FAYETTEVILLE — Following a miserable showing by the unit Saturday, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman told reporters he was still searching for something to spark his offense.
Less than 24 hours later, it seems as though he manufactured one by firing offensive coordinator Dan Enos after just eight games on the job — the latest of which was an ugly 7-3 loss to Mississippi State on homecoming at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
That news broke Sunday and Pittman met with the media Monday to discuss the move, which he said was done to try to salvage the final four games of what has been a 2-6 season up to this point.
“We have a lot of similar players to what we’ve had in the past, it just never clicked,” Pittman said. “It really never did. This is not a move for any other reason than it just wasn’t working. It’s not a move to can the season. We’ve got a really good defense. If our offense can go out and function and function well, we still have games we can win.”
Third-year assistant Kenny Guiton will move from wide receivers to quarterbacks coach while also adding play calling duties. Derek Kief, a first-year senior quality control staffer who played at Alabama from 2014-18, has been elevated to the on-field staff as the wide receivers coach. Kief previously served in that position for Towson University.
Pittman again said those moves were made in an effort to right the ship this season.
“Bringing somebody in from outside right now didn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Pittman said. “Simply because, to me, that’s more of giving up on the season, and that is not what we’re doing. We’re just trying to make a change hopefully get our kids to play a little faster and tougher and things of that nature.”
What Went Wrong with Dan Enos at Arkansas
The decision to move on from Dan Enos after just eight games was not particularly surprising considering the struggles on that side of the ball.
Arkansas ranks 84th nationally in scoring at 26.5 points per game, but that number is partially inflated by a 56-point effort against FCS Western Carolina and four special teams/defensive scores. The offense itself has averaged only 19.3 points against FBS competition — a stark contrast from last season’s 31.8-point average.
Asked what went wrong, Sam Pittman indicated the team never fully bought in to Enos.
“I think a lot of coaching has to do with enthusiasm, spirit, wanting to run through the wall for different people,” Pittman said. “We just never really had that on the offensive side of the ball. If you look at it defensively, there’s a lot of that there. I think you can get guys to play better that maybe even what their talents are if they believe in you.”
That was especially on display Saturday. In fact, during an on-field interview after the first quarter, Pittman told ESPN that he felt the team was “dead” and it needed to “wake the hell up.”
He brought it up Monday, as well.
“Our kids weren’t as motivated to play as I have seen in the past,” Pittman said. “You can tell from the way we took the field on Saturday…I can remember being on the headset going ‘What are we doing?’ … We were in the game the entire game, it just didn’t feel like it.”
Schematically, it sounds like Pittman was not pleased with Enos’ implementation of things he wanted done.
For example, he has told reporters for several weeks that the offense needed to move the pocket, but for the most part, it hasn’t happened in games.
“We did it in practice,” Pittman said Monday. “We just didn’t do it.”
Pressed for reasons why, Pittman mustered little more than a shrug.
“We practice it,” Pittman said. “We didn’t do it. So I don’t know what to say about that.”
What to Expect Under Kenny Guiton
With four games remaining in the regular season, and needing to win all four to gain bowl eligibility, Sam Pittman said moving on from Dan Enos wouldn’t just magically cure all the Razorbacks’ problems.
It was one step toward fixing them, but they extend beyond just play calling.
“With Dan not here anymore, that doesn’t mean all of a sudden, ‘Oh well, all our answers are solved,’” Pittman said. “I mean, hell, we’ve got offensive line issues, (running) back issues, running route issues, tight end issues. … Dan took the brunt of it on that, but we all haven’t been coaching as well as we have in the past. We haven’t.”
The task of calling plays now falls to Kenny Guiton, who has coached wide receivers at Houston, Louisiana Tech, Colorado State and now Arkansas and never before had those duties. However, he played quarterback at Ohio State and Pittman said he probably had the best grasp on both aspects of the offense – running and passing.
The plan is for him to remain on the sideline during games rather than coach from the press box like Enos because that’s where he’s most comfortable. During the week, he’ll get help from all of the offensive coaches, as well as Pittman, who said he’d get more involved on that side of the ball.
“I mean, it’s my butt on the line,” Pittman said. “It’s all of us. I don’t worry so much about losing my job. I worry so much about losing the building’s job. You know, we’ve got buyouts and all that kind of stuff. I don’t want the buyout. I want to win. I’m not saying I’m the know-all answer guy, but I damn sure need to get involved more, and that’s something I’ll do.”
Guiton worked with former Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles at Houston and then again with the Razorbacks the last two years, leading to speculation that they’ll implement more of that offense moving forward.
However, even with an open date before traveling to Florida on Nov. 4, there isn’t enough time for a complete overhaul. Instead, the changes will be smaller.
“I think we may do more of some things that we’ve done a few times,” Pittman said. “You could see a faster pace and some things of that nature. But our volume is what we’re cutting down so that we can do something really well.”
That large volume of plays took away from practicing the fundamentals at practice because Pittman said they were always practicing against different looks instead.
To further drive home the fact that the offensive scheme wouldn’t completely change, Pittman added that he isn’t tweaking the team’s plans for the open date.
“If you really look at it, what is the change?” Pittman said. “Well, you’re not changing offenses, because Lord knows we have a lot of offense. You got to shrink it. In my opinion we have to shrink it down and do a little bit, and let the players make plays.”
One example Pittman gave as a change to expect from the offense moving forward was less drop back passes. He said the Razorbacks dropped back 29 times against Mississippi State, but that number needs to be closer to the 8-10 range because they aren’t capable of protecting long enough for those plays to develop.
“We can’t physically hold up right now,” Pittman said. “And honestly we’re getting so much blitz and twists and stuff, I don’t know if a lot of people can, especially our young tackles. We’ve known they’re young as well, so we’ve got to protect them somehow.”
Impact on KJ Jefferson
The hope is that a change in coordinator and a consolidation of the playbook will also help Arkansas’ fifth-year senior quarterback.
KJ Jefferson has seen his production plummet in the transition from Kendal Briles to Dan Enos. He’s still completed 65.3% of his passes, but he’s thrown seven interceptions – more than either of the last two seasons, in fewer games – and he’s averaging 80.5 fewer total yards of offense per game than last year.
“We’ve got to allow KJ to take some of the things off his plate that we were obviously trying to teach him for now and for his future,” Pittman said. “We need to take those things off his plate because he’s not playing fast and he’s not as accurate throwing the football as what he has in the past. And some of those things have to be mentally.”
Pittman has said several times that all the hits Jefferson has taken this year have had a negative impact. The goal is to minimize those over the next few games by changing things up.
“To me, he’s not done a wonderful job either of protection or of sitting in the pocket and throwing the football,” Pittman said. “If that’s the case, we can’t keep beating a dead horse. We have to do something different.”
The Next OC for Arkansas Football
Because there are still five weeks, and four games, left in the season, Sam Pittman said he wasn’t focused on finding a long-term replacement at offensive coordinator right now.
He said he’s received “a ton” of calls from interested coaches since the news was announced Sunday afternoon, but “we’re trying to win some games.”
While Kenny Guiton has the “interim” tag on his title, he could use the rest of the season as an audition for the position in 2024 and beyond. At the same time, the offensive performance won’t necessarily have an impact on his standing in the Arkansas football program.
“Obviously if we have success, then that’ll put Kenny’s name right in that,” Pittman said. “If you can, you want to stay in house, especially because of the portal and the relationship kids have and all that. This doesn’t mean if Kenny goes to calling plays and it doesn’t work out as well that he’s not going to be our wide receiver coach. I’m not putting that on him. But obviously if he does well, then we’ll have to have that conversation. Hell, I’d love to have that conversation.”
Pittman did just go through the process of hiring an offensive coordinator last offseason and actually had several preliminary conversations because of Briles’ flirtations with other jobs before leaving for TCU.
That may or may not help him this time around.
“The thing about each and every year is different people come available after each year,” Pittman said. “Some guys might not have been available last year that I knew that might be available this year, depending on whether they’re on a team that’s fired or whether they’ve just decided ‘no’ last year might be ‘yes’ now. The greatest thing about me moving all over the world is I know a whole bunch of people. So we’ll see.”
Regardless of which direction he ultimately goes, Pittman said he believes he can get the offense back on track.
“I’m real confident that we can get it back to what is respectable for the state of Arkansas and to be honest with you, that’s all I’m really worried about,” Pittman said. “I’m not worried about my job, I’m worried about the damn state of Arkansas and having them proud of our football team. Hell I’m not right now and I know they ain’t and I get it. But I’m the only one that can change it, so we’re going to work like hell to get that done.”
2023 Arkansas Football Stats – Offense
(rank, out of 133)
(rank, out of 14)
|Scoring Offense||26.5 ppg|
|Total Offense||305.9 ypg|
|Yards Per Play||4.71 ypp|
|Rushing Offense||109.0 ypg|
|Yards Per Carry||2.93 ypc|
|Passing Offense||196.9 ypg|
|Yards Per Attempt||7.1 ypa|
Watch Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s full press conference discussing the firing of Dan Enos and promotion of Kenny Guiton:
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