Sam Pittman’s uncertain future as the Arkansas football coach has thrown a wrench into what was shaping up to be a strong recruiting class.
The Razorbacks have already lost one four-star commitment and are now trying to hold on to the rest of their 18 commitments until the early signing period that begins Dec. 20.
As if the 3-7 record didn’t complicate things enough, Arkansas also recently had to squash rumors of Pittman’s imminent firing. The staff spent a chunk of the Sunday following their embarrassing loss to Auburn by calling recruits and telling them it was true, regardless of what they read on social media.
“We can’t do anything about what people write,” Pittman said Monday. “I just wish they’d write truth. Not opinion. If you’re saying a man is fired, then he should be fired. We can’t deal with (untrue) things and that’s probably the most difficult thing, because the kids believe and the parents believe it.”
An unfortunate side effect of having a class that was ranked 20th nationally pretty much across the board a couple of weeks ago is that other schools are circling like vultures. Almost all of the Razorbacks’ commitments are either four- or high three-star prospects, so they have plenty of suitors.
Arkansas Football Commits on Flip Watch
In August, four-star athlete Noreel White flipped from Arkansas to Ole Miss, but that move had long been rumored to be in the works and happened before the season unraveled on the Razorbacks.
The first in-season blow came just moments before Arkansas’ game against Florida, which it won to snap a six-game losing streak. That’s when Pine Bluff four-star wide receiver Courtney Crutchfield announced he was re-opening his recruitment.
Not only was he the Razorbacks’ highest-ranked commitment in the 2024 class, according to 247Sports, but he is also the No. 1 in-state player, so it was a double-whammy when they lost him. Whether or not they can reel him back in remains to be seen, as a few recruiting insiders are split, but it seems like a long shot.
Crutchfield was expected to visit Fayetteville for the Auburn game last weekend, but he ended up not making the trip. On Sunday, he told Best of Arkansas Sports that his absence was due to him and his family being too tired to make the drive after the Zebras’ win over Nettleton in the Class 5A playoffs the night before and that he definitely planned to be there for one of Arkansas’ last two home games.
The first of those is Saturday against FIU, but the more likely game for Crutchfield to attend is the Black Friday matchup against Missouri. The Tigers are viewed as the favorites to land him, as both of the crystal ball projections on 247Sports are for him to pick Missouri. However, there’s a chance Pine Bluff could be playing in the semifinals that night, which would prevent him from coming to the game.
Missouri is also apparently a team to watch with Arkansas’ other four-star wide receiver commit. Ashton Bethel-Roman, a Missouri City, Texas native who announced his pledge to the Razorbacks over the summer, will be in Columbia, Mo., this weekend for the Tigers’ game against Florida, according to On3.
A visit doesn’t necessarily always lead to a de-commitment, but it’s certainly something to monitor, especially as the season winds to a close.
There have been concerns over four-star defensive end commit Charleston Collins, as well. Even though he was in town for the Auburn game, those were amplified when 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong — who has a 97.2% accuracy rate with his 2024 predictions — put in a crystal ball for him to flip to Ole Miss on Thursday.
David Johnson, an Ole Miss insider for 247Sports, did the same. Both of them followed On3’s Sam Speigelman, who predicted a flip earlier this month.
However, Collins — who plays at Little Rock Mills and is Crutchfield’s cousin — spoke out against the rumors of an impending flip on social media.
“I’m not sure who you talked to but it wasn’t me!” Collins wrote. “I’m committed to Arkansas!”
That should be music to the ears of Arkansas football fans, as should the reply he received from fellow four-star defensive end commit Kavion Henderson:
Trouble Lurking in 2025?
Keeping the 2024 class together will be difficult for Sam Pittman, but should be manageable if he keeps his job. Adding to the 2025 class could prove even tougher, though, as he’ll be on the hot seat and recruits may not be willing to commit to a coach who could get fired before they sign.
Four players have pledged to the Razorbacks in that class so far and two of them are in-state products — Central Arkansas Christian quarterback Grayson Wilson and Bauxite safety Marcus Wimberly. The other two are four-star running back Jamarion Parker from St. Louis and kicker Evan Noel from Mississippi.
It’s a solid start, but former All-American defensive end Bruce James said he believed Pittman will have a hard time adding to it during an interview on 103.7 The Buzz this week.
“I’d hate to be him coming back next year trying to recruit because every team that we’re going to play, everybody in the SEC is gonna say he’s a dead man walking,” said James, who played for the Razorbacks from 1968-70.
Even hanging on to the current commits may not be easy.
Wimberly has said playing for Arkansas was always his dream and that when he made his decision this summer, he had to make a tough phone call to Jim Harbaugh to tell him he wouldn’t be visiting Michigan.
On Thursday, though, Wimberly confirmed to Best of Arkansas Sports that he would now be heading to Ann Arbor next week for the big Michigan-Ohio State game.
Again, just because he’s taking a visit doesn’t mean he’ll de-commit, but it’s certainly something to watch, especially for a recruit who won’t be signing until after the 2024 season.
Pittman’s Pitch for Arkansas Recruiting
Despite the bad record and rumors swirling about his job security, Sam Pittman said his sales pitch to recruits has largely remained the same.
In fact, he can more easily sell the Razorbacks’ need for certain players by simply pointing to the results on the field.
“You can handle it as, ‘Hey we need you to help us win the close games,’ or ‘We’re losing guys at your position,’ whatever it may be,” Pittman said. “But I don’t think there’s a lot of difference from what we’ve done in the past as far as recruiting.”
All things considered, Pittman could really use more wins to not only guarantee his return as the Arkansas football coach, but also convince the current commits and other recruits that Fayetteville is where they want to continue their careers.
That doesn’t even factor in the transfer portal window looming about a week after the end of the season. Pittman didn’t seem too concerned about it earlier this week because he said he and his assistants talk daily with the players.
“I don’t know why you’d leave the University of Arkansas,” Pittman said. “We treat our kids like they’re supposed to be treated. We expect them to get an education. And it’s a great place and great place to get a degree. I wouldn’t have any idea why they’d want to leave.”
On Wednesday, though, Pittman admitted there would likely be a surprise or two, much like the departure of wide receiver Ketron Jackson Jr. and safety Jalen Catalon this past offseason and defensive backs Greg Brooks Jr. and Joe Foucha the offseason before that.
Last year, he warned reporters to “buckle up” because he knew a lot was going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the regular season. Even if a surprise or two happen, Pittman doesn’t think it’ll be like last year, when Arkansas was among the nation’s leaders in portal departures.
“Man, even when I was buckling you up, I wasn’t ready for that express train,” Pittman said. “I knew there was going to be a lot. I don’t see anything like a year ago (happening again), but if it is, we’ll adjust. But I don’t see anything like that.”
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