As days dragged into weeks, Arkansas’s search for a new football general took an odd, unpredictable twist. This time, some freakish thing didn’t occur — a rookie NFL coach who was miserable in the pro game didn’t look at the job as a professional lifeboat, for instance — but on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, Sam Pittman “got made.”
Attentive fans know that Pittman’s presence on Bret Bielema’s inaugural staff in 2013 was widely seen as a major coup. The amiable, energetic veteran had carved out quite a reputation as a master developer and recruiter of linemen. And guess what Arkansas football needs right now, more than ever?
The Razorbacks’ best SEC seasons have been those in which the trenches were minded. Bielema’s teams were trending upward after Pittman’s brief but important service as his OL coach and recruiting coordinator. Skill players are important, and not to be impugned, but there’s no question that Arkansas lost whatever edge and toughness Pittman had fostered when he ultimately departed for Georgia upon Kirby Smart’s ascension to the head coaching job in Athens. That, of course, was an assistant-to-head promotion, and it has played out well for the Bulldogs, so there’s another reason to not get too worked up about Pittman’s “lifetime assistant” CV.
I get it: Lane Kiffin took his name-brand (what it represents, I don’t fully know) and his swagger to Ole Miss and then Eli Drinkwitz opted to take over at Missouri. It seems both were very much on Hunter Yurachek’s radar. The refreshing news is that it’s actually hard to know that, because all the “inside source” nonsense that percolates every time red smoke is set to emanate from Old Main was proven even more specious this time. I don’t know if that is a credit to Yurachek for perhaps being a bit of a trailblazer in keeping his maneuvering low key, or if it’s a function of rotten luck and him having to strike through names on his list, but I’m past the point of really caring. Hog football had gotten extraordinarily, alarmingly stale.
I’m not sure anyone would’ve anticipated that Pittman would be called upon to cure that malaise. Again, it’s as risky as any other selection in the greater calculus, but it is hard to fathom a scenario where Arkansas could have done the whole “home run hire” thing. This is a football program that has lost 19 CONSECUTIVE SEC GAMES. How attractive can your program be when for a brief, but decidedly damaging period, it was presided over by a grossly unqualified coach who was hired by an interim administrator?
And before Chad Morris’ damnable run, Bielema’s last two teams trended downward. Guess who wasn’t on the staff at that point?
Pittman’s lack of “household name” value means almost nothing these days, a fact oft overlooked by those who blithely correlate the likelihood of successes with years or wins on a ledger and nothing else. Lincoln Riley got an identity pretty quickly. Dabo Swinney is doing ok for a guy who essentially got a promotion. And yes, I recognize the resources and tradition at Oklahoma and Clemson, respectively, may not equate fairly here. But Arkansas and Yurachek have to at least try to buck this blasted inferiority complex that’s been rooted in our fandom for quite some time. (For that matter, Ed Orgeron and Ryan Day, the other two coaches in the final quartet battling for the national title, didn’t follow something resembling a “conventional” career path.)
Now is the ideal time for Pittman to emerge and assume control. There is a modest but highly useful core of returning skill players who should adapt to any offensive system employed. He’s in his late 50s, clearly relished his time here previously and had an evident desire to return for the right opportunity, and looks the part of someone who is bereft of gimmickry and prepared to work hard on a really, really taxing project. If nothing else, I admire that Pittman embraces the position and the challenge, because the latter has been an undeniable deterrent for some viable candidates who are considering the former.
We’ll delve deeper into the hire after Pittman’s formal introduction. For now, my sincere hope is that everyone will take a breath and let this man construct a staff and an initial recruiting class. He’s got some weary eyes on him.