Back In SEC, Pelphrey Takes Over At Arkansas

Tuesday, April 10th 2007, 3:52 pm
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- John Pelphrey's return to the Southeastern Conference was a welcome sight at Arkansas.

This coach sounds ready to stick around.

"I played in the SEC and coached in the SEC as an assistant," Pelphrey said. "I have an unbelievable comfort coming here. This is a place that I know a lot about."

Pelphrey took over the Razorbacks' basketball program Monday, a week after Dana Altman was hired. Altman backed out the next day and returned to Creighton.

Chancellor John A. White referenced Yogi Berra's remarks about it being "deja vu all over again" -- but he said, this time, Arkansas' coach is here to stay.

"Don't plan on coming to a press conference next Monday," White said. "Enough's enough."

Pelphrey coached at South Alabama the past five seasons, but he has plenty of SEC ties. He played for Kentucky under Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino and was an assistant at Florida.

Pelphrey was introduced at a news conference similar to Altman's a week earlier, but Pelphrey looked a lot more comfortable partaking in Arkansas' traditional "Pig Sooie" call.

"That cheer has never sounded so sweet," the 38-year-old Pelphrey said. "It's always been a little intimidating before."

Pelphrey's college playing career ended with one of the most memorable games in NCAA tournament history. He was standing a few feet from Christian Laettner when the Duke star made his famous buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 regional finals.

"Well that's the greatest game according to the Duke fans," Pelphrey joked. "Not to me."

After that, Pelphrey became an assistant at Oklahoma State and Marshall before heading to Florida, where he was an assistant from 1996-02. Pelphrey then went 80-67 in five seasons at South Alabama, including 44-19 the past two seasons. The Jaguars made the NCAA tournament in 2006.

Arkansas was without a coach after Stan Heath was fired March 26. The Razorbacks looked at some big-name coaches -- including Bill Self of Kansas and Billy Gillispie, who left Texas A&M to take over at Kentucky. Arkansas also received permission to talk to Memphis coach John Calipari.

Altman's startling reversal led Arkansas to enlist a search firm to help find a coach, and Pelphrey apparently became a more serious candidate once the Kentucky job was filled.

"He would not talk to us until after the Kentucky job," Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles said. "We knew he was on Kentucky's short list because the same firm was handling us and them."

Pelphrey, though, says he doesn't view Arkansas as a stopover. He even poked a bit of fun at Kentucky's famously demanding fans.

"If I was the Kentucky coach, the moment I hit the ground I'd be a complete idiot," he said. "That would tarnish what I did as a player there. This is the best situation for me and my family right here."

Patrick Beverley, the sharp-shooting guard who was the SEC newcomer of the year this season, sought to quell transfer speculation. He said he'll stay at Arkansas.

"When I signed my letter of intent to play for Arkansas, I didn't sign to play for any particular coach," Beverley said. "I signed to play for the University of Arkansas."

The basketball coaching search wasn't the only drama. After Altman's change of heart, Arkansas issued a release saying two basketball players had tested positive for marijuana and one was under academic suspension.

The Razorbacks went 21-14 last season and made the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Although that wasn't enough to save Heath's job, hopes are high for next season -- Arkansas had no seniors in 2006-07.

The Razorbacks won the 1994 national championship under Richardson, playing a style dubbed "40 Minutes of Hell." The program has slipped from those heights. After Richardson's firing, Heath went 82-71 in five seasons at Arkansas. Heath has taken the South Florida job.

"Obviously, I have had a chance to be a part of some very successful teams as both a player and a coach in this league," Pelphrey said. "If you can compete in this league, in the SEC, then you can compete nationally. I wanted the opportunity to have a chance to put a team together. I know at the University of Arkansas you can compete for SEC championships and if we can compete in the SEC then we can compete nationally."