Arkansas State Football's 'Next Level' Comes At A Cost

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Mar. 26, 2012 12:00 am  

Hiring Malzahn, who left behind a $1.3 million salary at Auburn, only ramped up the desire to improve the program’s standing. Red Wolves Athletic Director Dean Lee, like his new coach and fans, envisions a day when Arkansas State is ranked among the nation’s Top 25 football programs. But there is ground to gain financially.

“Fans seem to understand the price of winning has gone up,” Lee said. “When Gus came in that took it to another level.”

(Also See: Arkansas State Looks to Boise State for Signs of Success)

Complete Buy-In

Few college football programs could boast being at the level of Arkansas State in 1975. In fact, only one other team in the country went undefeated that season.

Bill Davison guided his fifth squad to an 11-0 record to the delight of fans in northeast Arkansas.

Among those watching the Indians (as they were known until switching to the Red Wolves in 2008) that season was 8-year-old Rodney Hannah.

Choosing to become an Arkansas State fan was an easy decision for Hannah, a Jonesboro native. Little, however, has come easy for the program since. Arkansas State has had as many athletic directors (eight) and head football coaches (eight) as winning seasons (eight) in the years that followed.

Hannah, now 45 and owner of Rodney Hannah Insurance in Jonesboro, continued to pour his energy, emotion and earnings into the program even as the investment seemed to yield little return. What few highs that Red Wolves fans experienced were typically undercut by significant lows.

When Freeze left following a 10-win season and a Sun Belt Conference championship, it felt like more of the same for ASU. Then Malzahn, one of the most highly regarded assistant coaches in the country, was hired.

“For years even when we’d get the slightest bit of optimism, it felt like it was just setting you up to be disappointed,” Hannah said. “I’ve never seen this before. I never imagined ASU would get this much attention nationally. It’s been nice.”

Doug Doggett, director of the Red Wolf Club, and the rest of the administration of the ASU athletic department would like to see that buzz generate cash.



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