Sam Pittman worked for decades to realize his goal of becoming a major college head coach. When opportunity knocked at his dream school to be a head coach Pittman quickly put into practice a tip he remembered from an old friend in the coaching business.
“Years ago Butch Davis told me that Jimmy Johnson (then the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys) made the decision to trade Hershel Walker while the two were taking their daily walks together,” Pittman recalled. “So he said to me, ‘If you ever get to be a head coach go and find somebody to walk with. You might just hit the jackpot.'”
It may be a few years before Pittman has a chance to “hit the jackpot” but he’s already working on it. Each weekday around noon he can be seen walking on the southwest side of the University of Arkansas campus with his defensive coordinator, Barry Odom. The two observe proper social distancing often tossing a cellphone back and forth when talking to a recruit.
“But we don’t always talk football,” Pittman revealed. “The other day I was giving him advice on buying a pontoon boat. I think he’s also worried about my physical conditioning. He brings a stopwatch along and makes sure we’re making progress.”
Odom tells a slightly different version of the health driven nature of their walks. “He was the one that started that,” Odom emphasized. “He’s the one that holds the stopwatch and every day when we finish it he looks at it and we either have made the medal stand or we’re sitting in the stands eating nachos and watching those that get the awards.”
Odom was the second coach Pittman hired for his staff at Arkansas behind former Missouri offensive line coach Brad Davis. The importance of that first hire is understandable since Pittman spent the bulk of his career as an offensive line coach himself, earning a reputation as one of the best in the business.
There were two main reasons why Pittman turned to Odom. The two men go way back in the coaching business. Given his reputation as an outstanding defensive coordinator Odom was a logical pick to head up the defense under Pittman. But there was another reason for that hire. Pittman was looking to add a staff member with previous head coaching experience. Odom was available with four years behind him as the head coach at Missouri and was hired by Pittman with the additional title of associate head coach because of his time leading the Tigers.
“A lot of times I’ll run things by him that I know that he’s experienced in with his past,” Pittman said of Odom. “We talk a lot about things like that. But he’s also one of the best listeners in America.”
Odom admits that his new boss leans on him for advice at times but he is quick to point out that Pittman has quickly developed a reputation among his staff members as a strong leader. “It’s good to have maybe somebody to trust and bounce some things off of,” Odom acknowledged. “But there’s also some times (on their walks) that it’s dead silent. He doesn’t want to talk and I don’t think he wants to listen.”
Pittman explained those silent moments around his staff by saying, “I’m always going to seek strong input from my coaches but at some point I will shut off the discussion and make the decision. All the good head coaches I have worked for have done that.”
Razorback fans who spot Pittman and Odom on their daily walks often honk and wave. Pittman acknowledged that the two coaches enjoy the attention especially around the busy intersection of Razorback Road and MLK Boulevard. If the two appear to be locked into a serious discussion it might be that they’re about to come up with a hit-the-jackpot idea. But they could also be discussing who makes the best pontoon boats or where to go for the best nachos in town.
You never know.