Wash­burn thank­ful for UA

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - CLAY HENRY

It has been nearly 20 years since Jim Wash­burn turned off the re­cruit­ing road, but he’s un­changed on what he thinks is the an­swer for Ar­kan­sas to win in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence: hit East Texas as hard as pos­si­ble.

When a re­porter re­cently reached Wash­burn via tele­phone, the re­tired NFL coach was walk­ing his dog on his farm near Santa Fe, Tenn., south­west of Nashville. There are daily thoughts about his coach­ing ca­reer, in­clud­ing one of his fa­vorite stops, a four-year stint with the Ra­zor­backs un­der Danny Ford that ended in De­cem­ber 1997.

“I al­ways think about my time at Ar­kan­sas,” Wash­burn said. “How could I not? It was the big­gest break in my life. It saved my coach­ing ca­reer. I pray and I give thanks for Ar­kan­sas.”

Ford, who coached at Clem­son, knew of Wash­burn, who had been at South Carolina. Ford hired his

one-time ri­val to help re­build the foot­ball for­tunes at Ar­kan­sas.

Without ques­tion, Wash­burn’s abil­ity as a coach and re­cruiter was a big part of what got the Hogs go­ing in the SEC. Wash­burn landed some top re­cruits in East Texas to help the Hogs win the SEC West in 1995.

Wash­burn said it’s the fer­tile re­cruit­ing grounds along U.S. 59 from Texarkana to Hous­ton that ought to be the first out­side-the-state tar­get for Ar­kan­sas coaches.

“Just put ev­ery one of your coaches on that high­way, 30 miles on ei­ther side of it,” Wash­burn said. “You hit that hard, I think you can win a na­tional cham­pi­onship with that tal­ent. It’s amaz­ing.”

Wash­burn signed sev­eral dozen from that area. He will never for­get the com­mit­ment of three from that area in Jan­uary 1996 — while they were on a re­cruit­ing trip to Texas A&M.

“Kenoy Kennedy, Randy Gar­ner and Bryan Smith were all picked up on the same jet for a trip to A&M,” Wash­burn said. “My of­fice phone rang that Satur­day af­ter­noon. It was Kenoy. He said he had some news for me. I fig­ured this was go­ing to be bad news.”

It wasn’t. All three had de­cided on the plane ride to A&M that they re­ally didn’t want to make the trip be­cause they were go­ing to be Ra­zor­backs.

“One of the A&M coaches had left them in his of­fice for a few min­utes, so they called me,” Wash­burn said. “I’ll never for­get it. Bryan Smith didn’t stay at Ar­kan­sas, but Kenoy and Randy both were great play­ers.

“I still say that Kenoy had the sin­gle best high school video I’d ever seen. He hit this guy on the dead run and his hel­met popped off and went back­ward 15 yards. I can still see it. Kenoy was a lit­tle Steve At­wa­ter, just a great player.

“You can get a whole bunch like him just go­ing up and down U.S. 59. I know it be­cause I did. Just work the re­la­tion­ships there. You’ll get them to Ar­kan­sas.”

Wash­burn was not re­tained by Hous­ton Nutt in the tran­si­tion in De­cem­ber 1997. He says he un­der­stands.

“Hous­ton didn’t know me,” Wash­burn said. “Why would he have kept me? I wouldn’t have kept some­one I didn’t know. But, I be­lieve this: I was about to hit a home run in East Texas that win­ter. I’d been work­ing that ground for four years and I was about to com­mit the best play­ers in that re­gion. There were about 10 to 15 in the top 100. I could go up against Texas and Texas A&M in re­cruit­ing and win. I was win­ning that year, about to win big.

“But Hous­ton had his staff. He knew his coaches. They’d been with him. That’s what you do.”

It worked out for Wash­burn. He worked one year at Hous­ton be­fore latch­ing on with the Ten­nessee Ti­tans, who he coached in Su­per Bowl XXXIV. There were also stints with the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, Detroit Lions and Mi­ami Dol­phins.

“I worked last year with the Dol­phins and de­cided to

come back here to Nashville,” he said. “We’ve got a home there and the farm here in Santa Fe. We are about to sell the house in Nashville.

“A pen­sion from 18 years in the NFL is pretty good. I took the lump sum pay­ment. If I’m smart, I can make it the rest of my life on this.”

Wash­burn prob­a­bly doesn’t de­serve what he got in his first try in big-time col­lege coach­ing. He was one of four coaches at South Carolina hit with charges for dis­tribut­ing steroids in a scan­dal that rocked the col­lege foot­ball land­scape. He took a plea of three months at a halfway house.

But the real fall­out was that he was black­balled from col­le­giate coach­ing. He bounced around the Arena League and with the Lon­don Mon­archs of the World League un­til Dick Ver­meil took up his cause.

“I was de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor with the Lon­don Mon­archs and I sucked,” Wash­burn said. “I’m a de­fen­sive line coach, pure and sim­ple. But I got lucky. Ver­meil came over to work some of our games. He stayed with us for one week and he liked me.

