The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Experience Is The Hogs' Best Friend

554 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Fred Daniels

Sam Pittman learned something in his first year as a head coach at Arkansas. He learned a lot of things, actually, but one lesson stood out.

"As soon as your bowl game's over, or what was supposed to be your bowl game," he said, "people come after your coaches."

So Pittman was especially pleased that he was able to retain defensive coordinator Barry Odom, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, special teams coordinator Scott Fountain and director of strength and conditioning Jamil Walker.

Pittman shared that, "believe it or not," he and Odom, the former Missouri head coach, go walking each day for about 45 minutes.

"Now, he looks like he walks," Pittman said. "I look like I'm on his back, but I'm really walking. We walk and we talk and discuss the team. It's a great 45 minutes so I can learn a little bit more about being a head coach."

Odom's defense is expected to be a strength for the Hogs after going through a full off-season for the first time. Last season, Arkansas finished second in the SEC with 13 interceptions and 25th nationally with 18 total takeaways.

Pittman said of Odom, who also serves as his associate head coach: "Our players believe in him. Whatever comes out of his mouth, that's what he's going to do. Our kids believe in him and so do I."

When Pittman jokes about the strength of the Arkansas schedule, you can believe that he's not kidding. The Hogs get Georgia as the rotating crossover game from the SEC East again and add old Southwest Conference rival Texas as a non-conference opponent. Then there's the rest of the SEC West, which starts with the last two national champions in Alabama and LSU.

"We are the defending national champions of the hardest schedule in college football," Pittman said. "I look towards next year, and I think we're going to three-peat in that area. However, we're the University of Arkansas, in the Southeastern Conference West, exactly where we belong, and we're excited about those challenges."

To face that demanding schedule, Arkansas can lean on not only returning coaches but returning veteran players. Pittman said the Razorbacks have 11 super seniors and 12 traditional seniors on the roster. That's 23 not-so-young men who've played a lot of college football.

Grant Morgan epitomizes that veteran leadership. The super senior linebacker already has earned his master's degree, and he was a finalist for the 2020 Burlsworth Trophy as the most outstanding college football player in the country who started his career as a walk-on. A second-team All-American, Morgan finished tied for first in the nation with 12.3 tackles a game.

"Yeah, I like the word 'super.' That's cool. Super seniors," Morgan said. He called it "a testimony" to Pittman and the Arkansas staff that he and so many of his teammates came back for an extra year. "The fact that they accepted everybody who came back, it just shows we have a culture here that's different than what it was in the past. To be able to have a coach like that, it was an easy choice to be able to come back, and I know it was for everyone else."

Morgan has pinned a tweet to his Twitter profile that says, "Remember me as the Walk-on not the All-American." He said he's motivated by not winning the Burlsworth Trophy.

"I live my life every day as a walk-on," he said. "I'm not a flashy guy. I'm not gonna make TikToks."

Sounds like his head coach and his football program.