It’s obvious something is disconnected somewhere with this Arkansas team.
Exactly what that is, though, I’m not really certain.
Seeing only about 20 minutes, twice a week, of some routine individual drills that are a half-step above jumping jacks it’s hard to get a good read on things.
It is, however, so clear Stevie Wonder can see it is all of this started heading downhill when Sam Pittman left after the 2015 season. We’d heard he wasn’t particularly happy with things in Fayetteville, particularly after his good friend Jim Chaney left after the 2014 year.
Pittman was stood up on two separate occasions by Bret Bielema on visiting a recruit that came in from another state on different weekends. Pittman wanted to offer the recruit, a highly-regarded offensive lineman who had an interest in Arkansas because one parent is from the state.
Bielema told Pittman to hold on until he could meet the recruit and his family. Pittman arranged an unofficial visit with the family driving in over a weekend.
When they got there, the family received a tour of the new football facility and visited extensively with Pittman. Bielema left without meeting anybody and Pittman had to give a flimsy excuse.
The family came back a time later for another visit, this time specifically to meet with Bielema. Pittman greeted them with the news Bielema, who had okayed the visit, had left that morning with his wife to Las Vegas for the weekend.
That recruit has now been on another SEC team’s roster for three years.
Meanwhile, back in Arkansas, Pittman left to join Chaney on Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia and within two years had a team in the national championship game that they lost in overtime.
The Razorbacks’ offense continued to slide downhill with zero development of anybody, particularly offensive linemen. Bielema had hired the equivalent of an NFL graduate assistant to be the Hogs’ line coach.
The results were predictable. For the last two years, Arkansas’ offensive line was coached down, not up.
Overall, Bielema’s recruiting mantra of avoiding problems also didn’t deliver any leaders. There was less accountability from the coaching staff and almost no accountability within the team.
Look inside any championship-caliber team, there is leadership within the team that takes care of many problems. Those leaders create the accountability within the team.
That disappeared from the Razorback football program. Chad Morris has instilled accountability from the coaching staff, but there doesn’t appear to be any accountability within the team.
No one seems to be either capable or willing to hold his teammates accountable. Morris has his leadership group, but whatever they are trying isn’t translating into much success on the field.
Being kept at a certain arm’s length from the team, no one in the media really knows what’s going on. Some get bits and pieces from this player or that parent, but nobody really knows.
What is evident, though, is there is a serious disconnect within this team.
Cheyenne O’Grady saw his first game action of the year Saturday. While generally regarded as maybe the most talented tight end on the roster, he didn’t even dress for the first two games and, reportedly, it had nothing to do with an injury or major rules violations.
No, there hasn’t been any sort of leadership within the team. Senior Jared Cornelius, who has been around for what seems like forever, came close to flashing some leadership in the wake of Saturday’s 44-17 loss to North Texas.
“It’s really easy to pick one guy to point a finger at, and for the majority of the first half, I think that guy was Cole … at least by the outside world,” he said. “Like Hjalte (Froholdt) said, the receivers could run better routes. The offensive line could protect better. The running backs could get out on the checks and chip the defensive ends.”
Cornelius pretty much confirmed they heard the boos of the snall number of fans that remained after halftime.
“When you come out of the locker room in the second half and your starting quarterback is getting booed? By the home team? When is that right?” Cornelius asked after the game. “How is that right?”
If there was any doubt about his feelings, he removed them.
“And I feel like I’ve been kind of holding this in for a minute, but at the end of the day, that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s brother,” he said. “That’s my brother. And I’m not going to sit around like that’s going to be OK. When a guy comes out after the first half and we’re in middle of the football game — at that point we’re still in the game — and you’re booing him.”
He was not happy. Nobody was.
But you do wonder if an internal group of leaders are ready to step up for this team.
We may not find out for a few weeks. With a stretch of games against Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss coming up, it may get worse before it gets much better.
Fans don’t want to hear that. They want wins now.
The guess is they don’t want it more than Morris, his coaches or this team. Some of us didn’t realize just how bad things were towards the end of last year.
Two years of almost coaching players down extracts a toll. I’ve seen it before at all levels. When Jimmy Johnson took over the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 he discovered he’d left more talent at Miami … the university, not the Dolphins.
It took a year to wash out all of the sludge that slowly built up the last two years of Tom Landry’s stumbling and bumbling. It took another year to get things pointed in the right direction.
Two years later was the first of back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
Morris inherited a situation worse than what many of us thought He’ll get a chance to clean it up. That’s never a particularly pretty job, by the way.
The mind-numbing debacle against North Texas may be the bottoming out of a path set in motion over two years ago.
But we won’t even know that for awhile.