Ask Mike: Hoop Hogs Deliver, Jimmy Sexton Strikes Again & Why Wasn’t Enos Fired Sooner?

By Mike Irwin
on 2023-10-30 19:11 PM

Q. It’s almost basketball season and with the open date week in football last week we start off with some Razorback basketball questions.

Hogdogger says: I remember Musselman saying of last years team he was getting frustrated at the beginning of the season. His wife tried to encourage him to have patience with them. This year is different he was all smiles and stuck his chest out talking about this team. After watching the Hogs first game and how well they played Saturday I can see why.

A. There are a lot of contrasts between last year and this year. Last year the hype was all about the so called number one recruiting class. Three five-star freshmen and a couple of four stars. It didn’t take long for Muss to realize that five-star freshmen are still rookies. They went down to Austin in an exhibition game and got clobbered.

Perhaps because of that he admitted after Saturday’s impressive win over No. 3 Purdue that while he had a good feeling about this team he really didn’t know what to expect until he saw them play a top quality opponent. That’s where I was before the game. I’d seen the Red-White game and that first exhibition game blow out against UT Tyler. But the Purdue game was this year’s equivilant of that Texas game. I kept thinking about all the Internet critics who have been bashing the media for over-hyping the football team in the pre-season. So I was cautious and I guess I will remain that way for a while.

But again, there are some real differences between the 2022 Hogs and this season’s team. Muss is not relying on freshmen. This is the deepest, most experienced team has has put together using the portal. Two years ago Arkansas had point guard issues. It’s still early but it looks like he’s got depth at that position with guys who can dish out assists but also take it to the hoop or create their own jump shots.

With Jalen Graham out with back spasms and Makhi Mitchell not really doing a lot offensively in the Purdue game I do worry about this team inside game when SEC play rolls around which will be a different style of play than what those guys faced against Purdue. But Chandler Lawson, a Memphis transfer at 6-8, stepped up big, playing like a seven footer.

On the other hand the defense against Purdue was smothering and make no mistake about it, this was a veteran opponent that was loaded with returning starters including last year player of the year.

Purdue never gave up. With their big guy on the bench with four fouls midway through the second half there were several times when it looked like the Hogs were going to blow that game open. Purdue kept coming back and when Zach Edey came off the bench they took the lead and were up by three with :38 left in the game. I thought it was over. Nope. Tramon Mark hit a three to send it to OT and Arkansas ended up winning by 4.

Q. Hog in Iowa wants to know: What’s up with the fans (students?) immediately booing a specific player from the other team every time he touches the ball? If it’s an attempt to intimidate the opponent, it never seems to work. I don’t have a problem with it if the player has done something to deserve the treatment, such as being an accessory to murder. Otherwise, I find it moronic.

A. You must be old. You sound like me. I don’t really care for it either but it’s a thing with the students and honestly it’s been going on for so long I hardly notice it anymore. Opposing players are used to it. You’re probably right. More often than not the targeted player actually does better when students start this stuff.

But it’s not just an Arkansas thing. It happens at a lot of places.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy says: Many younger generation hog fans might not know the connection with retired legendary Purdue coach Gene Keady. Any memory about Keady that stands out from his time here on Eddie’s staff?

A. Gene Keady and Pat Foster were the workhorses on that staff. Typically in a practice the players would go hard for 30 minutes or so with Eddie on the floor. Then he’d go up to his office and start calling other head coaches that he liked to shoot the breeze with. They’d talk issues while Keady and Foster ran the rest of the practice. Foster himself was fairly talkative with the media when asked questions. Keady was quiet and all business. He’d answer your questions but it was obvious that he didn’t see that as part of his job. He was an X’s and O’s guy and making sure the team was ready to play was his focus.

Q. PennHOG says: Leading up to the Purdue game on Saturday I have seen quite a few interviews with Eric Musselman and I hear him talking about how involved he is with scheduling. In contrast, Sam Pittman seems to have no say in the schedule. Is there really that big of a difference in scheduling approaches between the two sports?

A. Yes. First of all in football you have four non conference games. In 2025 that number could drop to three. Basketball has anywhere from 10 to 12 non conference games.
Secondly, because of the logistics involved in bringing in 60 or so football players, the staff and all of the trainers and managers, getting them hotel rooms, feeding them, etc., such games are often scheduled two or three years in advance.

Non conference games in basketball can be scheduled in the offseason.

However the conference game schedule is determined by the conference office for both sports and lately its been loaded up front with road games in both sports causing both to lose some early games and having try to make those losses up later in the season. Of course the SEC office will deny this but I believe this is not going to change until the football program moves up in the pecking order year-to-year. Football is the dog that wags the tail in college athletics. Conference championships in soccer, volleyball, softball and even baseball and basketball are nice but the money comes from football TV contracts.

That’s why it is so important for football to get out of this rut the program is stuck in. I believe it can happen but right now it’s gone backwards for a couple of seasons.

