At last, a month after Arkansas’ last football game, the churn that had besieged the program on a nearly daily basis has simmered down. As the dust clears, we see a vastly new coaching staff under Sam Pittman after six assistant coaches left or were fired.
The change within the roster has been equally dizzying. After the regular season ended, 25 scholarship players entered the transfer portal to tie Texas A&M for the most outgoing transfers in the nation.
Granted, most of former Razorbacks have ended up at smaller schools, but no matter how you want to spin it, the loss of significant contributors like Ketron Jackson Jr., Jalen Catalon, Jordan Domineck and Trey Knox hurts. While Arkansas has gotten some promising transfer additions itself, especially when it comes to wide receiver, defensive back, defensive line and linebacker, it’s not yet clear that the Hogs’ No. 16-ranked transfer class will live up to Pittman’s previous transfer classes.
Whether it’s fair or not, much of the perceived overall value of this new Arkansas football transfer class will hinge on how well rangy wide receivers Tyrone Broden, Andrew Armstrong and Isaac TeSlaa adapt to the SEC after earning their stripes at much lower levels of college football (Broden played at Bowling Green while Armstrong and TeSlaa come from the FCS and Division II, respectively).
In the first few weeks following the Liberty Bowl, it at times felt for some Arkansas football fans like the floor was falling out from under them. All college football programs undergo some turnover, but this much seemed like it was bordering on “cursed” territory.
That, of course, is if you’re of the half-empty bent.
Now Here’s a Positive Spin on the Razorbacks
Some analysts, however, are putting the kind of positive spin on the churn that could make a sunshine pumper smile dazedly into the full strength of a burning orb.
Take 247Sports’ Josh Pate, host of “Late Kick with Josh Pate,” who has decided that Arkansas football’s upheaval from a personnel standpoint is actually a good thing.
“When things aren’t going the way you want them to, the last thing in the world you should do is just stand back,” Pate says in a recent episode. “The last thing you should do is maintain normalcy because that’s going to get you more of what you’ve already gotten.”
He then refers to some of the internal issues on the team that included former assistant(s) allowing if not outright promoting division in the locker room. “So if you have internal issues this year, you didn’t like the chemistry, the dynamic, you had to have a lot of churn – a lot of players should be hitting the portal. A lot of coaches should be moving on. You need fresh blood, you need it.”
Pate makes a fair point here, but he may be overselling how many of the assistant coaches Pittman pushed out the door. Former strength and conditioning coach Jamil Walker, for sure, was fired. The optics are better for former secondary coach, Dominique Bowman, but it appears he also was released. Then there’s the whole confusing Kendal Briles saga, which appears to have involved Briles going to the well one too many times and Pittman and Hunter Yurachek getting fed up with all the back-and-forth.
“If I heard the things I had heard and there were the rumors that we’ve heard out of what it was like internally at Arkansas this past year, I’d be concerned that there weren’t a ton of coaches and players on the way out the door,” Pate continues. “I’d think that made sense. I don’t think that’s the craziest thing in the world.”
So long as the players and coaches who come in are as good or better than the those leaving, the optimists’ theory goes, the churn will be worth it.
New Arkansas Football Coach Upgrades?
John Nabors, the host of Locked on Razorbacks, doesn’t think there’s even a question of whether the new coaches are on the whole better than the ones they replaced. The only one he believes is a probable downgrade is Daron Wilson, who replaced Bowman, simply because Wilson is so relatively inexperienced.
Otherwise, as you can see below, he sees the other coaching changes resulting in either a wash or an upgrade.
Dowell Loggains to Morgan Turner: UPGRADE
Jamil Walker to Ben Sowders: UPGRADE
Kendal Briles to Dan Enos: TBA
Safties: Barry Odom to Marcus Woodson: UPGRADE – “This one’s a no-brainer… It’s not even close.”
Cornerbacks: Dominique Bowman to Daron Wilson: PROBABLE DOWNGRADE
Linebackers: Michael Scherer to Travis Williams: SAME
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom to Travis Williams: UPGRADE – “Barry Odom definitely started slipping a little bit as the years went on… there’s no reason Arkansas’ defense should have been as bad as it was last year.”
See all of Nabors’ takes here:
Of course, the quality of these new coaches will play a big role ultimately in the quality of the transfers. How well can Enos team up with wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton to develop the three talented but relatively unproven receiver transfers? How well can Travis Williams get new Razorback linebacker Antonio Grier Jr. working in tandem with potential All-SEC standout Chris Paul Jr., and can Williams and Deke Adams coach up two defensive line transfers in John Morgan III and Trajan Jeffcoat who could make as big of a splash as John Ridgeway and Tre Williams did in 2021?
Finally, can Williams, Woodson and Daron Wilson at last produce a defensive backfield that isn’t treated shredded to tatters three out of every conference four games? To accomplish that and more, they have a good start in Quincey McAdoo and Dwight McGlothern but will need incoming Baylor transfers Alfahiym Walcott and Lorando Johnson to have their best college seasons yet.
It’s too early to say that losing this many coaches and players is a “good” thing because of losses like Catalon and Domineck whom Pittman almost certainly didn’t want to transfers, but if a handful of those kinds of exits are seen as an unavoidable part of a bigger purge, then no doubt a cleaned house beats a divided one any day.