Kendal Briles / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Christmas is a day away, but for the Arkansas Razorbacks, Santa Claus might as well have come a couple of days early.
Two-time Razorback leading rusher Rakeem Boyd announced on Twitter Monday that he would return to Arkansas for his senior year on the heels of Arkansas’ announcement that new coach Sam Pittman had hired Kendal Briles to be his offensive coordinator.
That was a strong one-two punch that should leave all Hog fans dreaming not only of a White Christmas or dancing sugar plums this Christmas season, but also better times for the Razorbacks on the football field.
Boyd was perhaps the lone true bright spot for the Hogs during a dismal 2019 football season. Boyd (6-0, 213) rushed for 1,333 yards this season as a junior, which ranked a solid fifth in the SEC and 28th in the NCAA, and boasted a healthy 6.16 yards per carry while scoring eight touchdowns.
The news was significant because ever since Boyd transferred from Independence (Kan.) College as a sophomore, the rumor was that he would exit Arkansas after his junior year. That rumor seemed even more likely with the departure of his position coach Jeff Traylor to become the head coach at Texas-San Antonio.
While logic might say Boyd should return and try to fashion a better senior year, when a college player has professional stars in his eyes, it is often hard to redirect his thoughts even if it for the best.
Credit Boyd and his family for making what seems like a wise and the best decision to further develop his professional resume with the Razorbacks in Pittman’s new regime.
Boyd wrote on Twitter: “After talking to my family and coaches, I have made a decision that it is best for me to not enter the 2020 NFL Draft and come back to the University of Arkansas for my senior season and to finish my education.
“There’s more left for me to do to fulfill my dreams, break more records and bring the program back to the top, and the only way I can do that is in that No. 5 Razorback jersey. I am coming back to help turn this program around!”
Now, it’s hard to know how much Pittman’s re-recruitment of Boyd had to do with the young man’s decision, but from the second paragraph of his statement about returning, it sounds like the new head Hog was quite persuasive.
Pittman indicated last Wednesday in his press conference on the first day of the early national signing period that retaining Boyd’s services was a priority.
“Obviously, he’s a wonderful player,” Pittman said. “I have spoken with him, I don’t know, two, three or four times. We obviously have to talk to him about his draft status. Where he’s ranked. So, we have conveyed that to him and then he has to decide what he has to do. Obviously, we want him to come back and help us and help himself with the draft.”
No doubt those powers of persuasion came into play while Pittman and the Razorbacks were courting Briles to be their latest offensive coordinator.
And Briles being the Hogs’ OC might have helped in persuading Boyd to stick around Fayetteville another year. Briles signed an offer agreement with Arkansas last Friday. No doubt Boyd, a Houston native, was privy to that information while coming to his decision with his parents last weekend.
Though Briles was without a job after the turnover in coaching staff at Florida State, his success in recent years made him a desired commodity in the NCAA ranks.
Briles started his college coaching career at Baylor on his father Art Briles’ staff as the wide receivers coach from 2008-2014. He was the Bears offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2015-16.
After establishing Baylor as an offensive power house, Art Briles and his entire staff was fired after a sexual assault scandal involving Baylor players came to light.
The younger Briles, a 2015 finalist for the Broyles Award, quickly transitioned to join Lane Kiffin’s staff at Florida Atlantic in 2017, and then moved on to Houston in 2018, and to Florida State in 2019.
Florida Atlantic averaged 6.8 yards per play during his season there, with Houston averaging 6.6 app. Though Florida State had a horrible offensive line last season, the Seminoles still managed to average 5.84 ypp. in Briles’ lone season in Tallahassee, Fla.
Some might label Briles as a job-hopper, but he left Power Five jobs at Baylor and Florida State as part of regime changes. His moves from Florida Atlantic to Houston to Florida State over a three-year period were clearly promotions.
If Pittman is successful with Briles and defensive coordinator Barry Odom at rebuilding Arkansas into a respectable SEC program, it’s conceivable both coordinators would remain at Arkansas until getting a shot to head their own program.
Last week CBS columnist Dennis Dodd graded Arkansas’ hire of Pittman as a C- because Pittman didn’t have head coaching experience.
When all is said and done, Dodd could end up being right, but from this corner, Pittman has made a couple of A+ hires as his coordinators, and making those type of decisions are as pivotal as making in-game strategic moves.
We will see how Pittman handles the chores of game-day decision making this fall. There will be a learning curve, but Pittman has a wealth of experience at his disposal with his 35 years of coaching experience at nine FBS programs.
He also has his good friend Odom, former Missouri head coach, to lean on and one of the brightest and most innovative offensive coordinators in the college game to use the resources the Hogs have on hand.
No other new head coaching hire in the NCAA can match Pittman for the experience and talent he hired as his coordinators, and Brad Davis is another A+ hire as offensive line coach. The retention of Justin Stepp from Chad Morris’ staff should help in comforting Arkansas young but very talented stable of wide receivers.
While this job is clearly a rebuild that will take some time, pieces are coming together for Pittman and the Razorbacks like they have not since early in the Bobby Petrino era, but this time with a great defensive mind in Odom on the other side of the ball.
Just as the promise of Petrino’s offense attracted Ryan Mallett to transfer back home from Michigan, I’m guessing the hire of Briles will help in attracting better quarterback talent On the Hill, as well as developing the quarterbacks already on campus.
With Briles coordinating the offense at Arkansas, top QB prospects in the region have to give the Razorbacks a second thought when the Hogs come calling.
Things are definitely looking up for the Razorback football program from my point of view.
Pittman might seem like a C- hire to some, but he’s operating at an A grade level in his decisions and moves so far.
To all that, I say Merry Christmas, Hog fans, and a big Yessir!