Legendary University of Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles once opined that you can never pay a great coach too much, and you can never pay a bad coach too little.
While Broyles didn’t like hiring head coaches without head coaching experience, I think under the circumstances, he’d approve of the deal current Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek cut with the Razorbacks’ latest head football coach Sam Pittman.
Pittman, who was introduced Monday as the Razorbacks head football coach at a pep rally before he held his first news conference with local media, will make $3 million a year for the duration of the five-year contract, according to his employment agreement the UA released Monday.
Arkansas hired Pittman away from the Georgia Bulldogs where he served as Kirby Smart’s associate head coach and offensive line coach since he departed Arkansas after a three-year stint as offensive line coach under Bret Bielema from 2013-15.
While there was interest in the Razorback job, some of it was just in passing and some of it was for leverage. Though Arkansas reportedly came close to a deal with former Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin, whom Ole Miss hired Saturday, Yurachek said Pittman was the only coach who received an employment agreement to sign from Arkansas.
There had been contact through Pittman’s agent prior to Sunday, but the 58-year-old coach met Yurachek, interviewed, and accepted the job all in the same day.
There are incentives to Pittman’s deal, and, of course, dreaded terms of a buyout. However, the buyout isn’t the golden parachute that former UA athletics director Jeff Long regularly issued to his hires, although it does remain punitive if Pittman is fired without cause.
If Pittman were fired before his contract were up for convenience, the UA would owe him $6 million if it were before Dec. 1, 2021. Thereafter the buyout would drop by half each year. However, if Pittman’s record was under .500 at the time of his dismissal, he would receive 50 percent of his annual compensation. Likewise if Pittman opted to leave Arkansas, he would owe the UA corresponding amounts.
Yurachek said Pittman wasn’t too concerned about the terms of the buyout because the latest head Hog plans on winning.
If he does win, there are incentives, and those incentives speak to the risk Pittman took in accepting the Razorback head coaching job and the general state of the program that has lost 19 consecutive SEC football games dating back to October of 2017.
Pittman will earn an extra $250,000 if the Razorbacks reach six wins, $500,000 with a seventh win, and $750,000 with eight or more victories. Bonuses kicking in at just six wins seem pretty generous until you consider the depths to which the Razorback program has sunk.
When Yurachek made his first major hire at Arkansas — Eric Musselman as head basketball coach last April — he made it clear that one of the most attractive qualities about Musselman was his desire for not just a raise and a more prestigious job but also that he wanted the Arkansas job in particular.
Yurachek is now two for two on that front with Pittman, who grew up a Razorback fan in Grove, Okla,, and even attended summer Razorback football camps in the late 1970s when Lou Holtz was Arkansas’ head coach (1977-83.)
Pittman became emotional stopping just short of breaking down in tears a couple of times while expressing how much being Arkansas’ head coach meant to him during his introduction to fans and media at gathering in the Walker Pavilion.
A lot of different things have happened during head coach introductions dating back to the first one I saw televised when Ken Hatfield was introduced as Holtz’ successor, but I’ve never seen a coach become that emotional.
Some like SEC Network commentator Paul Finebaum found it awkward. He generally questioned the hire in the first place, citing Pittman’s lack of head coaching experience on the college level.
However, there are many examples of assistant coaches being elevated to head coach such as Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Kirby Smart at Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt at Finebaum’s alma mater Tennessee, and Dan Mullen at Mississippi State just to name a few.
Heck, Vince Lombardi was the offensive line coach for the New York Giants before Green Bay took a risk on him, and the Packers at that time was just as monumental of a rebuilding challenge as the Razorbacks are today.
Finebaum and other naysayers can say what they want, but Pittman’s desire and passion for the Razorbacks on Monday endeared him too much of the state, and honestly, what really matters is what Arkansas fans think of the hire, not outsiders.
Of course as soon as the Pittman stepped off the podium, the time started ticking on his honeymoon clock.
Pittman understands that. He’s a veteran of many college football staffs, and he has seen coaches like Smart at Georgia and Butch Davis at North Carolina run successful programs, and experienced the mistakes made by other coaches along the way. That experience, much of it in the SEC, he brings to the table with him as Arkansas’ head coach.
Obviously, there will be a learning curve. There always is when a worker is elevated to a more responsible position, but Pittman knows the SEC like no other remaining candidate for the job did. He also knows Arkansas, and has a work ethic that has carried him to a successful career as an assistant coach. That blue-collar work ethic is what he is counting on to turn Arkansas’ program around.
Currently, he is recruiting players both on the team and those prep players, whom Arkansas has developed a relationship with as well as other in-state players whom the previous staff might not have paid enough attention to.
Pittman was transparent in saying that his goal is to retain as many commitments as he possibly can for the Dec. 18-20 early signing period, and then hit the ground running on Jan. 17 when the dead period is over in an attempt to finish off the class as strong as possible when the late signing period opens Feb. 5.
Pittman said he hoped to make several assistant coaching hires this week, but added that some coaches he is interested in interviewing are coaching in bowl games.
Pittman is not a proponent of the spread offense. He does like the run-pass option and the midline option. Defensively, he favors an aggressive front with plenty of pre-snap movement to disguise its intent.
No doubt he will lean heavily on his offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator in making decisions on the scheme.
Beyond scheme, Pittman said the Razorbacks will play smart, hard, and with toughness.
Toughness has been missing from the program dating back to his departure from Bielema’s staff to join Smart at Georgia.
In a meeting Sunday night with the players, he said his phone was blowing up with texts from scores of coaches ready to join “us.”
That “us” is important because for whatever reason the Razorback players never unified behind former Razorback coach Chad Morris and his staff. If Pittman is to be successful, he has to win over the current Razorbacks first and foremost.
With his transparency, genuineness, and passion for the this job, I’m guessing Pittman will win them over. Then it’s work, work, work until the Razorbacks return to respectability.