State of the Hogs: Ford Unchanged

Danny Ford was his typical self Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas TD Club -- southern charm and football wisdom.

Danny Ford brought a speech to the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. It was a book he found in a store room where he'd kept his dogs on his farm in South Carolina. The cover was gone and dogs left other stained areas. The book was in sad shape altogether.

Ford didn't say it, but it sounded like the book, interviews with Bear Bryant's former players, was the way he found the Arkansas program when he became football coach at the end of the 1992 season. It's a new shiny Arkansas program that Ford sees today. He's proud to be a small part of the history.

Ford was the final speaker for the NWA Touchdown Club's first fall series of meetings. He read the back cover of the book as part of his 30-minute talk at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale. Ford was at his typical southern best Wednesday and generated two standing ovations from the crowd of around 250.

"I'm glad to see this club starting here," Ford said. "It's a good group with young people running it. That's what you have to get, lots of young people involved. They have had one of these touchdown clubs in Atlanta for years, but it's dying off. They have 85 members now. This one looks good to me."

Ford was greeted by about 15 of his former players at the meeting. Many hung around afterwards to get pictures taken with Ford. They shared stories together, most of which can't be printed.

They talked more about the tough times and rugged practices than their run to the SEC West title in 1995. Ford admitted that Auburn coach Terry Bowden was in error in not running Stephen Davis more when the Hogs knocked out the Tigers in Little Rock.

"That's the truth, sometimes coaches outsmart themselves," Ford said. "But these men, what they did in 1995, they were the first from Arkansas to go to the SEC title game. No one can ever take that away from them."

The players loved that part of Ford's talk, but afterwards remembered some more personal words. Grant Garrett recalled one printable Ford pre-game speech.

"I can remember before the Vandy game in the pre-game talk, you told us, 'Be nice to these guys today. Some day 90 percent of you boys will be working for those guys on the other team,' " Garrett said. "I thought, what kinda thing is that to tell us just before we go play."

Russell Brown said that's not as bad as the pre-game encouragement he got from Ford before an Alabama game.

"They had a defensive tackle, Sheldon Brown," Brown said. "I was stretching and Coach Ford came by and pointed him out to me and patted me on the helmet. He said, 'Brown, see that guy. He's going to whip you all over the field today.' Yeah, great encouragement. I did alright, though."

Ford laughed, "Yeah, I really think it's about right, just alright.' You'd like to remember them doing better than just alright."

Ford looked for Lunney in the crowd to make a special comment to the former quarterback.

"I'm glad you are here," Ford said. "I hope you don't still hate me. I made a decision one time to start another quarterback. You'd been the quarterback, started a lot of games. I thought I knew what to do, but I was wrong. I broke your string of starts with someone else and I was wrong.

"What you find out is that when you are coaching, sometimes you make a mistake. I hope you understand that now as a coach."

Lunney and Ford hugged before they all sat down in a circle afterwards.

"Coach Ford, we were lost when you got here," Lunney said. "We didn't have SEC players. I remember looking down at Alabama in that first real SEC game in Little Rock. We weren't the same as what they had. And it was like that for quite a few more games against SEC teams. We didn't have SEC players.

"And we were soft. We were tough when you got through with us. You made us tough."

During his time at the microphone, Ford said he didn't intend to stay at Arkanas when Joe Kines asked him to Fayetteville on an interim basis. In fact, he knew little about the state or the school.

"I thought the school was in the center of the state," Ford said. "Come to find out, it was a little tiny school, not a great big school like I thought. I thought it was bigger than Alabama or Auburn. And it was located 30 miles from Oklahoma and 30 miles from Missouri. They didn't have much as far as facilities. They didn't have much here at all. I flew in over some chicken houses and was surprised at what was here.

"That was my fault because I didn't know any history, or anything about it here. But we got to work and started getting it changed.

"The players here, these men, didn't have the advantages that some of those around the SEC have now, or what they have here now. But they helped get it this way here. They should be proud of that.

"Now it looks like an SEC school here now. The team looks like an SEC team, too. To be honest, South Carolina was the same way until the last two years. They finally look like an SEC team now. But you guys here, took care of South Carolina pretty good this year.

"I think what the coach here is doing is pretty good. He's got it going. He does some things different than everyone else. He passes it. He's different than the teams in the SEC that run it a lot. So he will have some advantages. He sure passes it more than we did and what the others have done here. And that's going to help the program. He's real good at it.

"But these men here, the players who came here today, they laid the foundation for what is going on right now."

Ford, as usual, made fun of himself.

"Ya'll are in bad, bad shape here in Arkansas to need a speaker like me," he said. "But I'm tickled to death to be here. I thought I was going to write a speech, but I didn't do a whole lot. I just brought this little book with me and thought I'd read some from it.

"The dog ate off the cover. But I decided to read it today. I had time coming here. It's a good book. Bear Bryant is one of your own. He's from Arkansas and he talks about Arkansas a lot in it.

"It says right here on the back cover ... you guys don't want me to make a talk on motivation ... but here it says, 'Always have a plan and always have a backup plan. Be totally prepared. Don't let anyone outwork you and never quit.' That's all there was to it. That's what Coach Bryant said.

"The other thing I'll tell you, coaching doesn't have to be about the fancy Xs and Os. Don't matter. It's not what you are doing, it's nothing more than relationships."

Ford was the youngest to win the national championship when he led Clemson to the title at age 31.

"The older I get, the more I realized I maybe got into coaching too early," he said. "They pay a lot more money now."

There were some other philosophy lessons.

"What happened here, I know we lost a lot of games," he said. "But I'm still glad to have been here. I don't know if you say I was fired or resigned. I've had that happen two times and doesn't really matter which way you say it. It's nobody's fault and everyone is to blame.

"But I see where Arkansas is today. Arkansas is on the right track to stay and contend every year. I see how proud you are right now. Hopefully, I had a little part and know there's still a long ways to go."

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