Pittman addressing issues that resulted in a 6-6 season

(UA Athletics)

Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman fielded maybe the question of the year Monday in a press conference that doubled as the introduction of new defensive coordinator Travis Williams and new tight ends coach Morgan Turner as well as an update on preparations for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

The Hogs will play Kansas in Liberty Bowl Stadium at 4:30 p.m., Dec. 28 at Memphis to close out the current season, while plans are being made behind the scenes for what the Razorbacks will be in 2023.

The question came from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s veteran beat reporter Tom Murphy, who pointed out that there is a fine line between the Razorbacks being 8-4 or even 9-3 this season, rather than the mediocre 6-6 they are, going into Arkansas’ bowl game with the Jayhawks.

Pittman’s answer to the question came succinctly, almost as if he had been given the question before hand.

Of course, the Hogs coach, who is entering his fourth year on the job, didn’t have the question early, but there is no doubt he had been thinking about that very thing. That’s why it was such an astute question.

Pittman’s answer was three fold. Here’s what he said.

Arkansas Football

Opponent: Kansas
When: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28
Where: Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.

“To be honest, our red-zone offense,” Pittman said. “You can look at (that) in two games. We didn’t get the ball in from the 2, twice. Obviously against Missouri and LSU.

“I think if you look at our secondary play, [it] certainly needs to improve a lot. I think we can do that. It was injury-wise and consistency both that we have to get better at there.

“Those are the two things there, and to be honest with you, obviously, I didn’t think we maintained our strength or that we were strong enough. Nutrition had something to do with that as well.

“If you look at our players at the end of the year versus when it started in fall camp, we don’t look like the same team. That’s nobody’s fault but my own, but I did not feel like we had maintained or improved in those areas.

“You’ve got to improve on the field, but at times, we got physically beat. I didn’t feel like we were having those problems in our second year here… I feel that we got whipped physically some, and we certainly have to change that.

“There are several offensive and defensive things, too, because we lost four games by a total of 9 points, but we don’t want to be saying that again. It’s my job to fix it, and I think we are headed in that direction.”

Pittman’s answer to Murphy’s question slammed the nail dead center on the head. Pittman didn’t hem and haw or give a coach-speech answer. He pointed out the major issues his Hogs faced this season in an up front manner and addressed in part what he’s done and doing about it.

If you remember, Pittman wasted no time in addressing the Hogs’ lack of physicality on both sides of the ball the day after the loss to Missouri by dismissing the the strength staff as well as the nutritional staff.

Good people — Pittman said as much — lost their jobs because their efforts did not manifest the results they were being paid to achieve. That is the nature of the SEC.

Pittman has let assistant coaches go who did not produce as recruiters or perhaps as on-the-field technicians up to the standard he demands, and likewise he has rewarded coaches and staffers who have excelled with raises.

Some have raised the question about why a staffer received a raise one year but was let go the next. It’s pretty clear. Performance matters year to year to Pittman, and if for some reason, performance in an area lags from one season to the next, he is going to evaluate the situation and make a decision to go forward with the employee responsible for that area or not.

As a Razorback fan, I like that Pittman is such a good-natured and humorous guy, but I also like that he knows how to make the tough decisions that have to be made for the program not to stall, and for it to continue to move forward.

Now, some might question how I can say the program moved forward when the Razorbacks’ record dropped from 9-4 last season to 6-6 this season.

It’s a good question.

In terms of raw wins and losses, the Hogs didn’t move forward.

However, by Pittman addressing the issues that led to Arkansas losing four games by the equivalent of three field goals, he is pushing the program forward.

(UA Athletics)

Had Pittman made no changes to his strength and nutritional staff when he felt that was a factor in the Hogs going 1-3 in November, that would have been standing still.

While I personally believe the inordinate amount of injuries to the secondary had more to do with the Razorbacks’ suspect play defensively, the Hogs’ defense will take on a new nature next year with Barry Odom’s departure to become UNLV’s head coach and Williams’ hire from Central Florida to become Arkansas’ defensive coordinator.

After the early national signing period and the bowl, there could be more movement with the coaching staff, or not.

The 2023 American Football Coaches Association Convention, held Jan. 8-10 in Charlotte, N.C. is on the horizon. That’s always a big networking event and a period when coaches make moves. Likewise, moves are commonly made after national football signing day, which is Feb. 1.

With the Hogs’ staff solidified for the time being and the early national signing period opening on Wednesday, it’s a downhill sled ride until the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 28.

With so many Razorbacks opting out to prepare for their shot at NFL careers or to take their talents elsewhere through the transfer portal, the Liberty Bowl becomes a season unto itself.

The Hogs aren’t the same team with so many players missing, and this group won’t be the same next fall with a fresh group of Hogs from either high school or the transfer portal joining the program.

The Liberty Bowl and the practices that lead up to it are a one-game season. We’ll see if the Razorbacks can go 1-0 during this interim season.

2022-23 SEC Bowl Schedule

Dec. 23 at 5:30 p.m. – Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
Wake Forest vs. Missouri (ESPN)

Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m. – AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
Kansas vs. Arkansas (ESPN)

Dec. 28 at 8 p.m. – TaxAct Texas Bowl
NRG Stadium (Houston, Texas)
Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss (ESPN)

Dec. 30 at 2:30 p.m. – TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
TIAA Bank Stadium (Jacksonville, Fla.)
No. 21 Notre Dame vs. No. 19 South Carolina (ESPN)

Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. – Capital One Orange Bowl
Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Clemson (ESPN)

Dec. 31 at 11 p.m. – TransPerfect Music City Bowl
Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Iowa vs. Kentucky (ABC)

Dec. 31 at 11 a.m. – Allstate Sugar Bowl
Caesars Superdome (New Orleans, La.)
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State (ESPN)

Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. – CFP Semifinal – Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, Ga.)
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State (ESPN)

Jan. 2 at 11 p.m. – ReliaQuest Bowl
Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
No. 22 Mississippi State vs. Illinois (ESPN2)

Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. – Cheez-It Citrus Bowl
Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
No. 17 LSU vs. Purdue (ABC)