Got into a discussion with someone recently who thought I portrayed former Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott a little unfairly in some of my This Day in UTA Football entries. It was a good discussion and I asked if he'd be opposed to me bringing the topic here and he said he'd look forward to reading it.
First, a little background. Coach Elliott was the fourth head coach to roam the UT-Arlington sidelines since the school went to four year status. He was hired in 1974 (you can read about his first game here) and coached ten seasons. He began the fourth year after UTA had transitioned to the highest level of college football. His career record was 48-64.
I have said before I consider his body of work at UTA a prime example of mediocrity. Four years of 5-6, only two winning seasons (9-2 and a barely winning 6-5), one conference championship and no postseason appearances.
The counter point being made, and one that I don't deny and have posted here before, is that UTA wasn't quite ready to move up and didn't fund the program adequately. Coach's salaries were lower, recruiting budget smaller and ancillary expenses not as big as most DI schools. UTA was well under the NCAA scholarship limit. Even in their own conference, the Southland, UTA trailed its peers in scholies. Their stadium situation was terrible in the beginning and finally evened out a little past midway through his tenure with Maverick Stadium.
I'll even add other external factors not mentioned in our conversation mentioned above that helps his point. The mascot change from Rebel to Maverick, was handled poorly and turned off many supporters. The transition from traditional to commuter school suppressed school spirit. UTA insisted on scheduling opponents just a bit tougher than their level. Couple that with sharing a stadium with a Major League Baseball team early in his tenure that made home games in September very rare and I can acknowledge very quickly the challenges he faced.
But, there were many things in his control that just went wrong. UTA football was a terribly mistake prone team. There were untimely penalties, turnovers and other sloppy plays every year that cost them games. That is not effected by lack of money, scholarships or where a team is playing. It is largely impacted by coaching and preparation. For example, who would be surprised by a fumble on an option in rainy, wet weather?
While I won't say every one of these games was winnable or a preventable loss, I offer the games I reference to back up my point of view. The following is every close loss and the miscues that took place during Coach Elliot's time at UTA. The asterisks note Southland Conference games.
I'll skip the first year, a rebuilding effort at 1-10.
-In a 27-14 loss to North Texas, UTA gave up two interceptions, a fumbled punt and a KO return for TD. The fumble came at the UTA 3, one of the INT's at the Mav 7.
-*In a 28-24 loss to McNeese, UTA fumbled a punt at the Mav 7, a long TD pass wiped out by an offsides penalty which led to a punt with a fumbled snap that led to a Cowboy TD and a game ending interception at the goal line.
-*In a 35-32 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. UTA fumbled at their own 16 that led to a field goal, UTA fumbled on second down at the opponents 28, defense gave up an 80-yard run after pulling within 3 and UTA missed a total of four extra point tries.
-In a 21-20 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, UTA started the fourth quarter up 20-7 and missed an extra point.
-*In a 31-24 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, UTA gave the Cajuns the ball on two INT's (one for a TD) and three fumbles (they did recover two of their own) and were up 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
-*In a 14-13 loss at home to Arkansas State, UTA fumbled seven times, recovered twice by Arkansas St and threw two interceptions. The D gave up an 80-yard run and the kicker missed an extra point and two field goals. The PAT miss came on a bad snap. One of the fumbles was on the ASU 22-yard line. One of the interceptions was downed at the ASU 27. UTA had 80 yards in penalties. Now it should be noted snow covered the field, but ASU played in the same conditions.
Also note, if UTA wins either of those last two games, they go to the inaugural Independence Bowl. What would that have done for the program's fortunes?
-28-24 road loss to Northwestern Louisiana, another fourth quarter collapse as UTA entered the final stanza up 24-14 (it was 24-7 in the third). Two of the three second half NWern TD's were setup by UTA fumbles. After the Demons get their first 4th Q TD, UTA fumbles on the first play at their own 8 to set up the winning TD. An interception in the second quarter gave NSU a quarter of the field, setting up their first TD. Seven fumbles, three lost plus one INT. 79 Penalty yards.
-*30-20 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, after leading 20-10, UTA gives away three fumbles, two INT's and the game.
