During last season — a tumultuous and highly discouraging one for the University of Arkansas — assistant coach Tim Horton remained a shining light of optimism, the epitomy of the half-full glass in an empty experience.
If you followed Horton on social media, there was a steady flow of encouraging words to others. He offered multiple praises to many state coaches for achievements and championships. He offered congratulations for new jobs or noting careers of those who retired and moved on. He offered condolences and prayers for those who families who lost a family member or were going through challenging times.
During a year when he could be excused for silence, he flooded the public with “attaboys” and “way-to-goes.”
Often, the first news I saw on various developments originated from Horton. His finger was kept on the state pulse. While doing that, he radiated class.
It’s happy-sad to see the former Conway High running back and son of legendary coach Harold Horton move on — as an assistant coach in charge of tight ends on Gus Malzahn’s new staff at Auburn.
While many noted that when Bret Beliema took over as UA head coach, that one of his first conversations in Fayetteville should be with Horton, more doors seemed closed than open for Horton with the Razorbacks.
One of the biggest mistakes by UA Athletic Director Jeff Long was not to name Horton interim head coach in the wake of the Bobby Petrino rubble, a move reportedly favored by most on the staff. Horton probably couldn’t have salvaged the season but he might have made things a little better.
Horton was one of the lowest-paid assistants on Bobby Petrino’s staff and, despite coaching some of the best backs in school history, seemed constantly relegated to the background.
In the wake of last season’s fall, Horton instinctively knew it might be a good time to reassess and move on, even though that was tough to family and friends both in Conway and Fayetteville.
He wants to be a head coach. He was in line for the one at Appalachian State, a previous stop, but didn’t get it.
It’s a Catch-22. One major reason he hasn’t become a head coach is he has no head coaching experience and he hasn’t built a resume as a coordinator or a top assistant. He’s been a valued assistant at Appalachian State, Kansas State and Air Force, but he really hasn’t had the visibility. He probably needed to expand his connections. And linking with Malzahn, who is an up-and-comer and could be building a rich coaching tree, may be a better way to get from Point A to Point B.
It should be noted that Horton held together what arguably turned out to be Petrino’s best recruiting class, his first. He helped mitigated reported strained, broken or cold relationships between Petrino and Arkansas high school coaches. He was the good cop.
Horton was criticized for some in-state recruits leaving the state. There were several reasons for this, including philosophy, fit and skill set. Some just didn’t like or want to play for Petrino.
It’s funny how some folks look at in-state recruiting. They naturally want to keep all good prospects in the state but celebrate and rate it as a key measuring stick when UA coaches can get a few of the best and brightest from other states, particularly Texas, Florida and Louisiana.
Most players will eventually gravitate to the right fit.
In assembling probably one of the best and most respected staffs in Razorback history (most with experience as recruiting coordinators), the UA will not be hurting. The Razorback program will recruit well and you wonder if Florida will become the new Texas.
Auburn is getting a good position coach, a loyal assistant and one that matches the high-character profile that Malzahn wants in a staff. Horton gets a chance to enhance his resume in a new setting. He’s one of those assistants just waiting for a chance. I’m confident he’ll get it.
Arkansas. Auburn. Horton. I rate it as win-win-win.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)