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Sign of spring
Down in Arkansas
There was a furious buzzing of anger and criticism through much of the South recently, and indeed through much of the country, when Football Coach Bowden Wyatt broke his contract with the University of Arkansas in order to become head coach at the more highly esteemed (football-wise) University of Tennessee. Wyatt had had a fabulously successful year at Arkansas, guiding a team that many thought would finish last in the Southwest Conference (and which actually did finish last statistically in defense and offense) to the Southwest Conference championship and into the Cotton Bowl. His followers in Arkansas showed their appreciation of Wyatt's coaching ability by raising $20,000 for him and his assistants and by giving him a new Cadillac. The university altered his five-year contract with the necessary approval of the Arkansas legislature, and raised his salary from $12,000 to $15,000. Shortly thereafter, despite raise, contract, Cadillac and several stout denials, Wyatt left Arkansas and went to Tennessee, just as he had, two years earlier, left a 10-year contract at the University of Wyoming to go to Arkansas.
There was instant criticism of his act in many quarters, though others condoned it. Arkansas itself, with certain notable exceptions ("I hope his Cadillac breaks down before he gets across the Arkansas line"), was not as critical generally as other states where a sense of outraged justice was perhaps more acute.
Nevertheless, disapproval of Wyatt's contract breaking was widespread, and when Jack Mitchell, brilliant young coach at the University of Wichita, quit his contract (a 10-year one, newly granted) and took his new car (a Buick—Wichita is not so large a school as Arkansas) and left to take over Wyatt's post at Arkansas, the criticism grew. College coaches in general, with Wyatt and Mitchell serving as the particulars, were belabored in speech and print for their seemingly carefree attitude toward written contracts. In Kansas, Wichita's President Harry Corbin said, "I am thoroughly disappointed. I feel a little naive." In Little Rock, capital of Arkansas, the Arkansas state senate introduced to them Senate Resolution No. 1, which was intended as official criticism and censure of Wyatt "for his act of faithlessness, disloyalty and lack of consideration for the people of Arkansas."
At this point the whole affair began to resemble a particularly preposterous op�ra bouffe, what with college presidents and state legislatures involved so emotionally in football matters. People seeing the name " Arkansas" in connection with the farce recalled that this, after all, was Bazooka Bob Burns's state, that the storied Ozarks, home of comic strip hero Snuffy Smith, were in Arkansas, that a famous old joke book was entitled On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw.
But Arkansas promptly rallied around and capably demonstrated that there are, despite all the old and limping jokes, people in Arkansas who do not play the bazooka, talk like Snuffy Smith or act like back-country bumpkins. John Tyler Caldwell, president of the University of Arkansas, made this thoughtful and provocative observation on Wyatt's abrupt rejection of his contract:
"It is unfortunate that any contract can be treated as a one-way application. It-is true, however, that the making of contracts with football coaches developed as a protection of the coach against the oftentimes extreme demands of fans and supporters. Realistically, such contracts did not come into being as a protection to the institutions and have never been so respected."
The Arkansas legislature then effectively bottled up the censure resolution in committee and counteracted its effect by passing other resolutions publicly praising Bowden Wyatt and his team and pledging support to the new coach. A day or two later, in a somewhat more serious mood, the Arkansas House adopted House Resolution No. 6, which pointed out that "In recent years the original purposes of the University of Arkansas have been deemphasized in the favor of certain manly arts directed to the glorification of brawn and subtle mayhem" and extended to the faculty of the university "sincere congratulations for having been able to conduct classes, confer degrees and maintain some semblance of academic purity in the face of competition for the aforementioned manly arts; and the faculty further be commended for its attempts to adhere to the original purposes for which the university was founded in the face of astounding disparity of salaries between academic and athletic staffs."
Arkansas was back in business, Bowden Wyatt forgotten, football coaches' contracts properly evaluated; football itself put in its proper place, and the people of the state once again as perky, cocky and alert as Arkansas' symbol, the fast-moving, far-ranging razorback hog.