FAYETTEVILLE — On Monday, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman reassured fans that he was not just sitting around and waiting on a large buyout.
The fourth-year coach is still doing everything he can to turn things around amid a six-game losing streak that has dropped the Razorbacks to 2-6 heading into their open date, as evidenced by his decision to fire offensive coordinator Dan Enos before he even made it through a full season.
It was a move that he hopes can jumpstart his stagnant offense enough to help a much-improved defense and special teams over the final four games of 2023.
“We’ve got buyouts and all that kind of stuff,” Pittman said. “I don’t want the buyout. I want to win.”
The Razorbacks must win all four of their remaining games — a road trip to Florida, followed by home games against Auburn, Florida International and Missouri — to reach the six-win mark and qualify for a bowl game.
However, that is unlikely at this point, with ESPN’s Football Power Index giving Arkansas only a 12.1% chance of winning out. Even Pittman admitted that beating Mississippi State last week was critical to their bowl hopes, so losing that game 7-3 was a big blow.
In fact, according to the FPI, it is just as likely that Arkansas loses all three of its remaining SEC games to finish with its fourth 0-8 league record since 2013 as it is to reach a bowl.
Barring a dramatic turnaround, calls for Pittman’s job will likely only intensify. He is currently No. 7 on Coaches Hot Seat and recently received a “hot” temperature setting in 247Sports’ latest “Heat Index.”
Naturally, that has led to conversations about his buyout, which has one of the more unique structures in college football. Success — or lack thereof — on the field is actually a component of how much Arkansas would owe if it decided to move on from Pittman.
Because of that and other unique aspects of his deal, such as the retention payments and automatic raises built into his latest deal, calculating an accurate buyout for Pittman is challenging and has led to some confusion.
Best of Arkansas Sports will do its best to sort through all of that and explain it as clearly as possible…
The Basics of Sam Pittman’s Contract
Fresh off an outstanding 2021 season in which Arkansas football won its most games since the Bobby Petrino era, Sam Pittman agreed to a new five-year deal that paid him an annual salary of $5 million.
That would take him through the 2026 season, but the contract included an automatic one-year extension if the Razorbacks won seven or more games in a season. That number included the bowl game, as long as it was against a top-25 team or a Power Five team.
Arkansas did just that by picking up its seventh win of 2022 with a 55-53 triple-overtime win over Kansas in the Liberty Bowl, pushing his deal through the 2027 season.
That seventh win also triggered an automatic raise of $250,000. It’s important to note that this was not a one-time bonus payment, but an actual increase of his annual salary to $5.25 million beginning the following season.
Surviving the Jayhawks’ late rally and winning the Liberty Bowl essentially added $6.25 million to Pittman’s contract when you factor in the raise across the four remaining years originally on his contract ($1 million) and the extra year it added ($5.25 million).
Not included in his annual salary are three separate retention payments that he accrues on a daily basis, set to be paid on Dec. 31 in 2024, 2026 and 2027.
The first of those would equal $3.3 million, which includes an annual increase of $100,000. That means would have earned $1 million for staying the Hogs coach in 2022, $1.1 million for 2023 and $1.2 million for 2024. The second is worth $2.7 million, as would have earned $1.3 million for 2025 and $1.4 million for 2026. The final one, which he’s eligible for because of the aforementioned automatic extension, is for $1.5 million for 2027.
Understanding Pittman’s Buyout
One of the big takeaways from Hunter Yurachek’s introductory press conference in December 2017 was his take on the massive buyouts in the contracts of college football buyouts.
“We’ve got to get a handle on coaches contracts and the buyouts,” Yurachek told the media. “To me, losing football games is being terminated with cause. The protection sometimes that coaches are provided within their contracts to me is ludicrous.”
With Chad Morris hired before his arrival, the first opportunity Yurachek had to implement his philosophy with buyouts was with Sam Pittman. He did so by including a winning percentage aspect in his buyout if he were to be terminated “for convenience” — meaning not “for cause,” such as when Bobby Petrino was fired.
If Pittman has a winning percentage of at least .500, he’d be owed 75% of his remaining contract. If it dips below .500, the buyout drops to 50% of his remaining contract.
However, following the pandemic-altered 2020 season, Pittman and Yurachek agreed to reset his contract. Not only did that essentially give him another year, but it also wiped the 3-7 record out of that equation.
Looking back, that was probably fair for both sides. If 2020 happened as scheduled, Arkansas wouldn’t have played Georgia and Florida, but instead a non-conference slate of Charleston Southern, Louisiana-Monroe, Nevada and Notre Dame.
