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Arkansas Football: Sam Pittman Ready to Usher in New Era for the Razorbacks

Arkansas Football: Sam Pittman Ready to Usher in New Era for the Razorbacks

Arkansas Football: Sam Pittman Ready to Usher in New Era for the Razorbacks

Arkansas Razorback icon Frank Broyles delivered two classic lines while portraying the attending physician to Abraham Lincoln in the television mini-series "The Blue and the Gray" in 1982.

"The wound is mortal," Broyles intoned in his distinct Georgia accent after the president was shot. "All we can do is wait."

In reality, Broyles was an eternal optimist. One wonders what the man who put Arkansas football on the map with a brilliant run in the 1960s and helped groom a generation of coaches, would think of the current state of the Hogs.

Arkansas football has never seen a run as rotten as this.

The program has four wins over the last two seasons, none in SEC play. You have to go back to 1894-95, Years Two and Three of Arkansas football, with a combined 3–1 record under pioneering coach John C. Futrall, to find fewer wins over a two-year stretch.

Arkansas officials had hoped former coach Chad Morris would follow the career path of his friend, Gus Malzahn, by going from high school legend to big-time college success. Didn't happen. Morris was fired by athletic director Hunter Yurachek with two games remaining last fall.

Yurachek cited the team's "steps backward" and failure to compete in the weeks leading up to his decision to pull the plug 22 games into Morris' tenure.

Sam Pittman was viewed as a long shot for the job, based on his lack of major-college head-coaching experience, but he landed it largely because of his unvarnished zeal for returning to Arkansas, where he served as offensive line coach from 2013-15 under Bret Bielema. During that stint, Pittman built one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.

"I've always just been a Razorback," says Pittman, a native of northeastern Oklahoma.

Jamie Pittman, the coach's wife, had fallen in love with Fayetteville during the earlier stint. Also helping Pittman's cause was an open letter written by a group of offensive linemen whom he had coached with the Razorbacks.

Pittman's passion for coaching at Arkansas came across to Yurachek, who had encountered candidates who were lukewarm about taking on the challenges the Hogs face.

"People see this as a daunting task, and some people are just not cut out for it," Yurachek says. "We are at the bottom of the toughest football conference in the country right now, and we've got to fight our way out. You need somebody who wants to get in the trenches and fight.

"So absolutely it's a challenge. But, it's a challenge that I think Coach Pittman is definitively up for and wants."

Pittman recognized he was inheriting a tough task in his first media session after landing the job.

"We can breathe confidence, we can breathe work ethic from us as a staff in our communication to our players," 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 we show them we believe in them."

Pittman's ascension from a highly valued assistant coach — he held titles as assistant head coach at both Arkansas and Georgia — and a recruiting whiz into the head-coaching chair attracted key assistant coaches. Offensive line coach Brad Davis, most recently at Missouri and Florida, jumped in first. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles both cited Pittman's personality as their reasons for joining the staff.

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"It starts with Sam Pittman, my belief in him," says Odom, whose experience as head coach at Missouri the last four years has helped inform Pittman about what to expect early on.

"He's surrounded himself with people he trusts," Odom says. "That's hard in this business. But I'm not afraid to express my opinion. ... I've given him some ideas that I thought worked well for us. Some things if I had to do it again, how I would change it."

Briles, who was the offensive coordinator at Florida State last season, made the initial phone call to Pittman.

"I did my research on Coach Pittman and just kept hearing great things about him as a person and as a man," Briles says. "And in this profession — I've kind of bounced around a little bit — I think that being around really good people is important to me."

Pittman and his staff are tasked with correcting the direction of a program that has five wins over Power 5 programs in four years since going 8–5 in 2015.

The Razorbacks have fallen into uncharted territory for a proud program. Their streak of 19 consecutive SEC losses ranks sixth on the all-time list, with skids of 21 consecutive conference losses by Mississippi State (1965-68), 22 by Vanderbilt (1995-98) and 23 by the Commodores (2000-03) all within reach this season.

Briles, attracted to the challenge of turning the Razorbacks around and working with Pittman, recognizes that the Razorbacks are having to rebuild in a brutally tough conference that has produced the national champion in 10 of the last 14 years.

"I'm very confident we're going to win," Briles says. "That's my mindset. I want to go win now. I'm not trying to say, ‘Hey, we'll get better and win three games.' We want to go bowling next year.

"Realistically it's going to be difficult, but I think we've got a great staff and a tremendous leader in Coach Pittman. I think we have good players here. We've just got to get everybody on the same page and get some better players in here as well to help them."

Long-time offensive line coaches like Pittman rarely land Power 5 head-coaching jobs, but Davis says Pittman was a no-brainer for the Hogs.

"It's cool because Sam is really the right person for it," Davis says. "It's so neat when you see good things happen to good people. Coach Pittman has earned the right to be here and it's for no other reason than how he's treated people along the way, how he's made people feel, his ability to attract people to want to be around him.

"He's got an infectious personality. He's probably the most genuine human being I've been around, particularly in this profession. ... He wants to roll his sleeves up and go to work."

Pittman concluded an interview with the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum by saying that he knew Arkansas football could return to its winning ways.

"I know it's going to take some time," he said. "We understand that, the state understands that, the administration understands that. But I think as long as we show improvement and show that we are a physical, tough, relentless type of football team, we're well-coached, I think we can win football games.

"When I came in here with Bret, we were 3–9, then we went 7–6, then we went 8-5 and they were kind of headed in the direction Razorback Nation wanted them to be. Then it fell off again. I think we can strive and get to that point again. How long it takes, I don't know, but obviously I would not have taken this job if I didn't believe that we could win here."

— Written by Thomas Murphy for Athlon Sports' 2020 SEC Football Magazine.

(Top photo courtesy of @RazorbackFB)