Arkansas wide receiver De’Vion Warren / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
There are three aspects to the game of football: offense, defense, and the kicking game or special teams.
Legendary Arkansas Razorback coach Frank Broyles preached — just like his mentor and college coach Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech — that if you win in two of those areas, you usually win the football game.
First-year Razorback coach Sam Pittman might not explain it exactly the same way, but his philosophy of football is probably pretty similar.
Why do I make that statement?
The first coach Pittman recruited to his staff was assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Scott Fountain, whom he coached with at Georgia. In fact, Fountain said Pittman talked to him about following the latest Head Hog to Arkansas prior to meeting with Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek.
That shows the emphasis Pittman has put on the kicking game in his first season at Arkansas, and it shows that he understands how vital special teams are to building a winning program, especially when you might not be as talented as some or most of your opponents.
The kicking game can give a well-coached, disciplined, and hungry team an advantage that it might not be able to gain strictly on offense or defense, and so much of the success of an offense and a defense is set up by not just being good but great in the kicking game.
Special teams set the table for everything an offensive and defensive coordinator wants to accomplish.
Wise coaches look to gain an edge wherever they can, and being solid or strong on special teams is an area where a team can make up ground rather quickly, and that’s exactly what Arkansas is trying to do this season by investing in a full-time special teams coordinator in Fountain.
Hiring Fountain and placing an emphasis on special teams is just one example why it appears that Pittman had put a lot of thought into the type of program he would run if he ever gained the opportunity that came to him last December when Yurachek hired the popular and successful offensive line coach away from Georgia, whom the Razorbacks host at 3 p.m. in their Sept. 26 season opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Fountain is just part of a Cracker Jack staff that Pittman has assembled On the Hill which will surely pay dividends for the Razorbacks and their fans as the program matures under Pittman’s leadership.
It might be difficult for Pittman to keep this staff together long because solid coaches tend to attract opportunities rather quickly, especially if a program is successful.
When talking about the Razorbacks that “if” stands as a rather big two-letter word. There’s no getting around it, the Razorback program regressed in two years under Chad Morris, and it wasn’t necessarily sitting pretty when Bret Bielema was let go in 2017 so boosters could chase after the ever elusive Gus Malzahn.
We may never know how close Malzahn was to coming to Arkansas at that point. Interest seemed sincere on his part until his Tigers upset Georgia and then Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Malzahn making the move back to Arkansas seemed like a pipe dream at that point, but Arkansas boosters were intent on making an overture that gave Malzahn even more leverage in his negotiations with Auburn.
Some would say Malzahn’s agent Jimmy Sexton pulled a bait-and-switch on Arkansas, dangling Malzahn as bait and than offering Morris as a convenient substitute.
Morris may be a fine offensive coordinator and someday he might gain the opportunity to be head coach again, but he was in over his head at Arkansas, hiring a defensive staff that was over the hill and an offensive one that was still wet behind the ears.
The product was the worst back-to-back seasons of Razorback football since facemasks became required equipment. The product Arkansas put on the field the last two seasons was unacceptable.
Some claim Morris was playing a long game until he could get “his” players in place, but from listening to the Razorbacks answer questions on Zoom teleconferences during this COVID-19 infected preseason, that doesn’t jibe with the player’s attitudes.
Players haven’t thrown Morris or his staff under the bus, and reporters haven’t dug for that type of dirt, but there is clearly a different and more positive and tougher attitude with the Razorbacks this season than last.
It is rare to have a player interview without him praising his position coach and the techniques they are using and the amount of football the players are learning under Pittman and his staff. The change in attitude is night and day.
Will that equate to more victories on the football field this season?
That would be hard to know even if the coronavirus weren’t riding herd over the season and the Razorbacks weren’t playing a 10-game, all-SEC season.
It’s realistic the Hogs could be a much improved team this season, and not win more than two games. I personally think the Hogs’ win total will be higher than that. How much higher? I don’t know. There are unknowns in any season, but all bets are off this year with COVID-19 being the biggest intangible college sports has faced in modern times.
But as an observer and fan of Razorback football, I only grow to like Pittman and his staff more the more I know. The proof, of course, will be when the games begin in just over a week.
I am greatly looking forward to the beginning of the season. It stands to be another tough one for the Hogs in terms of wins and losses, but I do feel better about where the program is headed the more we hear from Pittman and what seems to be a fine football staff.