Raiding the Lost Arth

Tom, I hardly knew ya. To tell the truth I never tried and I don’t care you’re gone. Chattanooga Mocs head football coach, Tom Arth it was announced recently that he stepped down from his job and was taking the head coaching job at the University of Akron (The Zips – and I thought our politically correct mascot was stupid).

When the 2019 football season takes place the Chattanooga Mocs will be on their third coach in four years. Arth never impressed me. He was never on my radar to coach in Chattanooga and to tell the truth he never should have been. That’s the school’s fault and apparently failed philosophy. Russ Huesman should still be the coach of the Mocs. Maybe it’s sour grapes on my part but I don’t care. Hiring Arth on the heels of Huesman’s resignation was settling. The school spent little time after the surprise resignation wasting no time in hiring Arth who admittedly had three very successful seasons as head coach at his alma mater, John Carroll University. John Carroll, you see is a Division III school. Not a Division II or even another FCS school, but a DIII. While some of you may say that doesn’t matter. To me it does.

Chattanooga tried putting lipstick on a pig trying to hype up the hire of Arth by promoting the fact he was Peyton Manning’s backup in Indianapolis. After that was promoted, rumors swirled that Manning, who has property in Ooltewah may come by a visit the team since his old backup was coaching. Truth be told, Arth was never really Manning’s backup.

The new Akron coach was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Colts in 2003 and lasted three seasons with the team. Never at any time did Arth spend time on the active roster. That would be like me saying I had dinner with Manning because ate at the same restaurant at the same time, table apart. It’s stretching the truth and to be honest a sad way for the school to justify putting literally no effort into finding a well qualified replacement for Huesman, who took a football program at Chattanooga on the verge of being dropped and turned it into a top ten FCS program in eight years, once making it to the quarterfinals of the playoffs. Huesman’s last four seasons as head coach saw the football program finish in the polls in the Top 20 and two of those years in the Top 10. At one point in the 2016 season the team had risen to three in the nation, but a few late season collapses stopped them from getting any higher. And while they never made it to a championship game, when they lost in the playoffs, they were respectable games that they were never out of and the losses were one-possession games.

Since 1980 the administration has failed the football program minus the hiring of Huesman and since 1996 they have failed the men’s basketball program. And to be quite honest to you I’m beginning to wonder about the women’s basketball hire of Katie Burrows, whom I enjoyed many seasons watching her play for the team during their so-called “glory days” of the early 2000s – a period that lasted until a year or two ago when you saw a fundamental downturn in the basketball program. After Wes Moore left for greener pastures a number of years ago (I actually beg to differ that actually), it seemed great that legendary ladies basketball coach Jim Foster stepped in. The only problem with the Foster hire, even though he was theoretically a step up from Moore (up for debate), you knew it was kind of a stopgap until a long time replacement could be found for the program. Foster was in the twilight of his coaching career, as it was nearing an end as he was 65 years old when he was hired to fill Moore’s large shoes. Admittedly he did well doing so, but you knew the school was on borrowed time with him.

I hope the current season that currently sees the team fivew games under .500, something I never recall ever seeing the ladies being. I realize the season is still relatively young and there are a whole lot of games to be played. I’m hoping this season if it ends as it started will mirror Murray Arnold’s first season coaching the men’s team that finished 13-14, at that time a shock for fans of the team. And we all know what happened the next season and beyond under Arnold. But I digress; we’re talking football, although all programs have the same problem.

Yes, while I realize that Chattanooga is the “little brother (or sister) to the Knoxville campus, there is no reason why those in charge should have that same mentality. If it weren’t for the school there would be literally no reason to go to Knoxville. Even music promoters are bringing more shows to Chattanooga than there. As was radio and TV in the ‘70s and ‘80s the Mocs sports programs have been thought of and actually marketed as a transitional city. No one coaches here unless they are on the way up or down the coaching food chain for some reason. And that is downright stupid.

Joe Morrison is the first football coach to prove the school was more than just some small college team – at least until he got bought away by New Mexico State (who?) and later South Carolina. No one expected much when he took over. Chattanooga (UTC) was a small player with their claim to fame defeating the Volunteers in Knoxville in 1958. Under Morrison the team not only became respectable, but feared in many circles. They joined the Southern Conference under him going from a Division II to Division IA and ran all over them and most of their opponents and putting up strong showing against SEC teams Auburn and Vanderbilt. The Moccasins (their original name and mascot, Chief Mocanooga) breezed past the likes of Furman, Appalachian State and Marshall. Other teams that have come and gone from the Mocs schedule for brighter things include Georgia Southern, who didn’t field a team until 1982 and won two 1AA (FCS) championships and now play in the FBS (IA) division along with Marshall and Appalachian State. Georgia Southern did not launch their football program until 2010 and now are an FBS team. Why has Chattanooga sports floundered?

There are many fingers that some people might point. Granted, until the downtown revitalization of downtown that began in erst when the Aquarium opened in 1992 there was not much to see or many wanted to see downtown except the adventurer. Downtown was a ghost town that the movers and shakers of today don’t want to talk about. Chattanooga had made news in the late ‘60s as being the most polluted city and race relations were best with riots downtown as late as 1980 after a Klansman was found not guilty of a shooting at a bus stop downtown of a black man with no cause. While the powers that be brush stuff like that under the rug, it’s still a part of the dirty history of Chattanooga. That in and of itself would find Chattanooga not interesting to black athletes. But like the old Virginia Slims commercials we’ve come a long way baby, and to be honest we weren’t the only city with those problems. Many bigger cities with bigger colleges still deal with that problem. Now Chattanooga is considered one of the best places to live and has been touted by dozens of magazine and websites in the past year. Chattanooga is a growing multicultural city that is mildly conservative with the world’s fastest internet.

