Tom Murphy is a sports 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. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Pittman expects NIL push to aid recruiting
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown prior to a game against Florida on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla.
FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman spilled the beans a bit in his first press conference after University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek threw his support behind him to carry on into the 2024 season on Sunday.
Pittman suggested at his Monday press conference there will be a financial push on the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) front that will aid in recruiting and retention this winter as the Razorbacks aim for ways to rebound from a 4-7 start to the season. The fourth-year coach’s first year without a postseason bid will come to a close with Friday’s 3 p.m. home game against high-flying No. 9 Missouri at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I look at this as an opportunity for us to change our team, keep the ones that are good players for us and good kids and change our team, give us a chance to do that,” Pittman said. “And I think financially we’re going to have the money from NIL to do that. When all that happens I think we can field a really, really good football team.”
Pittman addressed a multitude of topics, some that have a bearing on Friday’s game against the Hogs’ Battle Line Rivalry opponent in the Tigers (9-2, 5-2 SEC), the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country, and some that are of deeper concern for the football program and its fans.
One of them was the impact of Yurachek’s words of support in the locker room after the Razorbacks’ 44-20 win over Florida International on Saturday.
“There’s a lot of emotion in the room,” Pittman said. “But he wanted to address the team right before we finished with the conversation, and it was really cool because of the kids. They went off. I don’t ever want to get in that situation, but it was a special moment to be a part of. It was really cool.”
Pittman said Yurachek’s public support was a relief on many fronts.
“I was really happy that he did it because I think it needed to go out publicly so we can move forward and have an opportunity to continue to progress and change the football team in recruiting as well,” he said.
Pittman was also asked what he’d say to fans whose support has “peeled off” in the midst of a season that had been full of one-score losses before Auburn put a 48-10 drilling on Arkansas on Nov. 11.
“We want to earn their trust to come back,” Pittman said. “I think that’s anybody. You have to show what you can do, and once we do that, I think we’ll get them back. But I understand.”
Pittman’s first two teams won a number of games as an underdog, even reaching a top-10 ranking early in 2021 after high-profile wins over Texas and Texas A&M. He was asked what lessons he could take from his quick rebuild for a program that had lost 20 consecutive SEC games as of three seasons ago that could help re-invigorate the program now.
“It’s a different world than the first years I was here because you did it through the portal and senior transfers and all that stuff,” Pittman said. “Now, you’re doing it through recruiting and NIL. It’s just things have changed. I actually think it’s easier to change a program now than when we first came in.”
Pittman brought up Feleipe Franks, the Razorbacks’ quarterback in 2020 who attended the Arkansas-FIU game as the “celebrity Hog caller.” Franks transferred to Arkansas from Florida.
“He was that key guy that we needed that first year, both publicly — ‘Hey, Feleipe Franks wants to come’ — and then obviously on the field,” Pittman said.
“I think we can recruit against anybody. It’s just that you can’t recruit against [everybody] financially. And I really feel good about where we’re sitting now and if that’s the case, we can go out and recruit very well against anybody in the country.”
The tension that had been building for several weeks around the football program at least had an outlet after Yurachek’s remarks to the team on Saturday followed by his social media messaging on Sunday.
Now current players, recruits and the coaching staff know there will be carryover at the top into the winter.
“The pressure that I had was one, on myself and more about the people employed in the building, more about the state, the fans,” Pittman said.
“Nobody wants to disappoint anybody that has character about him. So it was never — and I mean this — it was never one time about me. Never. It was always about the recruits, the kids I’m coaching, the building and the state of Arkansas.
“I’ve lived a dream life, and I want to continue to do it. But it never was, never, about me, I, nothing like that. So the relief part of it was more for the kids, for the building, for recruiting, all those type things.”
Pittman was asked how the Razorbacks could reclaim the competitive edge that helped them win tough games during his tenure.
“You have to recruit your way out of it, you know,” he said. “I think that’s part of it.
“This year we’ve lost a lot of close games and some of them we played pretty good in but we lost. But we just need to go out and … we’ve got to get the offensive line, that’s the No. 1, we’ve got to go after that. That’s the No. 1 thing. And continue to develop the guys that we have now.
“I look at it as we’ve got to change the roster some, and I think we have all kinds of chances to do that.”
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