Harding Bisons football
2023 Harding Bisons football team
First season1924 (1924)
Athletic directorJeff Morgan
Head coachPaul Simmons
6th season, 65–13 (.833)
StadiumFirst Security Stadium
(capacity: 6,500)
Field surfaceFieldTurf
LocationSearcy, Arkansas
NCAA divisionDivision II
ConferenceGreat American Conference
All-time record383–309–16 (.552)
Claimed national titles1 (2023)
Conference titles6
RivalriesArkansas Tech
Henderson State
Ouachita Baptist
Southern Arkansas
ColorsBlack and gold
   
Fight songTexas Fight
MascotBuff the Bison (mascot)
Websitehardingsports.com

The Harding Bisons football program represents Harding University in college football as a Division II member of the Great American Conference.[1][2] Harding is located in Searcy, Arkansas. The Bisons are led by head coach Paul Simmons, a former Harding linebacker, with a record of 65–13. They were NCAA Division II national champions in 2023.

The 2016 and 2017 seasons were some of the most successful runs in the history of the program. Ronnie Huckeba's 2016 squad, before his retirement from coaching, won the conference title and made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The following year under first-year head coach Simmons, the Bisons won three post-season games to make it to the semifinals of the playoffs before losing to Texas A&M-Commerce (the storied football program formerly and widely known as East Texas State, now in the NCAA Division I FCS of NCAA football).

Simmons achieved his first undefeated regular season in 2023, with a mark of 11–0. That team later defeated Lenoir–Rhyne in the NCAA Division II semifinals to send Harding to its first-ever national championship game. On December 16, Harding defeated Colorado School of Mines to win the 2023 NCAA Division II national championship.

There are 55 former Bison football players who have earned All-American status, either on the NAIA or the NCAA Division II levels.

History

Harding's football program began the same year that Harding College came into existence in 1924. The first eight years produced a 19–28–6 record, with most of the wins coming against high schools or college B and C teams. But the Bisons cultivated a steady following of excited students and townspeople, as evidenced in various volumes of Harding's yearbook, The Petit Jean.[3][4]

Among the opponents in the 1920s were five colleges that would become rivalries lasting into the 21st century. Arkansas State Teacher's College would eventually become the University of Central Arkansas, and Magnolia A&M would become Southern Arkansas University. Henderson State University had begun as Arkadelphia Methodist College and was referred to as Henderson-Brown when Harding began playing them. Harding first played against Arkansas Tech University's Third Team in 1924, and advanced to playing Tech's Second Team the next year. The first matchup against the Ouachita Baptist Tigers was in 1928, ending in a 0–0 tie.

One special moment in Harding football history was a 1926 trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and a drubbing by the Arkansas Razorback Freshman Team. The head coach of the Razorbacks was Francis Schmidt, who was nicknamed Francis "Close the Gates of Mercy" Schmidt. He loved to run the score up on lesser equipped teams. [5] [6] Harding, with many first-year players itself that year, was beaten badly by the Razorback freshmen, 0–74.

As the effects of the Great Depression began to set in, the Harding College football program folded after the 1931 season due to the economic hardship. The Petit Jean yearbook included an ominous entry in regard to the football team's finances in 1931:

"To L. S. Chambers too much credit cannot be given. It was only by his continual efforts in managing the finances that the heavy (football) schedule was made possible."[7]

The hope of again fielding an intercollegiate team was still alive through Harding College's dormant football years of 1932–1958. One of Coach Paul Fiser's prized players in 1931 was Ervin "Pinky" Berryhill. Berryhill would one day be the man to serve as athletics director when the intercollegiate football program would finally be reinstated almost three decades later in 1959.

Intercollegiate athletics for all sports (football, basketball, baseball, all men's and women's sports) at Harding were disbanded in the 1930s due to the depression economy. In its place, led by former Harding athlete and then-current faculty member Berryhill, the Harding administration approved intramural competition on campus. As a result, 1939 saw “football” come back to the Harding campus in the form of two-hand touch intramural teams. Less than a decade later, the form of intra campus football had turned to “ragtag” ball, or flag football. [8] Some future Harding assistant coaches and academic professors were members of these teams, including Clifton L. Ganus Jr., who would later become president of Harding University from 1965 to 1987.

