FAYETTEVILLE — One reason Sam Pittman has endeared himself to the people of Arkansas, in addition to turning the football program around, is because of his folksy personality that comes across as genuine and resonates with the fanbase.
The third-year coach would rather just enjoy “some ol’ cold beer” after a win than hop on social media or participate in any wild stunts that draw the attention to himself. (Not that there aren’t advantages to the latter — see: Musselman, Eric)
It should come as no surprise that Pittman appreciates those who share his same values, which includes his boss. Asked about athletics director Hunter Yurachek opting to remain at Arkansas instead of taking the same job at Auburn for more money, the head coach gave a well thought out, heartfelt answer.
“That’s a man who practices what he preaches,” Pittman said during his Zoom interview with local reporters Wednesday afternoon. “To me, he already was powerful with all of us head coaches. For him to do exactly what, at times, he asks us to do, is powerful. I’m so glad that he’s staying.
“Obviously he’s the one who gave me my opportunity, but the old saying, ‘He practices what he preaches,’ that’s what he does and that shows what kind of man he is. To say I’m excited that he’s going to stay here would be an understatement. I have a lot of respect for him and Jennifer, and I mean what I’m saying. I’m ecstatic that he decided to stay.”
According to Arkansas Business, Yurachek turned down a $2 million salary from Auburn that would have likely made him one of the five highest-paid ADs in the country. Instead, he received a raise that essentially pays him $1.75 million annually, including deferred compensation — a number that is believed to put him in the top 10.
That’s a rare decision in today’s world of college athletics, where John Cohen ditched his alma mater (Mississippi State) to take the Auburn AD job and Lincoln Riley left the place (Oklahoma) where he was handed the keys of the program from legendary coach Bob Stoops to take the USC job.
Hunter Yurachek Practicing What He Preaches
It may be a cliche, but don’t confuse what Sam Pittman said — that Yurachek practices what he preaches — for coach speak. Look no further than this past football offseason for an example of the AD asking his employees to do what he just did.
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom was targeted for head coaching and defensive coordinator jobs at various programs after each of the last two seasons, but turned them down to remain at Arkansas. Back in April, he told reporters it was because he felt this was “the best job in the country for me right now” and that it’d take the “right fit” for him to consider leaving, not just a specific dollar amount.
This offseason, the Razorbacks also had to fend off programs from swiping offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. He was publicly pursued by Miami (Fla.) to be its next offensive coordinator, but turned down more money from the Hurricanes to stay in Fayetteville.
His reasoning was threefold, as he said he “felt loyal to Coach Pittman,” didn’t want to leave quarterback KJ Jefferson and he has a young family he didn’t want to uproot again after previous one-year stops at Florida Atlantic, Houston and Florida State.
“(That shows) big-time loyalty,” Pittman said back in March. “Because for the most part, they’re staying for less financial money, which a lot of people would not.”
Meaning of Homecoming for Sam Pittman
Saturday’s matchup with Liberty is not only another chance to knock off a ranked opponent, but it is also the Razorbacks’ annual homecoming game.
Arkansas has split its two homecoming games under head coach Sam Pittman, beating Ole Miss in 2020 and losing to Auburn last year.
He admitted that there is a “little bit of extra motivation” for homecoming just because of the history of the program, further illustrating how much he appreciates the job he has as Arkansas’ head coach.
“When you come back to homecoming, you’re playing for the history of the program,” Pittman said. “You have a lot of guys come back that graduated school here, and ladies — people — coming back and they graduated school here. This is their alma mater.
“You have a lot of players (back) and you don’t want to disappoint anybody. You don’t want to on a regular basis, but you don’t want to disappoint anybody on Homecoming. Everybody is supposed to be coming back here having fun, enjoying pre-game, the game and after the game.”
Former Coaches Returning to Fayetteville
Most of the attention may be on Hugh Freeze returning to the state where he landed his first college head coaching gig (at Arkansas State), but Liberty’s coaching staff actually has a few people with direct ties to the Razorbacks.
Most notably, former Arkansas quality control coach Tanner Burns is now the Flames’ special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. The son of former Arkansas player and defensive coordinator Keith Burns, he worked with the Razorbacks’ special teams from 2014-18, so his tenure overlapped with Sam Pittman by two years.
Liberty offensive analyst Jesse Stone is also familiar with Pittman, working with him as a student assistant at Arkansas from 2014-15 and then as a graduate assistant at Georgia from 2016-18. At Liberty, he works with the quarterbacks.
“I love both those guys,” Pittman said. “They’re wonderful people. I got to see them grow up a little bit from young guys to married with children. I have high respect for both of them. Now you have high respect for them in their profession, and certainly Tanner’s done an outstanding job with special teams.”
Another name Arkansas football fans may recognize on Liberty’s staff is Chris Klenakis, who was the Razorbacks’ offensive line coach from 2010-12. His successor, interestingly enough, was Pittman.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview Wednesday afternoon here:
More coverage of Hunter Yurachek and Arkansas football from BoAS…