Why John McDonnell was the best coach ever, Kevin Kopp’s latest amazing feat & why Sam Pittman left Bret Bielema’s staff; all in this week’s Ask Mike

Pig Trail Nation

Q. Our first question has to with the sad news of the day. @mousetown says: I just heard about the passing of John McDonnell. What do you remember about him and how does he compare with the other great coaches at Arkansas?

A. Tera and I talked to Noland Richardson about John. For years those two had offices in Bud Walton Arena right next to each other. Nolan told us that John was not only the best coach ever at Arkansas but the best of all time anywhere. He also believes that John McDonnell could have won a national championship in any sport on campus. He could hire assistant coaches to teach the x’s and o’s of a sport. He was a master at hiring and managing a staff and how to motivate players to rise above their own wants and needs, sacrificing for the team.

Nolan also said he spent as much time as he could picking John’s brain. Getting advice from him on any issues that came up. “I wanted to know what he knew,” Nolan told us. “I wanted all that national championship magic that he had to rub off on me.”

John had many chances to go to other schools. Oregon offered him a crazy amount of money to leave Arkansas and coach there. He said no. John told me that NW Arkansas reminded him of Ireland, where he was born and grew up, plus his family would have never agreed to leave.

How good was John McDonnell? Forty national championships and thirty times national coach of the year answers that question. He was the best.

Q. Razorback Redneck wants to know: Have you ever seen anything like what Kevin Kopps did in the Fayetteville baseball regional? Somebody told me he threw more than 150 pitches over the weekend. That sounds nuts. How does he do that without tearing up his arm?

A. Actually it was 185 pitches and he got two wins and a save in one regional tournament. No, I have have never seen anything like that. He didn’t give up a single run in any of those three games. Even for him it was hard to believe.

How does he do it without ruining his arm? Well I saw him after the game with his parents and I said to him, if somebody did an MRI on his pitching arm they’d see metal in there instead of bones along with some gears and a motor.

The truth is, while he keeps talking about drinking beet juice eating eating pre-prepared meals from Whole Foods, and I do think that helps, the main factor is his use of a cryogenic chamber. Basically he exposes his pitching arm to temperatures of minus 100 to minus 160 degrees. What does that do? It reduces blood flow to a particular area which can significantly limit inflammation and swelling that causes pain, especially around a joint or a tendon. It can also temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain.

So Kevin Kopps uses science but to me, the kid has more heart, guts and confidence than any athlete I’ve ever been around. And you’re right. What he did in that regional was nuts.

Q. PorkSoda wants to know: How would you compare this baseball team to the 2018 team that got to the CWS Finals?

A. Statistically the 2018 team had a better team batting average by a lot and a better team ERA with an established three man starting rotation. But this team has already won more games, 49 to 48 with a lot fewer losses. The 2018 team was 48 and 21. So far this team is 49 and 11. That team shared the SEC West title. This team won the West outright, won the overall title by two full games and won the SEC Tournament. So in terms of winning this one is better by far. Can these guys do better at the College World Series than the 2018 bunch? Well they will have to get there first and then they will have to win the whole thing to do better in Omaha because the 2018 team came within one dropped flyball from winning the College World Series. So we will have to wait and see about that.

Q. Pigsfeat wants to know: Maybe it has happened before and I don’t remember but has Arkansas football ever offered an 8th grader before? And is this a trend?

A. I asked our football recruiting expert Otis Kirk about this. The kid’s name is Lance Jackson. He is an 8th grader. He’s a 6-5, 240 pound defensive end so you can see why they’re interested. Otis says he can’t remember any other 8th grader being offered in football by Arkansas.

Back when Stan Heath was the basketball coach at Arkansas there was a newspaper story indicating that Heath had offered and 8th grader named Fred Gulley. Heath later said he was joking when he told some fans that he had offered Gulley. He said everybody knew it was a joke. So yes, offering kid that young is extremely rare but who knows, it might pay off because for an 8th grader this young man is off the charts.

