Even though Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn was in the heart of Bear Country, he was among friends and old acquaintances in Conway on Tuesday.
The city was the next-to-last stop on Day 2 of Malzahn’s 14-city, three-day swing through the state.
Among about 35 people in the First Security Bank lobby were Conway Public Schools superintendant Dr. Greg Murry (whom Malzahn worked alongside at Springdale High School); former University of Central Arkansas coach and Henderson State coach Don Dyer (a fellow HSU alum), legendary high school coach Don Campbell (whom Malzahn said was one of his mentors as a young coach); and former ASU standout Bill Phillips (who is a member of the university’s Ring of Honor).
"We’re trying to create and bigtime fan base and that’s the basis of what we’re doing," Malzahn said of his statewide blitz, which came of the heels of the ASU assistant coaches visiting all 215 football-playing high schools in the state in a few days. "This state can support two Division I (FBS) football teams. But the bottom line is we’ve got to win and I realize that.
"But we are making a statement that we are serious about developing relationships with coaches, players and administrators in this state."
He boldly told supporters that his goal is for ASU to be a top-25 football program every year.
"I’m a dreamer," he noted but adding that the Red Wolves will appear three times on ESPN channels this season. "I think the national media thinkins something special is going to happen at Arkansas State ... We intend to shock the college football world."
"There’s an excitement about ASU football I’ve never seen," Phillips said. "We have a coach who is welcome at every high school in the state."
Dean Lee, ASU athletic director, noted that 60 percent of ASU athletes made the honor roll and the university had the highest graduation rate among athletes in its history.
"I feel something special is coming," Lee said. "We feel it. We see it. We sense it."