Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lamar McHan was Darren McFadden before McFadden

Last modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 1:44 PM CST

Lamar McHan was Darren McFadden before McFadden

By LEROY MORGANTI - For the Delta Democrat Times

Last week's publicity surrounding Mississippi State's encounter with Arkansas All-American running back Darren McFadden kindled memories of another Razorback football legend - the late Lamar McHan, a product of Lake Village and one-time assistant coach with the Greenville High School Hornets.

When I arrived in Greenville on Aug. 15, 1966, to assume the duties as sports editor of the Delta Democrat-Times, Lamar had just joined the GHS coaching staff after a noteworthy 10-year career as a quarterback in the NFL (Chicago Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Colts and one year with the San Francisco 49ers).

One of my first duties was to meet with Hornet Head Coach William Earl Morgan to do a pre-season story on the perennial Big 8 Conference power.

Morgan expressed concern that the Hornets were heading into the season without an experienced quarterback, but said he was confident the job could be handled by former defensive back Larry Cox, described by Morgan as the most athletic player on the team.

The job of making a quarterback out of Cox had been assigned to McHan.

After watching McHan work with Cox, I asked Morgan if he had a backup plan. In passing drills, Cox's passes wobbled like ducks shot on the wing, and he consistently missed open receivers.

But McHan's coaching and Cox's athleticism and determination rapidly converted the youngster into perhaps the conference's best passer as the dying ducks became tight spirals that usually nailed the receivers between their uniform numbers.

Despite his great career at Arkansas (he finished ninth in Heisman voting) and his NFL career (he was the second pick overall by the Chicago Cardinals in the 1954 draft), McHan was an extremely modest and soft-spoken individual who typically gave all the credit for the successful conversion to Cox.

One day, while groping for column material, I picked up the Razorback yearbook and began reviewing individual records. To my surprise, Lamar still held virtually every passing record in school history, despite the fact he had played tailback in the run-oriented single wing offense.

During his career at Arkansas, Lamar ran the ball 332 times and passed it 421, accounting for 31 touchdowns. In the NFL, he was utilized primarily as a passer, throwing for almost 10,000 yards in 113 games.

He described the difference in his typical modest fashion.

“Playing quarterback in the NFL required you to think,” I recall his saying. “Playing tailback in college, all you had to do was fake to one side, run to the other, and prepare for shock. I was better at absorbing shock than thinking.”

When the column about Lamar's college football exploits was published in the DDT, I received a call from him, thanking me profusely and telling me how flattered he was.

I was taken aback; this guy had been written up in national newspapers and sports magazines by prominent writers for almost two decades, yet he took the time to make a young small-town sportswriter feel like Grantland Rice.

Lamar also coached the Greenville High baseball team, and my memory is that they advanced deeply into the state playoffs. I congratulated him on being a pretty good baseball coach for a football player. He was too modest to tell me (as I learned later) that he led Arkansas in hitting in 1953 with a .394 average while starting in the Razorback outfield.

Lamar was in Greenville only a short time before the New Orleans Saints snatched him up as a scout and coach.

He died of a heart attack on Nov. 23, 1998, in Metairie, La.

And I bet that his former teammates, coaches, players and associates joined Larry Cox and me in shedding a tear in memory of this first-class individual who just happened to be a great football player and coach.

Leroy Morganti is a former sports editor at the Delta Democrat Times that went on to become vice president at Delta State University. He is retired. He can be reached at


Delta Democrat Times ● 988 North Broadway ● PO Box 1618 ● Greenville , MS 38701

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