The argument for Arkansas football and head coach Sam Pittman to fire offensive coordinator Kendal Briles is complicated. But, regardless of how you feel about him personally, there is merit to both sides of the conversation.
We’ll get to why Pittman should find himself a new offensive coordinator in a bit (as that is the remaining part of my end of the bargain from a wager I made in a previous Sunday Sermon). Still, before we do, we must discuss why Arkansas should try to keep Briles.
There is merit in the Razorbacks keeping Briles on as offensive coordinator.
For starters, this is a much different situation than the decision facing Pittman with defensive coordinator Barry Odom. Odom’s defense was a statistical garbage fire this season. Each game, due to both injuries and scheme, the Razorbacks rolled out a skeleton crew in the secondary and made every team they faced look like prime Air Raid Hawaii.
Briles is different, though. The Razorbacks were 27th in the country and fifth in the conference in total offense this year. They walked into an absolute gauntlet of an SEC schedule and walked out with the second-leading rusher (should have been first, more on that later).
This is the SEC west we’re talking about. Defenses are stout. You cannot simply turn your nose up at that kind of production, regardless of how grumpy you feel about a 6-6 record.
The second–and arguably most important–reason to keep Briles for at least another year is continuity. There is no doubt in my mind that for Pittman to maximize KJ Jefferson and Raheim Sanders’s productivity, he should keep the same offensive scheme in place.
If Jefferson returns, he’ll be a senior. Let Briles finish the job with the same stud under (well, slightly behind) center. Let Sanders play another year in the offense that led to almost 1,500 yards rushing.
I know people hate Briles with the burning passion of a thousand charcoal fires, but there are unequivocally reasons to keep him as offensive coordinator through next season.
However, writing why Pittman should keep Briles as offensive coordinator was not my task today. The bet was if Arkansas football did not win eight games this season, I had to write an article about why each coordinator should be fired.
And while I have spent approximately 400 words extolling the virtues of Briles continuing to run the Razorback offense, it is not an open-and-shut case.
On the flip side, there are merits to firing offensive coordinator Briles.
Not only is this not clear-cut, the argument is almost Newtonian. For every positive claim one could make about Briles, there is an equal and opposite argument for the Razorbacks finding a new offensive signal caller.
Let’s start with offensive output. Yes, the Hogs moved the ball down the field better than most teams nationally and in the conference. However, chewing up yardage did not equate to lighting up scoreboards.
The Razorbacks were only 51st in the country in scoring offense at 30.7 points per game. That mark was good for just ninth in the conference. They are bottom half in scoring despite being basically top third in the SEC in yardage.
How does a discrepancy like that exist, especially for a team that protected the ball relatively well? Why, it’s playcalling, my dear boy!
I cannot even count the number of drives this season where the Hogs were quickly (and simply) moving the ball down the field before Briles dialed up three complicated, convoluted, counterproductive plays to stall the drive.
That inability to finish off drives because of puzzling playcalling is also why continuity may not be the best thing for this offense and their primary weapons in Jefferson and Sanders.
Remember earlier when I said that Sanders should be first in the SEC in rushing? Instead, he’s 50 yards behind Ole Miss’s Quinshon Judkins.
He also only carried the ball ten times against Missouri despite averaging 4.7 yards per carry in that game. Correction: in that two-point loss. That’s organizational malpractice, and while it is the most recent, it is not the only example from a disappointing 6-6 season.
So what happens if Arkansas does move on from Briles? Where should they turn?
There are several group of five coordinators who could replace Briles.
This team couldn’t score, so if I were Pittman, my starting point would be to find someone who could improve things in that regard. The Top 20 scoring offenses are littered with group of five schools that have up-and-coming offensive coordinators who could view Arkansas as a significant step in their careers.
My shortlist would include names like Western Kentucky’s Ben Arbuckle, North Texas’s Mike Bloesch, Houston co-offensive and run game coordinator Brandon Jones, James Madison’s Mike Shanahan, UTSA’s Will Stein (who previously served under Arkansas alumn Barry Lunney, Jr at the same school), and SMU’s Casey Woods (formerly tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri).
There is no doubt that deciding whether Briles or someone else should run the offense is Pittman’s most significant decision leading into next season.