Date With The Hogs
The state of Arkansas has long been known as the “land of opportunity,” and that surely will impact Sam Pittman’s legacy at the state’s leading educational institution. Upon landing at the Rogers Municipal Airport, the first logo you notice is that of Walmart. The headquarters for this international colossus is but eight miles away in Bentonville. Riding into Fayetteville to the University of Arkansas, you pass through the agricultural campus which is dominated by research facilities that reflect the generous financial support of Tyson Foods.
Arkansas’ arresting athletic facilities are impressive and imposing. Two giant scoreboards, one at each end of the field, dominate the Donald W. Reynolds Stadium. They allow for instant replay to graphically showcase the game action. With these and other perks along with notable financial resources, all Pittman has to do is recruit. And therein lies the challenge. There is not an abundance of blue-chip football players in the Natural state.
According to Hunter Yurachek, the athletic director who hired Sam, one of the chief reasons the Razorbacks wanted Pittman as their head coach was his recruiting reputation. They also knew that he gets high marks as a sound, fundamental football coach.
There is a statue of a man outside the east end of the stadium he needs to emulate, Georgian Frank Broyles, former football coach and athletic director. Broyles gave Arkansas its greatest era even though there were probably fewer blue chip prep stars in Arkansas then than there is now.
Pittman will need to do what Broyles did well—recruit the state of Texas. Those who know Pittman, with his down-home-old-shoe-fit personality, believe he is most likely to succeed. He continued from page
can relate to young athletes, but Pittman has old school influences. Work hard, underscore fundamentals and tend to your own knitting.
Kirby Smart told Pittman when the latter was a Razorback assistant, that if he ever got a head coaching job, to listen out for a call. When his opportunity came about, Kirby did as he promised. Pittman was an eager recruit, his affinity for the bulldog breed allowing for an emotional boost. Pittman, who was very happy in Athens, was not anxious to leave except for a head coaching opportunity.
There could have not been a better fit for Pittman than Arkansas. He knows the state, the people and where the best players are on the west side of the Southeastern Conference.
When Sam’s opportunity came about and he moved on, it was interesting what Smart’s next move was. Moving post haste, he hired the best offensive line coach available, Matt Luke, who had been the head coach at Ole Miss. That was like replacing Mickey Mantle in your lineup with Willie Mays. The current Georgia offensive line coach can also coach and recruit. He gets the highest of marks in the profession, too. He will be a difference maker for Kirby and the Bulldogs.
Here Sunday morning, I got up with a buzz from the hint of fall in the Ozarks. I also had a buzz from pangs of gratefulness that the Georgia offense finally brought closure to shooting itself in the foot. It took two and a half quarters, but felt like a light year. It was like having one of those days on the golf course: wild off the tee, never finding the fairway, can’t chip and can’t putt. Also, it was like a seasoned pro, scoring a 40 on the front but 30 on the back. For a frustrating half, the Bulldogs kept making critical mistakes that frequently bungled a series or killed drives. Sometimes, for some reason it is hard to get that first touchdown. That was never more graphic than on Saturday, but once the Dawgs scored on a Stetson Bennett pass of 19 yards to George Pickens, the dam broke and the visitors coasted home easily to victory, 37- 10. The conclusion from many cynics is that all is not well that ends well. The ‘Dawgs now must undergo rehab and recharging to stay in the SEC East race. Auburn is next and you have to conclude that the Tiger personnel are superior to that of the Razorbacks. However, it has to be a plus to be playing between the hedges.
It has often been said that a team makes its biggest improvement between the first and second week of the season. I have a feeling Georgia fans will see a much improved team between the hedges this weekend.
The campus scene at Arkansas was business as usual, except there was not a specter of choking traffic. No tailgate spreads, no cheerleaders and no ticket scalpers. At least there was not one in view. You could shout “Woo Pig Sooie,” and nobody would answer you back.
Pregame, the worker bees, especially the concession hawkers, functioned at an unhurried pace, the demands for their services and products curtailed by the invisible foe which has laid misery and consternation at our doorsteps.
The stands looked as lonely as a pine thicket ravaged by a tornado. Like everything else, it was surreal and emotionally burdensome, but Georgia is not devoid of football talent. I liked Bennett’s steady hand on the tiller. He made big plays, he operated with poise and clout. It gave you the best “feel good” uptick when he, with grit and competitive tenacity, scored on a two-point conversion attempt when it appeared unlikely. A competitive leader makes plays like that.
If you are in a negative mood, think about being in Norman, Oklahoma, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week.