Local media members have discovered that University of Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors is worth the airtime. As he has settled in during his three years as the head coach, he has seen his coverage soar.
Neighbors is funny and a bit quirky with takes on other sports and pop culture on social and traditional media. He’s like his former boss at Arkansas, Gary Blair, in the fact that he is charismatic and has given a reason to take notice of the women’s basketball program other than the team’s success, which Neighbors is now leading.
Neighbors is so entertaining that KATV Sports anchor Steve Sullivan made an interview with him a regular Monday feature as the sports world ground to a halt in March as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the United States. Neighbors covered all subjects including being a father again at age 51. It was must-see television and acquainted many who were unfamiliar with him and his program.
However, when Neighbors took to Twitter Wednesday he wasn’t reviewing movies or displaying pieces of sports memorabilia he uncovered from his attic. No, Neighbors showed a serious side many of us hadn’t seen from him. The coach wanted to quickly denounce a tweet that was offensive to one of his players.
Arkansas freshman Erynn Bynum posted pictures of herself in game uniform on the scorer’s table at Bud Walton Arena. That prompted KMAG 99.1 afternoon radio host Darren Miner, known as Maverick, to make an off-color, sexist remark on Twitter.
5NewsOnline in Northwest Arkansas initially reported that Miner had been disciplined internally. Eventually, it was reported that iHeart Radio area president Clyde Bass had confirmed Miner was no longer employed at the station.
Neighbors released a statement condemning the tweet. “As a women’s basketball coach and father, I am disgusted over how one of my players has been objected.”
The response was swift and direct. The normally jovial Neighbors didn’t mince words. Not long after the response was posted, UA athletic director Hunter Yurachek tweeted his approval of the statement.
Neighbors made it clear while he is a little schticky and zany, he can be no-nonsense. I am sure his players know that already from behind closed doors of the practice facility. The fans and media see a guy who is laid-back and fun. It’s a side the players see, too, but a coach must maintain respect, which it is clear he does. It’s a fine balance and the greatest coaches have that mastered.
Not every coach would have issued a statement about this and not every university would allow a public statement. I am impressed that Neighbors didn’t let any time go by without defending Bynum.
I don’t have a daughter, but I am a parent, and I know her family was happy that he stuck up for her swiftly and adamantly in a public forum. That struck a chord with me, too. I’d want my boys’ coaches to take care of them like they were their own. A good coach does that and Neighbors, who has a grown daughter, college-aged son and newborn, did just that. No father would have taken a comment like that lying down and Neighbors didn’t either. He did what any good father would do: he protected his own.
I became acquainted with Neighbors in 1999 when I did a story about him when he coached at Cabot High School and suffered a heart attack. He struck me as extremely personable and genuine. I didn’t forget that and paid close attention as he rose through the women’s collegiate ranks. Former
Arkansas AD Jeff Long made a bad mistake hiring ESPN broadcaster Jimmy Dykes to head the women’s basketball program. However, before he left for Kansas, Long corrected his error by hiring Neighbors. He was exactly what was needed. If he had been hired when Dykes was, he may have won a national championship by now. Better late than never, as the old saying goes.
Neighbors has brought back winning and fun to the Razorbacks women’s program, but he also features integrity, which was on full display this week.
Image courtesy of University of Arkansas Athletics Department