The fall of 1955 saw the return of full pads tackle football to Harding, in the form of intramural teams of 8-man football composed of students. Enough players showed up each autumn to form four teams of on-campus 8-man tackle football from 1955 to 1958. An All-Star game at the end of each season, which came to be called The Bison All-Star Game, came complete with the honoring of maids and a queen of the highlighted all-star game. [9] By year-two of fully padded 8-man tackle football, 1956, the student association sponsored a game each Saturday night, [10] so that the excitement of Saturday college football was back at Harding College. Autumn of 1957 saw the return of several intercollegiate sports for Harding, but football still had to wait two more years. Several of the players on these 8-man tackle intramural teams would go on to be part of the 1959 reemergence of Harding Bisons football on the intercollegiate level.

The main impactful decision by Athletics Director Pinky Berryhill in leading Harding back into intercollegiate football in 1959 was the recruitment and hiring of an Oklahoma Sooner football legend.

The Harding football program was reignited from the ground up in 1959 by former legendary Oklahoma Sooner player Carl Allison, who had been a rare four-year starter for the Sooners during the Bud Wilkinson dynasty. He was a captain on OU's 1954 undefeated team, and was drafted in the 22nd round of the 1955 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.,[11] coached by George Halas.

Oklahoma head coach Wilkinson, the former three-time national championship player in the 1930s Bernie Bierman University of Minnesota dynasty, heaped arguably the greatest praise of any player he ever coached onto Carl Allison:

“I never hope to coach a finer football player (than Allison). Carl started every game we have played the last four years. He was never late to practice, never hurt, never sick. He was a fine captain. He is a straight B student. In reliability and character he stands at the very top of our squad. We could always depend on him to do his job well. I don't mean to take anything away from our other more-publicized boys but I've never seen a better all-around football player, nor a more reliable one, than Carl Allison.[12]

Bud Wilkinson's high praise of Allison as a leader and player came almost a decade after Wilkinson himself had created the Oklahoma drill, a drill meant to weed out hundreds of former World War II soldiers trying out for the Oklahoma Sooners football team on the G.I. Bill.[13]

Carl Allison did not make the cut for the Chicago Bears roster, and instead instantly became the head football coach at Clinton (OK) High School. Moving straight from the playing field to head coach, he took what he had learned playing for Wilkinson at Oklahoma, and became part of the Bud Wilkinson coaching tree. He hired another first year coach, John Prock, a former three-year starting lineman at Southwestern Oklahoma State. The former coach at Hollis, Oklahoma, Joe Bailey Metcalf, had taken the Southwestern job and recruited his old player Prock to Weatherford, as Prock was returning home from military service in Korea. Prock had grown up in Hollis around future Texas Longhorn coach Darrell Royal, who had also played at Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson, and who also revered the mentorship of Coach Joe Metcalf.

Carl Allison and his assistant Prock then joined forces to restart the Harding football program in Searcy, Arkansas. When Allison briefly returned to Norman as a scout for the Oklahoma Sooners,[14] John Prock became Harding's head coach and would serve in that capacity for the next two-plus decades. He would go on to coach the next three future Harding head coaches, as well as hiring two of them, Randy Tribble and Ronnie Huckeba, as long-time assistants.

Counting Allison and Prock restarting the Harding football program, the Bisons have had only 6 head coaches in the last 60-plus years. Larry Richmond, Tribble and Huckeba, all had winning records, as does current coach Paul Simmons, who has become the winningest percentage coach in Harding's history.

Harding's historic influence from the state of Oklahoma made for significant football recruiting inroads into the Sooner state. With the latter influence of long-term assistant coaches, some of whom became Harding head coaches, a much wider permanent net was cast throughout the most fertile recruiting grounds of the south. Richmond was a Memphis native, but had also coached in Louisiana and Texas. Tribble was a Florida native who also had coached in Texas, and Huckeba was a Georgia native who had previously coached in Texas and Louisiana. Today's Harding football recruiting base is nationwide and beyond.

