Pittman's start a hit with former Razorbacks

By: Richard Davenport Richard Davenport's Twitter account
Published: Sunday, October 25, 2020
In this Sept. 5, 2015 photo, then-Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman (left) speaks to Sebastian Tretola (73) during warmups before an NCAA college football game against UTEP at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)
In this Sept. 5, 2015 photo, then-Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman (left) speaks to Sebastian Tretola (73) during warmups before an NCAA college football game against UTEP at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)

Former University of Arkansas football players who span six decades are thrilled by what they see from Coach Sam Pittman and the Hogs this season.

The past few seasons were a source of frustration, disappointment and at times embarrassment for the former Razorbacks. The Hogs’ 2-2 start this season has changed those feelings.

Former All-American defensive tackle and Chicago Bear Dan Hampton likes what he sees.

“They’re playing together and they’re playing for each other, and it’s really wonderful to watch,” Hampton said.

Hampton, who earned the nickname “Danimal” in Chicago, was disappointed he couldn’t watch the Razorbacks this weekend.

“I’m not going to say it’s magic, but my goodness, I’ll tell you this: I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed that we’re not playing on Saturday,” said Hampton, who played for Arkansas from 1975-78.

The previous few seasons had Hampton thinking of other things to do on Saturdays.

“I would cringe. ‘Maybe I need to mow the yard instead of watching the game.’ ” he said. “Now it’s must-see TV. You can’t wait.”

Hampton, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2002, lives in the Chicago area.

Loyd Phillips, who became Arkansas’ second Outland Trophy winner in 1966, understood the reasoning for change after last year’s second consecutive 2-10 season.

“Last few years have been tough, however I do believe that the kids and coaches were trying to get things together, but for whatever reasons it just wasn’t happening,” Phillips said.

A two-time consensus All-American in 1965-66, Phillips is a retired educator and poultry farmer living in Springdale. He hopes to see defensive coordinator Barry Odom in Fayetteville for a while.

“I think the hiring of Coach Pittman was a great choice, and I feel he has done a super job of putting together a great staff,” Phillips said. “I certainly hope we get to keep Coach Odom, our defensive coordinator, for more than one year. I realize we have only played four games, but the job he has done in all four has been outstanding.”

Rudell Crim, who played safety for the Hogs in 2009-10, said it was tough to watch the Hogs the past few years.

“I kind of felt the tradition was kind of going in a different direction, especially with all the different coaching changes,” Crim said.

He questioned the team’s chemistry.

“From my experience, being able to have all the guys buy in makes a tremendous difference,” Crim said. “Playing under [Bobby] Petrino, our team didn’t necessarily agree with the way he approached things, but we also had respect for him to the point it made us come that much closer as far as playing for each other.”

Crim, a physical education teacher in the Pasco School District in Washington, said he’s excited by the defense’s ability to create chaos for offenses while flying around, making big hits and creating turnovers.

Arkansas safety great Steve Atwater played 10 seasons for the Denver Broncos, one season with the New York Jets and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame on Feb. 1. 

Atwater, who serves as the Bronco’s fan development manager, remained steadfast in his support for the Hogs despite the rocky times in Fayetteville.

“I live in Denver, and I’m not as up to speed with the team as I wish I was,” said Atwater, an All-SWC selection in 1986 and 1989. “It was a bit disappointing, but I’m a Razorback through the good times and the bad.”

He is enjoying this year’s team.

“The team looks like they are fearless … and they are flying to the ball, playing until the whistle blows. I love it,” he said.

Dean Peevy, a four-year letterman at defensive back for the Hogs in the early 1990s, knew there needed to be a coaching change in the middle of last year.

“I tried to give the former staff the benefit of the doubt, but after 1 1/2 years, it didn’t seem that we were competing,” Peevy said. “The team appeared to have lost belief in the staff, and that is not a recipe for success.”

Peevy, who signed with former Arkansas coach Jack Crowe in 1990 out of Montgomery (Ala.) Lee, was glad Pittman was hired.

“Arkansas is a proud program,” said Peevy, who’s the first vice president of Valley National Bank in Alabama. “It is so refreshing seeing the kids have fun and competing like Razorbacks are supposed to. A lot of people asked in offseason, ‘Who did ya’ll hire?’ and I can say ‘Y’all have heard of him now.’ Best hire we could have made.”

The previous few years of Razorback football was tough to stomach for Jay Bequette, a 1982 All-SWC selection at center.

“From top to bottom, it was hard to watch … and many times I did not,” said Bequette, an attorney in Little Rock. “From the lack of effort to players looking like they were either not properly prepared or did not care to the absolutely sickening comments coaches and players made to the media, it was appalling and far below the standard for Arkansas football.”

Bequette was a three-year letterman for the Hogs from 1980-82. His father George was a lineman for the Razorbacks in the 1950’s while his brother Chris an offensive lineman from 1984-87 and son Jake was an All SEC defensive end in 2010.

He likes the effort of this year’s squad.

“Love what I am seeing this year,” Bequette said. “These guys, both coaches and players, have put the ‘fight’ in what Ken Hatfield used to call the ]Fighting Razorbacks’. They are showing effort, playing for the most part as if they are coached, and playing like they care about what it looks like to have a Hog on your helmet.”

Richard LaFargue, an All-SWC center for the Razorbacks in 1975, sees a dedicated group of Hogs this season.

“These guys are starting to believe,” LaFargue said. “The coaches are doing a great job of putting them in a position to win. One of the most surprising turnarounds has been the defense. I can’t say enough about how well they’ve played and they job they’ve done.”

Safety Jalen Catalon’s bone-jarring hit on Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore impressed LaFargue.

“Catalon hit that guy that came over the middle and he woke him up real quick,” said LaFargue, who owns LaFargue Financial Group with offices in Fayetteville and Tulsa. “That’s the kind of a thumping hit that makes a difference in the team.”

The back-to-back 2-10 seasons wore on former All-SEC defensive end Jamaal Anderson.

“The past two years have been quite painful for fans, former players and anyone supporting the University of Arkansas football program,” Anderson said. “The assumption that they’d lose was inevitable.”

Anderson, the 8th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, credits Pittman and his staff for this year’s turnaround.

“Now what I see is players who looked coached,” said Anderson, who’s retired and living in Atlanta. “Players are being put in position to succeed, and they’re competing and winning.”

Former Arkansas quarterback Greg Thomas is elated by what he’s seeing on the field.

“The excitement of being a Hog has resurfaced with our enthusiasm and effort with Coach Pittman, the staff and players play on the field,” said Thomas, who lettered for the Hogs in 1984-87.

An assistant basketball coach at Plano East High School in Texas, Thomas is proud to wear his Razorback gear to school.

“We have Wednesday as represent your college day,” said Thomas, who led the Hogs to three bowl games. “I wear something with a Hog on it every day. It’s especially nice since it rubs Texas folks.”

Sebastian Tretola, an All-American offensive lineman in 2015, was recruited by Pittman to Arkansas when Pittman was the offensive line coach.

“I’ve said time and time again that Sam Pittman is the greatest coach I’ve ever had in my life without a second thought, and I had no doubt as soon as they made the hire that he was gonna be successful,” Tretola said.


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