If nothing else, Arkansas’ last two football coaches came in with qualifications that didn’t include coaching in the SEC and it’s interesting to note that’s shown up in the final result on the field.
Put the blame where you want, but Bret Bielema started his time in Fayetteville confused and Chad Morris finished in less than two years what ended up as an eight-year nightmarish run by swimming deeper into the hole with no clue how to get to the surface.
The Hogs simply haven’t had the leadership with any idea how to build anything in the NFL Light world of the SEC West. That includes from the very top at the UA for over a decade.
In fact, you can do a timeline and the timing of Frank Broyles retiring and Nick Saban coming to Alabama may have moved the profile of the SEC even higher, but it sank the Hogs’ football ship.
All you have to do is look at the numbers and the timeline:
From Top 25 to irrelevant
Over the first 123 years of college football (1869-1991), Arkansas played in the old Southwest Conference and out of necessity, Broyles jumped to the SEC.
He knew the ramifications. Even predicted to some of those close to him. Broyles really didn’t have a choice. A merger of the Big 8 and SWC wasn’t going to include the Razorbacks, primarily because they weren’t going to be invited.
The Hogs won 60.2 percent of their games before jumping leagues. That was good enough for No. 25 in overall winning percentage.
Only Texas in the old SWC had a better winning percentage.
Broyles knew what he was doing
Arkansas football was ranked No. 94 in winning percentage before Broyles.
The big-time seasons were few and far between. It really wasn’t THAT big of deal in the state until Bowden Wyatt took the Hogs to Little Rock in 1954 and beat No. 1 Ole Miss.
Then Broyles came on in 1958 and vaulted the Hogs to No. 13 in winning percentage over his 19 years, right behind LSU and slightly ahead of Notre Dame.
Yes, the Razorbacks had a higher winning percentage than those two teams over that 19-year period.
But the slide was built in a different era.
How things changed in 1970
The world of college football was officially altered forever in the 1970 season as teams added an 11th game and integration arrived everywhere.
Before that during Broyles’ first 12 years, the Hogs were No. 6 in the nation in winning percentage. Over his last seven seasons they fell to No. 30 in winning percentage for no single reason.
It was a combination of everybody suddenly getting better players because of a combination of integration and scholarship limitations. Broyles couldn’t bring in 200 players anymore and find folks to play nobody had ever heard about.
He managed to put a patch on the slowdown with the building of the North End Zone complex that was years ahead of its time. It mainly helped Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield after Broyles fired himself as the football coach in 1976.
Back to the Top 10 … for awhile
Holtz and Hatfield combined to get the Hogs to No. 9 in overall winning percentage. They were the winningest SWC team over that period of time.
Arkansas was winning at a higher clip than anybody in the SEC except Alabama, who was starting to drop a bit after the Bear Bryant Era ended.
Both of those coaches took some Hall of Fame players, mixed them in with some guys nobody else wanted, developed and motivated them into one of the powerhouses of college football.
Shoot, if you throw in Jack Crowe and the last two seasons in the SWC, the Hogs were still No. 14 in the country in winning percentage and the top program in their league.
Then it all changed.
Announcing move killed Crowe’s chance
In the old SWC, Arkansas basically had at least half the conference every year for the last decade either under NCAA investigation or on probation.
It wasn’t just SMU. Just about everybody was either on a first name basis with investigators or were dealing with probationary issues that affected recruiting, morale and even eliminated some of the biggest booster.
When the world broke in 1990 the Hogs were leaving, it caused a gigantic problem.
“I had to re-recruit everybody because over half my time was from Texas and they were ready to leave,” Crowe told me a couple of years ago. “It killed us there for a year or two.”
He never coached an SEC game.
It’s a different world where ‘it just means more’
Joe Kines was the defensive coordinator when Crowe was fired after the Hogs lost to a Citadel team that was pretty good.
When the move to the SEC was announced he said at the time it was a league where “they’ll slit your throat and drink the blood.”
And that was before Nick Saban came to Alabama.
Arkansas fell to No. 67 in the county in winning percentage (45 percent) over the first seven years in the league … and that included winning the SEC West in 1995 and moving a loss to the win column because Alabama had to forfeit a game in 1993.
Danny Ford got fired after back-to-back four-win seasons following his SEC West title.
Houston Nutt got it back on track with controversy
This is not to re-hash a decade of maybe the most polarizing head coach in Razorback history when Nutt was hired before the 1998 season.
It happened to be the most successful decade in the SEC for the Hogs.
There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of middle ground with Nutt. Folks either loved him or hated him and that included his boss, Broyles.
After losses, Frank’s emotions took over and he was ready to fire Nutt. Cooler heads would prevail and he never did fire him.
Through all of that Nutt won over 60 percent of the games, took the Hogs to Atlanta twice (okay, he backed into the one in 2002 with Alabama on probation).
At No. 35 in the nation, Arkansas was winning at about the same clip as Penn State and considerably higher than Alabama, who was No. 67 in the country over that time period.
Then Nick Saban changed everything.
Saban raised the bar for everybody
Before Saban came to Tuscaloosa and after his first season, the Hogs and Crimson Tide were fairly even in winning percentage and Arkansas had five more wins over that period of time.
That was mostly due to Alabama’s probation and forfeiting some wins. But there wasn’t a huge gap.
Since then, those two programs have gone in exactly opposite directions.
The Crimson Tide are the winningest team in the country over the last 13 years while Razorback football has falling to No. 78 in winning percentage.
Only Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been worse over that period.
The Hogs are still trending down.
The final big change in the SEC
After Bobby Petrino had a couple of successful seasons, Hog fans thought they were headed back for a long ride near the top.
In 2011, Arkansas won 11 games (counting a Cotton Bowl) … and still finished third in the SEC West.
That should have been the sign that just being good wasn’t going to do anything but get fans a more expensive bowl trip.
Then the league added Texas A&M and Missouri, which affected recruiting in Fayetteville.
That was a pair of teams with success recruiting in Texas (yes, the Tigers got some really good players from there), plus added two new opponents on the schedule every year.
Arkansas is 1-12 against those two, falling to the bottom of the league in winning percentage and No. 107 in all of college football.
What about Hogs’ football future?
Your guess is as good as mine, which isn’t the most optimistic.
Sam Pittman inherited a mess there weren’t a lot of big-name folks wanting to walk into unless Hunter Yurachek was willing to seriously over-pay for.
He didn’t do that for Pittman, who knows he’ll get to those high numbers if he wins enough games. Remember, LSU was paying Ed Orgeron roughly the same as Chad Morris until he proved himself … and he did that in spades last season.
No, Pittman probably won’t duplicate that success. While the Hogs’ talent level is better than a lot of folks think, it’s not enough to vault into the playoff picture.
It’s more than WANTING to win
For the last eight years, Arkansas football has gone downhill like a rock in Beaver Lake because everybody from the top down just WANTED to win football games.
Petrino, for other faults, felt like he HAD to win. Broyles HAD to win and that includes when he was the athletics director … his coaches either adopted the same attitude or they didn’t hang around long.
It’s an internal fire that burns inside coaches that win at big-time levels.
Everybody WANTS to win. The Hogs haven’t had an administration that HAD to win over the last decade or so and that was reflected in the coaching hires.
Yurachek may fall into that category, which is why Morris got less than two years to show he had a clue what he was doing. The fact is everybody probably knew it before he got halfway through his first season but nobody wanted to admit it.
We’ll find out soon enough if Pittman lands in that category, too.