FAYETTEVILLE — It’s obvious Sam Pittman wasn’t Arkansas’ first choice when the coaching search opened, but on hindsight maybe he should have been.
Pittman was hired on Dec. 8 and then introduced one day later. He wasn’t the splashy hire that probably Lane Kiffin from Florida Atlantic would have been nor the hot candidate that Appalachian State’s Eliah Drinkwitz was, but he has proven to be a solid one.
One of the questions about Pittman was he had never been a head coach except for two years at junior college. The person he was working for at Georgia, Kirby Smart, had never been a head coach either and was doing a very good job.
The important thing for Pittman was to surround himself with excellent coordinators and he did that, but actually took it one step more. He not only hired an excellent defensive coordinator in Barry Odom, but he got someone who has been a head coach in the SEC for four years. Not only will Odom give him a very good defensive coordinator, but someone he can lean on for any and all details related to being a head coach in the SEC. That will prove to be invaluable for Pittman.
Another knock on Pittman was he hadn’t called plays. He doesn’t need to when he has an offensive coordinator like Kendal Briles. He’s one of the best in the business. Rakeem Boyd had to be wearing a wide smile when he saw how Briles used Cam Akers at Florida State this season.
One can’t forget the Western Kentucky game where Arkansas was struggling offensively, but yet Boyd only carried eight times. He made the most of those touches rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns. But Arkansas’ best player wasn’t getting enough touches.
That won’t happen with Briles. Akers was Florida State’s best player and this season Briles was very creative utilizing him. Akers rushed 231 times for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns. Akers will skip the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Briles also used him in the passing game and so the NFL now has a very good idea of what they are getting in Akers.
Now one thing that will be important for Pittman is being able to retain Briles and Odom for at least two or three years to stabilize a program that has seen too much change in recent years. If by chance Briles or Odom leaves it will be a must that Pittman find someone equally good.
Pittman has proven to be a great recruiter. He is one of the best to come through Arkansas. The one assistant similar to Pittman in that regard was Jim Washburn who was on Danny Ford’s staff. Washburn and Pittman got the majority of the ones they went after. Fitz Hill was another very good recruiter at Arkansas.
In addition to Briles and Odom, it appears that Pittman has made some other very good hires. Brad Davis is recruiting on the offensive line much like Pittman did when he came over from Tennessee.
Sam Carter is a young coach, but he has hit the ground running in recruiting. It’s obvious he’s very hungry to prove himself in recruiting and he has a chance to really make a mark in this class.
Arkansas’ fans are already aware of what Justin Stepp can do on the recruiting trail. He signed the No. 1 ranked group of wide receivers in the Class of 2019.
Rion Rhoades was considered possibly the best football coach in the Jayhawk Conference as he led Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College to a 10-2 record. He should prove to be a very valuable addition coaching linebackers and recruiting the junior colleges and high schools.
Jon Cooper is young like Carter and should be a good coach. UCF has had a very good team the two years he was there.
Pittman still has three more hires to announce in addition to Cooper. The word is at least one of them is another coach that will leave fans very impressed with who he hired. He still has to fill a spot at running back, defensive line and then either another defensive coach or someone to coach special teams.