FAYETTEVILLE — An Arkansas Razorbacks football program in recent years only on ESPN Sports Center as Washington Generals type hapless stooges for others’ highlight reels suddenly stars nationally.
During a Monday week that Arkansas senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan was named Player of the Week by two national postseason award groups, and three freshmen were named to a Freshman All-American Watch List after sophomore Razorbacks receiver Treylon Burks’ 1-handed stay in bounds touchdown catch in the 33-21 Saturday afternoon victory over Ole Miss was deemed Sports Center’s No. 1 highlight that Saturday night, first-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was interviewed Tuesday night on Sports Center by ESPN’S Scott Van Pelt.
Asked on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference his thoughts when told Van Pelt wanted to interview him, Arkansas’ homespun head coach replied, “Well, the first thing I thought was, ‘Why?’ Then the next thing I thought was the guy is such a good interviewer and he made me very comfortable and I was honored to be on there and represent the Razorbacks.”
The “Why?” is no mystery. Arkansas under two fired coaches and one 2-games interim coach had gone 1-23 in the SEC since 2017 at 1-7, 0-8, 0-8.
This year in an entirely SEC schedule they are 2-2 beating then 16th-ranked Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. and last Saturday intercepting six passes beating Ole Miss in Fayetteville.
As Van Pelt implied, the Hogs should be 3-1 given the egregiously bad officiating call depriving Arkansas recovery of an Auburn fumble enabled Auburn on the next play kicking its 30-28 game-winning field goal.
With another victory following that nationally perceived unjust loss, Pittman and Arkansas, Van Pelt and other national sportscasters and sportswriters suddenly are talking and writing about the Hogs.
“I just think that it’s good for the program,” Pittman said Wednesday. “Obviously you have to watch it because if you start believing what everybody says about you that’s good, then you can lose your focus. But I think it’s great for recruiting and certainly we’re proud to be able to use it toward recruiting.”
During the Van Pelt interview, Pittman, who grew up a Razorbacks fan in nearby Grove, Kan. and coached the Razorbacks offensive line from 2013-2015, reiterated nationally what he said upon being hired Arkansas’ head coach in December of 2019.
““You know this statement’s probably gonna cost me a little bit money one of these days,” Pittman told Van Pelt: “But this is it for me. I’m not interested in any other program. Arkansas is truly the greatest program in America to me. I grew up 75 miles from here. I have a lake home on Lake Hamilton and Hot Springs. My wife’s from (relatively nearby) Pittsburg, Kansas, and we’re home and this is where we want to be and this will be my last job.”
The Razorbacks’ momentum may seem interrupted by this week’s open date before the Oct. 31 game at nationally No. 7 Texas A&M. Pittman disagrees. With several Razorbacks either out with injuries or playing despite injuries this marks a time to heal, he said.
“Well, we certainly needed this open date,” Pittman said. “Our team’s pretty banged up, pretty beat up, so we’re trying to get some of our young kids some reps. However, a lot of our young kids are playing for us. We have to get healthy because obviously we have six games left and Texas A&M is an outstanding football team.”
Pittman said the Hogs’ resilience has not surprised him despite their last struggling last three years nor have the injuries given the general size of his team vs. its SEC opposition.
“I thought we had a good group of kids,” Pittman said. “And I thought that they would jell together as a family. I did believe that. You know we’re not a big team, so I knew that we could have problems injury-wise and things of that nature because we’re not near as big as some of the other teams we’re playing. But I liked the attitude of our kids, the work ethic of our kids since Day 1 that we came in here.”
The Razorbacks practice Tuesday through Thursday this week then take their last weekend off playing six consecutive SEC games starting Halloween with the Aggies in College Station, Texas.