I give Arkansas credit for thinking outside the box with Sam Pittman, who isn't Bret Bielema 2.0
You kind of got the feeling that it wasn’t going to be what Hunter Yurachek (and Arkansas fans) was reportedly in the market for.
The Arkansas athletic director swung and missed on landing the big, splashy hire who would’ve energized a fanbase that’s been treated to 1 more SEC win than I have in the last 3 years. Mike Leach didn’t happen, and neither did Lane Kiffin, Gus Malzahn or even Mike Norvell. All of them decided they didn’t want the Arkansas job.
You know who did want it? Sam Pittman.
He didn’t have to be talked into it. Instead, he pulled the Ed Orgeron move and told his new boss why he deserved to be the unconventional new face of the program.
He sold him on his reputation as one of the best recruiters and offensive line coaches in the country. Call him Southern Bret Bielema if you want because Lord knows Pittman was on his staff back in 2013-15, and like the former Hog coach, he’s going to want to build from the inside out. The irony being that’s essentially what Chad Morris worked to overhaul.
Because of how much Morris struggled to establish his identity, this was an atypical Power 5 vacancy. That’s why the list of candidates turned into a different one than Yurachek was hoping for when he made the mid-season firing. Sometimes, though, unique problems call for unique people to fix them.
Pittman is certainly unique. It’s not just that he’s never been a Division I head coach. He’s never even been a coordinator.
Someone explain to me why hiring a guy with ZERO D-1 head coaching experience is going to work out… pic.twitter.com/u6TZFp0ErH
— Tye Richardson 📻 (@TyeSportsRadio) December 8, 2019
But there was a reason that he was given a promotion to “associate head coach” and a salary bump to $900,000 on Kirby Smart’s staff. The offensive line became the staple of Georgia. He was a crucial cog to the machine being built in Athens. And the offensive line being built in the way that Bielema’s Wisconsin and Arkansas teams were. Bielema tried beating Alabama and LSU at their own game, and it failed. That’s not their game anymore. Arkansas is essentially zagging with Pittman in a way that it didn’t when it hired Bielema to build from the interior.
Pittman was tasked with building from the interior as the offensive line coach at Georgia, where he recruited 5-star talent like Cade Mays, Jamaree Salyer and Isaiah Wilson.
Five-star offensive linemen aren’t lining up to go to Arkansas tomorrow. They might not next year, either. But Pittman’s southern connections are deeper rooted than Bielema’s, which along with the obvious passion had to be a nice selling point for Yurachek.
It’d be interesting to know how those talks with Pittman and Yurachek went. Like, you know Yurachek brought up the experience thing and how Pittman feels like he can overcome that. The latter probably cited his former boss, who was a first-time head coach at Georgia. But being by Nick Saban’s side all those years was why Smart was an attractive candidate. The same became true for Pittman working with Smart.
Not having previous FBS head coaching experience won’t be what determines Pittman’s future in Fayetteville. Smart, Jeremy Pruitt, Joe Moorhead, Derek Mason and Mark Stoops didn’t have FBS head coaching experience before they got their respective gigs. Could it hurt Pittman? Possibly, but it doesn’t put a cap on what he can do at Arkansas.
What’ll determine Pittman’s ceiling is how long it takes to establish his identity. And ya know, it would be helpful if he could win an SEC game in his first 2 years. Recent history suggests that’s a bit of a deal-breaker in Fayetteville.
Morris didn’t necessarily fail because he was the consolation prize hire. He failed because quarterbacks completely failed to grasp his system, he wasn’t the right guy to make the best of a bad situation that he inherited and his inability to make in-game adjustments was incredibly frustrating. The guy was 1-35 when trailing at halftime as a head coach during his time at SMU and Arkansas.
If we’re talking about Pittman as a successful SEC head coach a few years from now, it’ll be because he does a vastly better job than Morris did in those 3 areas.
I’m not willing to sit here today and say that Pittman can’t do those things just because of his background. There’s a learning curve ahead. There’s knowing how to motivate an entire team, there’s knowing what to say in a press conference after a loss and there’s knowing when to make a major move at quarterback.
Speaking of unconventional hires, you know who absolutely crushed those 3 learning curve areas? A certain coach on the Bayou. Orgeron was the consolation prize. Did he care? Absolutely not. Should Pittman care? Nope. He’s already got the support of former Arkansas players, and at least some of the fanbase is already on board with him.
And hey, we know that Yurachek’s support is there. You don’t get to hire 3 football coaches as a Power 5 athletic director. He’ll do whatever he can to build up Pittman’s staff and make sure he has all the resources necessary to rebuild the rebuild. Those resources (a $160 million stadium renovation) were a selling point that Yurachek had probably used more times than he could count in the last month.
Now, there’s no more selling left for Yurachek to do. That responsibility falls on Pittman, who has a program to sell to recruits in a hurry. Don’t judge Pittman on that, or even how his first full cycle class ranks compared to Morris, who succeeded in that area.
This is about development of talent. Pittman is tasked with doing that at a school who hasn’t had enough of that in the 2010s. The bar is low, yet the task is grand. There weren’t as many people who were on board to take on that task than Arkansas fans hoped. Oh well.
Pittman did. That’s all that matters now.