Clarence Lamar McHan (1932–1998)

Lamar McHan grew up and played football in Lake Village (Chicot County), became a star for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and was one of the first Razorbacks to achieve some stardom in the professional football leagues. McHan was a versatile player who did everything—pass, run, kick, block, and tackle. He was the second player selected overall in the 1954 draft of the National Football League—still the highest draft pick ever for an Arkansas player as of 2021—and spent ten years as a quarterback in the league and part of another season with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He later was a coach for high school, collegiate, and professional teams.

Clarence Lamar McHan was born on December 16, 1932, in Lake Village, the eldest of four children of Clarence Henry McHan and Violet Bowman McHan, who were in the grocery business. He graduated from Lakeside High School in Lake Village. Although the Lakeside Beavers played in a league of small schools, McHan’s efforts earned him a scholarship to the University of Arkansas. He was big for collegiate backs at that time—six feet one inch tall, broad-shouldered, and weighing 200 pounds—and was more physical than many of the linemen who blocked for him. Freshmen did not play in those days, and, as a sophomore in 1951, McHan did not start at quarterback in the first game, against Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University–Stillwater), but as a substitute he broke the game open with an eighty-one-yard touchdown run. He was never benched again in his three seasons. Arkansas won the game 42–7; his run was the longest for the team all season.

As a collegiate and professional player, he was never with an outstanding team that competed for a championship, so his long sports career went unheralded after he became a professional.

The Arkansas Razorbacks team, which competed against Texas teams in the Southwest Conference and rarely recruited players outside the state, had a few stars like McHan but almost never a roster that could beat teams like the University of Texas Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. That began to change in the 1950s, starting with the hiring of Coach Bowden Wyatt from the University of Wyoming in McHan’s last year, 1953.

In the Razorbacks’ first win over the University of Texas at home in Fayetteville that season, McHan returned a punt eighty yards for a touchdown and then, late in the game, marched the team down the field for a twelve-yard field goal by Pat Summerall to win 16–14. Against the Aggies, quarterback McHan had tried to hand the ball to a halfback on a broken play, then found himself alone in the backfield and was able to fun fifty-eight yards for a touchdown. He ran for 433 yards that season, passed for 703 yards, and accounted for ten touchdowns.

McHan made the All-Southwest Conference team all three seasons. When Wyatt took over in 1953, McHan was the tailback in Wyatt’s single-wing formation, but he was the leading passer, rusher, kick returner, and punter. Wyatt challenged McHan, who had gained a little weight in the offseason, to prove that he was a leader by trimming down and toughening up, and McHan responded by leading the conference in passing yardage, total offense, punting, and punt returns. When he led the Razorbacks to a stunning win over highly ranked Texas A&M, 41–14, he was named the national back of the week. He was ninth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy that year and played in the Blue-Gray game of all-stars in December and the College All-Star Game the next August.

In the NFL draft in 1954, he was the second player chosen, by the Chicago Cardinals, which was the weakest team in the league. This was an era before both collegiate and professional teams recruited fast and nimble athletes as wide receivers out of the backfield. (Arkansas’s first was Lance Alworth of Brookhaven, Mississippi, who as a professional became known as “Bambi” for his speed and acrobatic catches.) McHan threw to big and often slow ends. In five seasons with Chicago, two with the Green Bay Packers, two with the Baltimore Colts, and one with the San Francisco 49ers, his numbers were never spectacular. He played part of one season, 1965, with the Toronto Argonauts.

McHan married Billie Holland in 1955, but the couple divorced the next year. He married his second wife, Barbara Lowe, in 1962, and they had two daughters and a son.

McHan retired as an active player and coached a few years, at Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff (he received a master’s degree in business administration while he was there) and the University of Texas at Arlington, and then at Greenville High School, across the Mississippi River from his hometown. But he returned to professional coaching with the New Orleans Saints for ten years. He was recruited to coach Archie Manning, a struggling quarterback on a young, inexperienced team, who in 1971, like McHan, had been the second player chosen in the draft. Manning had been an All-American at the University of Mississippi, near McHan’s home, but he was a sprint-out passer who was often sacked and intercepted. Manning would always credit McHan with making him a good quarterback—showing him how to protect himself and pass from the pocket and how to handle the mental aspects of quarterbacking and being the team leader. Unlike his two sons, Peyton and Eli, who were professional all-stars, Manning would never play on a winning team.

After retiring from coaching, McHan moved to Metairie, Louisiana, and for twenty-six years was a real estate broker while managing the family farm near Lake Village.

McHan died of a heart attack on November 23, 1988, at his home in Jefferson, a suburb of New Orleans. He is buried at Garden of Memories in Metairie.

For additional information:
“Ex-Quarterback Lamar McHan Dies.” Associated Press, New Orleans, Louisiana, November 26, 1998.

Henry, Orville, and Jim Bailey. The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1996.

Jones, Matt. “66 Years Later, McHan Remains Arkansas’ Highest Draft Pick.” Whole Hog Sports, April 23, 2020. https://www.wholehogsports.com/news/2020/apr/23/66-years-later-mchan-remains-arkansas-highest-draf/ (accessed December 14, 2021).

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 01/08/2022

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