Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Pittman confident he can get program on track
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman speaks to the crowd during a basketball game between Arkansas and Tulsa on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
New Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman did the best he could in 10 days to salvage the Razorbacks’ early signing period and did ink seven prospects to letters of intent Wednesday.
Three of those were flips from other schools in defensive back Myles Slusher (Oregon), offensive lineman Ray Curry Jr. (Missouri) and tailback Dominique Johnson (Missouri).
Slusher let Pittman know around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday that he was coming to Arkansas. It was a call that Pittman said he was thrilled to take.
“Recruiting is awesome,” Pittman said of the call. “It’s competition. It’s selling you; it’s selling the University of Arkansas.”
Arkansas is likely to add Memphis Central wide receiver/safety Darin Turner today, and Pittman noted he already has 10 official visitors set for the first available recruiting weekend in January for the February signing period.
“We went out and used every day we had on the road, except Friday; we stayed in because we had recruits coming in that weekend,” Pittman said. “We had a wonderful weekend. Our staff did an outstanding job hosting.
“… When we have a little bit more time for them to get to know us and when we get them on campus, we feel like we have a strong opportunity to increase our football team in numbers and then talent. On this particular early signing day, we were just going after the best players we could get at any position.”
Pittman made it clear from day one that his biggest goal was to get all of his assistant coaches in the fold and then dive head first into a path toward the Feb. 5 national signing date.
“If we can keep the guys we have, then we are going to have to get full-fledged ready to go for the second signing date,” Pittman said during his first meeting with media. “That is just reality. So let’s go get it, let’s get the best ones left. That is what we are going to try and do.”
Pittman made clear at his Wednesday media briefing that he can sign the full allotment of 25 in this 2020 class, but wasn’t planning on signing any scrubs.
“We are going to sign as many good players as we can, but I can tell you what we are not going to do: We are not going to sign 25 and five of them that we are not doing somersaults over,” he said. “We are going to sign good football players and good people, and if it ends up at 18, we’ll be fine with it. If it is 22, we’ll be fine with it, but we are going after people we like, and we are going after them obviously in positions of need, but we are not going to stretch here.”
For the past two seasons, about 70 percent of those who have signed Division I football scholarships nationally have done it during the early period. Those numbers are expected to be about the same during this recruiting cycle.
While coaches generally were in favor the early signing period, it has had some unforeseen consequences according to North Carolina coach Mack Brown.
“What we wanted was an early signing date for legacy kids that were going to your school and nowhere else,” Brown told The Athletic. “They wouldn’t take any other visits. And it was for the early enrollees. That was it.
“That wouldn’t have been bad, because those kids have already decided. Then the NCAA opened it up to everybody. Then it went crazy.”
One could argue that the early signing period kept Arkansas from having a chance to win over Morrilton quarterback Jacolby Criswell, who the former Razorback coaches proved disinterested in largely because Chad Morris’ son Chandler was also a talented 2020 quarterback.
Pittman made his case to Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek about how his plan was to recruit the Razorbacks out of the 4-20 ditch the program had driven itself into the past two seasons.
“I think it’s just hard work,” Pittman said last week on The Paul Finebaum Show. “I told them in my interview, ‘I think we have to recruit our way out of this thing,’ and I think we can. We have very fine facilities here and a great administration, so there’s really not a reason why Arkansas can’t get back to the glory days.
“We needed to have the money to hire assistant coaches — they gave it to me. And we needed to have the support of the administration and the chancellors — we have that, too. But the facilities are here, we just have to get kids on campus, and I think we can certainly help ourselves once we get them on campus because there’s not a lot of people that know what we will truly have here at the university.”
There have now been three early signing periods with Arkansas unfortunately going through a coaching turnover in two of them.
Morris, hired on Dec. 6, 2018, was able to sign seven players during his first early signing period.
Those seven were quarterback Connor Noland, linebacker Bumper Pool, wide receiver Mike Woods, cornerback LaDarrius Bishop, defensive end Isaiah Nichols, offensive lineman Silas Robinson and defensive lineman Billy Ferrell.
He was able to lock down 20 signees in the 2019 class, including eight early enrollees.
Now it’s Pittman’s time to take his shot.
“I really believe that Arkansas is the greatest job in the country, and I do,” Pittman said on the Finebaum show. “It’s a different-type job because the state of Arkansas are different people. We’re the only show in the state. There is Arkansas State, excuse me, but we’re the only SEC school in the state. There’s no pro teams here. The state of Arkansas loves the Hogs, and it’s a very special, special place. And when I was a kid, Paul, I grew up about 75 miles from (Fayetteville), and I was a Hog fan back then and just never really lost the love for the Arkansas Razorbacks.”
Pittman is confident he can be successful at Arkansas.
“I think this — I think that I know we can win here,” Pittman said. “I know it’s going to take some time. We understand that. The state understands that. The administration understands that. But I think, as long as we show improvement and show that we’re physical, tough, relentless-type football team, we’re well-coached, we can win football games.
“How long it takes? I don’t know. But obviously, I would not have taken this job if I did not believe that we could win here. Even though, obviously, the pay salary was different and all those things, I wanted to win, and I believed that I was the guy that they could hire to win for the Razorbacks.”
Dudley E. Dawson can be reached at [email protected] .
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