FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman surprised the media on Monday by bringing his two new hires to the press conference.
Defensive coordinator Travis Williams and tight end’s coach Morgan Turner both are seemingly excited to be at Arkansas. Pittman talked about how the hires came about.
“On my right is our new defensive coordinator, I’m very excited about him,” Pittman said. “Travis Williams comes from (Gene) Chizik, (Will) Muschamp, (Kevin) Steele, was a two-time Broyles Award participant or however you say the word. And then certainly was a defensive coordinator at UCF. I went out and interviewed several guys and this was a home run hire, in my opinion. Very excited to have him.
“Then on my left is Morgan Turner. I think I visited about him the other day. He’s had seven guys drafted out there at Stanford, another one that went and played in the NFL. I felt like Stanford was Tight End U. I think they had that name out there. I think they deserve that, but we went out and got their coach because we’d like it to be this way at the University of Arkansas.
“Ecstatic about both of these guys. Very fine men, great family men. In all honesty, I couldn’t be any happier with replacing the two quality men that left, but we’re replacing them and excited they’re here.”
Pittman talked about how the hiring of Williams to replace Barry Odom came about with speculation out there on several coaches.
“Well, with Coach Williams, I interviewed several guys face-to-face,” Pittman said. “The thing that hit me about him was, obviously I didn’t interview anybody that I didn’t feel like was a good coach, from watching film on their product that they’re putting out there. But then, it became what kind of man, what kind of recruiter. We need a recruiter at that position, as well. I think a good man, one that understands that recruiting is work, and I just heard so many great things about him from guys I knew that had called me.
“When I got in front of him, I can remember calling Hunter Yurachek and saying ‘I found him.’ There was no doubt in my mind. I said this is the guy, this is the guy that we need. You know, you try to go and find fits, you know. Really what your needs are as a head coach and what your needs are on your team. I just remember calling Hunter and I felt so good about it. And then, to be honest with you, I wanted to do it the right way. I didn’t want to hurt our team, I didn’t want to hurt UCF’s team and all those things. To be honest with you, some situations had changed at UCF where we were able to, in my own mind, clear not hurting their program, our program. I felt like we needed to name a coordinator and I talked to Gus (Malzahn). We came to a conclusion of, well, let’s do it Saturday. I knew I was going to do it before practice on Saturday. Whenever we got off, that’s when we done it. Coaches talked to all the recruits and this kind of stuff. But that was him.”
For Williams, who had been the defensive coordinator at UCF the past two years, it was an easy decision.
“Yeah, so, Coach Pittman reached out and obviously he reached out to Coach Malzahn, as well,” Williams said. “We got on the phone, had some conversations, then we got in front of each other and it’s all Coach Pittman. Once I got in front of him, I was like ‘Okay.’ Because I heard all the stories about how great of a guy he is. To get in front of him, it was easy. It was easy. Very excited to be here. Fired up. My wife is excited, the girls are excited. So we’re excited to get going.”
Pittman also talked about replacing the departed Dowell Loggains with Turner.
“And then with Morgan, just had a lot of people that knew him,” Pittman said. “I knew Coach (David) Shaw, we’re on the board of AFCA together. I knew Coach (Derek) Mason at Oklahoma State. His dad actually called me, whom I knew. Dad obviously was the head coach at Illinois and OC in the NFL. So, I knew several different guys, not just those but more than that. Then his resume was, got a lot of guys in the league. I knew that he would be a fine coach, I was just wondering what his personality and how he would fit in with us. After visiting with him on the phone and those things, basically I flew from Baltimore — well, here they are.
“Can I say, or no? I flew from Baltimore where y’all thought — not y’all, but somebody was tracking the plane — but (it was believed) I was going to hire the guy from Maryland. Bless his heart, he had to deal with that. I flew from there to Tampa because I knew y’all were tracking the plane. UCF is in Orlando, so I flew to Tampa, he met me over there, we visited. Then in the meantime, he (Turner) was down recruiting for Stanford in Miami, so we flew from Tampa to pick him up in Miami. We had done the contact and all this kind of stuff during the day, picked him up and brought him back. So, yeah, it was kind of fun to be honest with you.”
Turner is excited to be at Arkansas and has spent some time previously in the state.
“A lot of change going on at Stanford right now, so I actually got a text from my uncle, who was born and raised in El Dorado, saying ‘Hey, the tight end job is open out at Arkansas,'” Turner said. “I went through a couple of people, got Coach’s number and shot him a message. I said ‘Hey I’d be very interested in this job.’ Gave him a little bit of my bio, my background at Stanford, and it kind of went from there. Very quickly materialized. I’m kind of figuring it out right now.”
Arkansas will face Kansas on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 4:30 p.m. in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPN.