Why an Arkansas Coach Enjoyed the Equivalent of “Breaking Up with 500 Women at Once”

Eric Mateos, Sam Pittman, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

Despite the ever-changing landscape of college football recruiting, Arkansas offensive line coach Eric Mateos still observes one of the sport’s best quasi-holidays.

While fans are analyzing recruiting rankings and judging their team’s hauls on National Signing Day, many position coaches across the country mark the end of a recruiting cycle by purging their Twitter accounts of the prospects who signed elsewhere.

In an interview on the latest episode of the Coaches and the Mouth podcast, Mateos — who’s in his first season back with the Razorbacks since serving as a GA from 2013-15 — admitted it’s a moment that he “enjoys immensely,” even if the current state of the sport has given him some pause.

“It’s like I’m breaking up with 500 women at once,” Mateos said. “I used to love that, but now I hesitate sometimes, like, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t unfollow him because what if he goes in the portal in three months?’ I just ask for forgiveness now and say, ‘Sorry, I thought you went somewhere else,’ because I’m still going to celebrate National Unfollow Day.”

He might have said it in a joking manner, but there’s some truth to Mateos’ quirky view of the transfer portal.

Sure, a recruit may not hold it against coaches for unfollowing him on Twitter, but those prior relationships in the recruiting process certainly help the second time around. Two of the Razorbacks’ projected starters up front are a perfect example.

Right guard Josh Braun was committed to play for Sam Pittman at Georgia, but ultimately signed with Florida when Pittman became the head coach at Arkansas. When he entered the portal, that made the Razorbacks a natural landing spot for the eventual All-SEC lineman.

Center Addison Nichols was offered by Pittman very early in the recruiting process before eventually signing with Tennessee. He hit the portal this offseason and Arkansas was immediately a frontrunner.

That’s not the only way the transfer portal has impacted the sport, though. Of course there are the oft-rumored cases of teams trying to “steal” players – which have some truth to them – but there are other ripple effects, which Mateos revealed during his sit-down with the podcast’s three hosts including former Arkansas offensive lineman Brey Cook.

The Transfer Portal and Traditional Recruiting

When recruiting offensive linemen out of high school, Eric Mateos noted a general two-tier hierarchy of prospects.

There are the no-doubters who are good enough on film to earn offers immediately, with almost no questions asked. Then there are those who look like they may be worthy of an offer, but the coaching staff would like to see them in a camp setting before making the final decision.

Considering offensive linemen need more time to fill out their frame and build strength compared to skill positions, the best time for them to prove their worth is the summer leading up to their senior year. That’s traditionally when those borderline prospects have been offered.

Nowadays, though, Mateos said he’s noticed those kinds of kids will get offers from Group of Five or even non-SEC programs and essentially settle, opting to take official visits to those schools over the summer instead of coming to camp for an opportunity to earn a scholarship at Arkansas or other bigger schools.

The reasoning behind that is simple in Mateos’ eyes.

“Well that kid’s going to say, ‘You know what, Coach, I’ve got offers. I got OVs set up. I’m not coming to camp. Then if I am good, you’ll want me out of the portal anyways,’” Mateos said. “It’s changed so dramatically from what it was 10 years ago.”

Helping the Arkansas OL Room Mesh

Last season, no position took more heat during Arkansas’ disappointing 4-8 campaign than the offensive line. The unit struggled mightily when it came to opening up holes in the run game and protecting the quarterback.

That’s why one of Eric Mateos’ first tasks after taking over upon Cody Kennedy’s seemingly mutual departure for Mississippi State was, as he described it, “repairing the room.”

“The spirit was broken, the confidence was down,” Mateos said. “There was a lot of guys in there that weren’t sure if we can really do this. That’s been the No. 1 thing, just building the room back up confidence-wise.”

Of course, the other key to “repairing” the offensive line was going into the transfer portal and getting players capable of coming in as immediate starters. Arkansas did just that with Fernando Carmona Jr. from San Jose State, Keyshawn Blackstock from Michigan State and Addison Nichols from Tennessee.

All three are projected starters coming out of spring ball, which brings us to the other way the transfer portal has changed things, particularly up front.

Bringing in three outsiders has the potential to create friction in a unit that requires cohesiveness, but that’s something Mateos, and the players, have tried to nip in the bud from the beginning.

Mateos said he got feedback from the offensive linemen that they wanted to be a tighter unit, so he started implementing “forced family fun” — something he said was more important than any scheme or technique. He admitted that there was no quick fix for bringing the unit together, but it’s been a point of emphasis that will continue throughout the summer.

“That’s part of the coach’s job. You can’t just tell them, ‘Hey, I need you guys to be close.’ You have to put them in positions to make them close. That could be a meal, that could be saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you three guys come hang out in my office today at 3 o’clock and we’ll just watch NFL film of this scheme for 10 minutes.’ It’s just built over time. Trust is built in drops and it’s lost in buckets.”

There was also an on-field component to that during the 15 spring practices that will presumably continue in preseason camp.

“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,” Mateos said. “If you don’t go help somebody off the ground, it doesn’t matter if it’s a back, a receiver or anybody, then that’s a ‘loaf’ and we’re pointing those things out big time.”


Eric Mateos also revealed that there are teams actively trying to steal some of the best Arkansas football players:


Check out Arkansas offensive line coach Eric Mateos’ full interview on Coaches and the Mouth here:

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