A look back: The aftermath of the success of the 1986 UALR Trojans had its highs and lows

Chapter XXII: Aftermath
   What was Mike Newell’s biggest thrill that season?
   “People always ask me if this was my biggest thrill in coaching. It’s not,” he said. “The biggest thrill was after the Centenary game. Seeing the people and the alumni and the students. Even the Razorback people, the business people were there. They had jumped aboard our dream of building something like that. They believed in us.”
On the 25th anniversary of
UALR's NCAA Tournament
victory over Notre Dame, BTH
takes a look back with the 2006
book by Jeffrey Slatton. This is
the final chapter. Check the right
column of this page to see the
previous chapters.
   And Newell knew how close his team had come to really making history.
   “I always felt like if we played Notre Dame 10 times, they would have beaten us nine. But the sad thing was, if North Carolina State and us played, we could have beaten them nine. They beat us because of that overtime. They were just so much bigger,” Newell said.
   Newell liked the Metrodome floor so much that UALR bought it and used it for years at Barton Coliseum. It is still in use on occasion at Barton Coliseum.
   Newell was contacted by at least five schools in the next couple of weeks, gauging his interest in taking their head-coaching job. After UALR came up with substantially more money, Newell finally told Marquette no and stayed with the Trojans.
   The following season, Newell’s team got all the way to the National Invitation Tournament Final Four in New York before losing. Under Newell, the Trojans would go on to three NCAA Tournaments and two NITs.
   But there were also problems. His players got into legal and academic trouble. The athletic department had to go on a mass fund-raising drive just to keep the program alive. Attendance only increased slightly in the coming years, astonishing Newell, who thought he had put a product on the floor that people wanted to see. But they didn’t respond, and still don’t really respond today.
   “We showed you what we could do. Until we screw it up, we expect your support. And we want your support. We want it all the time,” he said. “It ain’t no one-way street. It’s a two-way street. We’re going to represent you with class and we’re going to make you proud of us. But, hey, why don’t you come and show us your support?”
   The Trojans wrestled away some of the support for the Razorbacks, but Richardson eventually got Arkansas-Fayetteville on the right track and into the national spotlight, first by going to the Final Four, then by winning the 1994 National Championship.
   “You could never overcome not being the Razorbacks,” Morgan said.
   The window for comparing the schools closed quickly at that time.
   “I was head coach six years, four of those years we would have kicked Arkansas’ ass,” Newell said. “The first year we couldn’t have beat them. They had Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson and went to the NCAA. The next year [1985-1986] speaks for itself. The next year, we both went to the NIT. Nebraska beats us in overtime and they had Arkansas down 30 up at their place. We were in the same tournament and went further.
   “The next year [1987-1988], we went to the NIT and got beat by Louisiana Tech. In 1989, that was my best team. We got beat by Louisville by 5 in the NCAA Tournament. The next game, Louisville blows Arkansas out. The next year we went to the NCAA. We were starting two sophomores and got beat [102-72] by UNLV. They blew out everyone that year except Ball State. And guess who was on Ball State? McCurdy and Kidd.”
   Kicking McCurdy and Kidd off the team after their sophomore seasons after a stolen credit card was discovered was one of Newell’s two biggest regrets.
   “You look back at it and I made the right decisions then,” Newell said.
Myers went on to play in the NBA until 19986, when he retired and became an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls. He was head coach for one game during a coaching change, but remains an assistant on the Bulls’ staff.
   Jackson also previously played part of a season with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. He drifted out of sight that season. Clarke played a little bit of professional ball as well.
   Kidd and McCurdy transferred to Ball State, where they engineered another NCAA Tournament up set of No. 4 Oregon State in 1989. McCurdy actually made the NFL’s Denver Broncos’ practice squad for a year as a linebacker. He also played professional basketball in Europe.
   Springer started at point guard the following season but eventually got beat out. He finished his four-year UALR career largely as a role player. He continues to live in Little Rock.
Campbell stuck around until his sophomore year before transferring to Memphis State. Severn transferred after his junior year.
   But is the UALR victory over Notre Dame really the biggest opening-round upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament?
   Was it even the biggest upset that day?
   It’s a matter of opinion for sure. College Hoops Net calls it a tie between the Cleveland State-Indiana game and the UALR-Notre Dame game. A closer look reveals that Cleveland State’s victory was less of an upset.
   Though Indiana had been a powerhouse, it was going through a tough time as was well documented in Feinstein’s book. Indiana was a fragile team with a quickly deteriorating head coach in Knight. The Hoosiers had beaten Notre Dame handily during the regular season, but that came early. Indiana came in after getting blasted by Michigan in its Big Ten Conference finale the Saturday before.
   Cleveland State was in the Mid-Continent Universities Conference, a new conference that didn’t even have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Vikings finished 27-3 and earned their way into the tournament as an at-large team. Playing a style Coach Kevin Mackey called, “The Run and Stun” and led by Kenny “Mouse” McFadden, the Vikings scored 90.9 points per game and had a victory over Ohio State and a close loss at Michigan on their resume. The Vikings were a lot like UALR and really had played a pretty similar schedule. And, like UALR, the Vikings walked into a perfect situation.
   Unlike Cleveland State, UALR didn’t really beat anyone of significance during the season. The Trojans lost and overtime game to Iowa at Hawaii and got blown out at Providence.
   Notre Dame was ranked four spots higher in the polls than Indiana and, despite being somewhat of a fragile team in recent years, this was Phelps’ chance at greatness. This was going to be the team that was poised to make a long run in the tournament. The Fighting Irish played a tough schedule and were well prepared. And though both were seeded No. 3, more eyes were on Notre Dame than Indiana.
   And there was UALR, a program still in diapers. It had a second-year coach, playing in a decent, but not overpowering conference.
   So, in the end, what did beating Notre Dame do for UALR?
   “Usually you have to earn respect in your own state. Then you have to do it regionally. Then you have to do it nationally. It’s like a stepping process,” Newell said. “Sometimes it takes three years or five years, maybe even seven years. Well, the win over Notre Dame. Boom! Immediately. Then we turned around and almost beat N.C. State.”
   Things didn’t exactly work out for Newell. He left UALR after six seasons, taking the Lamar job. He went 42-44 in three seasons before resigning after the school didn’t come through with what Newell thought was promised him.
   “When Ann Richards was elected governor, the whole board of trustees changed, the president changed,” Newell said.
   He coached a minor-league basketball team in Shreveport, Louisiana, before coming to Monticello, Arkansas, where he continues to build the Arkansas-Monticello program. He got that school to its first NCAA Division II Tournament in 2006.
   Banners recognizing Newell’s UALR teams were lost or discarded and haven’t been replaced.
   “Sometimes to me, and I’ve been out of the state a long time, but it seems like all the work they did has gone unappreciated,” Morgan said. “Come on now. We were doing things to try and make this look like a major-college program. And it’s gone unnoticed, especially for the players.”
   In 2006, the school’s athletic department went back to calling itself UALR after preferring Arkansas-Little Rock for several years.
   Newell’s mark remains on the program in at least one way. The end of the court inside the new Jack Stephens Center has “UALR” painted on it.
   “I used to tell people like Jerry West that the day is going to come when they’re just going to put UALR in the conference standings, rankings, whatever. And we reached that point. Even now when I see like a USA Today or anything. If I see UALR, a smile goes on my face.”

Note: Since the writing of this book, UALR has hung banners to recognize accomplishments in men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. Newell’s UALR teams are well represented among these banners. Newell resigned from Arkansas-Monticello in 2010.
Both Myron Jackson and Newell have also been enshrined in the UALR Athletics Hall of Fame in recent years.