FAYETTEVILLE — The national view of some about Arkansas’ head coaching job isn’t shared by Hunter Yurachek who is Arkansas’ athletic director and vice-chancellor.
Arkansas has won eight games, including one SEC game, in the past three years. In those three years that led to Bret Bielema being fired following 2017 season and then Chad Morris after 10 games this past fall.
That has led some to declare the Arkansas job a career-killer. They point to the record since Bobby Petrino left in April prior to the the 2012 season. And admittedly the record hasn’t been pretty since that time. The highlight of the past eight years was an 8-5 mark in 2015. Yurachek responded to the national perception of Arkansas’ football program on Monday.
“My sales pitch to people is we have 19 sports programs, and 17 of our 19 sports programs have winning records in the past year,” Yurachek said. “We’ve won three national championships, albeit all of them within our women’s track and field program. That’s three more national championships than anybody else in the SEC. Vanderbilt won one last year in baseball and I think maybe Auburn won one in equestrian. We’ve won three at the University of Arkansas.
“The baseball program has a top 5 recruiting class at the University of Arkansas. Our men’s basketball program has a top 5 recruiting class. We have over 10 teams that have been ranked in the top 25 nationally. It can be done here at the University of Arkansas with our football program because 17 of our other sports have proven that it can be done. So, that’s my sales pitch for anybody that doesn’t think our football program can be great here. We’ve got so many other programs that have proven they can be great here, our football program can be great.”
Yurachek admitted he ran into some of that during his search for Morris’ replacement and before hiring Sam Pittman.
“Of course,” Yurachek said. “I mean, people see this as a daunting task and some people are just not cut out for it. We are at the bottom of the toughest football conference in the country right now, and we’ve got to fight our way out. You need somebody who wants to get in the trenches and fight. Not all head coaches are cut out to have that type of task. Some knew they weren’t cut out for it. Some, you have to do some research and find out for yourself that they’re probably not cut out for that. So, absolutely it’s a challenge. But, it’s a challenge that I think Coach Pittman is definitively up for and wants.”
The question then becomes is it the Arkansas job or is it bad football hires? Petrino and Nutt combined to go to 11 bowl games in 14 years. The two combined to have a record of 109-66 during that span.
Some point to the fact Texas A&M started SEC play in 2012 and that has led to Arkansas’ decline because of recruiting in Texas. Was it because the Aggies started playing in SEC in 2012 that Arkansas struggled at times recruiting in Texas while Bielema was the head coach or was it for other reasons?
That isn’t to say Texas A&M going to SEC helped Arkansas’ recruiting in The Lone Star State, but Morris wasn’t having any issues recruiting there. Preferring to recruit Big Ten states and Miami area as opposed to Texas and also making unfavorable comments at a coaching convention with high school coaches from that state didn’t help Bielema’s efforts at all. Once again, Morris had no issues recruiting Texas. He had seven commits from Texans for the Class of 2020 when fired.
The truth is Arkansas has hired the wrong coaches since Petrino was fired. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad coaches, but it takes a different coach to be successful at Arkansas than it does at some other schools.
Jeff Long’s hire of John L. Smith as interim coach in 2012 started the decline. Yes, Smith was just an interim hire, but some forget Arkansas had lofty expectations entering that season. They lost to Louisiana-Monroe in the second week of the season and then finished 4-8. They were a national Top 10 team in preseason. Has the program really been the same since that ULM loss?
Bielema was 3-9 in his first season, but did rebound to take the Hogs to bowl games the next three years. But then Arkansas slipped to 4-8 in 2017 winning only one SEC game. The Hogs finished 7-6 in 2016, but finished the season blowing huge second-half leads against first Missouri and then Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. One can point to the meltdown against Missouri then repeated in the bowl game was something the program once again hasn’t been the same since.
Morris was 2-10 his first season and 2-8 this past fall before being fired. As noted the Hogs finished the season 0-2 to fall to another 2-10 year. Morris and his staff could recruit. They went after the top players and got their share of them, but that didn’t translate to success on the field.
Arkansas is a difficult job, but it’s far from as bad as the national media wants people to believe. If Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and some others can have success in the SEC so can Arkansas. They did for 14 years and hope that Pittman can lead them back again to being a competitive program.