(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 306-310)
A sea change in men’s athletic coaching occurred in 1978–80. Auburn Smith retired as athletic director and was succeeded by W. T. Watson whose replacement as head basketball coach was Monroe Ingram. He in turn named former SAU basketball star
Sam Biley as his assistant. Steve Goodheart became the new baseball coach. These four men headed SAU men’s athletics for many years, providing programs the kind of continuity that had long characterized the school. Athletic Director Watson, aided by the SAU Muleriders Club, was successful in raising endowments and other contributions for sports programs. Club members, including Charles F. Tripp, a ’72 alumnus, responded to the transportation problems of smaller teams who had to travel in two or three vehicles. In 1984, the club helped raise half of the cost of a new twenty-five-seat bus.
Rip Powell also decided to retire from coaching after a disappointing 1978 football season. He had never captured another AIC title after 1972 although his teams had outstanding players such as 1977 first-team NAIA all-American Don Hawkins, the first Mulerider to earn this honor. Powell had coached for ten seasons with an overall record of 62 wins, 38 losses, and 1 tie. He was named in 2003 to the inaugural SAU Sports Hall of Fame. In its first century, Mulerider football would never again have a coach who served as long and compiled as great a record. Several coaches afterward had winning seasons; a 1981 team briefly gained a number one ranking in NAIA polls for the first time ever, and later Muleriders would win one more championship.
Coach Don Tumey, an early 1980s Mulerider quarterback, led the team to the school’s first bowl game in several decades when the 1990 Muleriders, after winning eight games that year, were invited to play in Mexico City’s Aztec Bowl. SAU earned no money from the bowl appearance, but the team traveled in style aboard the Mexican president’s plane and enjoyed the host city’s hospitality. In the stadium built for the 1968 Olympics, the Muleriders on December 15 pulled off a 41–31 victory over Mexico’s all-star team despite the unaccustomed noise of forty thousand cheering spectators. Although no Mulerider teams of the era managed to win a title, an increasing number of their championship-caliber players went on to successful careers in professional football. They included Dennis Woodberry (1981–85) who played for the Washington Redskins’ 1988 Super Bowl championship team, Greg Stumon (1982–85) who had a long career in the Canadian Football League, David Ward (1983–86) who played briefly for the New England Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals, and Bobby Evans (1986–89) who played Canadian football for seven years. First team NAIA all-American Mark Mason (1985–88) did not turn professional but holds the all-time Mulerider career rushing record of 3,034 yards. These players are all in the SAU Sports Hall of Fame.
Some football players like Dennis Woodberry also excelled at track, but like all modern sports, SAU track relied on specialists for runners. Coach Charles Mosely led men’s track to three consecutive AIC titles from 1983 to 1985. The 1984 team finished fourth out of 118 teams in the NAIA meet. The leading runner on these teams was Sammy Epps from Atlanta, Texas, who was named NAIA all-American for four consecutive years, 1982–85. Epps, who still holds many of SAU’s track records, was named in 2004 to both the SAU Sports Hall of Fame and to the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame. Former 1960s SSC track star Dan Veach became head track coach in 1988 and formed the school’s first women’s track team. In the first season of competition, the women won the 1991 AIC title and repeated the feat for three consecutive years and once more in 1995. Veach was named AIC Women’s Track Coach of the Year two years in a row. Among his outstanding performers was Stephanie Manning. His greatest runner in these years was Rachel Young Moore, named in 2007 to the SAU Sports Hall of Fame for her records in both basketball and track.
W. T. Watson expected to win another AIC title before his head-basketball-coaching career ended. He and assistant coach Monroe Ingram recruited some of the best players they ever had, including Greg Alexander, Sam Biley, Jamie Bridges, and Marcus McDonald. Although the mid to late 1970s teams came close, they were never able to cinch a championship. Magnolia native Alexander was the standout player of the era, setting school records for scoring and defense that still stand; injuries ended a promising career in NFL’s Dallas Cowboys football. Alexander was named to the SAU Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
During seventeen years as head basketball coach, Monroe Ingram had thirteen winning seasons. His 1983 team won the NAIA District 17 title with three consecutive heart-stopping, one-point victories at season’s end. Ingram’s greatest success occurred during the years that John Holmes played. A six-foot-seven-inch forward/ guard from Eudora, Arkansas, he became the first basketball player in school history named a first team NAIA all-American. Holmes holds the school’s all-time leading scoring record of 2,290 points in 105 games. Holmes led the team to both 1988–89 NAIA District 17 and 1989–90 AIC championships. Ingram was named Coach of the Year each time, and both he and Holmes were later inducted into the SAU Sports Hall of Fame.
The greatest records of the 1980s were compiled in tennis and baseball, both still treated as minor sports at SAU. Tennis’s apogee in the school’s first century was reached in this era. Successive tennis teams won the AIC championship seven out of ten years and the NAIA District 17 title three times between 1980 and 1989. Teams were always ranked among the top twenty-five in the NAIA. The key individual in this outstanding record was Baylor Guy, first as a player and then as the coach. There were also many other notable players through these years, including John Witter, Jeff White, Pat and Eric Sixbey, Kurt Lehigh, Chris Blair, John Balduce, and Fernando Barbosa. Paolo Pezzoli was the 1988–89 team’s number one player and ranked among the top ten NAIA players in the country. Guy was named AIC and District 17 Tennis Coach of the Year on three occasions. Under Coach Chris Blair, the team in 1992 again won the AIC and District 17 titles.
Steve Goodheart, who played baseball under Monroe Ingram in the 1970s, returned to coach the program in 1980 and turned it into a nationally ranked powerhouse. This achievement was accomplished without scholarships until 1993. Over twenty-three years, Goodheart compiled the most wins (and one of the highest percentages) of all coaches in school history, 764 wins, 416 losses, and 5 ties for a record percentage of .647. His teams won nine AIC championships, eight NAIA District 17 titles, and two area championships. Scores of his players signed professional baseball contracts. Three teams went to the NAIA World Series.
The 1987 Mulerider baseball team was undoubtedly the best team in school history. It finished third in that year’s world series. Among its members were two outstanding players, pitcher Larry Lundeen and right fielder Bob Block. Both were the first SAU baseballers named first-team NAIA all-Americans. Lundeen won 14 of the 46 wins posted that season. Block was on base 150 times and hit 13 home runs while batting .453. Both Lundeen and Block entered the SAU Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. Coach Goodheart joined them in 2008. Tommy Stewart, who played in 1992–95, helped lead teams to the final two AIC and District 17 titles before SAU athletics moved to the Gulf South Conference of NCAA Division II. In 1994, Stewart achieved the unique record of hitting safely in 54 straight games, a feat accomplished only four times in all of baseball history, first by major league New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio with 56 in 1941 and later by two other collegiate players in 1987 and 2003.