Think Sam Pittman’s on the hot seat? You’re not alone. It appears he thinks the same thing. Why else would the phrase “buyout,” in any context, ever cross the lips of an Arkansas football coach in his own press conference?
There are those who think he’s out of his league as an SEC head coach. They want answers and some have even floated Gus Malzahn’s name as a replacement.
Before we accidentally go farther down that road, let’s just don’t.
Hog fans should’ve learned from the Bill Self nonsense that used to come up every time a pre-Muss men’s basketball coaching search occurred. That ship has sailed and most likely so has Malzahn’s.
Forget all that talk. Pittman deserves another year.
Why Sam Pittman Deserves 2024
I can feel your blood pressure rising as you read this. You’re seething. You’re thinking, “How can we trust a guy who made the worst coaching hire other than Chad Morris in the past two decades?”
Ok, yes, it’s true Sam Pittman whiffed on Dan Enos. No one is saying he didn’t. Long-time Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor Wally Hall called it the “biggest mistake Pittman has made in his career.” I agree with Wally on this one and may have even believed it before he did.
But for Pittman, this is a lot like the president always getting blamed when the price at the pump is high. He never gets the credit when the price goes down. The difference is, the president can’t do much about his problems, but Pittman can and did.
Those who want him axed this season can’t have it both ways. If Pittman gets the blame for hiring the much-reviled Enos, he should get credit for hiring the much-revered Travis Williams, who made defense a point of pride again in Razorback Nation. Not to mention other defensive assistants like Deron Wilson, Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson who have also come aboard in the last couple seasons.
There’s no doubt more fans focus on offense than defense. The casual fan understands offense better. It’s why Kendal Briles was blamed for a piss-poor 7-6 finish last year when defense was so clearly the problem.
Without going too psychobabble, it’s a lot easier to take part in a tailgating bitch session after a ridiculous trick play called on fourth-and-2 in a 42-point offensive performance than delving into what went wrong with a defense that allowed 45 points – and was the real reason for the loss.
This year, the Hogs have the exact opposite problem.
Arkansas football currently ranks 37th nationally in total defense and it’s sixth in the SEC. Most Hog fans probably don’t know how good their defense is because they’ve been so distracted by how bad their offense was under Enos.
Arkansas Football Under Pittman
Certainly, Sam Pittman didn’t help his own cause when he admitted his error in not calling timeout late in the first half vs Mississippi State. That prevented an in-range Cam Little field goal attempt with a delay of game penalty. Little was still in range even after the flag, which makes matters even worse.
If Little had connected, the Hogs would have been down by 1 instead of 4 with a minute to go in the Mississippi State game. Instead of a trip across the goal line, they would have needed to get to about the 35 to have a fighting chance for the win and Enos might still be OC.
However, if nothing else, his statement, “I didn’t know what to do, to be perfectly honest.” demonstrates he needs a PR coach.
Look, no one on this end of the keyboard is going to discuss the virtue of moral victories, because there are none. But here’s the deal: it’s a fact that only one of Arkansas’ six losses have resembled anything close to a blowout.
While losing to BYU and putting up only 200 yards against a Mississippi State squad that’s allowed everyone else about twice that number could be considered embarrassments, besides a 12-point loss to Texas A&M, even the most hardcore hater has to look at the results and understand that their team was a single touchdown away from beating or going into overtime against Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and BYU.
Hog fans have to acknowledge that this team has been competitive in every game. As Pittman himself said, “We’re not losing 42-7.” It’s hard to argue that the reason they’ve been competitive is the homerun hires of Travis Williams and other defensive assistants, for which Pittman can, and should, take credit.
The ‘What Ifs’ of 2023 for Arkansas Football
So, instead of calling for Sam Pittman’s head along with Dan Enos’, Hog fans need to push their anger deep down inside and take Pepcid AC, if necessary. The supposedly inept Pittman and his team are extremely close to having a great season instead of potentially one of the worst ever.
If Arkansas had an offense ranked even, say, 66th in the FBS instead of No. 121, they could be in the top 15 with six wins against 2 losses quicker than you can say Clyde Scott.
If the Hogs win instead of losing a game that may have had the ground shaking around the headstone of Brigham Young himself, they’d have a 6-2 team, and everyone would be wondering what town they’re going to party in come bowl time.
Of course, if a Horned Frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass-a-hoppin’. I get it. None of that happened, and we’ll never know what could have been, but we do know the reason it didn’t. That’s as clear as it is that while Johnny Cash was born in Arkansas, he’ll never play another show here.
The Final Stretch of 2023
Looking forward, Sam Pittman will want to increase the tempo and move the pocket in the next four games. New coordinator Kenny Guiton’s going to do it not just out of gratitude for the huge opportunity he’s been given, but also because he fell straight out of Kendal Briles’ coaching tree.
That style of play favors KJ Jefferson, which makes Enos’ obstinance inexplicable, plus KJ seems to be happy with the change and the spirit of the team is up, which can only be seen as a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong. No one should go out and bet the farm on running the table with Guiton, whose first college play call will happen next week against the country’s No. 18 overall defense. In the Swamp, no less. That’s a mountain to climb in the flatlands of Florida for a brand new, mid-season offensive coordinator.
At this point, a great end to the Arkansas football season would be to take two, maybe three, of the last four.
If that doesn’t happen, then expect a new offensive coordinator hire to be made. Hopefully, this time Pittman will expand his network. It wasn’t exactly music to my ears that he said “One of the great things about me traveling the world” of college football is that “I know a lot of people.” at a press conference earlier in the week.
Knowing someone is not a reason to hire someone and it sure as hell didn’t work with Enos. Make no mistake, that’s on Pittman. Hog fans just have to hope he’ll learn from it and find someone with a track record of putting points on the board to go with a defensive staff that is genuinely hyped to keep opponents from doing the same.
It was from the darkest depths of the abyss of irrelevance that Sam Pittman rescued the Arkansas football program. He’s had two bowl wins in the last two years. He also made a mistake. He deserves a chance to fix it. If we’re in this boat this time next year, there will be no doubt a new head coach will take the field with the Hogs to start the 2025 season.
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