Hogs Coach Reveals NIL Rule Breaking Threatening His Best Players

Fernando Carmona Jr., Arkansas football
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

College football recruiting has been a roller-coaster to follow in recent years, as the landscape has been flipped on its head through the changes brought about by NIL and the transfer portal.

It’s likely that all of this stuff has been going on for years, the only difference is that now the payments and behind-closed-doors conversations can be made publicly, rather than under the table. It feels like every week that a new crazy rumor or story surrounding a transfer’s recruiting process makes headlines. 

The latest insightful look into the madness of the transfer portal came from new Arkansas offensive line coach Eric Mateos, who appeared on the Coaches & The Mouth podcast and got candid on a number of topics, including NIL, the portal, the intense process of learning Bobby Petrino’s offense and the sign stealing epidemic in college football.

Transfer Portal Chaos Hits Close for Arkansas

These days, players are changing schools left and right – sometimes even making u-turns and returning to their previous teams, like Snaxx Johnson’s surprising re-commitment to Baylor. Some of these 180s are happening before the player even appears in a game with his new school, as was the case with highly-touted Alabama tackle Kadyn Proctor’s brief stint at Iowa before returning to the Crimson Tide.

Mateos said that while he’s in favor of student-athletes getting paid, it’s been challenging trying to strike a balance between supporting players’ expanding opportunities while also finding guys who want to compete.

“The kids deserve to get some money,” Mateos said. “They put their body on the line for the university and they work really hard…the challenge that you’re referring to really is how do you keep the unit a unit when egos come in, comparison, pocket-watching, all that comes into play.”

It’s easier than ever to just exit stage right from a program, which means most college players these days consider it at one point or another. At least, that’s how Arkansas running back Rashod Dubinion sees it.

“I’m pretty sure every athlete these days thinks about it,” Dubinion said the John Nabors Show on Wednesday. “It’s like, ‘Do I jump in there, put my name out there and end up somewhere I don’t want to be? When I got a good situation going on where I’m at?’”

Dubinion briefly considered entering the portal but decided to stay, while four of his teammates in the running back room, Rocket Sanders, AJ Green, Isaiah Augustave and Dominique Johnson, made the leap. Dubinion is set to compete with Utah transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson and freshman Braylen Russell for carries in the upcoming season.

What, exactly, can entice college athletes to leave in the first place plays into the issue Sam Pittman brought up in December: “We have guys that come in, go into the portal and you’re not going to talk them out of it simply because they’ve already been poached by somebody else,” Pittman said. “We do not do that here, but it happens all the time. The NCAA at some point has to put some type of penalties on teams that are poaching players, because it’s going around the country everywhere.”

Transfer Portal Poaching Part of NIL Game

If you think Sam Pittman airing his grievances on the matter helped stop it, you’re gravely mistaken.

Eric Mateos said that he’s already had firsthand experience with poaching in his short time back with the Razorbacks, mentioning San Jose State transfer Fernando Carmona Jr. as a specific example. He also shed light on at least one collective of another team trying to coax players into the portal with lucrative NIL offers.

“Our left tackle right now has already got guys trying to steal him from us already and he just got here in January,” Mateos said with a laugh. “With Fernando I called him and I was like, ‘Hey man, I know people are coming after you trying to get you to leave again.’ He’s like, ‘Coach, you ain’t gotta worry about nothing. I’m riding with you.’

“I knew he would say this, but as a coach you just live in this constant state of paranoia now that you can’t help… I had somebody tell me two days ago that there was a collective from a university calling kids at another school who were not in the portal and offering them money to go into the portal…like, what is going on?”

(This sort of attempted poaching well before the player has even played a snap is something that also has a counterpart in the high school recruiting world, as Hogs receiver CJ Brown discussed this winter.)

Mateos also touched on the more ridiculous parts of the transfer recruiting process, like players asking for dollar sums during their first conversations with him – as well as the chaos of dealing with unlicensed “agents” representing them.

“I think it’s about bringing the right guys in,” Mateos said. “I had some pretty unbelievable text messages from transfers in the first recruiting cycle. You’re just like, ‘Hey, I’m Coach Mateos, would you like to get on a call sometime today?’”

