Arkansas Athletics are in full swing with the 8th ranked men’s basketball team, 15th ranked women’s basketball team, top ranked baseball team and oh yeah spring football begins this week. Get Mike Irwin’s thoughts on all things Arkansas in his weekly “Ask Mike” segment.
Q. Our first question is from Superhog 1959 who says: You have said that you feel Arkansas is headed towards a run first team. But Briles a likes a tempo offense. Do you think that conflicts with the current direction of the team? A tempo offense puts pressure on a team’s own defense. Could you see a new offensive coordinator soon?
A. I don’t think Pittman’s emphasis on a run first offense conflicts with what Briles wants to do. He has a reputation of developing running backs. It’s true that a quick snap offense can put extra pressure on team’s own a defense but if that was a problem for Barry Odom I don’t think Briles would have been hired in the first place. I can’t say how long he will be at Arkansas but I don’t see him leaving because of Pittman’s philosophy. He’ll leave if he gets a head coaching job or if, for some reason, the offense is not productive. I will admit that there was more turnover on the staff than I expected but most of that was related to recruiting. Pittman wants all of this assistant coaches to carry the load. Briles has great connections in Texas. His recruiting looks to be solid at this point.
Q. BloodRedHog asks: Do you know why Blayne Toll is leaving the team?
A. That’s a subject that has been kicked around on social media including Hogville. Most of the speculation there has Toll transferring to Arkansas State because supposedly he has a girlfriend there. I don’t know anything about that. One theory I’m hearing is that while he looks like a dominating athlete physically Arkansas wasn’t quite sure where to put him and he didn’t seem to fit their needs either at defensive end or at tight end. So basically one theory is that he didn’t want to be at Arkansas. The other is he didn’t fit into Arkansas plans. You never going to get Sam Pittman to get into this. Toll might comment to the local media covering whatever team he ends up with.
Q. nuttlesshog wants to know: How would you rank this basketball team with the better ones that we have had in the past, if not too early.
A. Arkansas has had four Final Four teams that I have covered. 1978, 1990, 1994 and 1995. I’m not prepared to say that this point that this team is a Final Four team but certainly they’ve done some things to make be believe that they’re as good as several other really good teams Arkansas has had and the best since they stupidly ran Nolan off. They’ve got so many guys who can step up when things get tough. Moses Moody, Devo Davis, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate. Jaylin Williams, JD Notae, Desi Sills and Connor Vanover. Those are eight difference makers. They don’t all show up night in and night out but you don’t win 11 straight conference games without having a solid lineup of players.
Q. Dr. Strangepork asks: What are the chances the football team schedules Illinois for future games? I’m joking – but I would like to know about the Notre Dame game, has that been rescheduled or just canceled?
A. No chance for Illinois. As I understand it, the athletic department would still like to play that Notre Dame home and home but as of right now there’s been no indication from the Notre Dame people that they want to reschedule the two games. I know the fans were really looking forward to it. I was too. I don’t care much for the Notre Dame football program.
Q. Tomarkansayer on Hogville wants to know: How do you see the impact of Joe Cauthen as a defensive analyst? A much more aggressive defense or maybe even a D-coordinator in waiting in case coach Odom rejoins the head coaching ranks?
A. Cauthen went to the University Houston after producing some successful and very aggressive defenses at Arkansas State. He didn’t do a bad job at Houston but maybe Dana Holgorsen expected more. Houston was number 55 in the country in total defense and 16th in QB sacks which is Cauthen’s specialty,
Is his hiring as an analyst a sign that Arkansas is going to become more aggressive? I’m sure Barry Odom will seek his input. But it will take more that wanting to be more aggressive and taking input from one of the most aggressive guys out there to make Arkansas one of the sack leaders in the SEC. They need elite pass rushers. So if you combine some of Cauthen’s ideas with better athletes, yeah, it could make a big difference. But as far as him replacing Odom that’s not happening soon and when the job does open up it’s impossible to know right now if Cauthen would be offered the job.
Q. sowmonella asks: What do you expect the U of A to offer in regards to Coach Muss’s contract?
A. Too early to say. If they reach the final game of the SEC tournament and win a game in the NCAA Tournament he’ll likely get bumped from $2.5 million a year to maybe $3 million. If they do something really special like winning the SEC Tournament and getting to the Sweet 16 or Great 8 and if another school comes after him he might get $3.5 million. But keep in mind that Sam Pittman only makes $3 million and it’s hard to imagine the basketball coach at Arkansas making more than the football coach. So I’d think $3.5 million might be tops. If it goes that high Pittman would likely get a raise too and that would be tough coming off the COVID year with revenue shortfalls.
Q. austin.hogfan asks: Do you really think a basketball SEC tourney deep run means much in the NCAA seeding at this point? I would love to win it but not sure it mean that much more to the committee?
A. The bracket will be easier for the committee to fill out this year since everybody goes to the same place. Indianapolis. I would think the difference would be if Arkansas wins the SEC Tournament the selection committee would switch seeds between Alabama and Arkansas. Arkansas would go from a three to a two. Is that a big deal? Well it’s probably better but as I keep saying, it’s hard to know until the games are played how well any team sets up in the NCAA tournament. There are too many unknown factors. Certainly I’ve seen years in which a three seed might end up better off than a two seed. But look, a lot of this is about your national image and being the SEC Tournament champ and getting a two seed in the NCAA tournament would help recruiting. Also I’ve seen projections where Alabama is the highest rated two seed. So depending on how things go in the SEC Tournament and with other projected one seeds, there’s a remote chance that Arkansas could be a one seed. And yes, that would be a big deal.
Q. MuskogeeHogFan wants to know: In terms of SEC Football, which do you think is more accurate in evaluating incoming players potential? The 247 Sports Composite Rating (like .9214) or the number of P-5 offers they have received? There are always exceptions, but in general, which do you feel is more reliable?
A. I’d definitely go with the the number of Power 5 offers and specifically who those offers are from. If Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida want a kid along with Ohio State, even if he’s a three star, you want him if he fits you needs. Now most of the time that player is also going to be a four or five star. But there are three stars that turn out to be better players that four or even five stars. In fact there are NFL players who weren’t rated out of high school. No stars. It happens.
Q. BloodRed Hog is back with another question: Can you describe what really happened with the departure of Gary Blair? I like Coach Neighbors, but Blair is elite. Was it a conflict with Bev Lewis?
A. No. Bev Lewis, the women’s AD at the time, had her hands tied in that situation. Basically it was an issue between Gary Blair and the school chancellor, John White. Ironically White was a big advocate for women’s athletics. He believed that there was too much cheating and too many unsavory characters in men’s athletics. To White the women made better grades, stayed out of trouble and were much better role models. But he and Blair butted head over the school’s D rule. Blair was trying to bring in a top point guard to replace Christi Smith. The girl he wanted was a B plus student but had made a D in one junior college course. She could not get in Arkansas without a waver and White would not allow it. Also Blair had just one year remaining on his five year contract. Even tough he has just taken Arkansas to the Final Four While did not offer to give him a raise and an extention. He was offered the A&M job at double his salary and he took it even thought he preferred to remain at Arkansas. The decision to not extend his contract may be the single dumbest decision I’ve even seen in college athletics. Bev Lewis took the heat for that but I was told that John White made the call.
Q. Arkansas RedNeck says: I’m confused about the changes in the crowd size for large venue events in the state that the governor came out with last week. Can you explain what it means for baseball attendance and the spring football game?
A. Restrictions on the number of people in bars, restaurants and sports events was downgraded from mandatory to suggestions. If you went to a bard or restaurant or bar in the last few says you might have noticed more people there. Less social distancing. Some businesses did this right away. Others where more cautious. I mentioned last week that I was told the university would still consult with the COVID committee if any changes were made to crowd sizes. Last week no changes were made. I think what happened is there was there was not enough time to make adjustments. So the crowd size for the basketball game and the baseball games remained the same over the weekend. I’m told that there will be a Baum-Walker adjustment as early as the mid week Oklahoma game a week from tomorrow and certainly for the SEC opener that Friday against Alabama. The spring game will be open to fans. A likely crowd limit would be 16-18 thousand.
Q. Lanny wants to know: How big is it that Hogs basketball is in the top 10? and did you see this coming?
A. It’s huge and no I didn’t see it coming. Not this season. Maybe in two years. But coach Muss’ second season? No way. It’s remarkable.
To get your questions answered by Mike find the Ask Mike forum on Hogville.net and submit your questions.