Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Signing Day of the times for Hogs
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman speaks Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, during a press conference at the Frank Broyles Athletic Center on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s opening statement on Wednesday’s late national signing day was a sign of the times if there ever was one.
“Well, welcome to the Shamar Easter signing day,” Pittman said.
Indeed, the Ashdown High School tight end, who will actually have his signing ceremony today due to weather issues, was the only high school signee for the Razorbacks in the late period. Arkansas also made official the signings of portal transfers in defensive backs Lorando Johnson and Al Walcott, defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat, and receivers Tyrone Broden and Isaac TeSlaa, bringing the program’s scholarship number to 76, nine shy of the NCAA maximum.
So Pittman’s news conference was as much about introducing new assistant coaches and the direction of the staff and program as it was a discussion of the class, 22 of whom are already enrolled and on target to go through spring drills, which start March 9.
The tally on the Razorbacks’ signing class was 20 high school players and 10 college transfers, the kind of mix the fourth-year Coach Pittman hopes to maintain.
The class ranked No. 21 by Rivals and No. 22 by 247Sports, giving Arkansas back-to-back top 25 classes for the first time since 2004-05 by Rivals and since 2015-16 by 247Sports.
“We signed 20 high school players. I believe that should be about our minimum,” Pittman said. “Times change. I think the portal window, the signing date and all that stuff, we still have to look at that, but we need to recruit high school players.
“I really like this class. … Just a group that wants to work. I really, really like this. They’re a mature group of guys.”
After Pittman’s 20 minutes with the media, offensive coordinator Dan Enos, co-defensive coordinator Marcus Woodson and defensive backs coach Deron Wilson conducted their introductory news conference. Enos is returning to the same position he held from 2015-17 with the first of those years overlapping with Pittman’s three-year stint at offensive line coach (2013-15) for Bret Bielema.
Pittman said he would be giving defensive coordinator Travis Williams and Woodson plenty of autonomy on that side of the ball.
“Travis Williams is the defensive coordinator and Marcus is the co,” Pittman said. “In other words, Marcus is going to handle everything in the back end. He’s the man back there, and certainly he’s going to have the help of Deron, but he’s the main secondary guy.”
Woodson clarified his role with Williams.
“Well, first off, we’re brothers,” Woodson said. “We were at Auburn together. Similar to what Dan just said about him and Coach Pittman, I mean, we just hit it off right away, and it felt like we had been knowing each other for a lifetime when we first met.
“In terms of coordination of the defense, he’s the defensive coordinator, and he’s the chief of that room."
Pittman was asked when he contacted Enos as a potential replacement for Kendal Briles, who had conversations with Mississippi State in early January before taking the offensive coordinator post at TCU.
“As soon as I found out that there was interest for Coach [Briles] to leave,” Pittman said. “Maybe, I don’t know, 10 minutes after that maybe, or 5 or 3.
“I think you hire good people that are confident in themselves, but yet confident in guys they’re working with too. I was very comfortable working with him, and I hope he feels the same about me.”
Enos said he told people in 2019 when Pittman took his first major college head coaching job at Arkansas that it would work.
“I said, ‘You know what, that guy’s gonna be a great head coach cause I’ll tell you why. He’s an outstanding football coach. He’s very smart. He’s very organized and he’s a great communicator.’ And you know what? The players loved him.”
Enos said he didn’t know Pittman when he joined the Arkansas offensive staff in 2015.
“I was a new guy on the whole staff and they all were together and they were looking at me like, ‘Oh, what’s this guy about,’ and me and Coach and, really that whole entire staff hit it off,” he said. “We meshed very, very well. He’s very easy to work with. But he promised me, though, there wasn’t an old, stubborn guy on the staff this time.”
Pittman poked fun at Woodson, who was sitting in the back of the room, when asked about adding young coaches on the defensive side.
“Have you seen Marcus Woodson or no?” Pittman said. “No, I’m messing with you, Marcus.
“Marcus Woodson, I thought he was the best defensive backs coach in America. I think what they did at Florida State proved that. But he’s a better man. … They’re recruiting machines, now.”
Woodson was asked about what it will take to shore up the secondary after Arkansas ranked last among the 131 FBS teams in passing yards allowed at 294.7 per game.
“Florida State was pretty bad when we first got there as well,” Woodson said. “It took some work to get us to where we were at when I left. So I feel like that experience prepared me for this experience.
“Looking at the film from last year, the main thing I want us to focus on is being intentional. Being intentional with technique. Being intentional with the fundamentals. Being intentional with what we’re looking at and the footwork that goes with whatever the coverage may be. The pieces are there. I feel like with the guys that we have on campus right now, we can win with, and we’re going to win with.”
Wilson, a defensive analysts for cornerbacks last year at Florida, said it was a personal connection that drew him to the Arkansas staff.
“The person and the people that drew me here, Coach Pittman,” Wilson said. “He’s a stand-up guy, great guy. As soon as the opportunity came, I reached out to some of my mentors that had worked with him that know him, and everything was, ‘He’s a man of character. He’s a man of faith. He’s a great guy. He’ll be the best head coach you [will] ever work for.’
“That was the consistent answer that I got over and over and over. When people you really trust say those things, of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
Woodson said he and Wilson will share all the duties in the secondary, meaning sometimes he’ll have the corners and nickels and sometimes he’ll have the safeties and vice versa.
Wilson and Woodson spoke of the synergy they feel together with Williams.
“With Coach T-Will and Coach Woodson, the initial interview, it was just the natural mesh that we had,” Wilson said. “It was kind of the initial when you met your wife, you kind of knew, ‘She’s the one. I know I’m going to marry her.’ That’s the feeling I got during my interview with Coach Woodson and Coach T-Will.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.