Sam Pittman: Arkansas via Georgia (OLC)
Many position coaches go their entire life waiting to get their big shot, but it never materializes. Many of these pros have a little bit of high school or juco head coaching in their distant background. But, they have by and large spent a decade or more roaming the sidelines, trying to get bumped to a coordinator gig, or, hey even make the leap up to the biggest of stages.
Sometimes — rarely, one would say — it works out fabulously: such as Tom Coughlin, who jumped up from Wide Receivers Coach to become a three-time NFL Champion and Sr. Executive of Football Ops.
More often than not, you get Ron Zook...or Ole Miss Ed Orgeron. You get someone out of his depth. Someone who tries hard, someone who recruits well, someone who has been around successful programs, but has been promoted well beyond their competence level.
Arkansas is banking on recreating the LSU Ed Orgeron experience, and, if you can’t tell, I am dubious this will work.
The Razorbacks are at as low an ebb as any SEC team I’ve ever seen. I’m 45, and can confidently say, this is the worst SEC team I’ve seen in my life. It is ghastly on every level. It’s worse than Woody Widenhofer-Vandy, Sparky Woods-South Carolina, Curley Hallman’s worst LSU year, any iteration of Shula or Dubose you want to throw out there. The death knell of Chizik at the Barn in 2011 and 2012. Every misbegotten Kentucky squad of the last three-plus decades. Expansion era Arkansas. Any of them.
So, given the state of the program, if Pittman wildly overachieves and posts some Ron Zook results, that would qualify as a minor miracle and indeed seems to be wildly optimistic. Meanwhile, “anything better than Ole Miss Orgeron” has to count as a success at some level.
Make no mistake: this is not a risky hire at all.
The program literally cannot get any worse than it is now. Arkansas has set a dubious SEC record by going winless in the conference in back-to-back years. They have won one SEC game in three years; four total in four years.
The offensive line is softer than baby s***. The defensive line is a bunch of turnstiles. The Hogs were dead last in scoring defense, dead last in total defense, dead last in rushing defense. The only reason they weren’t dead last in passing defense is because Arkansas gave up 5.5 yards a carry and well over 2000 yards on the ground. The Hogs were next to last in scoring offense, posting just a gross 21 PPG; and they were 11th in rushing, 11th in passing, and 13th in total offense. #HammerDownLeftLane my ass, Chad.
So, what was Pittman brought in to do exactly? What are his credentials?
Well, he was a high school coach three decades ago, and in the early 90s he coached a juco for one year. Since then, he’s been exclusively a line guy, and just on one side of the ball. But, even there he’s limited; unlike a guy like Ensminger or Oregon, he’s never even ran one side of the ball. Worse, he has no experience coaching defense, arguably Arkansas’ greatest need. And, for all the talk about what an outstanding position coach and recruiter he is, no one tries very hard to keep him — this is his 10th job in 19 years.
Does Pittman actually coach good offensive lines? Sure...if you have the talent that Georgia did. That’s a universe of about 5-6 programs every year, and Arkansas hasn’t been one of those in a very, very long time. During his prior stint at Arkansas, you could say it was okay. His work with the Razorbacks only really stood out in one respect for Tide fans: he’s dirty as hell and recruited and coached some trash play. So, forgive me if I’m not going to cheer a return to gratuitous chop blocks, hands to the face every down, and guys diving at knees.
Recruiting itself is a bit of a mixed bag. This year he’s the third-ranked recruiter (with UGA). Last year, he wasn’t even in the Top 25. Nor was he in the Top 25 for the class of 2018. You go back to his first NSD Class with UGA, and he was 16th. But, he wasn’t in the Top 25 in any of his seasons at Arkansas either.
So, that brings us back to what his qualifications actually are?
He wants to be there. He begged for the job. He’s affordable. He and the missus liked Arkansas. He was popular with fans during Bert’s tenure. And, most importantly, he would take it. Many candidates would not, calling it a career-killer — and it absolutely was for an established coach or a hot guy from the G5 trying to get his shot in the bigs.
But, for Sam and for Arkansas, there’s nothing to lose, really. He’s on the downside of his career. If it bombs then Arkansas is no worse off than they are today — they just delay the painful, much-needed complete overhaul of that program. So, modest goal-setting should be the expectations in Fayetteville. But even that’s predicated on a lot of hope: Hope he can upgrade the talent to a respectable level. Hope he can put some butts in seats for a stadium that has been at 30% capacity for a year. Hope his teams can play with a little more toughness and consistency. Hope he can win a few games. Hope he can make a bowl game over the next few years. Hope he can hire a good staff and surround himself with program-builders. Hope he can right the ship for the next guy to take over.
Make no mistake, administratively this has to be seen as killing time until all that buyout money comes off the books and Arkansas can go back to the drawing board. And, if those are the aims, and everything works to-plan, it may merely be a mediocre hire.
However, it won’t be enough and things rarely go to-plan. That is simply not going to cut it: Not with that fanbase, not with that school, and not in the SEC. And viewed through that lens, and Arkansas’ history, then there is no other way to frame this other than as an abysmal failure.
This poll is closed
Our Grade: F, in reality/D, if Arkansas expectations are managed