LITTLE ROCK — Decked out in shorts and a colorful button-down collar shirt, ESPN analyst Mark May dropped by a Little Rock radio station to talk a little football on Monday morning.
Off the air, there was a conversation about his blunt assessment of the Penn State mess and how his employer appreciated his honesty to the point of wanting May to weigh in on all things controversial in college football.
You know the man is candid when he tells several hundred football fans from Arkansas that if he had a son who was a top recruit, he would encourage the young man to go to Alabama and play for Nick Saban. He is the best at developing talent, May told the Little Rock Touchdown Club.
The Outland Trophy winner while at Pittsburgh, May was a good leadoff hitter for the TD Club. Before May was introduced, club president David Bazzel reviewed the lineup of speakers, including the interesting timing of UA coach John L. Smith on Sept. 24 and UA athletic director Jeff Long in mid-October. Smith will be 10 days post-Alabama and Long is up when Arkansas is halfway through its Southeastern Conference schedule.
May had high praise for Long, crediting the athletic director with putting UA football on the map nationally, for the way he handled the dismissal of Bobby Petrino, and for hiring Smith as a CEO to oversee the program. Asked about the next coach, May said “most of those big names, you can’t get them,” but that if Long zeroes in on somebody, he would pursue him like a “rabid dog.”
Tossing out names, May mentioned Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, Louisville coach Charlie Strong, Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, and Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. At our table, Smith’s successor received more attention than the upcoming season.
On the 2012 season, May said what Razorback fans want to hear, that Arkansas has a “road to the national championship.” Whether they heard his preamble, who knows.
He said Petrino left the cupboard full, but that he wanted to see running back Knile Davis get hit before the season opener, that the defense is still a question mark, and that the Razorbacks needed big plays from special teams. May noted that Arkansas would be favored in nine games and said fans should make sure the atmosphere is raucous for Alabama and LSU in Fayetteville.
He did say that he believed Alabama would win the SEC, that the loss of Tyrann Mathieu would hurt LSU severely, and that USC is thin on defense and has a weak schedule.
May had some fun with Lou Holtz, his foil on “Final Verdict” with robe-wearing Rece Davis, including word that the bit is never rehearsed. Holtz gets ticked when he loses, particularly after his golfing buddies in Florida chide him about being outdone by May. “Have you ever been threatened by a 73-year-old?” May asked.
Bazzel got the jump on May, playing the tape of a phone message supposedly from Holtz. Bazzel’s former coach said he would have liked to have been in Little Rock for the meeting, but that he has a busy schedule. “Mark May doesn’t,” the caller said.
May did say he and Holtz would be putting in about 16 hours each Saturday since the Pac-12 has promised a 10:30 p.m. kickoff every week and that there is a wrapup show to follow.
May encouraged questions and picked Tennessee as a possible surprise in the SEC. He said he is not a big fan of the new four-team playoff in college football, pointing out that a team that goes through the rugged SEC must still win a conference championship game and a semifinal game to reach the title game while a team in the Big 12 has an advantage since there is no conference title game.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.