FAYETTEVILLE – The defensive coordinator he hired has vastly more head coaching experience than Arkansas’ head coach.
But Sam Pittman thoroughly has charge of the Razorbacks program just like he had thorough charge of the offensive lines he’s coached since 1994 including 2013-2015 at Arkansas.
Pittman’s impact on the Arkansas linemen he coached caused several of those now ex-Hogs who played for him during the Bret Bielema era to lobby Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek for Georgia line coach Pittman’s head coaching candidacy to replace fired Coach Chad Morris last December.
Pittman’s prowess as a coach on the field and recruiter and good guy off the field attracted as defensive coordinator, Barry Odom, a fellow Oklahoman and esteemed Memphis and Missouri defensive coordinator elevated to Missouri head coach from 2016-2019.
The respect between the fellow Oklahomans (Pittman from Grove and Odom from Maysville) and longtime friends and coaching rivals have for each other have made a perfect mesh. Particularly for these troubled times of the coronavirus pandemic with the staff making the best of it with virtual meetings online replacing the spring practices that never occurred.
“I can’t give Coach Pittman enough praise on how he’s handled this,” Odom said. “There’s a lot of things that come your way as a head coach that they didn’t give you a handbook on how to do it.”
Certainly coaching and organizing through a pandemic would be one not in a handbook.
“He’s been awesome and he’s provided leadership at every turn of what has gone on,” Odom said. “It’s really provided a calmness around our organization and a direct plan of ‘This is what we’re doing and this is how we’re doing it, now let’s go to work.”
Sometimes the work includes much input from his assistants and sometimes it’s based on what the head coach decides alone.
Odom with both head coaching and second in command experience, and Pittman, always in high second command with 26 years coaching major college offensive lines for head coaches, after two years head coaching Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College, know that well.
The two take walks together sometimes in frequent conversations and other times silently formulating their own thoughts.
“I try to be a really good listener,” Odom said. “There’s times when I know it’s time for me to talk, then time when he’s not really interested in what I have to say. I think it’s important in everybody in a leadership opportunity that it’s good to have somebody you trust and bounce some things off of. There’s also times when it’s dead silent, he doesn’t want to talk and I don’t think he wants to listen. I’m good at playing off of that.”
Pittman lends an ear to all staffers, Odom said, and asks before he’s asked.
“In our staff meetings he asks questions and it’s not ever a one-sided conversation,” Odom said. “He opens it up for the floor. He takes all the information that he can from all of us. That’s what good leaders do, make sure that you surround yourself with really good people and you trust them. There’s times when you want their opinion and input, but then there’s also times in that chair, it comes down to sometimes you and only you. You are the only one who can make that decision. He’s got a great feel for it.”
Pittman says he knows he can go to Odom whenever he needs it for the myriad of first-time situations confronting a first-time head coach.
“If there is a decision I’m struggling with I’ll go with Barry because I know he’s had it in his path,” Pittman said. “He’ll be very honest and say “Sometimes I did this and wish I had done that.’ If there’s a situation I bring up where he felt he did something right or learned from the job by making mistake he’ll tell me about and we’ll discuss it. I’m very open with our entire staff. I don’t want to be closed-minded if there’s a better way to get things done.”