I made a post on X (formerly Twitter) Saturday after Arkansas’ loss to Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Turns out several of you didn’t care for my opinion regarding Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman. I owe all of you a Christmas card because you made writing this column pretty easy. After Saturday night it practically wrote itself.
In case you missed the post and the small typo I made, here it is in a nutshell. I reposted a link by fellow BoAS columnist Eric Bolin, who was responding to a post made by former Arkansas basketball player Mason Jones, who essentially speculated Pittman would be fired this fall. I pointed out that Pittman took over the program during its darkest hour and had to endure a pandemic so he should get at least five years. Some of you didn’t agree with that.
Some of you that didn’t agree with that are probably also in the camp that thinks Arkansas should have hired Colorado head coach Deion Sanders four years ago when Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek interviewed him as a favor to big Arkansas booster Jerry Jones, who is friends with Sanders, a former standout cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, which Jones owns.
Responding to Calls for Deion Sanders
I’ve been contemplating writing on that topic for a few weeks now, so here is my reaction to those who were upset Deion Sanders wasn’t hired and to those who want Pittman fired.
I’m pretty sure that the same people who were outraged when the news about Sanders’ interview was revealed are the same people who didn’t think Bobby Petrino should be fired and were lobbying for him to be hired instead of Pittman in 2019. Straight lunacy.
Four years ago, Sanders was a high school offensive coordinator. His team lost to Bryant High School.
There is no way in Hades a Power Five AD could hire a guy (even an NFL legend) whose coaching resume included only a brief stint as an offensive coordinator at a small high school and youth league football.
No one, not even Sanders’ alma mater Florida State, is going to take a chance on a candidate like that. Sanders did the right thing and got a job at FCS Jackson State to show he could recruit and coach to give an FBS AD something to think about. It looks like Colorado made a very smart move investing in Sanders, as he is already improving what had been a lifeless program.
Let me also add that Colorado had little to lose rolling the dice on Sanders. The program was a Pac-12 doormat, and it wasn’t like anyone was clamoring for the job. For that program, the risk in hiring Sanders was small enough to make it a no-brainer. Going with Prime was way appropriate considering the situation, given the fact that Sanders did indeed have head-coaching experience at the college level.
So, Yurachek made the right call in NOT hiring Sanders at the time and hiring Pittman. And, I’ll say that was the right call. And no, I’m not a ‘a fan’ who has accepted mediocrity as one Twitter poster accused me of. Nope, I’m a veteran sportswriter who really calls it like he sees it.
The Disastrous Job Search of 2019
When Yurachek fired Chad Morris, the Arkansas football team was a dumpster fire. The once proud program was trash. Like has been the case in other coaching searches, there were reports of big-name coaches such as Lane Kiffin being interested in the job only to leave Arkansas hanging.
It seemed no one wanted to be the face of Arkansas football. According to the report on Paul Finebaum’s show, it was only Tulane head coach Willie Fritz, Pittman and Sanders who interviewed in person. Yurachek made the right call hiring Pittman, who had served as the UA’s offensive line coach and at the time was the o-line coach and associate head coach under Kirby Smart at Georgia.
The key with Pittman is he really wanted the job. He grew up in nearby Oklahoma and has a summer home in Hot Springs. When your program in a shambles, he was as good as it was going to get, and under adverse conditions he has pulled Arkansas out of the gutter. Even with starting his tenure during the crazy COVID-19 year of 2020, Pittman qualified for a bowl and then guided Arkansas to 9-4 and 7-6 campaigns, respectively, with a bowl game win to cap each season.
The Twitter boo birds think I’m stupid and don’t know that all programs had to deal with the pandemic. Yeah, but how many of them were trying to turn around one of the worst programs in college football? That year was bad for established powers, and it was even worse for bad programs.
But somehow Pittman turned out two winning seasons his second and third year in Fayetteville. However, a loss to BYU and back-to-back SEC losses to LSU and Texas A&M have some fans calling for Pittman’s head. Whether Arkansas loses its remaining games or not (it won’t), Yurachek shouldn’t fire Pittman. I just mentioned that no one wanted the job four years ago. No one wanted it when Morris, who had a losing record at SMU, had been hired either.
Who Would the Hogs Hire?
Arkansas job searches have been a means for candidates to flirt with Arkansas and turn that into a raise at their current job or attract a better offer at another school like Kiffin reportedly did at Ole Miss. Fans have mentioned hiring native Arkansan Gus Malzahn away from UCF. It appears he’s left Arkansas at the alter at least twice, and if I’m Yurachek, I’m proceeding cautiously.
The other thing about Malzahn is he may not have a winning record in the first year of the Knights playing in the Big 12. Currently, UCF is 0-2 in the league and faces road games with Kansas and Oklahoma the next two weeks. Maybe Malzahn would take the Arkansas job if UCF is in the tank, but then you’re taking the risk of hiring a coach with a losing record. He’s not worth firing Pittman for.
Then there’s Sanders. Yes, he is turning the pitiful Buffaloes around, but if he continues the resurgence, he may have a list of suitors. You could assume Arkansas would be at the bottom of the list. Sure, Jones may be able to convince him to come to Fayetteville, but Sanders may also say, “They should’ve offered me the dern job in the first place. I’m not interested,” which would echo the late Mike Leach’s sentiment the last go around. If Sanders is worth hiring, he won’t take the Hogs job.
And then after going 0-2 on those two, who do you hire? See my point? You can’t fire a coach when you don’t have a fitting replacement. If a candidate would come forward and send a feeler that is attractive, that’s a different story, but that seems unlikely.
What is likely in the event of a losing season is that Pittman must make wholesale changes on his staff with the expectation that next year, if there isn’t a significant turnaround, he’ll be gone. Pittman deserves that after what he’s done so far. Don’t get so frustrated with the constipated offense so far this season that you forget the Chad Morris Era. It was God awful. It isn’t now.
Look, Arkansas simply isn’t a program that can afford to keep firing coaches on average every four years or so since Petrino. The job searches have been embarrassing at times. Let the Pittman Era play out at least 13 and a half more months, get this heralded recruiting class on campus and then see what happens.
Arkansas Football: A Better Passing Attack
If the Hogs offensive coordinator Dan Enos doesn’t want to listen to students and common folks critics on play-calling, perhaps he should try legendary Arkansas football quarterbacks Clint Stoerner and Matt Jones instead. They’ve just about got more credibility than the rest of the fanbase combined, both of them rank top 10 in all-time passing yards at Arkansas. Like most of the casual onlookers, they think this Arkansas offense is simply being tasked with things that they aren’t able to do.
“I see zero attempt to get the football out of KJ Jefferson’s hands quick,” Stoerner recently said on the Buzz 103.7 FM. “The obvious attempts in the screen game or the smoke routes where you just stand up and throw it to somebody, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your (creative) quick game… You’re attacking that underneath zone just beyond the defensive line. The ball should be able to get out of KJ Jefferson’s hands than we’re seeing.”
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