Q. BloodRedHog asks: Why is our OL coach leaving for LSU?
And why now with the recruiting dead period over?

A. He left because Ed Orgeron fired his offensive line coach after spring football was over and he offered Brad Davis the job. Davis had previously turned down offers to leave Arkansas but he is from Baton Rouge. His parents live there. He’s got brothers and sisters there. So he went back home which is not unusual in the coaching business.

Here’s what he had to say about leaving:

“I am disappointed to not finish the journey we began, but I am excited to return home to my native city and enjoy my parents and siblings. Arkansas is in great hands under Coach Pittman’s watch. He has instilled toughness, desire, and pride in being a Hog!

I am sorry for those who I’ve let down but hope those who truly know me will be happy for my opportunity to return home! I am excited to begin this new journey. Geaux Tigers.”

Apparently Sam Pittman had a feeling that Davis would eventually leave. The word is that when he hired Cody Kennedy as Arkansas tight ends coach it was with the idea of eventually making him the O-line coach. Kennedy worked under Pittman at Georgia and is a good recruiter.

Q. Metropolis Hogs wants to know: Who do you think will or should fill the TE coaching spot with Cody Kennedy moving over to the line?

A. We talked to one of the players on the team after the baseball game Monday night and apparently they don’t know who it will be. Hunter Yurachek’s son Ryan is a GA on the staff working with the tight ends. For now he is working with them. Some think Chris Gragg will be considered. He’s was an outstanding tight end under Bobby Petrino and played briefly in the NFL. I think it’s important to have an ex Razorback on the staff but in this case Gragg has no coaching experience so it’s hard to imagine Sam Pittman hiring him. The bottom line, I don’t know who it will be.

Q. Oklahawg says: Discuss your thoughts on staff turnover. Too much, too soon? “Trust in Pittman?”
Is it a concern that our coaching staff has grown very young compared to the staff first brought to UA by Pittman?

A. On the surface having half your staff of assistants turn over after your first year as a head coach would seem to be bad news.
But when you look closer there’s a logical explanation. Two of those coaches got a chance to go back home. I’ve already mentioned Brad Davis’ situation. Justin Stepp was the first of Pittman’s staff to leave. He was a holdover from Chad Morris’ staff and he got a chance to coach at South Carolina. Columbia is his hometown. So he went back home.

The other three changes were made by Pittman primarily because he wanted to improve recruiting. Arkansas is in the top 15 in recruiting. The best in a long, long time if it holds up. So it looks like Pittman got what he wanted out of those staff changes.

Q: Texas-grocery-hog asks: Can you give us any background on the reasons why Sam Pittman left Arkansas as O-Line coach a few years ago for Georgia? I’m glad Pittman is here as head coach now, but what was the fallout with Brett Bielema?

A. First of all kudos for the Hogville username. That’s very creative. I’m guessing you are in the grocery business in Texas. I’m also guessing that you signed up on Hogville to post questions in the Ask Mike forum since this was your first Hogville post. We look forward to answering more of your questions in the future.

As far as I know Pittman has never specifically said why he left the staff under Bielema. I can only tell you what I’m told. Supposedly Pittman felt that Bielema got complacent after the Texas Bowl win. There was that TV series, “Being Brett Bielema.” Pittman felt the head coach spent too much time being a celebrity. Not enough time tending to business.

But the biggest issue involved Bielema’s tendency to pop off in the media. He publicly criticized Jim Chaney play calling. Pittman felt like if you have an issue with one of your assistants you handle it privately. Chaney left the staff after Bielema’s second season but Pittman stayed. However, after the third season when Bielema popped off about Chaney again and Pittman had had enough. He left for Georgia and that was a huge blow to Bielema staff.

Q. PatBoat says: I’m a firm believer that it’s rare to win a championship with a score first point guard. He should be the leader and set up the offense. I want to know who is University of Arkansas greatest point guard?

A. Almost everybody will say Lee Mayberry. I would lean toward Cory Beck mainly because Beck was the point guard on two Final Four teams that each played in the national championship game. He was on a national championship team. Mayberry never got that far. So I will go with Beck but smart basketball people tell me it’s Mayberry.

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