A Connected Booster Details the Thinking around Sam Pittman’s Job Security

Credit: Locked on Razorbacks/John Nabors

Within the Arkansas football season itself, there is a widespread expectation that things will turn around so long as the team’s psyche isn’t obliterated in Tuscaloosa come Saturday.

As bad as things feel, Arkansas has only lost one game so far this season (BYU) that came as a surprise. And three of the four losses, two of which were on the road at Top-20 programs in LSU and Ole Miss, were by one possession.

That may not hold much weight with the “all that matters is that ‘W'” types like Jake Bequette but it does matter to the eggheads crystal balling Arkansas’ last half of the season. Indeed, Arkansas has a chance at being perhaps the best 2-5 team in college football history if it stays close to Alabama given that ESPN Analytics favors the Razorbacks in four of their final six games.

Likely 2023 Ceiling for Sam Pittman

Winning five or six games overall would be a welcome achievement given the losses the Hogs have so rapidly racked up recently, but even with that kind of now-welcome record there will be many still calling for Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s head.

At this point, before the expected wins, their case looks strong given that the Hogs have won only two of 10 SEC games since beating South Carolina at the start of the 2022 season, but it’s not yet strong enough according to a conversation that Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin had last week.

“I talked to this particular [Razorback] booster who knows other boosters with a lot of money, and he just basically told me he does not get the sense right now that a bunch of these guys think Sam Pittman is a terrible hire and needs to go,” the longtime sportscaster said. “They haven’t reached that point yet.”

The booster’s reasoning, as Irwin relayed on Monday’s “Ask Mike” show, starts with the idea that Arkansas would have done a lot better in Years 1 and 3 of the Sam Pittman era if certain extenuating circumstances had never happened.

In reality, Arkansas went 3-7 his first season, but that was also the COVID year that necessitated a brutal 10-game SEC schedule that included both Georgia and Alabama for Arkansas.

In a regular non-COVID season, however, the boosters see that performance translating into a winning season. “Now if you played eight SEC games and you won three and you won your four non-conference games, you’d win seven games in the regular season, so you’d be 7-5,” Irwin recalled his source saying. “That’s the way they look at that.”

The 2021 season, which saw KJ Jefferson stay healthy and Treylon Burks live up to his vast potential as perhaps the best Arkansas receiver ever, was a clear-cut improvement to nine wins.

Then came last year’s 7-6 campaign, which many Arkansas football fans saw as a step back. Not so with the boosters in question, says Irwin: “There was a general belief that KJ was hurt in three of those games. If he’s available and healthy in those three games when he was hurt, maybe you win 10 games. So they don’t sense that they were going backwards.”

Now Arkansas Football For Real Takes a Step Back

This year, of course, is different.

The excuses are fewer with the regular four-game dose of non-conference games and a healthy KJ Jefferson. Regardless of how much blame needs to fall at the feet of the offensive linemen and position coach Cody Kennedy, the team has unquestionably regressed in this 2-4 start.

So yes, this by all accounts looks to be a down year, but the booster sees it as an outlier in the overall trajectory of the program instead of an indicator of where it’s going.

As Irwin recalled, he said “If you’re trying to improve a program, yes, it would be nice if it constantly got better every year.” But, he added, “People with any knowledge of football and understanding how you’re trying to build a program know that you can go down and then back up. He said, ‘What happens is, the fans don’t have the patience for that.'”

Meanwhile, for an athletic director like Hunter Yurachek, it’s a matter of figuring out whether the headache that comes from sustained losing over a certain period of time has eclipsed the headache of replacing a head coach, which includes getting the extra funds together from boosters and the like to pay a buyout, pay the new guy and then figure out the salary situations with all the outgoing and incoming assistant coaches.

On top of all that, you’re bound to lose a lot of players to the portal.

The idea of improving over the first years of a coaching tenure, then having a dip year, then rebounding to the previous glorious heights makes sense. Especially if Pittman can do whatever is needed with Enos and Kennedy to resolve the offensive issues.

But how often do such bounce backs actually happen in the SEC?

With the help of Andrew Hutchinson, we crunched the numbers and found that since around 1990, there have been 37 SEC head coaching tenures of at least five years. Of those, 14 saw a clear and obvious dip from Year 3 to Year 4, similar to the season trajectory Pittman’s current team appears to be on.

Of those 14 coaches, only four saw clear improvement from Year 4 to Year 5, and three of them have national titles on their resumes:

Gene Stallings (1990-96 at Alabama)

Year 3: 13-0 (8-0)

Year 4: 9-3-1 (5-2-1)

Year 5: 12-1 (8-0)

  • Nick Saban (2007-present at Alabama)

Year 3: 14-0 (8-0)

Year 4: 10-3 (5-3)

Year 5: 12-1 (7-1)

  • Les Miles (2005-16 at LSU)
  • Year 3: 12-2 (6-2)
  • Year 4: 8-5 (3-5)
  • Year 5: 9-4 (5-3)

  • Derek Mason (2014-20 at Vanderbilt)
  • Year 3: 6-7 (3-5)
  • Year 4: 5-7 (1-7)
  • Year 5: 6-7 (3-5)

Derek Mason’s rebounding doesn’t exactly inspire awe, and the kind of “down” years that Saban, Stallings and Miles experienced in their fourth seasons are close to what many feel would be a best-case scenario season for a Sam Pittman team.