“Dick was work­ing with Coach (Frank) Broyles on the ABC broad­casts. He told Coach Broyles to take a chance on me. He said, ‘Frank, he’s a con­victed felon, but you need to hire him. I’ll vouch for him.’ He did.”

It ac­tu­ally didn’t work out at first.

“The first year they had a job, Coach Broyles couldn’t get it done,” Wash­burn said. “It hap­pened the next year. Of course, Danny is the one who wanted me, but it took Coach Broyles go­ing to bat.”

Pre­sum­ably, Broyles had to con­vince some with both Ar­kan­sas and the NCAA that Wash­burn de­served a sec­ond chance.

“I will be thank­ful to the peo­ple of Ar­kan­sas — and that starts with Frank Broyles — for the rest of my life,” Wash­burn said. “I was driv­ing a truck haul­ing food for hogs. I had got­ten in trou­ble, out of big-time coach­ing. Frank saved me.

“I owe ev­ery­thing I’ve got to Coach Broyles. Please write that be­cause it’s true. Now it’s also true that Danny wanted me, but he couldn’t make it hap­pen without Coach Broyles.”

Iron­i­cally, Ford and Wash­burn were bit­ter ri­vals from their time in the Pal­metto State.

“We re­cruited against each other,” Wash­burn said. “I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me, but we got over it.”

Wash­burn gave Ford a “thank you” phone call last win­ter after re­tir­ing.

“I’d gone back to Columbia, S. C., for the fu­neral for Billy Michael, a for­mer cap­tain for Coach Broyles at Ar­kan­sas,” Wash­burn said. “Billy was one of my men­tors.”

Wash­burn said it’s amaz­ing how Broyles keeps pop­ping up in his life.

“So my wife and I are at Billy’s fu­neral, guess who does the eu­logy?” Wash­burn said. “It’s Barry Switzer. He started talk­ing about what it means to be a Ra­zor­back and telling sto­ries about what hap­pened in Fayet­teville. He and Billy were close.”

Michael was on the staff with Wash­burn at South Carolina.

“When I went through the

steroid deal, Billy spoke for me in front of the grand jury,” Wash­burn said. “He was about one of the few friends I had in coach­ing who stood up for me.

“That’s why I say Ra­zor­backs are like no oth­ers. My wife and I keep say­ing that. We were re­minded of that lis­ten­ing to Switzer talk at Billy’s fu­neral. No one else talks about their school quite like a Ra­zor­back does.”

Wash­burn is proud to be a part of the first SEC West ti­tle for the Hogs. He still mar­vels at that 1995 de­fense co­or­di­nated by Joe Lee Dunn.

“Joe Lee was a ge­nius,” he said. “He could have been suc­cess­ful as a doc­tor or a lawyer, he was that smart. What he did with our de­fense was re­mark­able.”

Wash­burn said Dunn had a unique style.

“He didn’t wear head­sets,” Wash­burn said. “He called it all from the side­lines. He saw things that no one else could see from the side­line.

“What he’d do that was so tough to de­fend was send two blitzers through the same gap. He’d over­load an area.

“Go back and watch tape of what he did to get Steve Con­ley free on the edge. Steve had 14 sacks, sec­ond in the na­tion in ’95. You couldn’t dou­ble-team him be­cause of the other things that were go­ing on.”

It was a style that some thought too risky.

“You have rules in coach­ing,” Wash­burn said. “You’ve heard them, stay wider than the widest, deeper than the deep­est. Joe Lee broke ev­ery one of those rules.”

The magic wasn’t just in Xs and Os, but was what hap­pened in train­ing camp. Dunn’s Au­gust work­outs were bru­tal, but his de­fenses were in won­der­ful con­di­tion.

“Joe Lee called them ‘Packer Days,’” Wash­burn said. “He fash­ioned them from what Vince Lom­bardi did at Green Bay. He started the prac­tice with three min­utes of up-downs, then two min­utes of 40-yard runs. Then, after a few days, it would be three-and-a-half min­utes of up-downs and 1:45 of 40s. He added to it un­til we’d do 15 min­utes of up-downs in fast pace.

“Any­one who ever par­tic­i­pated in Packer Days will never for­get them. I took them to Hous­ton with me that next year. It worked.” Would it work to­day? “I don’t think so,” Wash­burn said. “This is a dif­fer­ent day. That was in a day when you could wear out a player. Coaches are afraid of play­ers now.”

Some coaches are afraid of the L word — that stands for love with Wash­burn. It’s the way he coached, build­ing re­la­tion­ships in re­cruit­ing and on the field. He made sure to bring it up when talk­ing about Broyles.

“Do you see him?” Wash­burn said. “Can you give him a mes­sage for me? Tell him I love him and I thank him ev­ery day for what I’ve got. It’s be­cause of him.

“Coach Broyles called me that day (in De­cem­ber 1997) and told me to come home from re­cruit­ing. I guess some­one would say that was tough, that I was go­ing to get fired. I couldn’t be mad at him. He got me started again. I love him.”

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