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FAYETTEVILLE — As news trickled out that Justin Stepp was heading home, it didn’t take long for Kenny Guiton’s name to emerge as a candidate to fill his vacated role.
Sure enough, within hours of Stepp taking a job at South Carolina, Guiton becoming Arkansas’ new wide receivers coach was a done deal.
That kind of seamless transition is unique in major college football, but it was exactly what head coach Sam Pittman was aiming for when he first learned Stepp was a candidate at South Carolina and began searching for his replacement.
“My biggest thing on replacing these coaches was I wanted to make sure I had somebody basically in the building or close to in the building by the time (the media) found out that we were losing somebody,” Pittman said. “The reason is because of the transfer portal. … I’m concerned about our players sitting here a week without a coach, especially in these times of transfers.”
A quick glance at Guiton’s resume reveals an obvious connection to the Razorbacks. He was the wide receivers coach at Houston in 2018, when Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles had the same position with the Cougars.
Pittman said Briles thought highly of him and then he continued to hear good things about him while running his name by other colleagues in the coaching business.
“Kenny and Kendal had a good relationship and, to be honest with you, Kendal jumped up on the table for him,” Pittman said. “That kind of got him in the door. I love the guy.”
The hire marked another key point in Guiton’s rapid rise through the coaching ranks. It is his fourth full-time job, but first at the Power Five level.
After a couple of seasons as a graduate assistant at Houston, Guiton became a quality control coach at Texas only to leave four months later to take the wide receivers coaching job back at Houston. During his second year in that role with the Cougars, he worked alongside Briles. Since then, he had one-year stints at Louisiana Tech and Colorado State.
Even though he was born and raised in the profession because his dad coached high school ball and his older and twin brothers are each coaches, Guiton never knew this would be the path for him. It wasn’t until about halfway through his playing career at Ohio State, where he was a quarterback from 2009-13, that he could use the knowledge he’d gained from coaches like Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and Tom Herman.
“To say Power Five, I’d be lying to you because I never even thought I’d be a college coach,” Guiton said. “Had a chance to play under some great guys and when they told me I had a chance to be on this level, I wanted to dive headfirst into it, so that’s what I did and it’s been awesome.”
Coaching has come naturally to Guiton, whose youth – he doesn’t turn 30 until this summer – and energetic personality make him relatable to recruits.
He’s from the Houston area and has been all over Texas while recruiting, so he’s expected to enhance the Razorbacks’ presence in the Lone Star State.
“I’ve played this game to the level these guys want to play it at and I’m at a school where I can not just sell it to these guys but relate to it,” Guiton said. “So my energy I always try to bring around and keep a smile on my face and just be a good guy with understanding what these guys are going through and helping them throughout the process as well.”
Even though he’s young and finished his own playing career within the last decade, Guiton was described as “mature” by Pittman, who added he has a great family and is the right fit for Arkansas, especially considering his aforementioned recruiting ties in Texas.
“He’s already won our players over,” Pittman said. “Just a very charismatic, exciting guy to be around. I felt that way on the telephone with him when I was interviewing him.”
The room Guiton inherits is loaded, returning virtually everyone from last year’s team. The only departure was former four-star signee Shamar Nash, who opted out of the 2020 season and didn’t appear in a game during his two years in Fayetteville before transferring back home to Memphis.
Every receiver who caught a pass last season, though, will be back in 2021. That includes a pair of seniors in De’Vion Warren and Tyson Morris, who are taking advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility relief, as well as top playmakers Treylon Burks and Mike Woods.
“The room I walked into, it’s awesome,” Guiton said. “Coach Stepp did a great job of recruiting. This room, I think it’s deep. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and develop it more.”
Burks is the headliner of that group. Following a solid freshman season, the Warren native put together a sensational sophomore campaign in which he caught 51 passes for 820 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games.
“You see the film and it just doesn’t do justice, honestly,” Guiton said. “You watch him work out and it’s like, ‘Okay, this guy is much bigger than the film tells you and he’s probably much faster than the film tells you.’ To have that kind of guy out there on the perimeter… it’s different.”
The Razorbacks also add a pair of four-star signees in Ketron Jackson and Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, as well as three-star signees Bryce Stephens and Jaedon Wilson.
Although Wilson, who had a 5.6 rating, was the lowest ranked of that group, he’s particularly interesting because not only did Guiton recruit him at Colorado State, but he also played with his older brother – Dontre – at Ohio State.
Dontre Wilson was a freshman during Guiton’s redshirt senior season with the Buckeyes.
“As a Texas guy being all the way in Ohio, I had to take care of my Texas guys,” Guiton said. “So he was a guy I literally took under my arm. We have a great relationship to this day and I’m sure that won’t change. Getting a chance to coach his younger brother…it’s kind of a family affair type of thing.”
Reunited with Briles, Guiton has dove headfirst into the Razorbacks’ offensive system over the past month. Interestingly, he said it’s easier than he remembers it being at Houston a few years ago.
“I think it’s cleaner,” Guiton said. “It’s easier verbiage. It’s easier for the guys to kind of get down. Back when we were at Houston, it was a lot of memorization and guys just literally had to remember a certain signal, see it and go, but now, it’s more cleaner.”
Everything he’s experienced so far at Arkansas has confirmed what he felt after first talking to Pittman about the job. He didn’t even watch any film of the Razorbacks’ receivers before signing on the dotted line.
Now that he’s in Fayetteville, Guiton has watched the entire season and the bowl practices with younger players on film. His excitement about being the new receivers coach oozed through his Zoom videoconference with local media last week.
“It’s awesome when you get guys and get your first meeting with them and they’re like ‘Hey coach, what do you think I can work on?’ and you get a chance to really have true answers for them,” Guiton said. “This is a no-brainer.”