It was ever so tempting to fire off any number of hot takes after Sam Pittman was officially named Arkansas’s head football coach earlier this week. The hire was unconventional and, frankly, pretty bold. There’s room for doubt and differences of opinion, naturally, but after the past two seasons, something positive had to happen.
And in my humble estimation, this was very much a positive. Pittman’s sterling recruiting reputation and “coach’s coach” vibe — there’s a reason a couple of analysts felt it was far and away the best hiring of those made in the SEC, and maybe beyond — fits in well with a program that had sold out to a lot of false gimmickry. He has a sincere and relatable love for a program that to date had only been a small sliver of his extensive career ledger. Those tears weren’t fake, and so far, his signature “thing” seems to be delivering a hearty “Yessir!” that is a little endearing but also refreshingly free of hashtagging and other cute advertising zingers.
I’ve expressed that I was not fond of Bobby Petrino for reasons well beyond those that led to his infamous exit. He rocked the stability of the program with his foolishness, but he was admirable in the sense that he came here with a bit of businesslike rigidity. In the aftermath of all the goofiness of the prior decade, his no-nonsense feel was welcome.
But Petrino also wanted out of the NFL more than he wanted to be at Arkansas, in hindsight. And so when someone mockingly asks if Pittman’s sheer desire to be here is a qualification for the job … well, YEAH. If your motivation to succeed is aided by the community and the campus and the region, whatever benefit that provides you as a coach toiling under a lot of scrutiny, I cannot begrudge. Pittman has already been on the loose trying to find coaches and athletes that embrace the challenge and opportunity ahead, and so far, he’s doing things like retaining former Missouri head coach Barry Odom as defensive coordinator and locking in on Jacolby Criswell and some sorely needed size and agility on the lines.
Pittman took a breather momentarily to get some screen and air time on the ESPNU broadcast of the Arkansas men’s basketball game against Tulsa on Saturday. While those Hogs were laying a firm beating upon a pretty salty Golden Hurricane team, Pittman mused to the broadcast crew about everyday things like trying to lose weight, being wowed by his significant increase in pay (his contract, incidentally, is incentive-laden and smartly constructed), and how he identified with Hog culture as a child and never lost his passion for the program. Without sounding overly excited or corny, Pittman came off yet again like a hard-working career coach who has cultivated relationships in the business and who is universally regarded as a crackerjack closer when it comes to top-shelf talent. And he’s got financial flexibility to continue to build the staff accordingly.
Expect an offensive coordinator to come onboard soon enough and for the remaining position slots to be staffed soon. Keep a close watch on the strength and conditioning position, in particular: Arkansas needs depth generally everywhere, but it’s going to take more than one hastily-assembled class to serve that end. So for a couple of years, the simple on-field endurance of the Razorbacks will be tested as another philosophical reboot occurs.
Eric Musselman’s hardwood squad routed Tulsa in front of a pretty throaty crowd at Bud Walton for a Saturday game on the heels of finals. Mason Jones exploded for a career-high 41, and was part of a highlight-reel day that showed that the team’s taking some major steps forward offensively while continuing to be a notoriously stingy and committed defensive unit. The hustle, the heart and the execution by a still outsized and outmanned unit was commendable.
Pittman was greeted warmly by the fans, who really lit up in the second half when the Hogs responded to a brief Tulsa surge with a big outburst. A few nights before, the women’s basketball team, thriving under the so-far impeccable direction of Mike Neighbors, smacked Tulsa around on the same court in another ESPN-televised game.
Things are kinda rosy right now, Hog fans. Relish it for a bit, and remember this optimism in the lean times, as those will still pervade. It’s Christmas, after all.
(I’ll Grinch it all up in a few days, most likely.)