Arkansas’ Latest Buzzword Sounds Pretty Good until Critical Thinking Occurs

Sam Pittman, Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas football
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

The offseason is the best time of year. Coaches rave about the progress their guys have made and how excited they are for the upcoming season. Fans – at Arkansas and elsewhere – make outlandish predictions about how far their team is going to go based on clips of no-contact offensive drills without pads.

Springtime sunshine pumping…you can’t beat it. Remember when Arkansas fans thought Dan Enos would take KJ Jefferson to the next level and the Hogs would go 9-3? Good times.

With spring ball complete and the 2024 season still more than three months away, the buzzword of the year has already been coined for Arkansas football – leadership.

The boogeyman of 2022 was the strength and conditioning coach, whom Sam Pittman kicked to the curb following a season plagued by injuries. Judging by how the Hogs got manhandled in the trenches last year as well, the problems might be a little more systemic than that.

This year, the “rat poison” of the team is the apparent locker room issues that took place last season. It passes the eye test, given much of the team appearing to be checked out in the second half of the season, leading to embarrassing home defeats against Auburn and Missouri – despite the motivational efforts of The Polar Express.

That one caused quite the stir among some NFL players:

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“New Year, New Me” for Arkansas Football

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek was certainly adding fuel to the buzzword fire during an interview with Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft on The Morning Rush.

“The thing that sticks out is the leadership that we have on both sides of the ball,” Yurachek said on Wednesday morning. “I felt like we didn’t have leadership last year that when times got tough that someone was going to get in your face. Not a coach, but a player, because I think you’ve got to have player leadership on your team. We didn’t have that during the 2023 season.”

The AD also touched on the impact that NIL has had on the locker room, citing the pursuit of paydays as an apparent issue last season. Yurachek said that Pittman’s transfer portal approach this year attempted to fix that.

“NIL has changed the way things are in the locker room, and it’s a delicate balance for coaches to navigate that,” Yurachek said. “I think Coach Pittman and his staff and who they recruited this year and how NIL has been used this year has changed the dynamics for a positive.” 

The theme of leadership seemingly expands to the coaching department for the Razorbacks, as Yurachek also cited the importance of having offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino as a shoulder to lean on for Pittman with the former Head Hog’s extensive head coaching experience.

“The addition of Coach Petrino on the offensive side of the ball has been a great compliment to Coach Pittman and that meeting room,” Yurachek said. “What he lost in Barry Odom for one year he now has back where he’s got a veteran coach that’s been a head coach both in college and at the professional level that he can bounce things off of.”

Common Theme Amongst Razorbacks

No matter who you talked to this offseason, the odds were pretty high that they were going to mention leadership as one of the main improvements of this team. It was cited by former Arkansas tight end DJ Williams as one of the main reasons for star linebacker Chris Paul Jr. transferring out.

“I can see the passion, and he’s out there just pissed at his own teammates,” Williams said after the Missouri loss. “Not calling anybody [out], not doing all that, but he’s just pissed because he’s like, ‘What are we doing?’ All these mental mistakes. Just take this stuff seriously. It’s wild to me how some of these guys don’t take it serious.”

In a radio interview with Hit That Line in January, wide receiver Isaiah Sategna backed this narrative up, saying that the Hogs had gotten rid of some “negatives and some cancers in the locker room.”

Tight end Luke Hasz also chimed in, making a subliminal jab at KJ Jefferson by saying that new transfer Taylen Green’s “leadership is tremendous compared to any other quarterback I’ve had.” It’s hard to have a successful squad when team members don’t even think their quarterback is all the way bought in.

Jefferson, now at UCF, isn’t even the only team captain to abandon ship during Pittman’s tenure at Arkansas. Safety Jalen Catalon took it a step further and transferred to the rival Texas Longhorns. The sight of a Razorback captain in burnt orange was enough to make any Arkansan nauseous. Simeon Blair also hit the exits, heading to Memphis.

Just last week, offensive line coach Eric Mateos appeared on the Coaches and the Mouth podcast and echoed the players’ thoughts on the apparent void in leadership and effort.

“The spirit was broken, the confidence was down,” Mateos said of the o-line last year. “One of the things I felt like we really needed to improve on from last season watching the film is there’d be guys getting tackled and nobody picked the guy up.”

Crunch Time for Pittman

The common denominator in all of this is the head coach and, simply put, he’s out of excuses. First it was Kendal Briles that was the problem…then came Dan Enos to fix that problem – *rolls eyes*. Next it was the strength and nutrition team…yet the Hogs still got “out-physicaled” last year, according to Pittman himself.

The latest problem is the lack of leadership among the players on the team. But coming off of back-to-back disappointing seasons, Pittman’s running out of scapegoats – and fans are running out of patience.

The time is now for the team to produce results, or fingers will be pointed to program leadership issues that start at the top and work their way down.


Check out The Morning Rush for the full interview with Hunter Yurachek, which starts around the 1:20:00 mark.

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YouTube video


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