It’s probably a safe bet that the Razorbacks would have beaten the first three of those teams, but lost on the road to a Notre Dame team that made the College Football Playoff. Couple that with a 3-5 record against originally scheduled SEC opponents and that’s a 6-6 mark in Year 1. The bowl game could have made that 7-6 or 6-7, but a contract reset — given all of the unique circumstances of the pandemic — was a good call.
That’s why Pittman’s overall record of 21-23 is not factored into this conversation. Instead, for the purpose of his buyout, he is 18-16.
With four games left in the regular season, Arkansas would have to lose all four for him to drop below .500. That includes a Nov. 18 home game against Florida International, which is ranked No. 130 out of 133 FBS teams in ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Razorbacks would actually drop below .500 if they lost to Florida and Auburn before suffering an upset loss to the Panthers.
If they win one of their remaining SEC games and/or that FIU game, though, Pittman is guaranteed to have a winning percentage of at least .500 since 2021. That mean’s he’d be owed 75% of his remaining contract.
To keep things simple, we’ll use Nov. 30 as a hypothetical termination date, meaning he has the month of December plus four full years left on his deal at $5.25 million annually. That works out to a little more than $21.4 million and 75% of that is just under $16.1 million.
If the Razorbacks lose out or go 0-3 and Pittman is let go following the FIU game, the buyout drops to roughly $10.7 million.
Those amounts would be paid to Pittman in equal monthly payments through Dec. 31, 2027, and can be offset by future earnings, as his contract does have a “duty to mitigate in good faith by diligently seeking, accepting and reporting other comparable employment.”
What the UA would definitely be on the hook for are the “retention payments” he’s earned up to this point. The 2022 season was worth $1 million and this year is worth $1.1 million, but it’d be prorated to the date of termination.
For example, if he was let go the Sunday following the Missouri game, Nov. 26, his total retention payment would be roughly $1.99 million.
Instead of making that payment on Dec. 31, 2024, as scheduled in Pittman’s contract, it would be due within 30 days of his termination, so about a year earlier than expected.
Had the Razorbacks not won the Liberty Bowl last year, that retention payment wouldn’t change, but the buyout figures laid out above would have been about $4.5 million (75%) and $3 million (50%) less, respectively.
Dan Enos’ Buyout from Arkansas
Regardless of Sam Pittman’s future, the Arkansas football program already has a seven-figure buyout on the books because of the decision to fire offensive coordinator Dan Enos.
He made it only eight games into a three-year deal and is now owed roughly $2.84 million — the entirety of his remaining contract with the Razorbacks.
That will be paid in equal monthly payments through the length of his deal, which goes through Feb. 28, 2026, and he also has the “duty to mitigate” by seeking other jobs, so that amount will likely decrease.
However, exactly how much the UA will get out of remains to be seen because Enos likely won’t be a hot commodity in the coaching carousel this offseason considering just how spectacularly the Razorbacks’ offense failed under his leadership.
It’s hard to imagine him landing an OC gig at a Power Five school. Instead, his best bet is becoming a position coach — like he did at Alabama after getting let go as part of Bret Bielema’s Arkansas staff and at Cincinnati after his failed stint as Miami’s OC — or dropping down to the Group of Five level.
Either way, Enos is due for a rather dramatic pay cut, not to mention he’ll likely give his next employer a discount for his services because of the buyout he’s receiving from Arkansas. That is what Chad Morris did when he became Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2020 after being fired by the Razorbacks.
On the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas received an $807,433.50 buyout when former offensive coordinator Kendal Briles left to take the same position at TCU, according to a copy of the invoice Arkansas sent Briles in January that Best of Arkansas Sports obtained via a Freedom of Information request. We also confirmed that it was paid.
Recent Buyouts at Arkansas
Here is a list of a few recent buyouts at Arkansas, across the entire athletic department…
- Bret Bielema (football head coach): $8.085 million*
- Chad Morris (football head coach): $10.1 million
- Jeff Long (athletics director): $4.625 million**
- Mike Anderson (men’s basketball head coach): $3 million
- John Chavis (football defensive coordinator): $1.5 million
- Dan Enos (football offensive coordinator): $2.84 million
- Jimmy Dykes (women’s basketball head coach): $750,000
*Originally set to receive an $11.935 million buyout, but a lengthy legal battle ended with a settlement.
**Arkansas ended up paying him only about 15% of that because the buyout was offset by his salary at Kansas.
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