Why Sam Pittman is the Best College Football Head Coaching Hire Since Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart

Since Sam Pittman was hired as head coach in December 2019, Arkansas football’s rise back into prominence has been storybook. The fanbase is back to wondering how high the team will be ranked in each Sunday’s polls and planning their entire weekends around Saturday’s games.

It’s clear that the excitement levels for Arkansas football are at the highest they have been in nearly a decade.

What is hard to believe now, is that so many people were skeptical that the Pittman experiment would work. It’s obvious that fans and players bought in quickly, but those on the outside were quick to dismiss that this could work.

Most of the national media more reserved in their skepticism, but a select few didn’t hold back.

Here’s Hot Springs native Dan Wolken of USA Today:

And Brandon Walker of Barstool Sports with probably the worst take on Pittman’s hire:

Some, like John Talty of AL.com, have at least admitted how wrong they were about the hire.

Regardless, it’s obvious Pittman was the man for the job. Now, the case can be made that not only was Sam Pittman the best hire of his coaching cycle, but that he has been the best hire in college football coach hire since the man he will face off against this Saturday — his old boss Kirby Smart.

The Kirby Smart Hire in 2015

In 2015, Kirby Smart was hired at Georgia to replace Mark Richt who had averaged nearly 10 wins in his 15 seasons in Athens. However, he was never able to take the Bulldogs to that next level of consistently competing for national championships.

Smart played at Georgia from 1995-1998, so he knew the pressure and expectations that came with the job. In his second season, Smart was able to lead the Bulldogs to the SEC championship and College Football Playoff berth, which ended in a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the national championship game.

Georgia has consistently remained one of the top teams in the nation under Smart. They have recruited some of the top talent in the nation, have been firmly in the hunt for playoff berths, and are favorites alongside Alabama for the national championship this season.

Just as with Sam Pittman’s hire, however, many scoffed at Smart’s hire. They painted him as another Nick Saban disciple destined to fail.

Since 2015, there have been plenty of big-time college football coach hires that were widely praised, but never panned out.

College Football Coach Hires Since 2015

The ones that first come to mind are Tom Herman’s hiring at Texas in 2016, Scott Frost’s hiring at Nebraska in 2017, Willie Taggert’s hiring at Florida State in 2017 and Jeremy Pruitt’s hiring at Tennessee in 2018. They all applauded by most fans and “experts” alike.

The only hire still standing from that list is Scott Frost at Nebraska, but his seat is becoming hotter by the day.

There have been more big-time hires in this timespan that have succeeded thus far. This includes Ed Orgeron’s hiring at LSU in 2016, Lincoln Riley’s hiring at Oklahoma in 2017, Mario Christobal’s hiring at Oregon in 2018, Ryan Day’s hiring at Ohio State in 2019 and Jimbo Fisher’s hiring at Texas A&M in 2018.

The big difference in these hires so far is that they have just sustained the success that their respective programs had before. None of these hires have yet taken their programs to that next level and then shown an ability to keep it there.

Here’s a look at how some of the big-time hires have stacked up since 2015:

How the Sam Pittman Hire Stacks Up

When looking at coaches hired in the same cycle as Sam Pittman, there’s no question he was the best. Mike Norvell, Eli Drinkwitz and Mike Leach have all had their fair share of struggles.

Lane Kiffin is the only coach who has been able to have success close to Pittman’s level. He has Rebels ranked No. 12 in the country, four spots behind Arkansas, ahead of their matchup with Alabama this Saturday.

It should be noted that in their first meeting last season, Pittman and Arkansas walked away with an impressive 33-21 victory over Kiffin’s Rebels.

Looking at all hires made since Kirby Smart, and it’s hard not to say that Pittman has been the best when it comes to ability to complement transform a program’s trajectory.

Again, we’re factoring in the situation each of these hires inherited compared to Pittman. Almost all the schools mentioned have traditionally had more success than Arkansas in the last decade and are usually powerhouses when it comes to recruiting.

While this also applies to the situation Kirby Smart inherited at Georgia, he’s been able to elevate their success to a level like Alabama’s and so far has maintained it. Other coaches mentioned were never able to get their programs to that next level in the years they had.

Yet, Pittman has Arkansas ranked inside the Top 10 nationally in just his second season. Even more impressive is the fact that Arkansas has had the toughest schedule in college football both years. Being in the SEC West usually means that you must be patient with new coaching hires, but it’s only taken 14 games for Pittman to make Arkansas football a legitimate threat in the division. 

Going from just four wins in the span of two seasons, to being 4-0 and nationally ranked this quickly is almost unheard of and sets Pittman apart from other hires. Having success that quickly isn’t a fluke. He’s put together an amazing staff, put in the work and made the most of his first head coaching opportunity so far. He is quickly becoming one of the most beloved and respected coaches in the country. 

Heck, they’re even making mini-documentaries about the job he’s done:

While most head coaches just want A job, Sam Pittman has made it clear that he’s always wanted THIS job. He wants to be here; he understands what it means to people in this state and he’s proud to represent this state. That’s why it feels so much more special to watch him succeed.  

Pittman gets it. He deserves all the praise, respect, and admiration he’s been getting. What we’re witnessing from Arkansas football is special.

Best yet, it’s just the beginning. 


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