Joe Morrison back during his days with the New York Giants.

The biggest complaint I hear is we’re not Knoxville or even Athens, GA. If you look at our football record during the Huesman era we won more games than the Vols and even including the Arth era. The men’s basketball team even defeated the Vols a couple of years ago at Thompson-Boling – something a UTC has not done since the 1958 upset by the football team over their Knoxville foes 14-6.

The city of Chattanooga has been in a perfect storm for more than a decade with no foreseeable end in sight. Chattanooga is a destination location and not just for tourists. There has been an influx of young people and the so-called “powers that be” no longer have a tight – or as tight a grip on everything that happens in the city. Chattanooga is luring smarter people, more eclectic people and starting to set their own imprint than riding the coattails of other bigger cities. Even a city whose reputation in the ‘60s and ‘70s as “Little Chicago” has quit turning its head on some questionable activity that would make a great movie and converted the city into a family-friendly, opened minded destination. Through it all Hamilton County houses some of the wealthiest people in the country still. During the ‘70s for example, Lookout Mountain had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. So why can’t a growing college town with world class curriculum grow their sports teams like many smaller schools who have joined and passed them in college athletics. Administration.

Less than 15 years ago a group of board members at UTC met to discuss the possibility of disbanding the football program. It was during the school’s worst stretch record-wise. It was during the Rodney Allison era. Allison holds the sad record of coaching the only Mocs team to finish with double-digit losses, his last season in Chattanooga in 2008 at 1-11. Only once in his reign of terror did the school finish above .500. In six seasons his teams lost nine games twice and eight games once, not counting the aforementioned 11-loss season. Allison came to town known for his recruiting acumen. Many times during his time as head coach in Chattanooga the program had the number one recruiting class in 1-AA (FCS). Obviously it went downhill after they were recruited.

The administration claimed the football program was losing money. How? I never knew of a football program that lost money unless it was poorly run or money being literally stolen. Most sports programs – football especially is traditionally a golden calf. It was a running joke that there were football programs with a school attached to them; meaning the sport brought more people to school than the academics. Sports, football in general has always been big money and that is on every level from pro to college and high school – yes, high school. Most high school football programs have a set of boosters who will do anything, pay anything and bend every rule they can to field a winning team. This includes forging false addresses on enrollment papers so a star athlete can play for their school, perks that include money, jobs for family members as well as after school “jobs” to make spending money to more obvious things like questionable expensive gifts.

Someone should seriously take a look at the school administration and for that matter marketing. Sure, I know the school is not on the national level as it’s big brothers in the SEC and ACC, but it’s as if the school beginning at the top on down through administration, to marketing and finally students and general populace have no enthusiasm for the school’s athletic programs. As anyone that knows anything about marketing if the owner is not enthusiastic about his business, why should anyone else? It is as if the university is still in the mindset that held this city back until recently. The attitude is just getting by, don’t make any waves and everything will be fine.

It wasn’t until Huesman was hired that the school started to promote the football team. Many were pleasantly surprised that the team started to get crowds in the teens instead of five or six thousand at best a game. Even that is sad when you think the stadium holds over 20,000. Of course I was one of those who liked the old stadium in the center of campus. However, unlike “Field of Dreams” just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. You have to field a good product.

To have a successful sports program it must be run like a business. In order for it to make money, you must be willing to spend money. Chattanooga doesn’t agree with that philosophy. The programs have been successful in spite of the administration. It was a little over 40 years ago that UTC won the Division II basketball national championship. That was the fist time I saw my hometown team on television. It was because of the hard work of coach Ron Shumate. I read his stories of recruiting trips where he would have to wash his socks in the sink of the small hotel room he stayed because he was literally given no budget. He brought the school national attention and helped it make that step to Division I. Murray Arnold, who succeeded Shumate brought the program to the next level. During the 1982-83 season the team was ranked at one point 13th in the nation and played a Michael Jordan-led team losing a close game. That was also the inaugural season of what is now known as McKenzie Arena. Mack McCarthy succeeded him and left surprisingly in the mid ‘90s. Since then it has been an endless stream of coaches. What was once the most dominant team in the Southern Conference has seen teams leapfrog over them, many leaving for a bigger conference just as the football team continues to witness.

Since I started writing this Chattanooga has already hired Arth’s replacement. I don’t even think the movers had left Arth’s place before the new hire, a former assistant under Huesman, Rusty Wright with only a handful of seasons under his belt as a linebacker coach, not even a coordinator. I hope this ends as one of those feel good stories that you’ll see on 30-on-30 instead of another shallow attempt to put a warm body on the sidelines – or settle. It was obvious there was no real effort to recruit a name coach. But of course you have to pay a quality coach to come here and stay. Sure, it’s a great city but you have to pay close to market value to keep coaches like Huesman, McCarthy and former ladies basketball coach Wes Moore. Many were surprised by the sudden departure of Huesman a few years ago. After reading you understood why. He went back to the school he helped win a FCS title in 2008 – Richmond – an inferior program to Chattanooga’s as well as not the scenic city Chattanooga is. Why? Money. Richmond offered Huesman in the neighborhood of $350,000 to take the reigns of the program. Huesman was open for a competing offer by Chattanooga and was probably willing to take a hometown discount. Chattanooga’s offer was $175,000. I’ll let you add your own punch line and conclusion here.

My problem with the athletics program, al of whom I’ve supported over the years to one degree or another is their nonchalant attitude about it. And as everyone passes and laps them or moves on they sit there and wonder why.

I know.

– David N. Marks