Conference championships

Year Conference Overall record Conference record
1972† Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference 10–1 5–0
1976† 7–5 5–0
1989† 7–4 4–1
2016 Great American Conference 11–0 11–0
2021 10–1 10–1
2023 11–0 11–0

† Denotes shared title.

Conference affiliations

No team from 1932 to 1958

Playoff appearances

The Bisons participated in the NAIA Division I Playoffs twice: 1989 and 1992

Year Opponent Round Result
1989 Emporia State 1st Round L 9–32
1992 Central State 1st Round L 0–34

The Bisons have participated in the NCAA Division II Playoffs eight times: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2023.

Year Opponent Round Result
2012 Northwest Missouri State 1st Round L 0–35
2014 Pittsburg State 1st Round L 42–59
2016 Central Missouri 1st Round W 48–31
2016 Sioux Falls 2nd Round W 27–24OT
2016 Northwest Missouri State Quarterfinals L 0–35
2017 Indianapolis 1st Round W 27–24
2017 Ashland 2nd Round W 34–24
2017 Ferris State Quarterfinals W 16–14
2017 Texas A&M-Commerce Semifinals L 17–31
2018 Ferris State 1st Round L 19–21
2019 Northwest Missouri State 1st Round L 6–7
2021 Washburn University 1st Round W 30–14
2021 Northwest Missouri State 2nd Round L 9–28
2023 Central Missouri 2nd Round Bye W 35–34
2023 Grand Valley State Quarterfinals W 7–6
2023 Lenoir–Rhyne Semifinals W 55–14
2023 Colorado Mines NCAA Division II National Championship Game W 38–7 [15]

Bowl games

The Bisons have participated in three College Division bowl games.

Date Opponent Bowl Result
December 6, 1972 Langston Lions Cowboy Bowl W 30–27
December 4, 1976 Abilene Christian Wildcats San Jacinto Shrine Bowl L 12–22
December 13, 2013 Texas A&M–Commerce Live United Texarkana Bowl W 44–3

Records against historic rivals

List of head coaches

List of Harding players in professional football

List of Harding players in the Super Bowl

References

  1. ^ "Harding Historical Data". cfbdatawarehouse.com. Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  2. ^ "The Official Site of Harding Athletics". hardingsports.com.
  3. ^ "Petit Jean, 1924-1929 | Harding University".
  4. ^ "Petit Jean, 1930-1939 | Harding University".
  5. ^ "1926 Football Schedule".
  6. ^ "Schmidt set bar for beating former team". 28 October 2008.
  7. ^ "Petit Jean 1931-1932". Petit Jean Yearbooks. 8. January 1932.
  8. ^ "Petit Jean, 1930-1939 | Harding University".
  9. ^ "Petit Jean 1955-1956". Petit Jean Yearbooks. 32. January 1956.
  10. ^ "Petit Jean 1956-1957". Petit Jean Yearbooks. 33. January 1957.
  11. ^ "1955 Chicago Bears". databaseFootball.com. Archived from the original on April 13, 2007. Retrieved July 16, 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ "Oklahoma football: 1950s four-year starter Carl Allison dies at age 80". Oklahoman.com. December 4, 2013.
  13. ^ "Oklahoma drill: rite of passage or everything to fear about football?". ESPN.com. August 19, 2015.
  14. ^ Walsh, Christopher (22 August 2021). "Oklahoma's Coaching Legacy is More Than Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer". Sports Illustrated Alabama Crimson Tide News, Analysis and More.
  15. ^ "2023 Division II Football Official Bracket | NCAA.com". www.ncaa.com. Retrieved 2024-06-07.
  16. ^ "IN THE SHADOW OF A GIANT". ESPN.com. July 10, 2012.
  17. ^ "Bruce Baldwin NFL Stats - Pro Football Archives".
  18. ^ Tryggestad, Erik (March 1, 2008). "Despite Super Bowl win, Tank Daniels knows 'it's just a game'".