players had tested positive for marijuana and one was
under academic suspension.
Broyles, 82, announced in February he will retire at the end of
But Pelphrey will have an early chance to invigorate the fan
base. The Razorbacks went 21-14 last season and made the NCAA
tournament for the second straight year. Although that wasn't
enough to save Heath's job, hopes are high for next season --
Arkansas had no seniors in 2006-07.
The Razorbacks won the 1994 national championship under
Richardson, playing a style dubbed "40 Minutes of Hell." The
program has slipped from those heights. After Richardson's firing,
Heath went 82-71 in five seasons at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks were 43-24 over the last two years but still
haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1999. Heath has taken the
South Florida job.
"We need to get this state rallied back up," Pelphrey said.
"I want you to know that your style of play is back, and we're
going to compete and play hard and get back to winning games and
try to compete for championships in the SEC. We know if we do that,
it's going to put us in an unbelievable situation nationally."