Recruiting returnees should be top priority

By: Nate Allen
Published: Saturday, December 14, 2019
Coach Sam Pittman calls the hogs, Monday, December 9, 2019 during an introductory press conference at the Walker Pavilion in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Coach Sam Pittman calls the hogs, Monday, December 9, 2019 during an introductory press conference at the Walker Pavilion in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- With college football's early signing period commencing Wednesday it may seem paramount that just last Sunday hired Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman hasten salvaging what he can for the Razorbacks' 2020 recruiting class.

It is extremely important yet not paramount. Even inheriting a team whose seniors experienced 4-8 overall, 1-7 in the SEC in 2017 under Bret Bielema and successive 2-10, 0-8, seasons in 2018 and 2019 under the Chad Morris regime, recruiting returnees takes top priority. For they will be Pittman's base these next two or three years.

"We've got to recruit our own players," Pittman said Monday. "That's the first thing we need to do. We've got to recruit our own players."

Pittman said that even hitting the recruiting trail Monday night.

He met with the existing Razorbacks on Sunday night and likely will repeatedly encourage their 2020 resolve before they go home for Christmas after final exams.

"You can't be any good at anything if you don't believe you are," Pittman said Monday. "The No. 1 thing we have to do is get our players believing we can go win as a group. The only way that's gonna happen is we show them we believe in them. Hopefully we showed that last night to start with."

Pittman previously experienced recruiting inherited Razorbacks firsthand. Arkansas' offensive line coach from 2013-2015, Pittman was among Bielema's first hires.

He inherited Hogs wallowing in shambles then, too. In 2012 under interim coach John L. Smith they plummeted from Preseason national top 10 to 4-8 overall, 2-6 in the SEC.

Bielema's 2013 Razorbacks struggled 3-9, 0-8 yet laid a foundation improving to 7-6, 2-6 and 8-5, 5-3. They didn't backslide until 2016 and 2017 with Pittman parted to coach Georgia's offensive line.

Among Arkansas' football coaches into this century, Houston Nutt perhaps best embraced making previous players instantly his own.

Nutt in 1998 quickly saw Danny Ford left him a tough, talented team fallen on two years hard times but remembering from 1995 winning the SEC West. They asked their new coach never say "rebuilding" but winning, and they did at 9-3.

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Henry Jordan's quip about Packers coach Vince Lombardi: "He treats us all the same -- like dogs," more likely applied to Bobby Petrino. But if all feel treated -- or even mistreated -- the same, they are apt to bond which Petrino's Arkansas teams increasingly did.

Inevitably there's critical piling on regarding a fired coach, but anecdotal evidence mounts that Morris didn't mesh with some he inherited from Bielema. Though a nice man, perhaps too nice, the notion that Morris came foremost to bring his "Hammer Down" offense and recruit others didn't necessarily sit well with some he inherited and foremost needed to develop.

Pittman returns stressing the basics, blocking and tackling.

He bluntly asserts they must get tougher, bigger and better. Even more bluntly, Pittman asserts believing he must instill their belief that they can and will.

Sports on 12/14/2019

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