Just two years ago the Arkansas Razorbacks finished the season in a 24-14 loss to a mediocre Missouri and stood 2-10 on the season, 0-8 in Southeastern Conference play.
The second year in a row for that unfathomable record for the Razorbacks.
The only thing certain was that the mistake was about to be fired. While anyone had to be an improvement, it wasn’t likely that proven head coaches were going to line up to take on what appeared to be a five-year overhaul to make the Razorbacks respectable again.
A week or so later Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek, Deputy Athletic Director Jon Fagg and Steve Cox, chair of the sports for the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees and one of the three-man search committee, were in a hotel far from the UA campus.
The search for a new coach was not going well.
Then, almost on an impulse, they flew to Athens, Ga., and met Sam Pittman. Within hours, he got the job. While they were excited, they couldn’t have known they'd drawn the case king from the deck.
Against all types of odds and with national skeptics loudly criticizing the hire, Pittman went to work.
Every minute of every day was spent building confidence in the players he inherited.
Where there had been no discipline, there became tough love. An open door policy 24-7 paid huge dividends.
Razorback fans were rewarded with three wins, all conference against a covid-commanded all-SEC schedule, and hope was for a little more this season.
They got it. Arkansas finished the 2021 regular season 4-4 in SEC play and 8-4 overall, its best such record since Bobby Petrino’s last season a decade earlier.
Now the fans, the coaches and players get to play the waiting game for bowl bids to go out on Dec. 4.
The Razorback Foundation has sent ticket information to its supporters, giving them first crack at what might be a bowl in Florida.
Some of their options are now out of their control. If Alabama loses today or in the SEC Championship, it would be the Tide’s second loss of the season. No college football team has been to the national championship playoffs with two losses.
Most likely, a second loss would shift the Tide to the Sugar Bowl, replacing Ole Miss. Then everyone else in the SEC West would drop a notch in the bowl preference.
For Arkansas, even a lesser bowl would still be better than two years ago, when they were in the toilet bowl.