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The Honeymoon Phase in Arkansas Football

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Arkansas
The honeymoon phase of the Chad Morris ended rather abruptly
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

New York dating coach Connell Barrett (never thought you’d read a quote from a dating coach on a sports-blogging site, huh?) states that the honeymoon phase is “the sugar rush of new love — the golden time early in a relationship when you can do no wrong in each other’s eyes.” If you have an Instagram account, you see examples of this all the time. The girl and the guy are posting hiking pictures daily; on your story feed, a girl has taken a picture of her boyfriend looking at a menu from a restaraunt, with the caption “Isn’t he the cutest?” in big white letters.

We see the honeymoon phase in all Arkansas football coaching periods. They get hired by the University, and the Arkansas media and fanbase hypes them up during the entire offseason. Then, suddenly, after a couple of tough losses some fans are calling for their heads; the honeymoon phase has come to a screeching halt. So what happened? How do these go from the most popular figures in the state to the most hated?

Before Sam Pittman, the Hogs’s previous coaches started off their careers at Arkansas with some kind of quote to excite fans everywhere. Introduced during halftime of a Arkansas basketball game, Bret Bielema passionately said, “I didn’t come here to be in the SEC, I came here to win the SEC”. Obviously that didn’t happen. Literally on the plane on his way to Arkansas for the first time, Morris remarked that his offense would be the most explosive in the country. That didn’t happen, either.

Seemingly, recruits are wrapped up in the honeymoon phase, as well. Sam Pittman’s recruiting is a prime example of this, as he inherited a recruiting class ranked toward 100 and brought them all the way up to 30. While at Arkansas as the offensive line coach, he was the Hogs’ best recruiter, as well. Coach Bret Bielema’s first class saw him bring in Alex Collins, future Mackey award winner Hunter Henry, and Denver Kirkland, among others.

Chad Morris had to virtually build a recruiting class from scratch, as Bielema emphasized recruiting less and less during his tenure. He found a diamond in the rough in Rakeem Boyd, and starting linebacker Bumper Pool never wavered in his commitment after Bielema got shown the door. Chad Morris’s 2019 class was insane, signing a whopping 11 4-star recruits, according to 247Sports. I think it’s safe to say that he promised these recruits ridiculous things, such as immediate playing-time due to the team’s atrocity. (Great way to build a culture)

However, as we’ve seen from players on social media, Morris treated his recruits like royalty, while he barely acknowledged the players he inherited from Bielema. One player told me that Morris never even talked to him and “always turned it on for the cameras”.

When Morris was announced as the new head coach in December of 2017, fans everywhere were excited for this new fast-paced offense that Morris was famous for; a complete 180 from Bielema’s ground-and-pound style of offense from 2013-to 2017. After all, he brought Clemson where they were today through his high-powered offense, right? Unfortunately, most Arkansas fans fell victim to this entusiasm and high-expectations that came with the Chad Morris hire. After Arkansas lost to Colorado State and North Texas in back-to-back weeks, there were questions that arose, but most still clung to him. We started to hear excuse after excuse from Chadwick throughout the season, which became the norm of every post-game press conference throughout his tenure. His go-to excuse, and my favorite, was that he didn’t have the offense installed. Shouldn’t a capable coach in the SEC be able to adapt to the talent he has?

Bret Bielema was a more established head coach after leading Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls and we knew exactly what to expect: A hard-nosed, hit-someone-in-the-mouth style of play. After a tough 3-9 season in 2013, he started to build something. His problem? He could never finish games and he got lazy with recruiting, and one could argue that this downfall started when Sam Pittman left Arkansas for Georgia. We did see player development in the Bret Bielema era, as Brandon Allen went from a victim of someone burning his truck to an NFL prospect. Other examples of player development include Frank Ragnow and AJ Derby.

So is the honeymoon phase different for a more established head coach like Bret Bielema and an up-and-coming one like Chad Morris?

I think for recruits it does differ but not a fanbase. We know what we’re getting in established coaches. For example, if the Hogs would have hired Mike Leach instead of Sam Pittman, we would scare off running backs. Why? Because Mike Leach rarely runs the ball. In Bret Bielema’s case, we wouldn’t get many dual-threat quarterbacks to come to the Hill. Why? Because there’s not many RPOS in the system where a quarterback could showcase his running ability. With Chad Morris, it’s relatively unknown, and I’d argue that recruits are excited about the unknown. They want to be part of the rebuild in the new era even the star of the new era. In this case, these recruits can only be sold on a program based on a coach’s personality, ties to a high school or state, and previous players’ success at the coach’s previous stops. If sold well, a recruiting class flourishes. But as a program regresses, as Arkansas has, the recruiting classes get worse and worse, as there is a larger body of work to base a program on.

For Arkansas fans, every new head coaching hire automatically becomes the most famous person in the state. We try to convince ourselves it’s a great hire by reading up on tweets and articles breaking down the stats of the new coach and his quirks that we love about him. There’s never a 100 percent agreement on the head coaching hire, but eventually we all rally around him.

With Sam Pittman, how do we approach this, knowing what Arkansas football was like with our last head coach? I will proceed with caution and call me crazy but I that we can know how the Pittman era will play out based on the week one matchup with Nevada; because although the Arkansas football program is a dumpster fire currently, there is never an excuse to lose to a team like Nevada, even as a last-place SEC school. This applies to the losses to Colorado State and North Texas, as well. The honeymoon phase needs to end earlier in a coaching tenure, or fans will become more angry after giving a coach chance after chance to prove himself.

Thanks for reading this article. For more hot-takes and all kinds of world-class entertainment, follow Ryan on Twitter at @ItsRyanBolding