New Razorback head coach Sam Pittman is known as one of the best recruiters* in the business. His first and most important recruiting task is finding the right staff.
What coordinators a new head coach chooses is a vital decision at the start of any new era. In the Sam Pittman era, it’s doubly important since Pittman has never been a head coach at the 10 Division I schools in which he’s coached over 26 years.
The gold standard here is what Ed Orgeron, formerly a longtime defensive line coach, has done at LSU. Orgeron has surrounded himself with stellar assistants to power the No. 1 team in the nation and 2019 SEC champion.
Foremost among Orgeron’s hires has been passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who formerly worked for the New Orleans Saints. He also re-promoted Steve Ensminger to offensive coordinator.
Sam Pittman needs to find the right people — and fast. The clock’s ticking on this recruiting class. National signing period begins on Dec. 18. The no-contact dead period starts on the 15th. The Razorbacks currently have six class of 2020 commits. They have space for 13 more.
Fortunately, Pittman has many scores of contacts through his years coaching at the likes of North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia.
Hogs’ Next Offensive Coordinator
One of Pittman’s contacts is Jay Johnson, Colorado’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Pittman and Johnson coached together at Georgia, where Johnson spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons as the offensive analyst for quality control.
“I’m told that it will be Jay Johnson,” Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin said on Sunday. “He is more of an RPO guy and does have a reputation of running a high-power offense. Lots of scoring. Let’s, let’s move the ball down the field, you know, let’s get gouge plays in. So it’s less run over you and more of what we’ve seen, but with maybe better results — hopefully.”
How prolific have Jay Johnon’s offenses been?
We know the damage that Georgia has done in recent years with superior talent, but Johnson also helped coach Minnesota to an average of nearly 30 points a game in 2016.
Before that, here’s what he did at UL-Lafayette in 2011-15:
“The Ragin’ Cajuns were one of the most electrifying offenses annually in the nation. Louisiana constantly ranked in the top 30 in most major offensive categories, often higher in red zone efficiency, as in 2012 ULL led the nation with a 94.8 percentage (55 scores in 58 tries; 44 touchdowns and no turnovers). He coached quarterbacks Blaine Gautier and Terrance Broadway to top 20 finishes in passing efficiency and was part of 40 victories, which included four straight 9-4 campaigns.”
Here are some of the main features of Jay Johnson’s offenses:
- They run out of the pistol
- They are very balanced
- They use the tight end in blocking and receiving
SB Nation’s Jack Stern broke down Jay Johnson’s offensive scheme here, noting it uses “primarily three wide receiver, one H-back sets. Similar to Utah’s offense, the quarterback typically lines up in the shotgun or pistol and runs a lot of zone reads and RPO’s. This offense also leans on a physical run game to establish a multi dimensional attack and wear out defenses.”
What about Sam Pittman’s other new staff?
UPDATE: Arkansas has hired Barry Odom as defensive coordinator. Read more details about that here.
While Johnson appears to be the frontrunner for the offensive coordinator position, former Hogs assistant Jim Cheney is also a possibility to return to the Fayetteville in the position he had at the start of the Bret Bielema era. Cheney and Pittman are very close friends.
Pig Trail Nations’s Otis Kirk threw out some more possibilities on Sunday night:
“Georgia’s defensive line coach is Tray Scott who is from Crossett and played at Arkansas Tech. Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College defensive coordinator Alfred Davis, who is a former Razorback, is very interested in the defensive line position with Pittman…
“Pittman has vast experience at various levels and will form a great staff at Arkansas.”
If you want to get even more psyched about the Pittman era, hear the high praise from former Hog Travis Swanson below:
What is Sam Pittman’s Contract and Buyout Clause?
He signed a five-year deal that will pay him $3 million per year. The contact is so sweetened with incentive clauses, it resembles a Christmas fruitcake.
As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, Pittman’s annual pay would increase by $250,000 if the Razorbacks win six games in a single season, $500,000 if they win seven games, and $750,000 if the Hogs win eight or more games.
And Hogs athletic director Hunter Yurachek made sure the UA would likely save a few million dollars if Pittman was fired after winning less than half of its games in the coming seasons.
“If the Razorbacks fire him for convenience during the five-year term, the UA would owe him 75% of his remaining annual pay as long as the team wins 50% or more of its games. If the Razorbacks win less than 50% of their games and Pittman is fired, the UA would owe him 50% of his remaining annual pay,” according to beat reporter Tom Murphy.
For more of the back story leading up to Sam Pittman’s hire, check out the below column from mid November:
-by Tommy Foltz
Well, it looks like Sam Pittman is the fan favorite of the day. And, in fact, there are former players who are pushing for him. I appreciate that. It says a lot.
There is without a doubt in my mind that @CoachSamPittman is the perfect fit for @RazorbackFB. The best recruiter in the country and the best coach in the country. #WPS— Travis Swanson (@Tswan64) November 10, 2019
One thing is for sure. When he coached our O-line we were tough as nails. When he went to Georgia you could see the O-line shed it’s toughness like a snake sheds skin.
According to some of the former players, he’s also a great recruiter. There’s no question that he was an asset to our program and one could argue that if he was still here, Bielema would still be here and that Bielema’s program may not have folded up like a cheap suit if he hadn’t left. Having him back in Fayetteville would do nothing but help the program.
I don’t think the Hogs should take a chance on someone who’s never been a head coach. We’re trying to compete not only in the Southeastern Conference, but the SEC West, the toughest division in the history of college football.
He would have to come here as an assistant Head Coach, which pretty much guarantees that he won’t, unless we substantially increase his $865,000 salary that he receives from the MUCH BETTER Georgia Bulldogs?
He’s a great coach, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Hunter Yurachek is a smart guy. Smart enough to know that if he hires someone who’s never been a head coach and it goes south, he’ll be escorted out of the Broyles Center along with Pittman.
Pittman already knows what being a Razorback is all about, and how to recruit well to Arkansas. Hear him firsthand describe how he develops players at 1:05 below: