Long ago, in the era when Frank Broyles was leading the Razorbacks to regular Top 10 national finishes and conference championships, the recipe for creating “buzz” around the Arkansas football program was simple: play hard, play smart, play fast and play with pride.
That, more often than not, led to winning — which led to fans talking about the team, watching the team and attending the team’s games. This, by the way, is a tried and true formula through the decades. Nowadays, Nick Saban doesn’t need catchy marketing slogans to grab people’s attention. His school’s tradition and his ability to command the enduring respect of his players is enough.
College football programs pump out mottoes and slogans only when they need to create the impression they have a winning culture to sell more tickets. And sometimes it actually works.
For proof, look no further than Clemson under Dabo Swinney. That program under Swinney is founded on the saying “All In,” which dates back to 2008 when he was promoted to interim head coach. In 2011, Chad Morris arrived at Clemson as an offensive coordinator who would help turn the team into a national title contender. He also took Swinney’s love of catch phrases and would infect Arkansas with it.
As head coach at Arkansas in 2018-2019, Morris burst onto the scene spewing all kinds of buzzy marketing schlock. After being hired in December 2017, on the plane to Fayetteville, he promised to deliver a high-octane offense that would wow fans:
?? fans, get ready.— Arkansas Razorbacks ? (@ArkRazorbacks) December 6, 2017
“This will be one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football.” pic.twitter.com/9u7GqPfrPY
After touching ground, Morris sauntered into the Razorback athletic complex to address his new charges. “When we come back here in January, man it’s full-tilt boogie now. We fixin’ to put it in the left lane and put the hammer down,” he said, pacing back and forth and finger jabbing with all the confidence of a used car salesman.
“I’ve got the blueprint of what it takes to win a national championship.”
See him make those promises here:
Then, a few months later, Morris decided to remind folks of what he had already said a hundred times before then — just in case they had missed it:
This stuff grated some fans, who were just coming off a few years of #Uncommon talk by Morris’ predecessor, Bret Bielema.
Originally inspired by former NFL coach Tony Dungy’s book, Bielema decided it would be cool if everything the Razorbacks did or touched was deemed “uncommon.”
“We will recruit uncommon men here,” Bielema said in the opening statement of his introductory press conference. “We will recruit men that are held to higher standards. I don’t want people to be normal. I want them to be uncommon.”
That’s good and fine, but Bielema forgot that young men who bring it every game with great pride, effort and execution are not normal by dint of what they doing. They’re going above and beyond simply by caring enough to try hard over and over again.
This is what Sam Pittman innately understands.
The first-year Razorback head coach knows that if a player needs a slogan or catchphrase to get his juices flowing, then that player probably isn’t internally motivated enough to excel in competition.
This came to the fore after Pittman’s first win on Saturday at Mississippi State. In the locker room, right after the game, he wanted his players to let loose and enjoy the cathartic moment. “I said, ‘Hey, we don’t care who we beat when we win. We’re going to celebrate,'” Pittman said Tuesday on The Buzz 103.7 FM. “‘We’re going to not talk about negatives or anything of that nature until we get together on Monday. We’ll figure it out. We’ll fix it.'”
There, he saw what was apparently a speaker, which he tongue in cheek referred to as a “juke box” when he asked his players to “turn that damn juke box up.”
“I just let it go for a minute. And just watched them. Watched their excitement, looked at their faces and it was an awesome moment for me. And then I asked them to quiet down a little bit, said a few words to them, and then it’s time to go back to being happy. You don’t have that many opportunities a year. When you won a football game you ought to be elated. The kids won and they deserve the win.”
In a telephone interview with sports radio hosts John Nabors and Joe Franklin, Pittman added that the Razorback athletic outfitter Nike got wind of the big moment and sent him a “Turn up that damn juke box” T-shirt. That phrase, like “Yessir”, are the sayings Pittman is now most associated with.
Which is ironic, considering Pittman doesn’t do catchphrases. “I don’t have sayings and all that, but some of these kind of silly sayings I say have caught on and I don’t mean them to — that’s just who I am.”
The difference between Pittman and his predecessors, though, is that Pittman’s sayings are exclamations of joy and excitement. He’s not trying to sell his program as something it isn’t. He cares more about building it block by block.
And that’s why, so far, Pittman looks like Frank Broyles compared to Chad Morris, now Auburn’s offensive coordinator. Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde ranks him No. 1 so far among ten first-year head coaches in college football, ahead of other candidates to replace Morris like Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Mike Norvell and Eli Drinkwitz.
“This could be Arkansas’s best defense in six years,” Forde writes. “They love their XXL head coach in Fayetteville; of course, they loved the last XXL head coach for a while, too (Bret Bielema).”
Pittman has a chance to put some separation between himself and the rest of the first-year class if the Hogs can knock off Auburn on the road this Saturday. Here’s what he said they need to improve to do that:
“On offense, we still have too many bad looking plays. In other words, we’re still not timing right on those plays. I thought our offensive line played better, but we’re still not in sync like we need to be. Special teams got better, however we have a long way to go. We did not win the special teams battle I didn’t feel like and so, that’s a phase of our game that certainly is going to improve. Scott Fountain’s a great [special teams] coordinator. He had enough talent to have a good specials team — we got a lot better last week we have to continue.”
“Defensively, they played so well. In our category of big plays, they only gave up one for the night. Certainly we are going to continue to work on our tackling.”
Listen to the entire Sam Pittman interview here:
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