Sam Pittman led the party in the locker room Saturday.

The first-year coach at Arkansas had plenty to be happy with over the weekend and this season in general. His Razorbacks came back from 13 down at halftime against Tennessee to improve to 3-3 this season. He is essentially the king of Fayetteville at this moment.

Razorback fans love Pittman and the change he has brought to the program. They’ll be the first to tell you he deserves SEC coach of the year consideration. But Pittman gained another supporter this week in Kirk Herbstreit.

The ESPN announcer became one of many to throw love toward the Arkansas coach. The Hogs have been gaining believers since they snapped a 20-game SEC losing streak in their second game of the season. Since then, they’ve competed in every game.

Now, another curveball: Pittman tested positive for COVID. Arkansas announced Tuesday that a second test also came back positive, meaning Pittman won’t be allowed to make the trip to Florida. Barry Odom will step in as Arkansas’ interim head coach against the Gators. Fortunately, Pittman said Monday that he is symptom-free.

The recent news doesn’t detract from what Pittman has done.

Arkansas is beginning to turn heads entering its game at No. 6 Florida. Even if the Razorbacks lose Saturday at The Swamp, Pittman has a good case for Coach of the Year in the SEC. What separates him from the other candidates?

The obvious answer is that no one else took over a program as completely devoid of hope as Arkansas.

Pittman inherited a team that went 4-20 in the previous 2 seasons. There was of course the conference losing streak. No one could have expected this season to unfold the way it has.

No one expected Arkansas to lead the conference in turnovers forced. Few, if any, expected Feleipe Franks to fill the starting quarterback role as well as he has. But most of all, no one expected Pittman to be this effective of a motivator.

The coach’s locker room speech sparked the comeback against the Vols and his impact is all over the 2 victories that preceded it. Former players confirmed his ability to make you believe the impossible. His knack for motivation has already made itself evident on this team.

Hudson Clark, a former walk-on, came away with 3 interceptions against Ole Miss. De’Vion Warren stepped up for 100 yards receiving after Treylon Burks went down with injury. All season, little-used players have stepped up for the Hogs.

Compare Pittman’s first season so far to other Arkansas coaches and it’s easy to see he stacks up well.

Houston Nutt, in 1998, was the last coach to lead the Hogs to a winning season in his first year. Pittman has a chance for the best inaugural season since Bobby Petrino went 5-7 in 2008. In a year like this, finishing 5-5 will likely even be good enough to make a bowl game, something Petrino’s team failed to do that season.

To top it all off, Pittman has Franks playing his best football of his career after transferring from Florida. Since the opening game against Georgia, the senior has thrown 13 touchdowns to just 1 interception. Pittman’s ability to get the most out of Franks following an injury and a tough transfer situation speaks volumes to his ability to make relationships with players.

No other coach in the conference has done more with less than what Sam Pittman has at Arkansas. For that reason, it’s fine to hop on his coach of the year bandwagon right now.