For a short period of time that felt like two decades the Arkansas Football program looked like it was dead.
This roster had plenty of talent on it to win more than eight games in three seasons. No one can tell me otherwise. The recruiting classes were always in the top 25 to mid 30’s. No, that doesn’t equate to winning a lot in the toughest football conference, the SEC, but it should keep a program above water and beating its weaker non-conference opponents.
An unacceptable road loss Colorado State in week two of the 2018 season was a shocker. Losing to North Texas in blowout fashion was absolutely embarrassing. In 2019, an embarrassing loss to lowly San Jose State and a blowout to Ty Storey led Western Kentucky was the tip of the iceberg.
You’re telling me talented players like Devwah Whaley, Cole Kelley, Treylon Burks, Trey Knox, Santos Ramirez, McTelvim Agim, Chevin Calloway, Scoota Harris, Jonathan Marshall, Mike Woods, Montaric Brown, Kam Curl, Bumper Pool, Dre Greenlaw, Joe Foucha, Rakeem Boyd, Nick Starkel, Jalen Catalon, Myron Cunningham, Dalton Wagner, Ricky Stromberg and many many more players who graced the Cardinal and White weren’t good enough to be better than 2-10 back to back seasons? These players should be commended for the hell they endured during the Chad Morris era.
That’s what has frustrated myself covering the Razorbacks over the years. Finally, a coach who this team will absolutely fight for. Not only fight but run through walls and shatter ceilings that are above them to rise from the dead! Perhaps this Razorback program wasn’t dead… it may have been thriving the whole time. Hungry for the day it would be unleashed to eat!
This program is being built as a winner. Built on the confidence within themselves that “who we have is all we need,” famously said by Sam Pittman. There is an absolute hunger for success. A hunger to be better each game! Look no further than the starting quarterback. KJ Jefferson who didn’t start so fast to begin the season but has put together one of the better statistical seasons in recent memory by a Razorback quarterback and there’s still two more games to play this season. Jefferson has completed 79-percent of his passes the previous three games for 664 yards, five touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. How’s that for efficiency. His 20:3 touchdown to interception ratio is the best since Brandon Allen’s 2014 and 2015 seasons. He has proven himself to be the leader going into next season where he could be a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy.
Pittman has completely turned this program upside down. He rid this team of all distractions and implemented a focus of US not ME. He commands respect by his actions and not his resume. The Head Hog leads by humble example and not as a jerk to his players. He has developed trust within the administration building to the coaches and to the team. This is how Arkansas sits 7-4 and even a couple of plays from being 9-2. What a turnaround from being 4-20 in 2018 and 2019. Pittman is what this program needed even when sportswriters around the country dismissed the hire not knowing the impact that he made in his three year stint at Arkansas from 2013-15. He was prepared for this job by Kirby Smart. Pittman will even tell you that although he was taught so many things before he became a head coach is that he is doing it his way, it may not be the right way but it’s his way. “His way” has been successful so far.
On a cold December night, Yurachek took a trip to Georgia to present a contract to Pittman, who seemed to be the third or fourth option. “YESSIRRRRRR,” exclaimed Pittman and Yurachek as they shook hands for a picture and video of the moment. He wanted the job. He knew what it took to be the head coach at the University of Arkansas he said. Pittman continued to say this is a blue collar state and that his football team would take on the mindset of their state with a blue collar work ethic. He wants the state to be “damn proud” of their team. Oh, how what he said in his introductory press conference held true.
Then, last year came with Covid-19 forcing a restructuring of the college football landscape for just one year. Arkansas was tasked with the toughest schedule in college football history in 2020 where six of their ten opponents were ranked inside the top 25, four of them being top 10 teams and two of them were representatives in the SEC Championship Game. The SEC wanted to kill the Razorbacks. The conference wanted to hammer the final nail in the coffin and create the new “Vanderbilt of the SEC West.” Guess what, it didn’t happen! The Hogs won three games but were screwed out of two others due to officiating gaffes. That aside, Pittman’s coaching tenure at Arkansas is off to the best start (11-11, Texas Bowl forfeit included) since Bobby Petrino when he started 13-12.
Personally, I liked what Pittman said during his press conference following the heartbreaking loss to Alabama on Saturday.
“The days of Arkansas being embarrassed and getting their teeth knocked out are over,” said Pittman.
What’s next for Arkansas as the coaching carousel begins to heat up? With SEC jobs opening up like LSU, Florida and potentially Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Auburn could one of Arkansas’ coordinators be in line for a promotion to head coach? That means Arkansas has done such a good job under Pittman that folks are coming after his assistants. Will he be able to keep his staff together?
Finally, Pittman deserves at least SEC Coach of the Year. The job he has done resurrecting the Razorbacks in less than two seasons is nothing short of a coaching miracle. This team believes in their head coach. The recruits can see the progress that is being made on “The Hill” and are beginning to believe in the head coach. Assistant coaches around the country are taking note of the job that Pittman has done and are believing in themselves that they can do the same. The ultimate act of respect from the conference would be recognizing the job that Pittman has done at Arkansas and award him the highest honor there is for a head coach at the Power-Five level. It’s the right thing to do.