Born only three years apart, Sam Pittman (age 58) and Eric Musselman (age 55) have seen so much in their decades coaching football and basketball, respectively.
They both bring many common traits to the table, including passion for the Razorbacks, perfectionism around teaching fundamentals and a desire to surround themselves with assistants who aren’t just “yes men.”
Pittman and Musselman know their sports inside and out. But they came to that knowledge from opposite backgrounds, which shows in the different ways the two coaches talk about the transfer portal that is reshaping the college sports landscape.
Musselman’s coaching background is mostly in professional basketball, which means he often takes a player-first perspective. He often sees high major college basketball in NBA terms, referring to fall practice as “training camp” and alluding to transferring in college as similar to free agent movements on the pro level.
“It is the nature of where our society is in sports, and basketball probably has more than the other sports. [except soccer] You see a lot less of it in baseball than basketball and football,” he said of the transfer portal earlier this year.
Former Razorback football coach Chad Morris chimed in: “I’d agree with what coach is saying. We have a part of our recruiting department that checks the transfer portal every morning.”
“I can check it for ya,” Musselman quipped. “I check it every morning, lunch, dinner — I’ll check the football one, too.”
Sam Pittman Pushes Back
New Razorback head coach Sam Pittman knows the overall trend is toward more transferring. He’s already seen Razorbacks Nick Starkel, Collin Clay and Jordan Jones enter the portal.
But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“We’re teaching our kids that when times get tough, let’s just go somewhere else. That’s not going to help them in the future. It’s not gonna help them in any shape or form,” Pittman said recently on The Buzz 103.7 FM.
“We’re here to take a young man into a grown man and in more ways than on the football field. And when times get tough, you got to buckle down and you have to make them better. That transfer portal is killing us with numbers on our scholarship numbers. It’s tough on college football coaches because of attrition you have every year.”
“If they choose to transfer somewhere else, then that’s their business. And we only want people that will live and die for the Razorbacks on our football team and on our staff. And so if they want to transfer, we wish him well, but I want guys that want to be here.”
Sam Pittman’s distaste for the transfer portal isn’t surprising given his past. He started out as a high school coach in Missouri in the late 1980s, then coached at the junior college ranks before breaking into college football in the mid 1990s. He has never coached in the NFL.
Unlike Musselman, his background isn’t primarily player-first.
Still, Pittman isn’t a dunce. He knows that as much as the portal has hurt the team so far, it can help it too — as it has Musselman’s team with the likes of Jimmy Whitt and Jeantal Cylla.
When Pittman thinks transferring is warranted
“It has to do with the position. Let’s use a quarterback for instance. If you’re a quarterback and you could see that you’re not ever get on the field, or you graduated and you want make it to a little bit bigger conference or things like that. To me, it’s a little bit different.”-Sam Pittman to Justin Acri and Wess Moore
Pittman added situations differ, and communication is key to understand that. When it comes to a player considering entering the portal, “we have to figure out why he’s not happy or why he wants to transfer. Every kid’s story is a little bit different. But if we decide that it’s for the right reason and not running away from necessarily competition, or maybe it’s a situation that he and his coach or that whatever that may be. If we deem that the young man is transferring for the right reason then [the conversation] will certainly be interesting. “
What about JUCO players?
Although Pittman has a background in JUCO ball, and has already filled his staff with assistants who share that background, he’s not looking to lean on JUCO players as a “quick fix” for the 2020 Razorbacks.
“We certainly have to leave some scholarships available for transfers or grad transfers,” Pittman said in a press conference. “Right now, it doesn’t seem to be too big of a problem, you know. We will fix that when it comes, but we obviously are in the transfer market at different positions.”
“Junior college wise, I never want to go heavy junior college because I think we can build our team young. I just want the best players we can get, so if we can go into the junior colleges and get one, two or three outstanding players that we think can change our program immediately, you have to be right on that now, you have to be correct on your evaluation. I don’t think we’d ever sign a whole huge number of junior college players just because I believe you have to base your whole program out of freshman and start in the state of Arkansas.”
Will Rakeem Boyd Return?
Running back Rakeem Boyd has been the hands-down MVP of the Razorback offense the last two seasons. As bad as things have been, they would be even worse without the amazing runs and effort he’s put forth.
See Boyd do jersey No. 5 right below:
Now Boyd, a junior, must weigh whether he could improve his NFL Draft by returning for a senior year and, if so, by how much.
So, will he return?
“I think he’s going to have to let you know what he’s doing it,” Pittman said. “I do know that every coach texted him this morning and told him how much we’d love to have him back. He’s a wonderful kid and we’re going to support him, whatever he does.”
“We’ve had several conversations with him about it, laid out the facts of where he is in the draft right now. That’s up to him. Obviously, we need him back. We want him back.”
Listen to Pittman’s entire interview here: