Magazine October 2019

Land of Opportunity: Former Hogs Find Business Doors Open After Playing Careers But No Guarantees

Hogs

by Mark Carter

Is there a monetary value that can be attached to doing business in Arkansas as a former Razorback? Does being an ex-Hog give one a leg up in the business world?

Business leaders who once played for the University of Arkansas believe there is value, and it does represent an advantage. Of course, it’s hard if not impossible to quantify a precise value. But for former Hogs who choose to settle in Arkansas after their playing career is done or return to the state after a pro career — particularly those from the big money sports of football, men’s basketball and baseball — only one thing is certain: it represents opportunity.

It certainly did for Muskie Harris, the Hogs’ first black athlete out of Little Rock Central High School. A two-way player but primarily a defensive back for Frank Broyles from 1973-77, Harris was a member of two widely remembered teams — the Hogs’ 1975 Southwest Conference/Cotton Bowl championship team (although he redshirted that season), and the 1977 SWC co-champions that crushed Oklahoma in the ’78 Orange Bowl (and actually won obscure versions of the national championship). That squad, led by first-year coach Lou Holtz, may still be considered the most well-known if not beloved Razorback football team in history behind the undefeated national champions of 1964.

As for his time on the Hill, Harris isn’t shy about attaching a monetary value to what it’s meant for him.

“Being a former Razorback is like getting $1 million worth of free advertising,” he tells Arkansas Money and Politics. “It opened so many doors and allowed me to market myself. If you’re playing and the team’s winning, even if it’s not winning, people know you.”

Harris says there’s honor and tradition attached to status as a former Razorback in Arkansas. “It’s real.”

Not only are high-profile Hogs from the most popular sports among the state’s most recognizable people (in essence, celebrities), studies consistently reveal that former athletes are better equipped to succeed in the workplace.

Numerous reports (Gallup, Purdue, the NCAA itself) have found that former athletes display better leadership skills and are more likely than non-athletes to find full-time employment and be more engaged in the workplace. And athletes consistently graduate at a higher rate than non-athletes at Division 1 schools, according to the NCAA.

What then, is not to like about hiring a former athlete, especially one for whom you cheered? 

In a rural state like Arkansas with no major professional teams and one highly recognizable college program, former Razorbacks command attention. Couple an employer’s desire to hire ready-made leaders with the name recognition attached to a popular Razorback, and opportunity abounds for former players, right?

Brent Birch, a pitcher on Norm DeBriyn’s 1990-93 Razorback baseball teams that traversed the SWC-SEC divide, acknowledges that such an advantage exists. “There’s no question being a former Razorback athlete opened some doors for me along the way.”

Now director of the Little Rock Tech Park, Birch is a former executive at Arkansas Business Publishing Group who co-founded Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine (as well as the Arkansas Waterfowl Hall of Fame in Stuttgart) and is the publisher and author of The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground. He also serves on the board of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission Foundation.

Of course, such open doors are not exclusive to Arkansas, Birch notes. Former athletes in other states where college sports are popular experience the same opportunities as ex-Hogs do in Arkansas. But few states can match this state’s singular devotion to one program. Sometimes, that devotion can lead to a certain level of preferential treatment, he says. But ultimately, business trumps loyalty and former athletes, like anyone else, must produce.

“The Razorbacks obviously carry a lot of weight in this state, and countless former athletes have taken advantage of opportunities that may not have come their way otherwise. But I would venture to guess many more haven’t, so just because you are a former Razorback doesn’t ensure that you’re set for life and can get any job you want. Just like athletics, you still have to perform and work hard. In the end, I had to and still do have to prove and improve myself. Just like if I was trying to earn innings in college.”

In addition to athletes’ inherent leadership qualities (and their ability to bounce back from setbacks), a 2017 study from the Journal of Research and Organizational Studies cites a focus on “team” as a factor in their business success. Only a fraction of college athletes moves on to play professionally; remaining a member of the local “team” by staying in a market where athletes experienced past success is an appealing prospect for many of them.

Of course, experience as an athlete at any level isn’t necessary to succeed in business, not by any stretch. But Birch says he owes much of his success to college athletics from connections made to lessons learned that would serve him well in business.

“College athletics benefited me with maturity, work ethic, teamwork, discipline and the mindset to compete,” he says. “All crucial in the business world. There are many ups and downs that a college athlete experiences over a career that mirrors the working world. Wins, losses, good games, bad games, etc. Truly invaluable experience in my eyes.”

Being a Razorback helped D.J. Williams launch a career in central Arkansas media.

Razorback fans are used to seeing and interacting with ex-Hogs. In addition to entrepreneur David Bazzel’s high-profile media presence on radio and TV, former football great D.J. Williams is a popular morning anchor on KARK-TV in Little Rock and former football players such as Bruce James, Michael Shepherd and Michael Smith are among those who’ve appeared on local TV to talk shop. Former Hogs Pat Bradley (basketball), Clint Stoerner (football) and Troy Eklund (baseball) have made names for themselves on ESPN and the SEC Network, and popular ex-Hogs James “Jimmy” Counce and John “Bo” Busby are prominent cardiovascular surgeons in Fayetteville and Little Rock, respectively. And of course, one-third of the state’s congressional delegation consists of former UA football players — U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Bruce Westerman.  

Bazzel is a former Hog who adopted Arkansas after his football career was over. And he was thinking about his post-playing days at an early age. An All-Southwest Conference linebacker from Panama City, Fla., Bazzel played under Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield from 1981-85. He credits the opportunity tied to Arkansas’ unique “one-team state” status as a big reason he wound up in Fayetteville and chose to stay.

“What attracted me to Arkansas was the great opportunity for me if I could do well and succeed in a small state that was devoted to one program. If you could develop a name for yourself at a school like Arkansas, you could get an opportunity.” – David Bazzel

Bazzel, of course, is instantly recognizable as an Arkansas media magnate thanks to his long-standing morning radio gig at The Buzz 103.7 in Little Rock, his appearances on KATV and his promotions bent — the Frank Broyles Award recognizing college football’s top assistant coach, trophy games with LSU and Missouri, the founding and growth of the Little Rock Touchdown Club: all Bazzel. 

Early on, even before he arrived in Fayetteville, Bazzel recognized that playing for the Hogs could afford him name recognition in the state that would open doors for him following his playing days. It was one of the factors he considered as recruiters began calling during his senior year of high school. Fortunately for the Hogs, a UA alumnus lived in Panama City and got wind of the program’s interest in Bazzel, who ended up committing as a young 16-year-old senior.

“Back then, the newspaper war was heating up, and this alum started sending me coverage of the Hogs every week from the Democrat and [the former] Gazette. I’d never seen so much coverage devoted to one team,” Bazzel says. “Where I grew up, you had Florida, Florida State, Georgia … there were schools all around me. What attracted me to Arkansas was the great opportunity for me if I could do well and succeed in a small state that was devoted to one program. If you could develop a name for yourself at a school like Arkansas, you could get an opportunity.”

Bazzel sees the Razorback brand as the strongest in the state — “stronger even than the Walmart brand” — but jokes that checks aren’t awaiting former Hogs upon graduation. He recognizes, though, that doors are opened in the business world for those with name recognition and a willingness to work. And like Birch, Bazzel says name recognition will help but take former athletes only so far.

“There are hundreds of Razorback athletes who graduate every year,” he notes. “But just because you graduate as a Razorback, you’re guaranteed nothing. But it certainly presents an opportunity if you’re willing to take advantage of it. There’s probably more who don’t take advantage than do. It’s what you make out of it that makes the difference.”

Joe Kleine’s Razorback name recognition was bolstered by a 15-year career in the NBA, which includes a championship with the Chicago Bulls, and membership on the 1984 U.S. Gold medal team. An All-America center for Eddie Sutton in the early 1980s, “Smokin’ Joe from Slater, Mo.” was ready to call Arkansas “home” after his retirement from the game.

His Corky’s Ribs and BBQ restaurant is a west Little Rock staple, and Kleine believes his name recognition helped market the franchise. He says the connections made in Arkansas as a player made the decision to put down roots an easy one. Kleine also has served as a full-time assistant basketball coach under Steve Shields at UA Little Rock, served as a volunteer coach at Little Rock’s Catholic High School, and even spent a few years as the basketball radio color man for the Razorback Sports Network. His youngest son, a senior at Catholic, is planning to attend Arkansas next fall, following in the footsteps of his dad, mom and three siblings.

Kleine says Arkansans like to reward former Hogs with whom they connect.

“If you’re good to the fans, they’re good to you. Lots of ex-Razorbacks didn’t have all-star careers but have done well in the business world.”

Former Razorback center Grant Garrett, who earned all-conference honors next to Brandon Burlsworth in the Houston Nutt late ‘90s, runs the family business. Garrett Excavating, based in Benton, is a generational operation and one that Garrett likely was destined for, Razorback career or not. But he acknowledges that the credibility boost of his status as former Hog “definitely doesn’t hurt.”