Q. Turning to football Edwardclutch asks: Was wondering if you have heard anything about any of the players going to coach Pittman about the offense not working anytime before the Mississippi State disaster? Just wondering how it got to the point that those players basically had to “quit” in a terrible loss for the topic to finally be addressed.

A. From everything I have learned the offensive players continued to believe that things would get better because the losses were close and because there were moments in every game were the offense really clicked. But when they came back home the play calling with either established plays that didn’t tend to work or new plays that weren’t working, they finally just said, enough is enough.

However another take on this whole issue is that KJ Jefferson didn’t work hard enough to adapt to the new offense and that some of the defensive players did tell either their parents or their friends that Jacolby Criswell could be a better fit for this offense and he should have been given a look at some point. However for now, the focus is on simplifying the offense for KJ and the rest of the players on that side of the ball.

We may find out in the Florida game which of these narratives is correct. It’s going to be a very interesting game to watch and it should answer a lot of questions.

Q: Mousetown says: You’ve got a Florida alum on this show. What does Courtney think about how Florida will approach this game? And be honest. Don’t give us a bunch of Gator hype.

A. Courtney says: A lot of Gator fans are mad about the blowout loss to Georgia. They’re mad at Billy Napier. They’re posting stuff on fan boards like, I hope we lose so we can get rid of this coach. They’re also mad at the SEC for making this a noon game. The Florida athletic department has been hyping this as a blackout game since last summer. So the school is putting the players in all back uniforms and they’re gonna roast. The same thing is gonna happen to the fans so a lot of fans are claiming that they’re not going to the game. Hopefully this is true.

Q. Swine American asks: is Dan Enos part of the Jimmy Sexton “stable” of coaching clients? Also, I have found that many coaches (Malzahn and Pittman included) become much less effective in their jobs after Jimmy Sexton represents them and gets them their huge contracts.

A. Yes, Sexton is Enos’ agent. Not only that but the word is, when Pitman was trying to find an OC after Kendal Briles left, it was Sexton who told Pittman that Enos was interested in the job. Now Arkansas is paying over 2.5 million in buyout money to Enos.

It always seems to work out that way. Sexton’s clients get their money which means that Sexton gets his money and Arkansas ends up holding the bag. I think it’s safe to say that you won’t find Jimmy Sexton hanging out around some Hog fans. They’d likely point him to the closest highway out of the state.

Q. Chief Mac says: Taking emotion out of the evaluation of Sam Pittman’s running of the program, one can’t say he is doing a poor job simply based on one really bad hire while acknowledging his hires in the other side of the ball have been home runs.

A. That’s something that Hunter Yurachek will consider but Pittman’s critics laugh at that notion.
Here’s what I will say about that: Barry Odom left Arkansas the first week in December. Pittman’s search for his replacement took a little over two weeks. He did his research and came up with the right hire.

Kendall Briles didn’t leave until January and his status was up in the air for days before that. Pittman was in the middle of recruiting. He had to be able to tell recruits who the offensive coordinator would be. He made a quick decision going with Enos who he had worked with before. Enos was immediately agreeable to take the job. It’s easy to understand why Pitman was in such a hurry to make that hire.

Q. Jack Penquin says: You talked a lot recently about questioning Pittman after he retires about what happened, changed or went wrong the past season and this year. Put it on the line tell us what you think really happened.

A. It’s just a hunch and this could change over the next few weeks but most of it is what I’ve just discussed. The need to hire a replacement for Briles in a hurry and he picked the wrong guy.
I have a friend who played for Arkansas years ago. He’s close to a big name Alabama booster. The guy told him that Enos is a really good teacher of fundamentals. That he did a really good job of improving the foot work and arm mechanics of Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa but he is NOT an offensive coordinator. One of the things I would ask Pittman is, did he ever talk to Nick Saban about Enos.

The other issue that keeps popping up in my head is this whole idea of giving Criswell a shot. I would like to ask Sam why he never considered that.

Q. Mr. Positive, RazorAlex88 says: I just want to go on record and say I still support Sam as our Head Hog. Dan Enos experiment was a total failure and firing him was a much needed move as I called for it last week. The next OC hire is very very critical for the success of our offense moving forward (and Sam’s tenure at UA I believe). Who would be on your short list for the next OC at Arkansas?

A. I’m not sure who would be willing to take such a job considering that if Pittman is retained for 2024 (and everything I hear suggests that he will be) he has to make a big turnaround or he’s probably going to retire. That’s not good job security for a new hire. But the right guy would get a two year guaranteed contract, maybe three, and might have enough faith in himself to take the job. But I don’t have a clue who that would be. Clearly it needs to someone who will mesh with the run-pass quarterbacks Arkansas already has in place and two more in state run-pass QBs that will probably sign with the Hogs with the right hire.

The easiest solution would be for Kenny Guiton to be a bit hit over the next month and be given the job himself.

We’ll see.

(Last updated: 2023-10-30 19:11 PM)