Pittman’s candid yet humble approach is fresh air for Hog fans

You have to love the no nonsense approach that first-year Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman takes in answering questions from the media.

The new head Hog exudes confidence and humility while answering questions in a refreshingly straight-forward manner. When he takes the podium, he’s not armed with slogans, platitudes, or strained attempts at humor. He just tells it like he sees it.

When Pittman gets a question that he can’t answer or one he doesn’t want to answer, he doesn’t “dance a little side-step” or spew out meaningless coach speak. He respectfully acknowledges the question and politely declines.

Reporters no doubt understand coaches can’t answer every question, but they certainly don’t like being fed a line of bull when it happens. Pittman doesn’t try to do that, and again, it is refreshing after the last decade.

Considering the challenges and circumstances Pittman and the rest of his newly hired coaching staff faced during their first months on the job, they did an excellent job of putting together a solid recruiting class. CBS Sports Network ranked it No. 26 in the nation, while ESPN and 247 Sports placed it at 29th.

Considering the Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons — still hard to stomach — and Pittman had less than a week on the job before the early signing period last December and then just a month more to make headway before the beginning of last Wednesday’s late signing period, he and his Razorback staff did an outstanding job.

Entrenched Arkansas staffs haven’t always done as well in the past. In fact, former coach Chad Morris was lauded for his second signing class, but it was only ranked slightly higher than Pittman’s first. Considering how poorly the Razorbacks finished in Morris’s two seasons, it’s doubtful if he had been retained that Arkansas would have signed a class ranked any higher or as high as 29th.

Pittman wore a winning smile when he walked into his press conference on Wednesday. He should have. He and his staff signed a class that should make Arkansas better if only by increasing the depth on the defensive side of the football with 15 defensive signees.

However, fans should be even more encouraged by the fact that Pittman said that he actually expected to have done a better job and that his goal is to push the Razorback program into the elite recruiting status. He said when that happens, the coaching staff will be really happy.

Recruiting more talented players is truly the only way the Razorbacks will rise from the ranks of the poor and mediocre to be a legitimate challenger in the SEC once again.

While there is no doubt that the ranking of recruiting classes is a subjective endeavor, it’s great to hear Pittman say his goal is to have higher-rated classes in the future rather than to question the value of recruiting rankings like former Arkansas coaches Houston Nutt and Bret Bielema did.

You might be able to argue the differences between, say, the 25th- and the 29th-ranked recruiting classes or even the first and the third, but it’s hard to say a class ranked in the 20s or 30s is as strong as one ranked in the top 10 even if ranking players and classes are subjective.

Pittman doesn’t have to rationalize signing a class ranked in the 20s because his goal for the future is to do better.

As a life-long Hog fan I like hearing a coach say that the Razorback program should be elite. That is the goal. While Pittman doesn’t have Power 5 head coaching experience, he has more than enough SEC experience as an assistant to know just how far the Razorbacks have to advance to reach that goal. He’s not naive.

But goals do have to be stated to be met, and what the Razorback football program needs now more than ever is confidence among its players and fans that they can compete in the SEC.

Pittman’s genuineness and confidence in matter of factly stating that goal should build confidence among Razorback fans, and Pittman stated that one of the goals of the Hogs’ off-season program is to instill more confidence in his Razorback athletes.

Now, true confidence with the players and fans can only be built through success on the field. We’ve got a long wait until September before we can truly judge how much ground the Razorbacks can make up under Pittman in less than a year.

But, Pittman’s approach to the challenge he faced in recruiting his first Razorback class has me more than a little excited about the possibilities ahead.

Diamond Hogs picked to win west

It seems SEC coaches are just as high on the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team as the pollsters are.

SEC coaches voted the Razorbacks as the favorite to win the SEC West, while Vanderbilt was the overwhelming favorite to win the East and the league with 8 of 14 votes. Florida received two votes with Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, and Mississippi State receiving one apiece.

The Razorbacks led the way with four Preseason All-SEC selections in right fielder Heston Kjerstad, catcher Casey Opitz, shortstop Casey Martin, and designated hitter Matt Goodheart making the list. No other team had more than two members on the first team.

The Razorbacks open their season with a three-game series against Eastern Illinois Feb. 14-16 at Baum Walker Stadium. Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said right-hander Connor Noland would get the start at 3 p.m. Friday, with lefty Justin Wicklander on the mound for Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest, and Springdale freshman Blake Anderson, another righty, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Razorbacks are ranked as high as fourth and as low as 11th going into the season by the various polls.

Hoop Hogs face 2-game road test

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Missouri
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8
Where: Columbia, MO
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 16-6 (SEC 4-5)

Remaining schedule

Feb. 11 – at Tennessee
Feb. 15 – Mississippi State
Feb. 18 – at Florida
Feb. 22 – Missouri
Feb. 26 – Tennessee
Feb. 29 – at Georgia
March 4 – LSU
March 7 – at Texas A&M

There is no rest for the weary or the Arkansas Razorbacks after suffering another tough loss last Wednesday to No. 11 Auburn on the hardwood.

First-year coach Eric Musselman’s Hogs pushed the Tigers to the limit, but suffered a 79-86 overtime loss after leading the game by 11 at the 6-minute mark.

Arkansas (16-6, 4-5 SEC) plays at Missouri (10-12, 2-7) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in an SEC Network-televised contest and then heads to Knoxville on Tuesday to face Tennessee (13-9, 5-4) at 6 p.m. in a ESPN/2/U-televised contest.

Musselman’s delay-game tactic failed the Razorbacks for the first time this season as the Hogs struggled to execute late in the clock. The Razorbacks also failed to make the most of their free-throw opportunities and with their inability to get key stops down the stretch against a very talented and experienced Auburn team resulted in the loss.

Even with all that going against them late, the Razorbacks were one possession away from a victory with star sharpshooter Isaiah Joe out indefinitely after undergoing arthroscopic surgery earlier this week on his right knee.

Junior guard Mason Jones continued his scoring onslaught becoming the first Hog since Martin Terry in the 1970s to score 30 or more points in three consecutive games. Unfortunately, with Joe out for at least several weeks if not longer, Jones may have to continue is scoring heroics to keep the Razorbacks in games.

The Hogs still eye their goal of making the NCAA Tournament despite going 2-4 in their last six games. All but two of the Razorbacks’ conference losses have been one-possession games. The Razorbacks have to find a way to pull such close games out over their next nine contests or they risk missing out on the big dance.

Equally important, though, is not showing up flat for a winnable road game like Saturday’s meeting with the Tigers.

We’ll see if the Razorbacks have the energy and desire to get their season back on track Saturday in Columbia, Mo.