FAYETTEVILLE — Even on a night Arkansas football won big, Sam Pittman’s job security was seemingly still the No. 1 story.
With all due respect to Isaiah Augustave’s 100-yard performance, Alfahiym Walcott’s impressive pick-six and KJ Jefferson breaking another couple of records, what ESPNU’s Rod Gilmore said to open Saturday’s broadcast may have been the most notable thing to come out of the Razorbacks’ 44-20 win over FIU.
Before the game even kicked off, the long-time college football analyst dropped this nugget from his conversation with Pittman on viewers:
“We talked to him yesterday and he said, ‘I am not being fired this year,’” Gilmore said. “He said he had a two-hour meeting with his athletic director on Sunday, and all is good. They haven’t forgotten what he’s done with this program.”
Considering all of the rumors swirling about his future, that was a pretty strong endorsement for Pittman returning in 2024.
Athletics director Hunter Yurachek did give his coach a vote of confidence recently, but that was after a big overtime win at Florida and a couple of days before the Razorbacks laid an egg against Auburn.
With no public appearances or interviews since then, it was unclear how Yurachek felt about Pittman until late Sunday morning, when Best of Arkansas Sports confirmed Pittman would be returning for the 2024 season.
Still, although Gilmore’s comment seemed significant, it might not have been entirely accurate.
“I don’t remember having that conversation with those guys,” Pittman said when asked about what Gilmore said during the broadcast.
In fact, a UA spokesperson who listened to Pittman’s conversation with Gilmore and play-by-play man Brian Custer was adamant that the ESPNU crew misconstrued the head coach’s comments.
That is believable because Pittman declined to reveal any details about his meeting with Yurachek following the Auburn game when asked about it by local media earlier in the week, other than the fact that the pair talk after every game.
“You’d have to ask him about the conversation, but I haven’t really expressed to you what our conversations have been over the four years,” Pittman said on Monday. “I don’t think today’s a good time to talk about that either.”
UPDATE (Nov. 19): Hunter Yurachek himself announced that Pittman would be returning in a Tweet, but in the hours preceding that there was some “he said, she said” going on between Gilmore and a fan. When asked by a fan via Twitter about Pittman’s denial, Gilmore clarified that it was Pittman who said he wouldn’t be fired this year, not that Yurachek told him that. However, on Sunday morning, 247Sports’ Matt Zenitz reported that Yurachek did inform players and staff that he was “sticking with Sam Pittman as the team’s head coach.”
Sam Pittman’s Complaint for Arkansas
In addition to denying what Rod Gilmore said he told the ESPNU crew, Sam Pittman took the opportunity to voice his frustration with all of the rumors circulating about his job security.
He also touched on it earlier in the week, but the fourth-year coach reiterated the impact those rumors have on the recruiting trail as the early signing period rapidly approaches.
The Razorbacks have already lost one four-star commit amid their 4-7 season and are in danger of losing more, so Pittman is desperately trying to keep the talented group together.
“When we start talking about firing and all of this, it kills us in recruiting,” Pittman said. “It does, especially when we fabricate stories and put it out, it kills us in recruiting. We give opinions about who’s coming in, all those type things, it kills us.
“I’ve got a wife, she’s a human being, so to put out stuff that’s not true, I know it’s an opinion world now. I don’t think I’m getting fired, guys, or (Yurachek) would’ve told me I’m getting fired. And so I’m not sure why I have to answer these questions about getting fired or not — I don’t, but we’ll kill recruiting if we keep talking about it.”
The Razorbacks would owe Pittman a buyout of about $16.1 million if they chose to move on from him following the season, but it doesn’t sound like he is expecting that to happen.
In another part of the broadcast, during the fourth quarter when Arkansas had pulled away, Gilmore revealed another alleged part of their conversation in which Pittman talked about why he felt safe in his position as head coach.
“He is big on representing the folks of Arkansas,” Gilmore said. “He fits perfectly here. And he says people here are not…the ‘What have you done for me lately folks.’ That they’re not likely to look at him and go, ‘Hey, last year was good. 2021 was good. You turned the program around, but this was a losing season. See you.’ That’s not the kind of place this is.”
More from Pittman on Arkansas vs FIU
On the offense putting up 323 rushing yards:
Whether it’s Game 1 or 11 or whatever, I’m happy to get 300 yards, and I think we averaged six yards per carry or something like that. I was proud of Isaiah. He ran unbelievable. We handed it off one time to what really should have been a dead play and he got 12 yards. So, I’m proud of the offensive line and the runners, and obviously we’ve got some injuries there.
KJ is a big part of the run as well. It was good to see [Dominique Johnson] come in and split that up with a big hole there on 4th-and-2 to go down there and score it from 31 yards. It was good to see him back.
On the mood of the team when they fell behind 13-7:
Oh, I think everybody is going to get down six points every now and then. We were just trying to figure out how to rush the football. We were giving up some big plays. So, we needed to stop that and we had some bad penalties too. Special teams was costing us (field) position and we had a penalty with Tree on a late hit or low hit.
So, we were talking about how we could stop hurting ourselves. I think we had four penalties in the first half. But, there really wasn’t anything magical about being down six that we did to be honest with you.
Watch Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s full postgame press conference here:
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