It began as a coming-out party for a pair of Southeastern Conference debutants, Arkansas and South Carolina. It ended with newly minted Razorback coach Joe Kines being doused and carried off the field at Williams-Brice Stadium by his players. "A bath and a ride," said Kines, clutching the game ball he had just been presented. "Lucky me."
Unlucky South Carolina. "We ran into a buzz saw," said Gamecock coach Sparky Woods after the Razorbacks' 45-7 victory last Saturday. What they also ran into was the nation's most embarrassed team. A week earlier Arkansas had lost 10-3 to The Citadel, a Division I-AA school. The very next day Razorback athletic director Frank Broyles neatly deflected attention from the school's most humiliating defeat in 50 years by firing third-year coach Jack Crowe and replacing him with Kines, the team's defensive coordinator, an excitable, 18-year assistant with a penchant for folksy aphorisms.
How will Kines approach his new job? "My grandma used to say that life's hard when you take it by the yard," he replies. "Take it by the inch, it's a cinch."
SEC officials are loath to admit it, but Saturday night's game was a battle of unwanted stepchildren. When the conference decided to expand in 1990, it lusted first after Miami, which ultimately reaped a bonanza by joining the Big East instead. The SEC also coveted Florida State, but Seminole coach Bobby Bowden opted for life as a big fish in the somewhat smaller pond of the ACC. Texas A&M and then Texas were invited to join the league, but neither could disentangle itself from the Southwest Conference. When at last the SEC worked its way down to Arkansas, Broyles jumped. To round out its membership at an even dozen, which would allow it to split into two divisions and hold a lucrative annual playoff game, the SEC needed one more school. With time growing short and candidates scarce, it invited the lackluster Gamecocks aboard.
So move over, Vanderbilt, there's a new doormat in town. Maybe two, in fact. Against Arkansas the Gamecocks yielded nine sacks, five interceptions, an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 39-yard return of a bungled onside kick that led to the Razorbacks' final TD. "Coach Kines's excitement just rubbed off on us," said Arkansas quarterback Jason Allen. "Some people just have that ability."
And some don't. While opprobrium from coaches and columnists rained down on Broyles for the abrupt termination of the personable Crowe, one group was conspicuous by its lack of opposition to the personnel move: the Arkansas players. The night after the loss to The Citadel, when Kines was introduced to them as their interim head coach, the Razorbacks broke into applause. They closed that meeting by singing the school's fight song. "It was a very positive atmosphere," says linebacker Darwin Ireland. Crowe was already a fading memory.
Congregants at the 11:40 service at Fayetteville's Central United Methodist Church that morning had been the first to suspect that Crowe was in trouble. Broyles has not missed that service, unless sick or out of town, in 35 years. While the churchgoers noted his absence with knowing nods, Broyles was holed up in his living room with his kitchen cabinet—assistant athletic directors Wilson Matthews, Terry Don Phillips and Bill Gray, and Razorback Foundation president Chuck Dicus. Crowe, who had lost 15 of 24 games since Broyles appointed him coach in January 1990, was history.
Unaware that his fate had been determined, Crowe conducted his regular Sunday-afternoon press conference at the Broyles Athletic Complex. He was then summoned to Broyles's office, where he was handed a typed statement. It mentioned that by "mutual agreement" Crowe should step down. (Crowe has declined all interviews while he negotiates his compensation package—the Razorback Foundation is expected to pick up the tab of $84,000 for each of the five years remaining on his contract—but his lawyer, Thomas McCutcheon, says, "I will tell you this: Jack did not resign.")
Meanwhile, in Bud Walton Hall, the athletic dorm, most of the Razorbacks were taking in an NFL game. "The news went across the bottom of the TV screen, like they do with thunderstorm warnings," says guard Isaac Davis. "We all just walked into the hall in a state of shock."
Crowe was personally well liked by his players, but it was difficult to find a Razorback who would speak out against the firing—even off the record. Though he recruited well, when it came to motivating the players, says longtime Razorback watcher and local columnist Orville Henry, "Crowe is a good book, while Kines is Terminator 2." Says one assistant, "Jack didn't have the aura of head coach."