Bobby Petrino brought Arkansas one of the five biggest college football scandals of the past 15 years.
John L. Smith won three games.
Bret Bielema went 29-34.
Chad Morris’ teams were 4-20.
Sam Pittman is 22-24.
Either Arkansas football has had atrocious luck with its last five coaching hires or destiny shines stinky on the Razorbacks.
One day after Arkansas lost to Auburn, 48-10, and less than a week after athletic director Hunter Yurachek proclaimed his faith in Pittman as the program’s head coach, word began to spread that Pittman’s job for the team’s final two games was in jeopardy. Through Monday, at least, those words were rumors that could have been started by an overzealous and angry fan base or from someone with actual sway when it comes to deciding such matters.
On Sunday, speculation had only increased after reports surfaced that Texas A&M would be parting ways with Jimbo Fisher. Fisher beat Arkansas in five of six tries with the Aggies, so that aforementioned angry fan base sees the Aggies head man not only as a possibility for Fayetteville, but a preference. A preference, mind you, not necessarily the preference. No doubt some, however, want the move to be made immediately.
Jimbo Fisher as an Upgrade?
Jimbo Fisher would be seen by those who seek him as an upgrade, his record against the Razorbacks evidence of such. But Fisher is also a coach who had a worse record at Texas A&M than his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin, for the record, is now Maryland’s associate head coach, co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. He previously flamed out at Arizona where in his two-and-a-half seasons his Wildcats went 9-20.
Regardless, this piece isn’t about whether Arkansas should chase Fisher or anybody on that Texas A&M staff who happens to have been an ex Arkansas football coach, as former Pulaski Academy coach Kevin Kelley so spicily conjectures in a recent Tweet.
If the powers-that-be decide to go such routes, they decide to. Instead, let’s focus on the more immediate situation at hand.
Pittman and Fisher share an agent, Jimmy Sexton. Pittman hired Sexton in December 2021, bringing the most famous (infamous?) player in the agent game this side of Drew Rosenhaus and scrapping Arkansas-based Judy Henry. The implication being that with two years’ success now on his side, Pittman could get paid more in line with his SEC brethren, instead of a man in his first-ever head-coaching gig. Sure, perhaps Henry too could have gotten Pittman such a raise, but the hardball Sexton was going to make it all but a guarantee.
Pittman was right if that’s the hand he played. He went from making $3 million a year under his first deal with Arkansas to more than $6 million on his current contract. Only about two years have passed and Pittman has doubled his money. How much of that has to do with Sexton, only the power brokers know for sure.
If Arkansas were to part with Pittman, whether it’s Sunday evening or Thanksgiving weekend, the university would owe him $16.1 million. That, friends, would rank as the fifth-largest buyout in college football history:
It’s more than three times the amount that Mississippi State will owe the recently fired Zach Arnett, who as a first-time head coach gets a relatively paltry buyout of $4.5 million despite being let go before the end of his first season, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
Buyouts are written into contracts, but are often negotiated after the fact, with schools and coaches sometimes altering what was agreed upon back when the deal was inked. Such things are typical.
Arkansas may end up being glad Fisher was fired and for more reason than perhaps he being their next target. Fisher is reportedly set to make $76 million from Texas A&M from his buyout, with a good chunk of that going to Sexton, his agent. With such a windfall, Sexton may try to talk Pittman into taking less in his just to alleviate all parties’ pressure.
If this were to happen, why Sam Pittman would agree to less money is anyone’s guess, even if Arkansas broadcaster Mike Irwin has a notion. Pittman may just want to get things finished. He may have another job lined up quickly, which would likely eat into that buyout total (again, those kinds of things are written into deals regularly). Or he may not agree at all.
Rearranging the Deck for Arkansas Football
The possibility increased with Fisher’s firing, though, and Arkansas would then reap the benefit. Well, as much benefit as could be gained by paying any amount of money to someone to get them to leave. Less cash owed to Pittman means more cash conceivably available to the person who replaces him. Arkansas doesn’t pay Alabama-type of money or even Texas A&M-type of money. But frugality has yielded the aforementioned head coaches and the yields have been less than desirable.
Even if Arkansas didn’t go after, or get, Fisher, more money would be on the table to whoever comes next. You know as well as I do that some Gus Malzahn diehards still want the Arkansas native back in the fold where his one season as offensive coordinator brought quality numbers but, again, controversy. The marriage did not end well, but the divorce is more than 15 years old now. Hearts mend and money talks.
Pittman may still be Arkansas’ head coach Monday. He may still be Arkansas’ football coach 48 hours after Thanksgiving is over. But Fisher’s firing opened a whole new can of worms when it comes to the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that so fascinates college football culture.
The ultimate question remains, though, regardless of what timeline actually plays out. Can the people who have made the Razorback football coaching decisions for the last 10 to 15 years be counted on to make a home-run hire?
For weeks, SportsBetting.ag had Fisher at No. 1 for odds of the next head college football coach to be fired. Indeed, he was the favorite multiple weeks throughout the season, most recently at 4/1 odds on November 2. Now that that’s happen there’s a new captain of the hot seat, with Pittman and Indiana’s Tom Allen following right behind:
Next Head Coach Fired
Dave Aranda (Baylor) 5/1
Sam Pittman (Arkansas) 6/1
Tom Allen (Indiana) 6/1
Jeff Hafley (Boston College) 7/1
Ken Wilson (Nevada) 7/1
Brady Hoke (San Diego State) 9/1
Dana Holgerson (Houston) 9/1
Danny Gonzales (New Mexico) 9/1
Billy Napier (Florida) 10/1
Matt Rhule (Nebraska) 10/1
Ryan Silverfield (Memphis) 10/1
Dino Babers (Syracuse) 12/1
Mario Cristobal (Mami) 14/1
Lincoln Riley (USC) 20/1
Chip Kelly (UCLA) 25/1
Plus, it looks like some boosters were trying to seriously meddle without Hunter Yurachek’s knowledge…
College Football Coaches Leaving Programs in 2023
Northwestern – Pat Fitzgerald (fired amid scandal)
Michigan State – Mel Tucker (fired amid scandal)
Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher (fired)
Boise State – Andy Avalos (fired)
Mississippi State – Zach Arnett (fired)
San Diego State – Brady Hoke (retiring)
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