‘What have you heard?’


I don’t write sports, the highest calling in the unholy field of journalism, because the only sport I really care about is baseball and to write about baseball as my baseball-writing heroes — the two Rogers, Angell of The New Yorker and Kahn of wherever he is published, chief among them — do so transcendentally requires not only more talent and brains than ever I shall possess but a more profound understanding of the game and of humanity than I have time to acquire; and something else: a deep and abiding love of poetry. Me, I like limericks, preferably bawdy. As did Ben Franklin, so there. And bad sportswriting, about baseball or any other pastime, is the worst writing to be found anywhere save the Susan Sontag shelf at your local library.

In the apparent estimation of many people, however, writing about politics and policy or business or science automatically guarantees that anyone in the word trade has some insight into the greater mysteries of the universe. And chief among them, of late: who will be the next Razorback football coach?

“What have you heard?” a corporate lawyer (and not even a UA grad) whispered the other day at lunch.

“Nothing,” I replied. He stared at me, disbelieving. Surely I knew something.

Same with a neighbor, a retired biotechnical researcher.

“Heard anything?”

“Only what you have, I suppose. You know, the Ole Miss stuff, what’s-his-name, Miles?”

“So it’s Miles?” he gasped.

“No. I mean, I don’t know.” When my neighbor’s only response was to arch his eyebrows, I said it again: “I don’t know. Honest.”

Okay, I know a few people in Fayetteville, and although none of them have anything directly to do with the athletic program there I called a couple of them, the ones I guessed would be in a position to learn something before me. Both assured me they had not the first clue. Bizarrely, one of them asked what I thought would happen when the General Assembly, with its new Republican majorities, sits in January. I told him the House and Senate had new head coaches and, beyond that, I hadn’t a clue.

“Well, if you hear anything let me know,” he asked.

“Oh, I suppose there’ll be some kind of deal on Medicaid,” I sighed, at my desk in Little Rock.

“No,” he said, from Fayetteville. “I mean about the Hogs, the coach.”

I thought to tell him that I had heard the next coach would cost a lot of money. But I suspected he knew as much, as the last coach collected north of $800,000 for a single interesting season; his predecessor was on track to bank perhaps $5 million, maybe more, all bonuses and emoluments and endorsements considered, until he left the track and went over an embankment.

Hey, the University’s athletic director, Jeff Long, the guy who’s looking for the next coach, Ahab searching the seas for the White Whale — he just got smooched by the powers that be, a pay raise that takes his base salary to $750,000. His incentive package was jacked up, too, so a really good Razorback year would carry him to $1.2 million. Nothing to get excited about, that, since the Arkansas AD’s new, higher wage makes him only the fifth best-paid of his 13 peers in the Southeastern Conference. At almost $2.6 million in salary, Vanderbilt’s AD (repeat — not the head coach, the AD) gets about five times Long’s draw.

I went on the Internet to learn what Gregory Peck was paid for Moby Dick only to have my hopes sink. I did determine that the film, including cost overruns, required $4.4 million. But those were 1956, Southwest Conference dollars.

In the District of Columbia Conference, where the push is on to hold down spending, Athletic Director Barack Obama is trying to decide who to hire as head coach of the State Department, where the pay is less than $200,000. Mr. Obama has a similar job coming open at the CIA, where the head job pays only $168,000. And he wonders why it’s hard to find good people.

I’m going to call a guy I know who covers politics on Capitol Hill, ask him if he knows anything. Then wait for him to ask me if I’ve heard anything.

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Steve Barnes, a native of Pine Bluff, is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.