Hog coach got early start in Texarkana

Dave Van Horn is a master manager for the game of baseball.

Van Horn is entering his 22nd year as the University of Arkansas head baseball coach. Over his 21 seasons as Head Hog, Van Horn has elevated Arkansas into one of the nation's premier programs.

The baseball guru has guided the Razorbacks to seven College World Series appearances (2004, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2022). He also reached the CWS twice at Nebraska.

His Razorback teams had qualified for 18 NCAA tournament berths and racked up 839 wins. The veteran coach is one of only five head coaches in college baseball history, along with Ron Polk, Mike Bianco, Skip Bertman and Tim Corbin, with 300 or more SEC wins in their career.

A lot of fans don't realize that Van Horn played two seasons for the Razorbacks. Following his junior year at Arkansas, he was drafted in the 10th round of the 1982 MLB Draft by Atlanta and spent three seasons in the Braves' organization before returning to Arkansas to begin his coaching career as a graduate assistant from 1985-88.

He got his coaching start at Texarkana College, but I believe it was called Texarkana Community College back then.

That's when I first came into contact with Van Horn. He was coaching the Bulldogs against some tough team and Texarkana trailed by two runs in the latter innings.

I was covering the game and my boss at the time, the legendary and longtime Texarkana Gazette sports director Johnny Green was umpiring behind the plate.

Van Horn brought in a relief pitcher and the pitcher promptly walked the first batter he faced. He was quickly yanked and sent to the bench.

"You're not bending your back properly when you're throwing," Van Horn told the reliever. "Your mechanics are off," he said.

The other reliever got the side out without further damage.

In Texarkana's last at-bat, the Bulldogs were issued a pair walks before a player who had something like one or two hits, walked toward home plate with a bat in his hand.

Van Horn then shouted to the batter to come back and he called for a pinch hitter.

Good call.

The pinch hitter belted a three-run homer and the Bulldogs won by a run.

Great coaching, I thought.

I told Green that I thought Van Horn had shown great coaching.

"I hope the Bulldogs can keep him here," I told my boss.

"Nope, he's too good to stay at a junior college," Green responded. "He'll wind up with a big-time job someday."

He was right.

Van Horn got his feet wet by staying longer than he expected -- five years. He moved to Central Missouri State where his team won the national championship, came back to the Ark-La-Tex to coach Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and then moved to Nebraska for five years.

Arkansas realized Van Horn's talent and the Razorbacks snatched him up 22 years ago. He's now the second-winningest coach in Arkansas history.

The Razorbacks open the 2024 season today against James Madison in Fayetteville.

"I'm excited about this coming season, even though we have some holes that have to be plugged," said the 63-year-old Van Horn, who is a three-time SEC Coach of the Year.

Van Horn's NCAA coaching record is 1,208-606 (.666 winning percentage).

Van Horn's teams have won four SEC titles in 1999, 2004, 2021 and 2023.

On April 5, 2015, Van Horn won his 500th game as the Arkansas coach. On March 11, 2020, Van Horn won his 700th game as the Arkansas coach.

Van Horn earns his $1.25 million a year salary.

As a Razorback in 1982, Van Horn would earn All-Southwest Conference and SWC Newcomer of the Year awards for his performance. He was also recognized as team MVP.

Now his focus is on bringing home a national championship to Arkansas.

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