"If we're hitting on all cylinders, we may not be having this conversation. For whatever reason, we didn't. We're just trying to do what's best for our team and sometimes that involves hurting people's feelings and that's what's hard. I know Robert Johnson can still be a very good teammate and play a role for us."
And with that, Razorback Head Coach Houston Nutt threw starting quarterback Robert Johnson under the bus in favor of freshman Mitch "Hope to Jesus He Really Is A Phenom" Mustain. Johnson will be moved to wide receiver. Casey Dick, who missed much of preseason practice with a cranky back, will be the understudy and Clark Irwin, who was last seen wearing the Old Gold and Black for LR Central, will be the third string QB.
I watched the footage of Nutt making the announcement last night. He looked as if he had lost his best friend. He seemed pale and his affect was flat. Perhaps he had been advised by the powers that be that he had better win a certain number of games to save his job. Perhaps he felt remorse over shafting a good kid who stuck it out after getting demoted last year. Perhaps his certain knowledge that this decision could be disastrous might account for his pallor.
Look, Robert Johnson wasn't the reason that the Hogs got eviscerated last Saturday night. Not by a long shot. Sure, he threw an interception in the second half. But he also scored the Razorbacks' only touchdown against Southern Cal's first team defense. He wasn't the one that fumbled 3 times. He wasn't the guy that was dropping passes.
How can this turn out badly? Let me count the ways. First, Mustain could turn out to be a bust. Or at the minimum, he could turn out to be human. The kid is only 17 or 18. He may carve up Utah State next week, but let's face it. Alabama, the next opponent, ain't exactly the Catholic High Rockets. This could turn ugly. Or what if-God forbid-he gets hurt?
You think Johnson has a bad arm? The new # 2 guy, Casey Dick, couldn't even throw for much of the pre-season because of his back. What if that flares up on him again as bad backs are known to do? Do you count on Johnson to be over being pissed at getting screwed over if you are forced to move him back to qb which is the fix Oklahoma was in when they kicked Rhett Bomar off the team?
What about morale? I'm sure that many of the offensive players will be miffed by this move. Also Johnson's demotion sends the following signal to the entire team: Results on the field matter but not much. That'll make you want to fight, fight, fight, for the guy in the headset huh?
Finally, this brings up an interesting statistic. If memory serves, the Razorbacks have not stuck with a black quarterback for an entire season since Quinn Grovey some 15 years ago. During this period of time, black kids have performed admirably at the position for virtually all of the other schools in the SEC. Do not think for one minute that this will not be brought up by the Razorbacks' rivals out on the recruiting trail. Do I believe that Johnson's demotion was the product of racial animus? Of course not. It may not have been for a very good reason but it wasn't racist. But it just opens the door to such speculation by those who have an interest in doing so which unduly complicates matters to no good end.
Of course, all of this idle speculation will turn out to be just that if Mustain goes out and performs like the second coming of Peyton Manning. But this is a slender reed to base an entire season upon. The upside might be way up but the downside is potentially worse.
Which is what happens when you hit the panic button.