FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman won’t make the trip to Gainesville because of COVID, but he has full confidence in his staff.
Barry Odom, who was 25-25 the past four years as head coach at Missouri, will serve as interim head coach. He will also still be the defensive coordinator while Kendal Briles continues with the offense and Scott Fountain special teams. Pittman knew when he assembled his staff they would be ready for instances such as this.
“The hiring process of coaches is the most important thing you can do,” Pittman said. “It really is, because anybody who thinks, ‘Hey, me, me, me, me, me’ is ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.’ It takes all of us.
“Now, whenever you go into a meeting, an interview, you need to have a list of candidates that you can get. Not Fantasy Island. Ones that you can get. And it helps if you know about them, because then you can talk to Hunter (Yurachek), you can talk to whomever you’re interviewing with and say, ‘Yeah, I can get this guy.’ I was very honest with Barry. I said, ‘He’s had a head coaching job offered to him. I think he wants to come to Arkansas with me if that deems appropriate, if I get the job. I can’t guarantee it, but he’d be the top guy on the list.’
“Really, most of the guys we have here were the top ones on the list. … Kendal, that was a different story because I knew I wasn’t real comfortable with exactly who I was going to hire on offense. So we interviewed three guys. He happened to be one of them. I didn’t know him. That’s a little scary. Obviously, it’s not now because he’s a wonderful guy, great coordinator. He elected to hire Cooper. I told Barry and I told Kendal if they would take the job, that hey could [hire a guy for their side of the ball]… I’d want to meet them and talk to them and all those things, but they would have one hire on the staff, just to have somebody familiar with what they do on both sides of the ball. And be familiar with those guys as far as people. And I trusted them, and of course, Sam Carter and Jon Cooper are outstanding coaches as well. So that’s kind of how that went. The importance to me of starting a program is who you are around. I was really fortunate in being able to hire the right people.”
In addition to Pittman not making the trip, quarterback Feleipe Franks will return to the stadium where he played on the other side for the past four years. But Pittman said there won’t be any motivational tactics involved with any of that.
“Yeah, that’s a good question,” Pittman said. “We haven’t used it at all to be honest with you. I’ve found over my years that you really don’t need to announce reasons to get fired up, because the kids already know. They already understand. Some of them will want to play for Feleipe and this, that and the other. But really they just want to play for each other. But obviously everybody knows about Feleipe not going to — was at Florida and we want him to play well when he goes back. But we’d want him to play well if he’s playing Texas A&M again, you know? So we don’t use that too much. I think the kids probably use it amongst themselves for whatever reason they deem.”
Pittman talked about when he will talk to the team for the last time and his plan for when to turn it over to Odom.
“Well, I haven’t thought the after game deal to be honest with you,” Pittman said. “I’m gonna talk to them tomorrow at the normal time. We’ll zoom that in when I usually have my talk. Some coaches talk Friday night to their players. Some guys have before they get on the bus meetings and all that. I don’t. I talk to them Friday and then I talk to them basically right before we go out to the game. I’m talking about as a team. Obviously I talk them all the time when we’re going to movies or eating whatever it may be.
“I will have my meeting with the coaching staff on Saturday morning. After that we’re gonna turn that thing over to the coaches and Barry is gonna be the voice of our team right before the game, certainly at halftime and postgame. I just think it’s unfair for Barry, I think it’s unfair for the coaching staff if I continue to stick my head in there when I’m not there. At some point the kids have got to believe in who is there and I’m gonna cut that cord. I’m gonna cut that cord on Friday sometime in the afternoon.”
While he is out with COVID, Pittman has still kept all his media requirements and things instead of giving that to Odom.
“I didn’t think it was positive for our football team to take one hell of a defensive coordinator away to talk to the media,” Pittman said. “I didn’t think that’s the best way for us to beat Florida. Now remember, we’re in the win business now. So however we decided after I got the COVID, how to go beat Florida, the best way we had, that’s what we decided to do. What I didn’t want to do is add any extra responsibilities on Barry that we didn’t have to. And then obviously he has to and wants to address the team before we run out and he has to talk to the media at the game and he has to address the media at halftime and he has to make calls during the game. But other than that, I wanted him to be the defensive coordinator because that’s the best chance we have to win.”
Arkansas and Florida will kickoff at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday night and the game will be televised on ESPN.