These are the musings of an aging, lifelong Razorback fan.
Major college football coaches are only as good as their last game. That's the harsh reality Arkansas Head Football Coach Sam Pittman faces following Saturday's embarrassing performance against Auburn, a game in which his team from start to finish seemed listless and unprepared.
Against Auburn and Mississippi State the Hogs looked like a poorly coached team, one which wasn't getting the vitally important leadership, guidance and motivation from the coaching staff essential to achievement and winning games on the field.
Many Razorback fans drank the Kool-Aid back in August. Despite one of the most difficult schedules in the country, Razorback fans were led to believe their football team would be highly competitive and reasonably successful during the course of the season. Given preseason expectations, the 2023 season can only be described as a dismal failure.
By all accounts, Pittman is a good person, the kind of likable, down-to-earth guy you'd want to join for a cold beer. Upon his arrival in Fayetteville as head coach, people immediately warmed to Pittman, pulling hard for him to be successful. His genuineness, plain talk and good ol' boy demeanor quickly made him a breath of fresh air for college football.
In the wake of the two-year stint of Chad Morris, Pittman deserves credit for resurrecting the Razorback football program and putting people back in the seats. Who can forget that September night in 2021 when a euphoric, sellout-crowd watched Pittman's team trounce the Texas Longhorns.
Now two years later, the relevant questions are: Has Pittman reached his ceiling as a head coach and taken the football program as far as he's capable? Has he lost the fan base? In year four of Pittman's tenure, when this was supposed to be his best team, why did his players underachieve? Is there any real hope or belief the Razorback football program can reach its full potential in 2024 and in the years beyond if Pittman is retained?
Whether Pittman will be on the Arkansas sideline in 2024 is a decision for Arkansas Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek and others to make.
Razorback fans understandably believe the Arkansas football program can and should be far more competitive in the Southeastern Conference than it has been the past 12 years. While it's true that it's a heavy lift to win lots of football games every season in the SEC, the Razorbacks have no business languishing in the SEC cellar. The program should be capable of being consistently competitive inside and outside the SEC, able to win 7 or 8 games most years, and occasionally more.
In major college football, it's all about wins and losses. And it's about the money, too, because college football is big business and produces much of the revenue needed to help fund many of the other men's and women's sports programs on college campuses. Similar to professional sports, almost everything in college athletics is now transactional -- coaches' contracts, the transfer portal, payments to players for use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL), conference realignment, etc.
The gigantic coaches' salaries and obscene buyout amounts paid to college football coaches when they fail are indefensible. For example, if Pittman were to be fired at the end of this season, he would be paid $16 million to not coach the Hogs any longer. That would be hard to stomach. It's precisely the sort of that leaves many wondering if college football's current business model is unsustainable and will eventually collapse under its own weight unless significant and common sense changes are made.
Let's end on a high note. Basketball has begun, which will help Razorback fans emerge from the gloom of a disappointing football season. Expectations for this season's basketball team are justifiably soaring.
Hog fans aren't drinking the Kool-Aid like they did back in August. Instead, the fans are savoring a fine wine in mid-November in anticipation of what this Razorback basketball team might accomplish this season.
It's still early and it's a long season, but there's every reason to believe this will be the best team Coach Eric Musselman has had at Arkansas, and he's already had some very good ones. They will have to prove it on the court, but with a little luck along the way, the belief here is Musselman's team has a strong chance to win a regular season SEC championship for the first time since 1994 and a legitimate chance to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1995.
Duke is coming to Fayetteville soon. Bud Walton Arena will be at its best that night. It's going to be a fun and exciting basketball season. Let's enjoy it.