This is finals week on the University of Arkansas campus. For the longest time, it was a quiet week on the Razorback sports front.
At some point, in the 1990s, the UA passed a rule that disallowed competition during finals, taking away the temptation for a coach to squeeze in a game or competition when their players could be struggling to retain their eligibility.
However, with the recent drastic overhaul of college athletics, the courts basically and probably rightly neutered the NCAA from disallowing players from garnering sponsorships based on their name, image, and likeness.
At the same time, the courts also outlawed the old transfer rules, which gave student-athletes the ability to transfer from institution to institution without having to sit out a year.
The result is a free-for-all at the end of each semester.
The institution of the early signing period for football athletes, which runs Dec. 21-23 this year, initially seemed to be a good thing.
When: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28
Where: Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.
Programs that weren’t in a coaching transition could wrap up their recruiting classes for the year, enjoy their bowl game and semester break and move forward into the new year.
However, the early signing now in combination with that relatively new freedom to transfer between semesters with impunity has actually made mid December one of the most active times of the year for college football coaches.
Not only are programs like Arkansas and coach Sam Pittman attempting to retain pledges from recruits, but they also have to re-recruit their current roster and manage their staff and the changes that come with that.
It appears Pittman will not only have to hire a new defensive coordinator with Barry Odom leaving to become the head coach at Nevada-Las Vegas but also linebacker and tight end coaches.
The word is linebacker coach Mike Scherer, who played for Odom at Missouri and joined him at Arkansas as a graduate assistant before being promoted to linebacker coach, will likely join Odom’s staff as his defensive coordinator.
With just two years of experience as a position coach, Scherer doesn’t have the experience to be in line to replace Odom as the Hogs’ defensive coordinator. Arkansas possibly could pay him more to stay as a position coach, but the opportunity to be a coordinator under Odom at Scherer’s youthful age is likely one he couldn’t pass up, even if Arkansas equaled or payed him more than his salary might be at UNLV.
On the surface losing a tight end coach doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. However Dowell Loggains has NFL experience as an offensive coordinator and even more importantly proved to be a “natural” at recruiting in just two seasons with the Hogs. Pittman had basically said Loggains was Kendall Briles’ heir apparent as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator whenever Briles left for a head coaching position.
Loggains, who will reportedly be named South Carolina’s offensive coordinator, obtained commitments to Arkansas from three four-star tight end recruits, athletes whom the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M, and now likely South Carolina and others are going to attempt to flip. As you probably well know, commitments are non-binding.
Making matters even more challenging for the Hogs, returning tight end Trey Knox submitted his name to the transfer portal. Many feel he will follow Loggains to South Carolina.
Now, it’s very possible Knox made that decision without any tampering, but it’s also possible that Arkansas is clearing the decks at the tight end position to entice those three recruits — Luke Hasz of Bixby, Okla,; Shamar Easter of Ashdown; and Jaden Hamm of Eudora, Kan.; — to remain committed to the program.
Now, the latter does seem far-fetched, but when it has become common for coaches who are interviewing for jobs to be asked whom they can bring with them to their new program, such a move might be made to entice committed players to stay on board. Again, I’m not saying that is what happened. I’m just saying in today’s world of college athletics, it could.
Yeah, it’s the Wild West in recruiting today, and it was already unscrupulous in many corners.
As a follower of all this, I certainly don’t begrudge players getting paid. More power to them.
The new transfer rules bug me, though, but I am old.
I’m not going to enjoy seeing Trey Knox or Ketron Jackson wear another team’s colors. I wish them well, but I won’t root for them or their teams, and I probably won’t think of them in the same way I would other Razorbacks that played their entire careers for Arkansas.
But honestly what I think or any fan or sports writer thinks matters very little to them in the grand scheme. They have to do what’s best for them, just like any of us would do in a similar situation. College athletics has become or maybe it always has been a mercenary world.
And, yes, I realize how hypocritical it is to write that, and then cheer for guys like defensive end Jordan Dominick and Arkansas’ latest Associated Press All-American Drew Sanders, who is taking his considerable talents to the NFL. Dominick transferred in from Georgia Tech and Sanders from Alabama.
Sanders is Arkansas’ first AP, first-team All-American linebacker since the great Ronnie Caveness spearheaded the Hogs’ undefeated 1964 national championship team.
Now, this year’s 6-6 season wasn’t what any Hog fan or Razorback wanted, but it was fun to watch Sanders play, even for such a short time.
As talented as Sanders is, he got the spotlight at Arkansas that he never would have gotten at Alabama. He also starred at linebacker for the Hogs, while he would have been a rotating defensive end for the Crimson Tide.
Arkansas has picked up a couple of promising players from the transfer portal for next year, too. Quarterback Jacoby Criswell, a Morrilton native, returns to Arkansas from North Carolina to add quality depth at the most critical position on the field. Joshua Braun (6-6, 335) adds some brawn to the Hogs’ offensive line after transferring from Florida, and Texas A&M-Commerce receiver Andrew Armstong (6-3, 165) adds a tall but slender frame to the Hogs’ receiving group.
As for whom the Hogs will hire as their defensive coordinator, I simply don’t know. There are so many names floating out there that it is hard to get a handle on what’s factual and what’s not.
One would think Pittman would want to get that handled quickly, ideally a couple of days before the Dec. 21-23 signing period. However, the defensive coordinator role is too important to rush. It would be better for Pittman to leave some recruits in limbo or even miss out on them than to make a hasty hire that he might later regret.