By the end of the 1920s, the nation had found itself at the brink of a total economic meltdown which would later be known as the "Great Depression." The era of "The Roaring Twenties" and high times had finally come to a halt when Wall Street came tumbling down on October 24, 1929, in a not so complimentary day known as "Black Thursday." Two days later, Arkansas would defeat Texas A&M by one point (14-13) at College Station. The Hogs would not lose again for the remainder of the season. Obviously, the collapse of Wall Street had not extended its cruel grasp to the rural Dickson Street and the Hogs.
The end of the '20s also found the end of the seven seasons for coach Francis Schmidt. Following the end of the 1928 season, the coaching shuffle began with Nebraska luring Dana X. Bible away from Texas A&M, followed by Matty Bell moving from TCU to fill the vacuum left in College Station, and finally ended when Schmidt made the jump to Fort Worth and TCU. As things would have it, this would not be the only time a Razorback head coach would make his move to become the head coach for another team in the same conference. After the successful tenure of Schmidt, the Razorbacks now found themselves with a vacancy at the helm. The spot wouldn't stay open long, as a former assistant coach was named as Schmidt's successor. This would be Fred "Tommy" Thomsen.
"He still holds the prestigious record as having the second longest football coaching career, only superseded by that of Frank Broyles."
With Schmidt's departure after the 1928 season, Thomsen made his move to become the next head coach of the Hogs. By no means would he see the return of the program to the two and three-year terms of the past for Hog football coach rotations. With the beginning of the Depression and for the next 13 seasons, he would lead the Hogs in what would then qualify him as having the longest running career as the head coach of the Razorbacks. He still holds the prestigious record as having the second longest football coaching career, only superseded by that of Frank Broyles.
In his first year, Thomsen went 7-2-0, losing only to Texas, and Baylor during the two previous weeks prior to "Black Thursday." Being a former end went a long ways to encourage him in becoming the master of the forward pass. This was at a time long before the pass had become popular as a staple throughout the nation. His feeling was that there would be no reason for running the ball, when you could gain the same amount of (or more) yardage by utilizing the pass.
Upon his arrival, the Razorbacks became known as "The Passing Porkers." In Thomsen's first year, Wear Schoonover would be his star receiver while on his way to becoming Arkansas' first All-American. As the season ended, the Hogs found themselves outscoring their opponents by a margin of 230-93 points. The mold for the aerial attack was now set and, after a few tweaks, it would soon go into full swing.
With the graduation of Schoonover, the Hogs spent a few years at a low point while finding themselves. But in 1933, the Hogs found their stride with a 7-3-1 season and were scheduled to win their first SWC championship. However, this was denied due to the use of an ineligible player ("Heinie" Schleuter). Schleuter had told the Arkansas coaches that he still had a season to play, although in reality his eligibility had already expired. He was identified during the season by a SMU player who had played against him the year before during the SMU-Nebraska game. This recognition foretold the controversy that would progress in leading to the disqualification. As a result, the Hogs were forced to give up what would have been their first SWC title. Eligibility during these seasons were not under the scrupulous eyes that they are now. Things could be and were often easily overlooked.
Ending the regular season with a 7-3 record, the Hogs would find themselves with an invitation to a bowl game. Finally, they would be invited to their first bowl game in school history. Known as the Dixie Classic, it would be played on January1, 1934 at Fair Park in Dallas , where they would meet The Gentlemen of Centenary College. The game would end in a tie at seven all. After Centenary's only score, the tie at seven was preserved when The Gentlemen threaded a successful extra point kick. The kick was brought about by a second attempt as a result of a Razorback offside penalty occurring during the first point after try. The first attempt had been wide and would have secured the game for a Razorback win, but ....
"Through it all, the Razorbacks had learned the true meaning of 'Arkansas will Never Yield!'"
It was not until the 1936 season that the Hogs would win their first unchallenged SWC Conference Championship. However, the conference bowl game would be awarded to TCU as they would get the bid to play in the first Cotton Bowl. Although Arkansas had attained the better conference record and won the SWC title, the Hogs had lost on October 3rd to TCU. Go figure! New Year's Day would find the Hogs sitting at home in Fayetteville instead of being on the gridiron of a bowl game. After the 1934 Dixie Classic, the Hogs' would not play in another bowl game until the 1947 Cotton Bowl when they would battle LSU to a 0-0 tie in what became known as "The Ice Bowl" (see hawg-tales: 05/06/2012).
The 1937 season would be Thomsen's last winning season. With the departure of Robbins and Benton, he would go on to spend the next four years with the Hogs and finally end his career after the '41 season. Thomsen was never able to regain the success that he had seen with their combination.
During his career at Arkansas, he had established quite a following with the fans through the excitement and national prominence that he had brought to the program. He will always be remembered as the coach who was able to give the Hogs and fans a glimmer of hope and fun throughout the complete period of the Depression years. These 13 seasons had seen Arkansas' first two All-Americans (Schoonover and Benton), first Conference Championship, first bowl game, all while propelling the Hogs into national passing prominence. As coach, Thomsen had provided the leadership and innovation necessary to keep the Hogs focused during an extraordinary period of national uncertainty and strife that bordered on national collapse. Through it all, the Razorbacks had learned the true meaning of "Arkansas will Never Yield!"
After December 7, 1941, and Pearl Harbor, Thomsen made the decision to leave Arkansas and join the military where he served as an Army captain assigned to China during World War II. His final record at Fayetteville was 55-61-11 (many of the losses occurred during the last minute of game play).
As a postscript, he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in the selection class of 1970.
Join us next month, as we once again recall tales of the games, players, and coaches from the past.
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