FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ new head football coach Sam Pittman was emotional during his introductory press conference, but made it clear he’s elated to be at back with the Razorbacks.
Pittman, who was an assistant at Arkansas from 2013-15, was hired on Sunday by Arkansas’ Hunter Yurachek. Pittman jumped at the chance to be a Razorback again as is his wife Jamie.
“Jamie’s from Pittsburg, Kansas,” Pittman said. “We did not get a divorce when we left Arkansas for a year, but she did not talk to me for a year when I was in Athens. She just loved Arkansas. She was like me and when the opportunity came to come back, she was ecstatic and she’s still that way and honestly, so am I. It’s hard to explain the passion that you have for a program. It’s a lot easier to show it. When I was up there, nobody wants to cry or tear up or anything else, but man, if that’s how you feel about it, then more power to it, and that’s how I feel. And that’s how she feels.
“I don’t know. I’ve always just been a Razorback. I think it has something to do with family in Russellville and loving the Hogs and sending us sympathy cards when they won the Orange Bowl and beat OU and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t effecting me. I was an Arkansas fan. You know what it really is? It’s the people, the people of the state. You ever been any place like it? In your life? There ain’t nothing like Arkansas. It’s the people. Who doesn’t want to be a part of it? I do. So did Jamie.”
While Pittman is glad to be back he inherits a team that is coming off back-to-back 10-loss seasons. He was asked how daunting is the task in front of him?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Pittman said. “We don’t have a whole lot to do with that, to be honest with you. If I didn’t think we could put out a good product out on that field, then I wouldn’t have come to Arkansas. It’s going to be a challenge. But Kirby (Smart) and them have a challenge at Georgia, too. I mean, a challenge is a challenge. We got a ways to go, but we’re going to work at it, we’re going to go after it.”
Pittman addressed how he thinks they can get the momentum going their way despite some rough stretches recently by the program.
“We can breathe confidence, we can breathe work ethic from us as a staff, communication to our players,” Pittman said. “You ever see a program that was pretty good, not too bad, then they started listening to Twitter, looking at Twitter, listening to the TV. Same way with recruiting it’s the same thing. You can’t be any good at anything if you don’t believe you are. You can’t. We have to breathe life, it’s not that drastic I don’t mean that, but we have to hire a staff that believes in our players and believes in the program. We all go out there and communicate to our players. It’s about hard work. It’s about toughness. It’s about all these things, but the No. 1 thing we have to do is get our players believing we can go win as a group. The only way that’s gonna happen is we show them we believe in them. Hopefully we showed that last night to start with.”
Pittman has had several coaches get in touch with him about coming to Arkansas with him. He talked about how his timetable for the staff is coming together.
“We’re going to have some of the staff as early as today, tomorrow,” Pittman said. “Then I don’t really have a timetable for, it would be nice to have some more people in here, maybe we can get another guy or two, maybe get to four, five or six guys on the staff by the end of the week. Some of them are still coaching. So we’re going to have to figure it out a little bit.
“We have to have enough to go recruiting and have to have enough to keep the guys we have. If we can keep the guys we have, then we’re going to have to get full-fledged ready to go and have one heck of a second signing day. That’s just reality. So let’s go get it. Let’s go get the best ones left. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Pittman addressed what his offense at Arkansas could look like next fall.
“Well, you know if you look at the RPO game with the abilities for your quarterback to run and or throw,” Pittman said. “You know nowadays if you get big, big if you are going 12-plus, if you are going 12-22, 21-plus in this league you better have the real deal because they’re gonna have guys at 320, 330 pounds on the other side. I’m not telling you that the philosophy has gone to spread because that’s a lie, but I think you do have to have the edge covered.
“But I don’t think you can just turn around down and down and hand the ball off to the tailback and say let’s go sic’em. You might be able to do it in the third and fourth quarter, but so what we want is to be versatile. I love the RPO game, I like the quarterback read game. I like the 11 which is one tight end and three wide outs. I like to throw the flash screens and different things that is into the RPO system.”
Don’t expect Arkansas’ offense to look like the one when he was in Fayetteville as offensive line coach.
“Again, when I was here at Arkansas the first time we played bully ball,” Pittman said. “It worked for us at times and sometimes it didn’t. It’s like football. I think there’s a time to bully people well, but you better have the guys if you are gonna try to bully somebody. Right now, we will be more of a pin and pull, more of the RPO system. Things where we can get angles in blocking and edges as fast as we can with either reads or pulling linemen to get out there.”
On the other side of the ball Pittman talked about what he wants on defense.
“I like an aggressive defense, but you know … I like the fact that when they’re in big, we’re in big,” Pittman said. “In other words, I like what we called before, it’s an odd, four four-eye deal. It’s this far from Bear. When they go big, right now it’s kind of the trend in the SEC for guys to go odd inside shades on the tackles, but the bottom line is you can’t double team them. I like that.
“The University of Georgia plays that kind of ball. Then, you know, they talk about wreaking havoc, if you stand still in this league, you’re going to be in trouble, so you have to have some kind of movement, some type of disguise, some type of late disguise. But to be honest with you, trends come and go, and if you’re an odd front and you’re a fire-zone team, that has come and that has gone because people have answers for it.
“Right now, the new thing is, which I like, is what we call the heavy front, where it’s a shade four-eye, three and a five, and all we really ever got last year is some time of one coverage so they can put another guy in the box. I like that, but you’re going to have to have corners and safeties and if you can do that, man, you can make it hard on a team because now your extra runner as a quarterback has a defender responsible for him. I want to be aggressive. I do want to move, but the two-gap system of things are almost – not totally – but kind of a thing of the past now a little bit.”
Pittman admitted he had wanted to talk to Yurachek earlier about the job, but there was one issue with that.
“Well I didn’t know Hunter and if I’d had his phone number I would have just called it, but nobody would give it to me,” Pittman said. “No I didn’t know him. I knew a lot of people here so I tried to get people to him. Judy Henry, my agent out of Little Rock, she tried to get to Hunter. And then the process just happened through Sunday. It was that simple. I had an interview, talked and, I don’t know, I convinced him. It’s awesome.”