The Funniest Quote You Will Read Today

“‘Coach, hey, I’m looking for this.’ This is the opening statement? No thanks…Now they all got agents, and these agents don’t even need to be NFLPA certified like the thing with the NFL agents,” Mateos said. “These dudes just got an associate degree and lived down the street from Johnny and said, ‘Hey Johnny, I’ll be your agent.’”

The stress of constantly worrying about a roster like a general manager in addition to the duties of a head coach makes life at the college level a nightmare in the coaching landscape. Mateos said that there are days where Pittman doesn’t even have time to coach because he has to manage a problem with the roster.

“The way football is going right now is disturbing a little bit,” Pittman said a year and half ago here:

It’s only gotten worse since then. Mateos continued on the Coaches & The Mouth podcast: “He has days where I’m sure he doesn’t even get to work on football because he’s working on all this other stuff all day long. … Some of my buddies are like, ‘I’m getting out of college.’ There’s guys that are taking huge pay cuts to go coach in the NFL because they’re tired of the recruiting calendar.”

Because of the fact that Mateos got his start under Pittman as a graduate assistant, the two coaches obviously share a lot of similarities. But with four stops in between his two stints at Arkansas, the 34-year-old says that he has definitely come into his own and developed his own unique style. He cited the importance of finding a balance between what he and Pittman each excel at.

“I’m maybe a bit more versed in wide zone because I’ve been doing it for the last half decade, pretty exclusively,” Mateos said. “Coach Pittman’s probably one of the best inside zone gap scheme coaches that there’s ever been, so when I’m designing individual and I’m picking what drills Coach is going to do and I’m going to do, I’m giving him the inside zone drills. I’m giving them to him because there’s nobody better.”

Elaborating on the differences in their philosophies, Mateos made an analogy to different types of baseball pitchers to describe the two coaches’ styles.

“I probably have more of a menu in pass protection. Coach Pitt is very fundamental, like, ‘Hey, get great on one or two sets,’ and I think that’s a great approach. I look at it like a baseball pitcher…Mariano Rivera, his cutter, he’d come in and everybody knew that pitch was coming but they couldn’t hit it.

“In critical situations, you’re going to throw your best pitch, but throughout the course of a game if you keep throwing the same pitch over and over again in pass protection, eventually there’s going to be a dinger going over your head.”

For the Razorback baseball aficionados out there, the analogy would be using Kevin Kopps’ iconic cutter to describe Pittman’s approach, while Mateos’ more similarly resembles a crafty and versatile starter like Patrick Wicklander.

Arkansas Football OL Schematics

Eric Mateos also took time to speak about the work required to learn the new offensive system this offseason, which has been a tall task given the sheer volume of the playbook. He said that Bobby Petrino likes to start with all of his cards on the table, literally and figuratively, which can seem overwhelming at the start.

“It’s kind of a crazy process, because you start big,” Mateos said. “I mean, we basically put every play that Coach Petrino has run on the board, you know, and so you’re looking at 500 plays or something up on the board. Routes, protections, runs and everything like that.”

Mateos described his role on the staff as sometimes being sort of a middleman between the head coach and the offensive coordinator, using the new material he’s learned from Petrino and mixing it with the things he already knows from his previous time working under Pittman.

“I felt like sometimes I was kind of the in-between because I know how Coach Pittman likes to call things and then, you know, I’m learning Coach Petrino’s terminology. I’m like, ‘Okay, how can I form this to where everybody feels comfortable with where the offense is.”

Mateos said that the staff has placed a priority on instilling the running game first, with the pass game following suit afterwards. That’s in lockstep with Pittman’s run-first approach as a longtime offensive line coach, and is definitely noteworthy given Petrino’s penchant for the passing game.

“We’ve probably taught 90 percent of the run techniques and we’ve probably only taught 50 percent of the [pass] protection technique,” Mateos added. “Here’s the deal, you want to win in this league? You have to be able to run the football.”

It just turns out that, in this day and age, there’s an extra essential ingredient: warding off attempted poachers is becoming just as important as fending off attempted tackles. 


Watch the the full interview with Eric Mateos below. He discusses the attempted poaching starting at the 41:00 mark:

YouTube video

More from the interview here:

Watch the full exchange with John Nabors and Rashod Dubinion:

YouTube video


More on Arkansas football and the transfer portal from Best of Arkansas Sports:

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