We’re a week and a day away from the start of the Razorbacks’ football season, and at least for me, the anticipation is high.
I can’t help it. The start of Razorback football season has been the most wonderful time of the year for me since I was a tyke. The Hogs are one of the key ties that bind my family together. It’s been that way ever since I can remember, and it will be that way until I pass from this mortal coil.
As my 91-year-old dad would say, “Root Hog or die.”
Yeah, it’s a little dramatic, and probably hasn’t been heard much since the 1960s, but it is the sentiment among my immediate family members when it comes to the Razorbacks, particularly with football.
Going to Razorback games in the fall were basically my family’s vacations. We took a couple of summer vacations to Florida and Disney World when I was growing up, but mostly my parents saved their time off from work for Razorback weekends in Fayetteville and Little Rock.
For me as a kid there was no place better to be than at War Memorial Stadium on a Saturday evening or Razorback Stadium on a Saturday afternoon. Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s there really wasn’t much of a tailgating scene in Fayetteville, but as a kid, there was nothing more fun to me than passing the football around on the golf course outside of War Memorial Stadium and eating my mom’s fried chicken along with a pimento cheese sandwiche in lawn chairs on that old golf course.
Since my mom passed a few years ago, I’ve learned to cook pretty good fried chicken, but I’ve never had any chicken that tasted as good as her’s did before and after a Razorback game, and I don’t think I ever will.
My family’s Razorback roots run back to 1947 when the town of Parkin paid the way for the entire high school football team to attend the Arkansas-Texas game played at old Crump Stadium in Memphis. That day my dad became a Razorback fan, even though the Hogs took it on the chin, 21-6, to the No. 3 Longhorns. My dad and his best buddy Dave “Hawg” Hanner, who went on to play for the Razorbacks before enjoying a long career with the Green Bay Packers as a player, coach, and a scout, had a ball at that game.
So, my Razorback roots run deep. Many of the best days of my life have been centered around the Razorbacks because of family, friends, and of course the football, too.
As a columnist I do attempt to be objective when writing about the games, but I’d probably be classified as a “homer” by most other sports writers. I don’t wear the badge proudly, but I’m not going to deny where my sympathies lie. I want the Razorbacks to win every time they play. I’d be lying if I said any different, but I endeavor to write my columns as it actually happened on the field rather than to sugar-coat the information.
There’s no sugar-coating the last two seasons of Razorback football. It was abysmal.
The two biggest mistaken hires in modern Razorback history came when Arkansas decision-makers felt forced to make a quick decision on hiring a football coach. The first was when Frank Broyles felt he had to elevate Jack Crowe to head coach from offensive coordinator in 1990 when Ken Hatfield bolted for Clemson just days before the national signing period. It was a move to salvage Arkansas’ recruiting efforts.
The other was when acting athletics director Julie Cromer Peoples felt forced into a quick decision when Gus Malzahn opted to stay at Auburn, and she hired the ill-equipped Chad Morris as the Razorbacks head coach.
Both Crowe and Morris proved to be in over their heads as head coaches at Arkansas. Neither inherited great situations, but both made the situation worse than it had to be.
The only good that came out of the Morris situation is that he left the program in such a dumpster fire that the perceived best choices for the Razorback job didn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole.
Mike Norvell went from Memphis to Florida State. Lane Kiffin went from Florida Atlantic to Ole Miss. Eliah Drinkwitz went from Appalachian State to Missouri. Mike Leach went from Washington State to Mississippi State. All were names mentioned or considered for the Razorback job before Sam Pittman was named the head Hog.
All of those men are at least solid football coaches. There’s no telling what they might have done at Arkansas had they taken or been offered the job. That said, even though this is Pittman’s first major college head coaching job, the Hogs may have gotten the best fit for their situation.
As a career-long assistant until this opportunity, Pittman knows the value of assistant coaches, and he put together what seems to be an excellent staff at Arkansas. Being able to attract and hire great assistant coaches is an especially important attribute for a head coach. It might be the second most important attribute for a head coach next to recruiting. It seems Pittman is pretty good at both.
It’s too early to assess Pittman’s in-game coaching decisions, but being able to recruit a crack coaching staff and players will always make his in-game decision-making that much easier.
Honestly, I can’t wait to see what type of Razorback team Pittman puts on the field this season. There is no two ways about it, the Hogs’ schedule is brutal. It’s as difficult as any seen in college football this season or any other.
A two-win season against an all-SEC schedule would be much better than the previous two, two-win seasons over non-conference opponents, but let’s be realistic, no one is going to be happy with a two-win season this year no matter the circumstances.
So, this stands to be a tough year for the Razorbacks, Pittman, and his staff. Maybe we’ll see progress even if it is not in the win column, and hopefully, we’ll be surprised and this team will knock our socks off.