“I don’t know 100 percent if it’s helped for sure, but I feel like it’s helped transition or speed up the relationship-building process,” he says. “I’ve had a few instances where we were dealing with someone, and they eventually put two and two together. Once they realized who I was, it made things go faster.

“The Razorbacks are something we have in common. There’s a passion for the Razorbacks and Razorback football.”

Lyndy Lindsey joined his dad Jim’s real-estate development business in Northwest Arkansas after his days as a tight end on Ken Hatfield’s 1989-91 teams. Jim Lindsey was a running back on that ’64 title team and played seven seasons for Minnesota in the NFL, earning a ring when the Vikings won the 1969 NFL championship. (They would go on to lose Super Bowl III to AFL champ Kansas City.)

Jim launched Lindsey & Associates in Fayetteville upon his retirement from football in 1972, and Lyndy — a member of the 1989 SWC champion and Cotton Bowl team — joined the family business. He now owns Lindsey Management Co., which develops golf courses and apartment complexes in Arkansas and surrounding states. And his son, Jack, is a quarterback and placeholder on the current Hogs squad.

Lyndy believes for former Hogs willing to put in the work, success in business is there to be had in Arkansas.

Jim Lindsey (21) totes the rock in this shot from the Hogs’ 1965 Cotton Bowl win over Nebraska which secured a share of the national championship.

“There are so many loyal Hog fans out there. I do think being a former Razorback gives you an advantage and provides more opportunities to get a job,” he says. “People remember you. And so many guys roll in here from out of state, fall in love with the place and don’t leave. But you can’t be afraid to work, and anyone who goes through the grind of college football is not afraid to work. If you can go through that grind, no matter what kind of trouble finds you in the workplace, you can get through it.”

Muskie Harris remembers being recognized at the Little Rock Razorback Club’s 1978 end-of-season awards dinner. Afterwards, J.C. Whisenant of Block Realty, then a prominent Little Rock agency, approached him.

“He told me, ‘I want you to come sell real estate for us,’” Harris says. “And I did.”

Harris went on to become one of Little Rock’s most prominent African-American agents; in fact, just the third licensed ever in Pulaski County. Whisenant and the team at Block helped Harris get established in an industry where doors previously had been closed to minorities.

Harris maintains his license and has remained active in the central Arkansas business world. He’s worked with J.M. Products, the now defunct prominent ethnic hair-care product manufacturer based in Little Rock for whom he launched JM Realty, and with former Razorback basketball great Sidney Moncrief, who opened car dealerships in central Arkansas in the ‘90s and now splits his time between Little Rock and Dallas as a motivational speaker. Harris also managed the long-standing, iconic and now closed Hank’s Dog House restaurant on Roosevelt Road in Little Rock. 

Harris used his name recognition to stay active in civic organizations as well — he was the first black man to serve as a Little Rock Chamber of Commerce ambassador and is president of 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock, a nonprofit focused on service and mentoring. And many may remember Harris for throwing his hat into the political ring. In 1990, he was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, establishing a Sheffield Nelson/Muskie Harris ticket that challenged the establishment juggernaut of Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker.

His most recent (and for him, the most important) venture is Muskie Harris Rehabilitation Services, where he mentors and counsels patients battling drug and alcohol addiction. At each milestone of his post-playing career, Harris says one thing has remained constant: The Razorbacks provided a connection that bonds Arkansans regardless of color or creed.

“My being a Razorback removed my identity of culture,” he says. “I wasn’t black; I was a Razorback. That’s how people saw me.”

Birch firmly believes young athletes recruited to play Division 1 college ball would be well-served to follow Bazzel’s example and consider their post-playing days when deciding where to attend school.

“Up and coming Arkansas athletes, regardless of sport, should take where they go to school and where they plan to live after in consideration when selecting a college,” he says. “It’s doubtful if I would have left Arkansas to play baseball at say, Ole Miss, that I would have been able to come back home and gotten the same opportunities or treatment. Best to know which side your bread is buttered after the playing days are over, if you follow. Sounds like a recruiting pitch, but there is a lot of truth to the concept.”

For Lyndy Lindsey, the concept is simple: “Once a Hog, you’re in.” 

Marcus Elliott: No Question Being a Hog Makes a Difference 

Offensive lineman Marcus Elliott starred for the Hogs in the early 1980s then worked in sales in Ohio and Arkansas for decades. For a couple of years, he owned his own wireless communications distributorship in Arkansas.

