FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman wasn’t Hunter Yurachek’s first choice to head the football program at the University of Arkansas, but few are doubting today it was the best decision.
It was one year ago today that Yurachek, Arkansas’ Director of Athletics and Vice-Chancellor, hired Pittman away from the University of Georgia where he was the offensive line coach. Pittman had told friends that being the head football coach at Arkanas was his dream job.
Pittman took over a team that had won one SEC game in three years, finished 8-28 the past three years combined and fired two head coaches. According to sources, many coaches looked at the job as too risky to their career to accept it. Pittman saw the glass half full and made no secret of the fact he would love to have the job.
Pittman looked at what could be done at Arkansas not what couldn’t be accomplished. Houston Nutt was 75-49 in 10 years at Arkansas and Bobby Petrino was 34-17. So over a stretch of 14 consecutive years the Razorbacks were 109-66. With Pittman as the offensive line coach, Arkansas went to two bowl games in three years and won both following the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
He was one of four new head coaches hired at SEC schools following the 2019 season. Pittman and his staff were able to sign the highest-rated recruiting class among the four schools. Pittman is 2-1 against those three coaches this year losing only to Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz on the last play of the game this past Saturday.
Pittman and his staff are winning the recruiting game against those three coaches again this year. According to 247Sports, Arkansas has the No. 19 class in the nation and No. 7 in the SEC. They are followed by Missouri at No. 26 nationally and No. 8 in SEC. Mississippi State is No. 29 and No. 9 while Ole Miss is No. 47 and No. 13.
One thing to know about Arkansas’ class they have been able to do this despite a few of the commitments never stepping foot on campus due to recruiting restrictions associated with COVID-19. The thought around Arkansas has always been get them on campus and it gives you a chance to land them. Pittman and his staff have done it without being able to host a single official visitor and landing some sight unseen.
Pittman and his staff have been a hit with the returning players too not just recruits. Redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon was asked on April 3 his thoughts about the new staff?
“It’s definitely a transition, but I think that’s what builds us so strong is you have the older guys who have been through it before to give us some guiding points and lead us through it all,”Catalon said. “I think the staff came in and coach Pittman did a really good job of just emphasizing what he’s about and making sure we understand that he loves every single person on the team. He wants every single person to be a part of this. There wasn’t no weeding out or nothing like that. He wanted to make sure he established the point on making sure we bond as a team and come together as one and make sure that everyone is in this together, so it’s been a great transition.
“I’ve loved the new strength staff and how they operate the workouts we’ve been doing and along with the coaches and the meetings we have, and just kind of give us life lessons, too, making are we’re good academics-wise. Altogether it’s been really great so far and I’m excited to see how things go down the road.”
Chad Morris seemed to make a point of needing to get his players in the program and saw several players from the Bret Bielema regime transfer elsewhere. Pittman took a different route and chose to coach up the players he inherited.
Standout junior wide receiver Mike Woods talked about on Aug. 19 the approach Pittman was taking as far as practices.
“He doesn’t babysit us,” Woods said. “He just says this is our team and he let’s us self start. Obviously he’s gonna get on us if we’re not self-starting. But as far as all that motivating ‘let’s go to work’ and this is y’all’s team so y’all are going to run your team like you want to run it and how you want to look in the fall. So he lets us pretty much handle and self-start ourselves.”
Woods saw enough from Pittman and the new staff to know in August that this season would be different than the previous three, two of which he was a part of the team.
“Because we’re talking this summer serious,” Woods said. “Like I said earlier, Coach Pitt lets us run our team. He lets us basically dictate how we’re going to start each day and how we’re going to come out to practice. We’ve made it a point to come out every day and practice like it’s game day. Practice like we want to be champions.
“This is the best opportunity because looking at where we’re slated, and looking and what we’ve done last two years, and looking at who we’ve got, it’s the greatest opportunity in the nation.”
Arkansas is 3-6 heading into the final game of the regular season against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. Of the six loses, three were very close games. The Hogs fell to Missouri 50-48 on the final play of the game, dropped a tough one to Auburn 30-28 on a controversial call late and then to LSU 27-24 when they barely had enough players to play due to COVID and contact tracing. The other losses were to Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M, all ranked in the Top 10 of the current coaches poll.
Pittman has the players and state believing in his program and it’s showing up in recruiting. In a season where there was no spring practice, no summer camps, no evaluation periods with coaches on the road, no official visits and many other negatives, Pittman has found a way to turn everything into a positive. On July 16, Yurachek expression his appreciation for Pittman in the middle of the unknowns at that time due to COVID.
“Sam Pittman has been unbelievable,” Yurachek said. “For someone who’s never been a head coach other than at the junior college level early in his tenure, he has handled everything that has been thrown at him and his staff like he is a seasoned veteran head coach. I’ve been incredibly impressed. Walking out Tuesday when we had our first opportunity for our coaches to truly be involved with our players on the field for about an hour Tuesday afternoon and how that was organized and to see him walking around and the excitement that he was walking around, I hope we get to play football just for him because I know he’s been waiting a lot time for this opportunity and he’s handled it like a champ.”
It is easy to see the future of Arkansas Football is much brighter on Dec. 8, 2020, than it was prior to Dec. 8, 2019, because of Yurachek hiring Pittman.