Sam Pittman Tried Going Against His Own Gut. Now, He’s Ready to Do a Near 180.

Sam Pittman
Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — With his job seemingly on the line as he enters Year 5 leading the Arkansas football program, Sam Pittman is getting back to his roots.

The veteran coach will make a few changes to how he does things this season and some of those will be immediately evident in spring ball, which is slated to start Thursday morning.

Other changes will start to happen in the upcoming 15 practices, which conclude with the annual Red-White spring game on April 13, but probably won’t be noticeable to fans and even the media until the Razorbacks actually take the field for a real game against UAPB on Aug. 31.

Here’s a look at a few of those changes…

Opening Up Some Arkansas Football Practices

The first of those changes will have a direct impact on fans. Sam Pittman actually dropped the news that he would be opening up some spring practices to the public during an interview on Hogs+.

Arkansas will open its doors for the three Saturday practices, which are expected to be inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and allow fans and media alike to view them — even if they’re scrimmages. That’s different from recent years, when the media has been allowed to view most spring practices, but have been barred — alongside fans — from watching scrimmages.

“We did it and then I quit doing it,” Pittman said in his Hogs+ interview. “That shows you how smart I am. I’m changing back, but I did it because KJ Jefferson had never played much in front of crowd.”

Jefferson, of course, has since transferred to UCF and the Razorbacks will have a new starting quarterback in 2024. The competition is presumably between last year’s backup, Jacolby Criswell, and Boise State transfer Taylen Green, although Pittman didn’t rule out redshirt freshman Malachi Singleton, true freshman KJ Jackson or walk-on Austin Ledbetter when he met with reporters Tuesday.

Of that group, only Green has extensive collegiate experience playing in front of a crowd and that was in the Mountain West. Several other positions, such as linebacker, are inexperienced and would also stand to benefit from playing in front of fans.

Looking at how the schedule lays out, Pittman also thought it’d be a good idea because there wasn’t too much of a tactical advantage to keeping them closed.

“We’re so worried about people knowing this and that and the other about us — and I’m talking about our opponents, not our people in the state,” Pittman said Tuesday. “But if our state knows it, our opponents know it. So I think we’ve been worried for so many years about all that, and I have too, but the bottom line is we’ve got to get ready to play Pine Bluff, and that started in January. By the time we play Oklahoma State, they’re going to know a lot about our team anyway cause we just played a game.”

Sam Pittman Taking a Bigger Role with OL

Something fans begged for throughout last season, as the offensive line struggled from week to week, will apparently finally happen this season.

In his interview with Hogs+, Pittman revealed he would spend more time with the unit that he famously coached as an assistant at multiple stops, developing a reputation as one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.

The move is partly because the NCAA has yet to change the rule that would allow analysts to coach on the field. He had anticipated that would be approved by now and moved his offensive line graduate assistant to special teams.

That left a void to help new offensive line coach Eric Mateos.

“It just made sense for me to go in and help Eric,” Pittman told Matt Zimmerman and Quinn Grovey on Hogs+. “And to be honest with you, I thought I could help him, and you need two offensive line coaches. It’s been a lot of fun to go to all the meetings and go out and coach (individual drills).

“That’s what I’m going to do certainly in the spring, and then in the fall as well. And actually, it makes practice go by faster, and I have to be more prepared, a little bit more now for an individual, but it gets me back to my roots.”

Becoming Less Reliant on Analytics

Last summer, Sam Pittman told reporters that he would look into going for it on fourth down more frequently in 2023, with analytics helping him in that area.

He said that over the 2022-23 offseason he had learned to play the numbers a bit more and go with his gut a bit less, which can be tough for the old-school, hard-nosed guys. 

“I’ve worked on myself,” he said in July. “I won’t go for it on fourth down very often. So I have to work on and see if we can get a little bit more in practice; at the same time we are helping the defense, analytics certainly has changed football. I have to get into it a little bit more than what I have in the past.”

The Razorbacks ended up attempting only 16 fourth-down plays, which was tied for the 17th-fewest in the FBS, and actually converted them at a 62.5% clip which was tied for the 18th-best mark. But there were a few costly turnovers on downs that might have led to a loss or two early in the season.

For instance, against BYU, Arkansas football was holding onto a 31-21 lead midway through the third quarter.

It had the ball with a chance to extend that lead, but came up a yard short of the line to gain near midfield. Instead of punting it away, Sam Pittman decided to go for it – something ESPN analyst Rod Gilmore said was a “bad, bad decision.”

Pittman was criticized for similar decisions later in the season and it now seems as though he regrets going “into analytics overdrive,” as he told 247Sports’ Brandon Marcello. He said he’d go back to going with his gut for those type of decisions this year.

“Well, it didn’t work,” Pittman said Tuesday. “I was 0-fer. When you’re batting 0-fer in the major leagues, you go down a level. At least I have an opportunity to fix it.”

That said, Pittman will still have analytics available to use, but his decisions won’t be 100% dictated by them.

“I went more off of analytics last year than I did off myself,” Pittman said. “It was very uncomfortable for me, and when we did it, it didn’t work. We’re going to hopefully find a happy medium that when we make a decision it works.”

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Watch Pittman’s entire press conference here:

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