“It’s night and day” when it comes to his Razorback background helping to land business, in or out of state, he says. All things such as service and product quality being equal, “I don’t think there is any question that being a Razorback gives you a huge advantage — at least in getting a foot in the door.”

 From 2007 to earlier this year, he worked as an executive sales representative and territory manager with Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals and Medtronic Diabetes medical devices. Elliott’s current position is Director of Corporate Health Services for Conway Regional Health System.

 “When it comes to getting to know the key stakeholders, there’s no question that being a Razorback helps you shorten the time frame when it comes to developing a business relationship and landing the deal.”

 On and off, Elliott’s been a co-host on the radio show DriveTime Sports on 103.7 The Buzz for 25 years, he says.

 “Being a former Razorback has allowed me to be on that show, when it comes to business, the notoriety from that show is huge — as far as access, getting into the right doors, talking to the right people.”

 C.J. McClain agrees. A former defensive lineman under Danny Ford and Houston Nutt who has worked in sales and runs a recruiting business, agrees. “In Arkansas, I consider there to be a healthy network of referral and advancement that is directly connected to Razorback athletics,” he says.

 As for a ballpark estimate on what being a Hog has meant in terms of financial gain, Elliott says, “In my mind, it’s put several tens of thousands in my pocket.”

Evin Demirel

 

Where Are They Now? 

10 Former Hogs Doing Business in the State

Fuad “Kikko” Haydar

· Position: Point guard

· Years: 2010-14

· Accolades: Team captain in junior year

· Current place of business: Fayetteville

· Current position: Director of licensing at B -Unlimited; COO of navigatER (digital health-care innovations software)

· Earned MBA at the UA in 2017

Ronnie Brewer

Ronnie Brewer

· Position: Guard/wing

· Years: 2003-06

· Accolades: First team All-SEC (2006), 

played eight years in the NBA.

· Current place of business: Fayetteville

· Current position: Owns Brew Crew Transportation, a freight trucking company. Has invested in multiple real estate and startup ventures.

Charles “Chuck” Washington

· Position: Defensive back

· Years: 1983-86

· Accolades: Played for Green Bay Packers in 1987.

· Current place of business: Rogers

· Position: Owner of In-N-Out Screening Services (background checks, DNA tests, drug screens, etc.).

Corey Beck

· Position: Point guard

· Years: 1992-95

· Accolades: Starter on ’94 national championship team and ’95 national runner up. Then played a few seasons for Charlotte and Detroit in the NBA.

· Current place of business: Fayetteville

· Owner of a Corey Beck Custom Painting in Fayetteville.

Peyton Hillis

· Position: Fullback

· Years: 2004-08

· Accolades: Ran and caught for 2,154 yards of offense and 23 touchdowns. Then played in the NFL for seven years. After his best season

(2010) he was chosen for the cover of the video game, Madden NFL ’12.

· Most recent known place of business: 

Northwest Arkansas

· Most recent known position: Owner of NWA Towing and Recovery Inc. (purchased in 2016).

Jim Finch

· Position: Defensive end

· Years: 1962-64

· Accolades: Helped lead Hogs to 1964 championship

· Most recent known place of business: 

Forrest City area

· Most recent known position: Owner of Devereux & Finch Inc., a construction business.

Tyler Wilson

· Position: Quarterback

· Years: 2008-12

· Accolades: First-team All-SEC 2011. Then played a couple years in the NFL.

· Current place of business: Little Rock

· Current position: Broker at CRE Development & Brokerage – Commercial Realty, LLC.

Travis Swanson

· Position: Center

· Years: 2009-13

· Accolades: First team All-American (2013), as chosen by USA Today. Then played five years in the NFL.

· Current place of business: Fayetteville

· Current position: Owns a startup in Alpha Lit
NWA; commercial broker with CRE Development & Brokerage at Commercial Realty, LLC.

Kevin Scanlon

· Position: Quarterback

· Years: 1977-79

· Accolades: 1979 Southwest Conference Player of the Year

· Current place of business: Little Rock

· Position: Executive Vice President and Director of the Private Client Group at 

Stephens, Inc. (has worked there since 1987).

Ryan Hale

· Position: Defensive lineman

· Years: 1994-98

· Accolades: Team captain in 1998.

· Played for the New York Giants in 1999-2001.

· Place of business: Bentonville

· Position: Founder of LaneShift, a planning and consulting agency focused on helping to create, connect and expand trails and bicycle infrastructure.

· Previously, from 2011-2016, was a Home Region Program Officer for the Walton Family Foundation.

Evin Demirel

 

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