Published November 20, 2014
John Pelphrey had plenty of frustrations to vent following a one-point loss to Georgia on Feb. 2.
The Arkansas basketball coach held his emotions in check, keeping things low key afterward. In his mind, it was the appropriate response for a leader during a time of crisis.
On Monday, he admitted how tough things have been and the embattled fourth-year Razorbacks' coach defended the direction of the program as he vowed to put aside any outside criticism and internal doubts he might have moving forward.
"Am I perfect?" Pelphrey asked. "Do I have moment in time where stuff may creep into me? Absolutely, I'm no different than anybody else. But I do think because of what I've learned and what I've experienced, and I because I do have a great faith, I do think I can turn fear into faith pretty quickly."
"I don't think I stay in the wrong place very long," he added.
Arkansas (15-9, 5-6 Southeastern Conference) reached the 15-win mark with a victory over LSU on Saturday. The win total is the highest in three seasons for the once nationally prominent program, which won the 1994 national championship and last reached the NCAA tournament during Pelphrey's first season in 2007-08.
The Razorbacks have fallen on hard times since that season, finishing with 14 wins in each of the past two seasons. That includes Pelphrey's second year, during which they began the season 12-1 before bottoming out with a 2-15 finish.
Arkansas was 10-3 during nonconference play this season and opened SEC play with a home victory over Tennessee. Since then, the road has turned rocky for a program all-too familiar with second-half conference struggles.
Before the win over LSU on Saturday, Arkansas was 6-20 during the second half of SEC action under Pelphrey. After a win at Vanderbilt on Jan. 29 came the 60-59 home loss to Georgia — a game decided by a free throw in the closing seconds.
"There was nobody in the state of Arkansas that was more disappointed with that than I," Pelphrey said. "Does it mean I'm going to do display it like everybody else and voice my opinion? I think there are points in time when I have a platform to talk about how I feel, or maybe get to show separate, different emotions on occasion, but I also think there is a time when, 'Hey, that guy's a leader; he better show he has a level of control and understanding.'"
The loss, however, began a three-game losing skid for Arkansas. As the losses piled up, so did the criticism of Pelphrey from fans via radio and message boards.
That criticism was fueled following the LSU victory when Pelphrey referred to the Razorbacks as an overachieving team. Pelphrey said Monday he meant the label reflected hard work rather than an indication of a lack of talent, using his own playing days at Kentucky as an example.
"For me, I had to be an overachiever because I was not as physically blessed as some of you in this room," Pelphrey said. "I couldn't do some of those things, and in my profession if I wanted to get by I couldn't be like everybody else.
"I had to burn the midnight oil. I had to exhaust all the perspiration in my body to get that done. That's what I demand of my guys."
Leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, who had 25 points in the win over LSU, admitted to frustrations at times during his three seasons at the school. But he also alluded to better relationships on the team this season and a belief in both Pelphrey and the future.
"I believe in coach, and I think everyone does," Clarke said. "It's a different team than last year. We've got a lot of guys that are a lot more united. We've got a different chemistry level than we did last year.
"It's a lot easier after a loss. Of course, we hate losing, but it's a lot easier to come back and want to work and try to get better and improve on things."
Pelphrey said his playing and early coaching experiences prepared him for difficult times and criticism.
"But by the same token, I understand and believe this wholeheartedly and without exception: Whatever I'm going through or whatever I'm experience, it's strengthening us right now," he said. "It's getting ready to make us better. It's getting ready to make us great."