Senior Writer

Win or lose, Pelphrey saves job with elite recruits


There are two sure-bet ways for a college coach to keep his job.

One is to produce wins.

The other is to create hope.

Arkansas coach John Pelphrey should be off the hot seat after a solid recruiting job this summer. (US Presswire)  
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey should be off the hot seat after a solid recruiting job this summer. (US Presswire)  
In a perfect world, a coach will do both -- win at a high level so the present is great while recruiting at a high level so the future also looks terrific. Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Ohio State's Thad Matta and Villanova's Jay Wright are a few who meet both criteria. That's why they've been and will continue to be gainfully employed. They don't deal with hot seats because they recruit well and win big, almost without exception.

Which brings me to Arkansas' John Pelphrey.

His pants have been uncomfortably warm for a while now. He recorded nearly twice as many SEC losses (30) as wins (18) through three seasons, zero commitments from top 60 national recruits (according to, and endured countless off-the-court issues, too. It's been rough for the former Florida assistant who led South Alabama to consecutive 20-win seasons before moving to Arkansas after Dana Altman decided that, on second thought, he had no interest in moving to Arkansas. But the good news for Pelphrey is that things are now getting better, or at least calmer, in Fayetteville -- not because his winning percentage has improved this offseason, but because he's using the recruiting trail to create hope and the belief that better days are on the way.

"Right now I'm choosing to go to the University of Arkansas," Rashad 'Ky' Madden said at a Wednesday press conference, and, somewhere I'm certain, Pelphrey and his staff smiled because they know that 11-word sentence equated to a contract extension. Madden is ranked 27th at, 30th at and 43rd at, and he's the fourth top 100 prospect from the Class of 2011 to commit to the Razorbacks. So disregard what you might have read in one of those preseason magazines that's still on news stands despite being printed months ago. John Pelphrey is not on the hot seat because there's no way an athletic director with a brain is firing a coach before this recruiting class enrolls, which means Pelphrey will be the coach at Arkansas for the 2011-12 season regardless of what happens in 2010-11.

Provided he doesn't lie to the NCAA, of course.

Something like that -- something scandalous and rule-breaking -- is the only thing that could derail Pelphrey. I'm not predicting he'll coach at Arkansas forever, and I'm not even predicting on-the-court success; coaches have, after all, lost with better recruits than these. All I'm telling you is that Madden's commitment stacked on top of the commitments of B.J. Young (No. 49 at, Hunter Mickelson (No. 55 at and Aaron Ross (No. 90 at bought Pelphrey another year of patience, at least, if for no other reason than that firing Pelphrey after this season would almost certainly lead to the members of this heralded recruiting class enrolling elsewhere, and that's not something anybody at Arkansas desires.

So it doesn't matter if the Hogs lose every game this season, doesn't matter if the administration loses faith in its coach. John Pelphrey will be at Arkansas for at least another two years. That's the real story of Wednesday's press conference that unveiled this week's biggest recruiting news to date.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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