-7-6 home loss to New Mexico State, two of seven on field goal tries, three were in the 4th quarter trailing by the final score, last one a 29-yarder with 1:27 left. NMSU recovers a fumble at the Mav 38 for its only score.
-A 25-23 road loss to Drake, 4 lost fumbles, QB keeper stopped on 4th and inches, 16 yards away from the goal line with less than 1:30 remaining.
-18-10 setback to West Texas A&M, four lost fumbles (seven total), an INT, a blocked punt, QB sack for safety, D gives up a 4th and 4 on an eventual scoring drive.
- 28-23 Texas Stadium loss to UNT, three INT's, two fumbles and a missed two-point conversion.
-*28-21 home loss to Louisiana Tech, despite a seven point lead with ten minutes remaining. The tying TD came on a secondary mixup for a long TD pass, the game-winning TD an interception returned all the way. Three total interceptions, six fumbles with two giving La Tech possession, and 79 penalty yards. Win this game and they are in the Independence Bowl.
-23-17 road loss to East Carolina, 8 fumbles, five lost, two interceptions and 11 penalties.
-19-14 to UNT, Despite not having a turnover and only 30 penalty yards, UTA held scoreless in the first half, gives up a safety and has a game-winning pass tipped away in the end zone.
-*14-13 home loss to McNeese St, in a battle of the two pre-season favorites, UTA gives McNeese its first TD on a bad-snap punt. With a minutes and a half left and a fourth and five at the McNeese 45, an option play gets 4.5 yards. This comes after Elliott called two pass plays that led to incompletions. Win this game and they again would have gone to a bowl game.
-At home, a 38-31 Northwestern St where UTA was leading 31-30 with less than three minutes left and the Demons with the ball 97 yards away from the end zone. They drive the length of the field.
-A 30-20 home loss to Drake, six total turnovers helped evaporate a 14-10 halftime lead.
-35-31 road loss to West Texas A&M is ensured when UTA fumbles seven times, losing six of them, three on muffed punts that led to Buffalo TD's.
-*10-7 home loss to Arkansas State guaranteed by three lost fumbles on six total, plus two blocked punts.
-*17-14 home loss to Louisiana Tech. Six fumbles, two lost, three missed field goals (two were inside 40) and a wide open receiver who runs out of bounds instead of turning it up field for a TD...Ouch.
-* A 20-17 loss at Arkansas State is sealed by four turnovers and ten penalties.
-* A 20-16 road loss to McNeese was fueled by two turnovers and 11 penalties for 142 yards. One INT is converted directly into a Cowboy TD.
-* Louisiana Tech picks up a 24-17 win at Maverick Stadium when a late fourth quarter sack produces a fumble, recovered at the UTA 22. Later, UTA gets to 2nd and five at the opponents 9, but can't get anymore yardage.
I just gave a brief synopsis of 24 close losses that were so due to team mistakes. I didn't even look at games that were more than ten points. It is possible some of those may have been games that UTA could have won. On the flip side, I also didn't look at games where UTA won due to playing crisp football, but I assure, that number is small. Many wins happened in spite of or the other team played as sloppy or worse.
Coach Elliott lost 64 games as a Maverick coach. Well over a third of them due to sloppy play. If you eliminate the 10 losses from his first season, 44% of his losses were listed above. The refs can be blamed, the field conditions can be pointed to, the fates can be questioned, but in the end, nine years worth of losses have one common denominator. Heck, even just four wins out of these 24 produce three more winning seasons and three bowl berths. I firmly believe a December Bowl game would have helped interest, sparked some belief that UTA wasn't always and forever going to be a loser and given more than just the die-hard's something to go see.
And talent is not an issue. Coach Elliott had coached 15 players who would eventually be drafted by a franchise in the NFL, one of the highest in the Southland. Some names I recognize from my childhood watching the NFL are on that list.
Coach Elliott may have been a good recruiter, may have been a good strategist, and even may have been a good play caller, but in the end, every single one of his teams have more than one occasion where a game was lost thanks to errors. In the end, that same statement may have cost the supporters their football program. He helped make UTA competitive from the morass of the early 1970's, but I think it is unquestioned he didn't make UTA winners.