FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman is closing in on hiring a new defensive coordinator and also announced who will perform those duties at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Linebackers coach Michael Scherer will take Barry Odom’s defensive coordinator duties against Kansas. Odom accepted the head coaching job at UNLV.

“Great question,” Pittman said. “I had it written down right here, but Mike will call the game. Scherer will call the game. We’ll go from there, but he will call the game.”

Scherer played for Odom at Missouri and many have assumed he would follow him to UNLV. Pittman is hoping otherwise.

“I hope so,” Pittman said of keeping Scherer. “Barry has not spoke with me about it. And as of today, Mike hasn’t talked to Barry about it. Certainly we want guys to do what’s best for them and all that, but it’s just like I’ve told the recruits: Mike Scherer has a job here as long as he wants one, and I think he likes it here.”

Pittman also went into more detail about how Scherer and the coaches will handle the gameplan against the Jayhawks.

“Well, you know, I had talked to Barry, to be perfectly honest with you,” Pittman said. “And they’re kind of doing it by committee, because we have Deke (Adams), who has done it, and you have (Dominique) Bowman. But talking to Barry, he just felt like, and I asked him because that’s kind of how I felt, that Mike would be the guy to call the game and organize it. They’re all in there working together and all that. Mike will just happen to be calling the plays they’ve all decided. 

“You know how it is, you decide what you’re doing and then you look on the thing and then you call it. And you have to have a little bit of a sense of what they’re getting ready to do, and those things. That’s really why. I just talked to Barry about it and that’s really, honestly how I felt about it too. So I just kind of wanted it to be confirmed.”

While Pittman seems to be closing in on a defensive coordinator the new one apparently won’t have safety Jalen Catalon to work with. It appears that Catalon is neither returning to Arkansas or heading to the 2023 NFL Draft which is widely what was believed to be his likely options.

“I had a talk with him today,” Pittman said. “I think he’s leaning towards going into the portal. I don’t believe that he has yet, or anything of that nature. But I know from my conversation with him today that he was leading towards going into the portal.”

Pittman went into more detail on what he believes is Catalon’s reasoning behind that decision.

“He’ll have to tell you, but I think he just wants a fresh start,” Pittman said. “I talked to him about if he was going to leave here, if he wanted my advice, I would just declare for the NFL and give it that type of chance. But he had a different view on it. Whatever he wants to do, we’ll be fine with it. As of my conversation this morning with him, I think that’s probably where he’s leaning. I just don’t know if he’s gone in yet.”

Catalon was a preseason All-America selection by Phil Steele and rated among the top-10 safeties for the 2023 NFL Draft. But the redshirt junior suffered a season-ending injury against Cincinnati in the season opener after making eight tackles. He played in 21 games at Arkansas with 16 starts.

Pittman also said he hasn’t talked to Brian Williams of Maryland about the defensive coordinator job despite various speculation otherwise. While it won’t be Williams, Pittman did go into more detail about what he wants in a new defensive coordinator.

“When you answer questions like this, sometimes it’s taken like you’re knocking the past,” Pittman said. “I’m not. I was very happy [with Barry]. We need a guy that can recruit. I think that’s a big part. I’ll never forget when I went to Georgia, Kirby (Smart) said, ‘You’ve got to change your room. You have to.’

“Especially” with the portal going on right now, you’ve got to have somebody that can recruit. I’d like to have somebody that’s multiple. I’d like to get into a four-man front more. I think our strengths go to that a little bit more now than what were in the past. I want a good man. One that gets along with his staff and the players respect.

“I’m looking for some aggressiveness out of that coordinator. But I think I said recruiting, coaching, those two things are big. And then what kind of person is he. Will he be able to go get players and will he be able to keep them. And you’re not going to be able to keep all of them. I get that. I don’t believe any school is keeping all of them. But that’s what I’m looking for and I think I’ve found it in two or three guys.”

Pittman was asked if he feels good about being able to retain his staff on defense and if that is something he wants to do?

“I feel really good about our staff,” Pittman said. “Certainly whomever the defensive coordinator is, we’ll sit down and talk. We have a position open for him and obviously I feel good about all our guys.”

Arkansas will have its second bowl practice today.

“We’ll practice today, tomorrow,” Pittman said. “Over the next 12 day before the game, we will practice nine of the 12 days. We’ll go shells today. We probably won’t really get into Kansas prep until Monday. All of our coaches have been on the road. We have had one practice, but we’ll have today and tomorrow. It will basically be us versus us, then we’ll get into Kansas starting on Monday.”

Arkansas and Kansas will kickoff at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28, and it will be televised on ESPN.