The search for a head coach of a major college football program always provides plenty of drama. The scene is rife for speculation, rumor and inference, and Arkansas’ latest hiring was no different along these lines.
How, exactly, did the hiring of Sam Pittman by athletic director Hunter Yurachek go down?
We won’t know for sure until Yurachek speaks about it, but until then we have details provided by Mike Irwin, the Pig Trail Nation analyst who has pieced together the story from multiple sources.
The story, of course, begins with Yurachek’s firing of Chad Morris.
Initially, according to Irwin, Yurachek had a short list of three coaches as his top candidates. In no particular order:
“All proven head coaches,” Irwin said. “Any of them would have been a good hire. I think Campbell turned him down right away. I think Norvell turned him down, and Leach wanted a lot of money. So at that point I think Yurachek zeroed in on Lane Kiffin and even had a verbal agreement with him.”
“But then after that they find out that Kiffin is talking to Ole Miss and then [Kiffin’s agent] Jimmy Sexton calls in and he tries to get Arkansas into a bidding war with Ole Miss. And Yurachek at that point just said, ‘We’re out. We’re looking elsewhere.'”
Enter Barry Lunney, Jr.
Barry Lunney, Jr. served as the interim head coach for Arkansas after Morris was fired. Now, he serves as the offensive coordinator of UT-San Antonio. In between, he became a dark horse to get the Hogs head coaching job, despite his relative lack of experience, on the strength of an outstanding interview.
Initially, Yurachek considered the interview with Lunney on the Thursday before Pittman was hired to be a “courtesy,” according to Irwin.
“I was told Lunney had a detailed budget presentation. ‘Here’s my total football budget,. We’ve been spending money on this. We need to move this over here. This is wrong. This is right. This is what I’m going to do.'”
“And it was so detailed and so logical that Yurachek just went ‘Wow.’ And then [Lunney] said, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do in recruiting. This is what we’ve been doing. Now we’re going to do this, this, this, and that.'” Your Yurachek goes, ‘Wow, that makes sense.'” And then [Lunney] had the names of most of his [assistant] coaches and apparently told Yurachek ‘If you don’t believe me, I will put you in touch with these people. And they can tell you if I get the job, they’re coming here.'”
“When I walked in here to work on Friday, I’m being told [Lunney] got the job,” Irwin continued. “And I was convinced it was true. So what happened? Boosters got involved — they wanted Butch Davis. Boosters didn’t want Barry Lunney because they felt like that if the image out there is that all Ole Miss stole the coach Arkansas wanted then Arkansas looks really dumb to hire a guy that’s never been a coordinator, and has basically been at programs that generally haven’t won. And they said ‘He can’t sell tickets until he wins. And how long is that gonna take?'”
Enter Sam Pittman
At that point, the boosters pitch Yurachek on the 68-year-old Butch Davis, the former Razorback and former Miami head coach who nows coaches FIU. But Yurachek had heard many good things about Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman, the former Hogs assistant coach who’s gotten universal acclaim from former players.
“So he calls and Pittman is not there, but his wife answered the phone. She starts crying because they wanted an interview so badly. So that impressed him. Then Yurachek talks to Pitman over the phone. It goes so well that he jumps on jet, goes to Georgia, and Pittman got hired in a matter of hours.”
Watch all of Mike Irwin’s stories and analysis on the episode of “Ask Mike”: