HOGS: New HC Sam Pittman "ecstatic"
FAYETTEVILLE - Because he succeeded as an offensive line coach and recruiter for Arkansas (2013-2015), succeeded doing both since at the University of Georgia and avidly craved to head coach the Razorbacks more than anyone interviewed, Sam Pittman was reintroduced Monday as the UA's new head football coach.
Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek hired Pittman (in Craven Whitlow photo) on Sunday as the new head coach to succeed the fired Chad Morris. Tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. head coached the final two games of Arkansas’ 2-10, 0-8 in the SEC season, the identical mark under two-year coach Morris in 2017.
Before several hundred at the Walker Indoor practice facility, Yurachek and Pittman held a joint “celebration” Monday afternoon followed by a press conference in the Fred Smith Football Center.
“We wanted to take our time to identify a great coach and a coach who truly wanted to be here at the University of Arkansas,” Yurachek told the public gathering and reiterated to media. “We wanted a coach who truly understands our state and the tradition and what is expected from our program. It’s time for our football program to no longer be at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. I think we have found the right man to do that.”
So do many who played for him.
Former UA All-American turned NFL offensive linemen Travis Swanson and Frank Ragnow are among the many linemen who Pittman coached who vocally and in writing urged Pittman be hired.
Yurachek described Pittman as a “relentless recruiter” and driven to return to Arkansas, the school Pittman said he grew up rooting for even as he lived in Grove, Okla., and learned, from attending a 1979 Lou Holtz Razorbacks camp, that he wasn’t athletically gifted enough to play for the Hogs even though he eventually starred as a defensive end at Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kan.
Yurachek said Pittman and wife, Jamie, ‘broke down and cried” with joy when he offered Pittman the job Sunday in writing.
“We did not get a divorce when we left Arkansas for a year,” Pittman said. “But she did not talk to me for a year when I was in Athens. She just loved Arkansas. She was like me, and when the opportunity came to come back, she was ecstatic and she’s still that way and honestly, so am I. It’s hard to explain the passion you have for a program.”
Pittman first coached the Razorbacks after being hired from Tennessee by Bret Bielema, who inherited in 2013 the shambles of the 4-8 collapse under John L. Smith in 2018. That senior-laden team was picked preseason nationally Top 10.
The 2013 Razorbacks went 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC, but Pittman established a young line that improved to 7-6 and 8-5, with 5-3 in the SEC, before Pittman parted company with Bielema and enjoyed major Georgia success under Kirby Smart.
Off a 4-8 and successive 2-10, 2-10 and a 19-game SEC losing streak, the Hogs are at the SEC bottom as Yurachek described.
“The only way I know how to fix something is to go to work,” Pittman told media. “I believe that in recruiting you have to recruit the team you have now. You have to recruit them to believe in what you’re trying to get accomplished. You have to recruit the people who are coming to be a part of the next team. You have to recruit coaches to come in. You know since I’ve got the job I’ve had over 400 or 500 text messages. Of those text messages, a lot of people in America think about the Arkansas Razorbacks the same way I do. And you might be shocked, you might not, to see some of the coaches who want to come here and be a part of Arkansas football. And where they are at right now, and not unemployed but great, great programs around the country. I’ve kind of always felt that way about Arkansas ever since I was kid.”
Regarding the Morris coaches, running backs coach Jeff Traylor was named Monday as the head coach at Texas-San Antonio. Pittman and Lunney met since Pittman’s hiring, but no decision was announced.
“I would prefer you maybe talk to Barry about what his feelings are,” Pittman said. “Barry and I are really good friends and have been for a long time. I have high respect for him as a man and as a football coach.”
Lunney was mentioned as attending the public gathering and praised and thanked by Yurachek for putting his “heart and soul” into coaching the Razorbacks, but he could not be reached for comment after the press conference with media.
Pittman said he’s working on assembling a staff and cited receiving those “400 or 500” texts and calls from coaches showing the interest Arkansas generates.
“We’re going to have some of the staff as early as today, tomorrow,” Pittman said noting the impending December signing period. “Then, I don’t really have a timetable for… It would be nice to have some more people in here, maybe we can get another guy or two, maybe get to four, five or six guys on the staff by the end of the week. If we can keep the guys we have, then we’re going to have to get full-fledged ready to go and have one heck of a second signing day.”
Pittman said it’s paramount to recruit the players he inherits and instill that they can win. His Sunday night team meeting was a good start.
“We have to hire a staff that believes in our players and believes in the program,” Pittman said. “It's about hard work. It's about toughness. It's about all these things, but the No. 1 thing we have to do is get our players believing we can go win as a group. The only way that's gonna happen is if we show them we believe in them. Hopefully we showed that last night to start with.”