So if he rebounds in Year 5 he would likely strike a new path in achieving something between what Mason did and those national title winning coaches notched.

The Razorback boosters may be hoping for something rare among SEC coaches to come from a fifth Pittman season, but they are also keenly aware of what could be lost off the field besides extra buyout funds if he is sacked too soon.

Pittman is a good representative of the university and in those up years had a personality great for marketing the brand. He’s also landed a 2024 class that ranks in the top 20 nationally, which is no small feat for Arkansas, and has two four-stars committed in the class of 2026.

Irwin added: “Fans want steady progress, and so if there’s a dip, they assume the dip because they look down the road [and see] negative. The dip means if this coach stays here, he’s going to get worse and worse and worse. And your AD may not assume that.”

More Examples of SEC Coaches

The boldfaced coaches below did not improve from Year 4 to 5. Some, like Danny Ford and Bret Bielema lost their jobs after that fifth go-around.

Arkansas Football Coaches

Danny Ford (1993-97)

Year 3: 8-5 (6-2)

Year 4: 4-7 (2-6)

Year 5: 4-7 (2-6)

Houston Nutt (1998-2007)

Year 3: 6-6 (3-5)

Year 4: 7-5 (4-4)

Year 5: 9-5 (5-3)

Bret Bielema (2013-17)

Year 3: 8-5 (5-3)

Year 4: 7-6 (3-5)

Year 5: 4-8 (1-7)

Nick Saban (2000-04 at LSU)

Year 3: 8-5 (5-3)

Year 4: 13-1 (7-1)

Year 5: 9-3 (6-2)

Gerry DiNardo (1995-99 at LSU)

Year 3: 9-3 (6-2)

Year 4: 4-7 (2-6)

Year 5: 3-8 (1-7)

Jimbo Fisher (2018-present at Texas A&M)

Year 3: 9-1 (8-1)

Year 4: 8-4 (4-4)

Year 5: 5-7 (2-6)

Georgia Coaches

Ray Goff (1989-95)

Year 3: 9-3 (4-3)

Year 4: 10-2 (6-2)

Year 5: 5-6 (2-6)

Jim Donnan (1996-2000)

Year 3: 9-3 (6-2)

Year 4: 8-4 (5-3)

Year 5: 8-4 (5-3)

Mark Richt (2001-15)

Year 3: 11-3 (6-2)

Year 4: 10-2 (6-2)

Year 5: 10-3 (6-2)

Kirby Smart (2016-present)

Year 3: 11-3 (7-1)

Year 4: 12-2 (7-1)

Year 5: 8-2 (7-2)

Kentucky Coaches

Bill Curry (1990-96)

Year 3: 4-7 (2-6)

Year 4: 6-6 (4-4)

Year 5: 1-10 (0-8)

Rich Brooks (2003-09)

Year 3: 3-8 (2-6)

Year 4: 8-5 (4-4)

Year 5: 8-5 (3-5)

Mark Stoops (2013-present)

Year 3: 5-7 (2-6)

Year 4: 7-6 (4-4)

Year 5: 7-6 (4-4)

Ole Miss Coaches

David Cutcliffe (1998-2004)

Year 3: 7-4 (4-4)

Year 4: 7-6 (3-5)

Year 5: 10-3 (7-1)

Hugh Freeze (2012-16)

Year 3: 9-4 (5-3)

Year 4: 10-3 (6-2)

Year 5: 5-7 (2-6)

Auburn Coaches

Terry Bowden (1993-98)
Year 3: 8-4 (5-3)
Year 4: 8-4 (4-4)
Year 5: 10-3 (6-2)

Tommy Tuberville (1999-2008)
Year 3: 7-5 (5-3)
Year 4: 9-4 (5-3)
Year 5: 8-5 (5-3)

Gus Malzahn (2013-20)
Year 3: 7-6 (2-6)
Year 4: 8-5 (5-3)
Year 5: 10-4 (7-1)

South Carolina Coaches

Brad Scott (1994-98)

Year 3: 6-5 (4-4)

Year 4: 5-6 (3-5)

Year 5: 1-10 (0-8)

Lou Holtz (1999-04)

Year 3: 9-3 (5-3)

Year 4: 5-7 (3-5)

Year 5: 5-7 (2-6)

Steve Spurrier (2005-15)

Year 3: 6-6 (3-5)

Year 4: 7-6 (4-4)

Year 5: 7-6 (3-5)

Will Muschamp (2016-20)

Year 3: 7-6 (4-4)

Year 4: 4-8 (3-5)

Year 5: 2-8 (2-8)

Woody Widenhofer (1997-2001 at Vandy)

Year 3: 5-6 (2-6)

Year 4: 3-8 (1-7)

Year 5: 2-9 (0-8)


See Besser’s latest big on false starts, why Arkansas has a shot vs Bama and more:

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More on Sam Pittman from Irwin here:

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Make sure to watch John Nabors’ breakdown of Arkansas’ NIL situation here:

More on Arkansas football from BoAS:

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