Quick Razorback turnaround speaks volumes for Pittman

As coaching dominoes fall left and right across the college football landscape, all is evidently quiet on the Northwest Arkansas front.

Word is that second-year Razorback head football coach Sam Pittman, who celebrated his 60th birthday Sunday by recruiting, is happy as the Hogs’ head coach, his professed dream job, after orchestrating the one of the biggest Power 5 turnarounds in recent memory with the Razorback program.

For his Hogs to finish tied for third in the ultra-competitive SEC West with an 8-4 record against a schedule judged by many to be the toughest in all of college football, Pittman and his excellent staff have worked wonders On the Hill. They and a dedicated bunch of Razorbacks have restored pride to the program that had suffered mightily since Bobby Petrino’s infamous motorcycle ride outside of Elkins in the spring of 2012.

When Pittman took the job after Arkansas’ negotiations with Lane Kiffin didn’t yield a deal and an interview with Eliah Drinkwitz went south, the Razorback program was in a sad state, having won just one SEC game in the previous three seasons.

Many Arkansas fans — including this one — had become so numb that we didn’t realize or at least didn’t want to admit how sorry the situation in Fayetteville was.

As deep as the valley was, Pittman, an Oklahoma native, who attended Lou Holtz’ Razorback football camp when he was in high school, saw a diamond in the rough with the Razorback program where he served as Bret Bielema’s assistant head and offensive line coach from 2013-2015 before joining Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia. Since taking the job, Pittman and his staff have worked tirelessly to restore the program back to respectability.

Pittman’s affable yet tough nature won over the hearts and minds of the Razorback players when he took over the program. When he was introduced as coach, Pittman met his players at the the door with a handshake and slap on the back. Walking among the players, Pittman told them, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”

That was in stark contrast to how the previous head coach Chad Morris met the players by being introduced in front of them and with the first words out of his mouth being him telling the players to sit up straight and to put their feet on the floor like they were a bunch of kindergarteners.

Morris was trying to put on a show for the cameras, while Pittman was just being himself.

Pittman’s reputation among coaches, his personality, and authenticity allowed him to attract a strong coaching staff including coordinators Barry Odom, former Missouri head coach, on defense and Kendal Briles on offense. Both have worked wonders with a somewhat short stick at Arkansas. Both will be head coaches, perhaps soon as the coaching cycle continues to churn. Hopefully they will stick around Fayetteville for another year or more.

As much as KJ Jefferson improved this season at quarterback — just from the Georgia game to the Missouri contest — I would love to see how he continues to mature under Briles’ tutelage during his junior season and perhaps beyond.

With so many senior and super-senior performers on defense, there will be a changing of the guard on that side of the ball in the spring. I’m interested in seeing what a second generation Razorback defense would look like under Odom.

Pittman and his staff have recruited well under the circumstances for the Hogs. I’m looking forward to what they will do with the wind of a very successful season at their back. The future is only looking brighter for the Razorbacks.

Who would have thought two years ago, that the Razorbacks would be in contention for a bowl trip to Florida?

If the bowl offer from the Gator or Citrus bowls does materialize as it seems likely, it will be the Hogs’ first Florida bowl trip since the days of McFadden, Jones, Hillis, and Nutt back in 2006. That would be a great reward for the players, the coaching staff, and their families for a job well done.

No one has linked Pittman to the Oklahoma job that’s open across the border. Pittman has said Arkansas is his final destination as a coach.

The Sooners are obviously looking for a splash hire after being jilted by Lincoln Riley, who pulled up stakes Sunday to head out to the West Coast to take over the Southern Cal program.

But coaching searches twist and turn before coming to a resolution. Some think Bob Stoops, who is serving as interim head coach, will take the program back over? Weirder thing have happened.

The Oklahoma job is one of the best in the nation, but with the Sooners entering the SEC in 2025 or perhaps before, it has never been more challenging. That will be an attraction to some coaches, and a deterrent to others.

With the Notre Dame job open among others, changes across the college-football landscape are coming fast and furious. As a Hog fan, it’s a fantastic feeling to know the Razorbacks are firmly back in the bowl picture this holiday season, and that Pittman is happy to be a Hog.

That said, Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek is probably already thinking of ways to make sure Pittman remains happy On the Hill, and based on the turnaround the program has experienced, whatever those ways are, Pittman has earned them.