The final bye week of a spiraling season doesn’t have to be a respite, a moment for healing a splintering, creaking Arkansas Razorback community. Here, allow me to hammer in the wedge a little harder!
The 3-5, 0-4 Hogs are feeding at the back end of the trough of the SEC along with Kentucky, looking nothing like the program that logged 29 wins, a BCS appearance and a fleeting appearance in the Top 5 in late 2011. And yes, the author of that hallmark was a man whose offensive acumen is unparalleled, and whose approval rating by January 2012 made him ALMOST unimpeachable. (Insert ironic “LOL” here.) But Petrino is the culprit and inadvertent mastermind of two very different disasters, and the workings of that amount to a four-year deconstruction of a program that really, tangibly, was never truly constructed.
Premise #1: The transfer of Ryan Mallett to Arkansas in early 2008 was essentially the peak of Petrino’s recruiting, a bad sign for a coach who had not even overseen a single game yet. His system drew attention but much like the rapid-fire scoring drives that were so roundly celebrated during his tenure, it didn’t engender the long-term interest needed to sustain success. Granted, Petrino’s own failings meant that he wasn’t granted the opportunity to see through any sort of plan, but let’s move quickly to…
Premise #2: Petrino was, quite likely, an inferior recruiter than his much-maligned predecessor in the head coaching position. Houston Nutt muddled through a decade of rollercoaster player recruitment and development. But even his limited successes were notable enough to keep him dangling in coaching purgatory. Again, Petrino diminished his own sample size, but look, the signs aren’t encouraging. His classes were ranked lowly or only modestly at best, and you were left with the impression that part of his modus operandi was making average Joes excel to the point of besting world-class Jimmies. The results were mixed, to be fair, and that dovetails to…
Premise #3: The 2010-11 recruiting classes, which should have been flush with high-impact players, weren’t. At all. Instead of being aggressively derisive here and maliciously citing failed prospects out of both class, I’ll just invite you to pull these up online and do your own assessment. The bottom line is that neither class was ranked highly, and while that’s always a dubious manner of evaluation, the reason this team scuffles now is easily traceable to a slapdash way of filling the roster two and three years before.
Where Petrino failed the program wasn’t on a motorcycle seat or standing at the dais for a press conference after his accident. Instead, he didn’t do himself or his unplanned successor any favors by trying to plug leaks with chewing gum. These guys on the field right now have worked hard and earned their chances, but they also weren’t going to maintain the team’s meteoric resurgence, irrespective of coaching. It was arguable last year that the 4-8 Hogs were “better than that,” but even the transition to a different coaching style and demeanor with Bret Bielema here means that this 3-5 team would probably also be Bobby Petrino’s 3-5 team. How can you honestly argue otherwise? Arkansas has gotten waxed so badly the past few weeks that projecting anything other than this crappy record and performance is impossible.
The three premises hereinabove, then, are the basis for Bielema actually earning the two-year pass that Nutt hornswoggled but didn’t merit. A decade after the prior athletic director invested that kind of confidence in a middling coach, the current AD owes the new coach an ironically similar, if not more liberal, leash. Bielema can’t work miracles, and he can’t jettison functional players just to make a point. Petrino had no choice but to play Casey Dick in 2008 and have him chucking it to a crew of freshmen. Nutt had no choice but to try to coax better performance from Danny Ford’s bunch in 1998.
The cycle repeats itself on occasion with varying outcomes but what you cannot do, under any circumstance, is draw too much from what the first-year coach is doing, or infer that future results will be too fruitful or too bare.