Sam Pittman is no stranger to Razorback football and has been a part of a very winning Georgia program for the past 3 years. That said, he has exactly zero years experience as a head coach. Nobody (except Adam) really talked about him early on in the search. Let’s talk about our new coach.
What was your initial reaction to this hire?
Adam: I had come around to the idea of Pittman last month with one caveat: did he actually want the job? My fear was that former players and fans were simply naming the best Arkansas assistant in recent years. Now, we’re seeing that Pittman really did want the job, and those tweets from former players were more coordinated than they first appeared. Given that, I’m pretty happy with it. He’ll need good assistants, but that would be true of any coach Arkansas hired.
Luke: When his name was being brought up previously, I assumed it would be for a similar role under a different head coach. I was beyond surprised that he was being talked about for the big job. His lack of experience did, does, and will for the immediate future scare me. Part of the initial reaction was also relief that it had been done, and some of the names I loathed weren’t here.
Saul: I think surprised would be the best way to describe my reaction. I wasn’t set on one particular coaching candidate, but I certainly expected us to go with a bigger name/someone with head coaching experience. I had heard his name being thrown around, but mostly in smaller Arkansas Media circles. My reaction after surprise was “well, we better get him a good staff.” I was never negative on him, but I would say I’m a little trepidatious about him. That said, it’s very clear that former and current players are in, and the recruits have taken notice. I think a guy like Pittman who can come in and already have the locker room on his side is a good thing.
Tucker: My initial reaction was probably a bit more negative than most. This wasn’t due to Pittman himself, as I think he could be a great coach, but rather I feared that we had completely bungled the coaching search. To search for a month and be tied to several good candidates only to seemingly strike out on all of them didn’t give me hope. HOWEVER, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the hire since the announcement, and I feel better about it. The former and current players are thrilled, recruits have seemed happy, and his salary is friendly enough to put together a good staff. He also has an identity that is very well defined, which has been sorely lacking at Arkansas since Bielema’s last year. Overall, I feel like it was a good hire, but would love to know what happened in the coaching search.
What do you like about this hire?
Adam: The emphasis on the toughness in the trenches was one part of the Bret Bielema era where I thought he was on the right track. This hire actually kind of reminds me of Auburn hiring Gus Malzahn after firing Gene Chizik: by doing this, we’re basically telling Bielema “this guy was responsible for your success.”
Luke: The thing that I keep thinking about is how, when Pittman left in 2015, his players were at his house doing their best to keep him here. That kind of loyalty is talked about all the time but rarely actually evidenced. No one chases after someone like that when the emotional bond is tepid. If he can transition that feeling from one position group to a whole team, he will get wins purely from motivation.
Saul: I think he’s going to be able to really effectively establish an identity of toughness and recruit well, especially offensive line talent, something we sorely need. He’s beloved by his players, both here and at Georgia, and he very clearly wants to be here. I think those two things combined can actually be a really powerful force. It was clear our offensive decline began with his departure. I actually also really like the fact that he’s been an assistant for so long and knows what that’s like. He’s got DEEP connections throughout college football. I think that’s going to help him when it comes to assembling his staff.
Tucker: The biggest thing here is that he apparently really wanted the job. After hearing several candidates be a little lukewarm, I’m glad we’ve gotten someone who wanted to be here. The history of him in Fayetteville is nice, and his ability to recruit speaks for itself. At the very least, I expect us to finally figure out how to put an offensive line together for the first time since he left.
What about this hire gives you pause or concerns you?
Adam: The lack of experience is obviously the biggest concern. Can he learn on the job? And if next season is rocky, can he still recruit at a high level?
Luke: Nothing is a “no” for me, but there’s a heckuva lot of “n/a.” Brand new head coaches want to show how on top of everything they are, and that can muddle the process for everyone. Is he going to be able to delegate? Will he be able to take his hands off the situation dictates? N/a.
Saul: If he’s not able to learn on the job, things could get very ugly, very quickly. I’m willing to be patient, especially year one considering the wreckage he’s inheriting, but we’ve seen how quickly lack of experience can hurt. He’s coached in the SEC, but he’s never run the show. If this ends up being “The Sam Pittman Experiment” 3 years down the road, then we’re right back where we started and we can’t afford that.
Tucker: The lack of experience seems spooky at first, but I wonder if it matters as much as people fear it will. He’s been an associate head coach at several of his previous stops, including under Kirby Smart, who is a heck of a coach. If he can bring good linemen to a state that doesn’t tend to produce them, my concerns will be mostly alleviated.
What is Coach Pittman’s ceiling? What is his floor?
Adam: Very high ceiling, very low floor. The ceiling is becoming a dominant program that is able to establish the run on almost anyone and plays solid defense. The floor is Pittman being in over his head and the Hogs looking for a new coach in a couple years, once again. If you like certainty, this hire really isn’t for you.
Luke: Search me. I think I’ve seen the floor for this program. I don’t know what the ceiling could be, for Pittman or Arkansas. If we can get competitive with personnel, both with players and coaches, that ceiling, all of a sudden, looks pretty high.
Saul: I wanna retweet Luke in saying, we’ve seen the floor of this program. Unless he literally doesn’t win a SINGLE game next year, we’ve gotten past the worst of it. If he can get a rockstar staff (which I think he absolutely is capable of doing) and can establish the toughness and run game of his first tenure here, then wooo boy do things start looking up and looking up quickly.
Tucker: Not going to be an original take, but it seems to be the consensus: very high ceiling, very low floor. We just saw a coach get in over his head and absolutely crumble under the pressure. I think Pittman has been around the block enough to know that he’s going to have to get amazing coordinators and let them run their units, so I don’t have as much fear about that floor. The ceiling is about as high as you can get at Arkansas. If we have success recruiting, and establish his identity well, the sky’s the limit.
What do you expect for Pittman’s first year as the HC in 2020?
Adam: At least 3 non-conference wins. That opener against Nevada is not going to be easy. Winning a conference game or two is a must, especially with Ole Miss and Missouri breaking in new coaches.
Luke: The thing that I kept waiting for the last two years: improvement from August to November. Beating the teams you’re supposed to beat, few as those may be. Glimpses of looking like you belong on the same field as your opponent.
Saul: I am going to give Pittman both a long leash and low bar of expectations to clear in year one. I want to see consistent improvement throughout the season and not just talk of “what we have to get better at.” Win our non-conference games, get one (1) SEC win, and at least LOOK competitive against other schools in the division.
Tucker: Just win the dang non-conference games (barring Notre Dame). A conference win is probably going to be necessary as well. Just show some sign of life, because Arkansas fans need something to keep going. A single conference win would probably buy him years worth of good faith. In his first year, I don’t think 4-8 is too far to achieve. Beat Nevada, Charleston Southern, and ULM, and then steal a win from Ole Miss, Missouri, or Mississippi State.