clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Too far, too fast? How Arkansas’ fast turnaround caused expectations to rise too quickly.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Arkansas at Mississippi State Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As anyone reading this knows, life is not always easy for Arkansas Razorbacks fans. We don’t call them, lovingly of course, the Heart Attack Hogs for nothing. It seems we live and die by the last second free throw shots, the baseballs hit with warning track power or that just miss the foul pole, and the final two minutes of the football games.

Starting back in the 1960s with Frank Broyles as head coach, Razorback football was a thing to behold. We had a National Championship and over the next five decades we were always in the conversation with excellent rivalries and fielding teams with players that went to on to the next level. Those years were fun to be a fan, win or lose. If you couldn’t enjoy watching Lou Holtz pace up and down the sidelines like a banty rooster and soak in the wisdom from his words, then you just weren’t doing it right. Our guys were on upward trajectories, and we were a team that you could put in any conversation as a team to be contended with. Sure, there were little bumps during the coaching changes years, but nothing that we couldn’t overcome.

Then came the 2010s, and the bigger bumps in our storied history.

I’m not going to revisit the main cause, we all know what happened. We know that players can be loyal to the coaches that recruit them and when a coach leaves, decisions have to be made by the players. I wish different decisions had been madein 2012, but hey, they didn’t ask me.

From 2012 we, as a fanbase, sat and stared as our program declined. And not just declined, it crashed and burned like a snowball headed downhill at top speed and the avalanche ultimately buried Chad Morris. We had, collectively, become numb to our favorite fellows. We accepted losses as the norm and celebrated the smallest of wins as if we’d won anotherNational Championship. The loyal fans still watched every week, or at least had the game on the television so they could catch a play or a score update as they did other things that needed doing. The bandwagon and fair-weathered fans flew the hog trough pretty quickly. We had hardened our hearts a bit, or at least put a little protective armor around them.

2020: Enter Coach Sam Pittman.

With the 2020 COVID year and abbreviated schedule, I don’t know how many folks actually paid attention to Coach at first. We were happy with a change in leadership, but still unsure of this new guy. All we really knew was that he had coached with Bret Bielema, and loved Arkansas. Just him wanting to be in Arkansas was a plus for us. After all, we’d been burned as a group in the past. Coaches come in wearing their red and saying all the right things and we get all revved up just to be continue to be disappointed once the games started.

Until October 3, 2020. A date that will live in Razorback infamy. Our 20-game losing streak came to an end! I remember jumping around the family room, again like we’d won a National Championship, just ecstatic that we’d won. WE HAD WON! FINALLY! We beat Mississippi State! And then we beat Ole Miss! And Tennessee! It might have been a 3-7 season but at least we had some Ws on it! And they were good Ws!

We started to allow ourselves some hope. Maybe 2021 would see four or five wins? Maybe even finish 50/50?

Did we even dare to dream of that?

Of course we dared! We had suffered for years! Surely the football gods would let us win a few more than just three in 2021, right?

And we all know what happened in 2021. The most miracle season of all miracle seasons – Coach Pittman took us to amagical 8 – 4 regular season record and topped it off with a big ole bowl win in a January 1 bowl! It had been almost 10 years since Arkansas had been in a bowl of any substance. We celebrated winning the Southwest Classic trophy. We reclaimedthe Golden Boot from LSU. We took the Battleline trophy to Fayetteville.

We had the season we had dreamed of for years! Our glory from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s returned. We had an energized fanbase that spilled over into every other sport! We had SEC championships in women’s softball, gymnasts that made the NCAA finals, the start of a baseball season that ended in Omaha and a basketball team that made back-to-back Elite 8 appearances.

The Hogs were back, baby!

And we were ready for football in 2022! Bring it on!

As of this writing, we are sitting at 3-3. Two years ago we were celebrating 3 wins in the entire season as if we’d never won a game in our history. Ever. We celebrated 3 wins like we could die happy if our Maker called us home that night. But if you read the message boards and follow folks on social media right now they sound like it is 2012 again and we should be grateful for the three and just move on, write off the season. We can’t do anything right.

You just now felt the energy change with that paragraph. Just like I think we all felt on the Texas A&M goal line a few weeks back when we failed to score. It’s like you could literally feel all the energy get sucked out of the Razorback universe. It was the first of our three losses.

Coach Pittman gave us a very high bar last year. But we set his bar too high. We had real hope for the first time in almost a decade and we allowed that hope to override our good sense and understand a coach in season three might not have two back-to-back miracle seasons. If 2021 had been a 6 and 6 or 5 and 7 we would be approaching this year as “maybe this is the one when we get on the plus side”. Our expectations would be a little more tempered and, some might say, realistic. We could look at the roster changes without the Cardinal Red-colored glassesand understand that everyone’s favorite 2021 play of KJ Jefferson launching the ball downfield secure in the knowledge that Treylon Burks was down there somewhere to catch it couldn’t necessarily be repeated if Treylon was no longer on the field. We have a whole room full of great receivers now but the chemistry has to work and Jefferson and Burks had longer than a few weeks to gel theirs. We could see that losing 6,7,8 defensive players to graduations, the portal, and injuries but be impacting what we could do on the field and understand more and more adjustments were going to be needed to make the season successful.

The bulk of the fanbase approached this season as if undefeated was inevitable. (Undefeated – in the SEC, West. A taller task you won’t find.) The success of Coach’s second season allowed us, even encouraged us, to believe that. Now, Coach won’t tell you the bar is too high. He’ll tell you the same thing I’m going to tell you - we lost three in row last year and then ran the table except for the late season loss to Alabama (in a very close game, I might add). They can still finish just as good, if not one game better than we did last year. Nothing is off the table.

We’ve already gotten that Alabama loss taken care of for the year so I ask what is stopping the Hogs from running the table again? Nothing. Not a darn thing. Except ourselves.

I listened to a podcast today with Razorback legend Tony Bua. One thing he said more than once was “just hang on to the rope.” He said it in reference to the defenses over the years. How the winning years it was because the defenses held on that rope no matter what and how it was obvious under other coaches that the whole team had let go of the rope.

We have to hold on the rope – coaches, players, and us – the Razorback fan faithful. The circle feeds itself.