Sam Pittman and New Assistants

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – If you don’t recruit to Sam Pittman’s liking, you don’t last on his Arkansas football staff.

That seems the criteria for three of the four staff changes that Pittman made to his 10-man full-time assistant coaching staff after one year coaching the Razorbacks.

Receivers coach Justin Stepp, a Columbia, S.C. native, went home on his own accord to coach the receivers for new South Carolina Gamecocks Coach Shane Beamer.

Pittman replaced Stepp, the lone assistant Pittman retained in 2020 from the 2019 staff of fired former Arkansas Coach Chad Morris, with Kenny Guiton, the receivers coach in 2020 at Colorado State now at Arkansas on the strong recommendation of play-calling Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. Briles was the 2018 play-calling offensive coordinator at the University of Houston while Guiton coached Houston’s receivers.

Pittman’s next three hires: Tight ends coach Cody Kennedy, defensive line coach Jermial Ashley and promoted from defensive quality control assistant to linebackers coach Michael Scherer, all stemmed in large part because Pittman professes believing them better recruiters than those coaching those Arkansas positions in 2020.

Though all have been toiling for Arkansas since last week or longer, Pittman on Thursday for the first time publicly discussed all four new staffers and made them first-time available to media.

With an aggregate average age of 31, all are younger than the assistants they replace. Was that by design or just how it played out?

“”That’s really how it played out,” Pittman said. “I was trying to bring in recruiters. Most of the time if you’re a good recruiter, you’re a good coach. To get Arkansas where we all believe that it should be and where it’s going to be, we have to continue to improve our recruiting. So that was a big part of all these hires, along with their coaching ability.”

Against an extremely tough entirely SEC schedule that because of the covid-19 pandemic subtracted Arkansas’ four nonconference games and added two SEC games to the standard eight, the Razorbacks went 3-7.

It marked significant improvement from the successive 2-10 overall/ 0-8 in the SEC seasons under Morris, but not where Pittman wants the Hogs to be.

ESPN ranked Pittman’s second recruiting class a solid 21st nationally but only eighth in the ultra competitive 12-team SEC.

“You want to change your room, you’ve got to go get the players to do that,” Pittman said of upgrading recruiting. “We can’t just go, ‘Jamil Walker, (the strength coach) you get these guys bigger and nastier and stronger and all those things.’ We’ve got to help him, as well, and I think these guys will.”

What does Pittman, with Barry Odom second in command as the veteran defensive coordinator/associate head coach and former Missouri head coach, seek from young assistants?

“”He probably has to have maturity above his age,” Pittman said. “He’s got to be an old whatever his age is. Certainly a guy that has a work ethic to him. A hungry person to learn. But I’m not sure if age was a dictator of being a good coach, or hell, everybody would be my age. We’d have a whole staff of 60 year-olds. Well, I’m 59, but I want a guy that can coach, a guy that can recruit, and I don’t really care how old he is.”

The young newcomers do see an age advantage related to recruiting young men out of high school, junior college or the transfer portal.

“You know I think it helps to be able to relate to the kids.” Scherer said with the others saying much the same. “It wasn’t too long ago that I went through that process of having to go to school, do football and everything else that comes along with it and did it at a high level and successfully. So I think that is a big part of it. I’ve been in these kids shoes even from a recruiting standpoint not that long ago.”

Guiton from his two years at Houston joins Pittman’s staff with extensive recruiting throughout out Texas, a key Arkansas recruiting territory, and also Louisiana having assisted at Louisiana Tech. His ties to Briles obviously bind him to Arkansas.

“My relationship with Coach Briles is what got me in the door,” Guiton said. “We had an awesome year and we just clicked. And I think it’s gotten me where I am today.”

From watching Arkansas film, Guiton said Briles’ offense continues evolving.

“I think it’s cleaner,” Guiton said. “It’s easier verbiage. Back when we were at Houston, it was a lot of memorization and guys just literally had to remember a certain signal, see it and go. Now it’s cleaner. I think it’s easier on the guys to play even faster.”

Especially when Treylon Burks plays receiver.

“You get the ball in his hands and say ‘Hey, go big boy, go make a play,” Guiton said.

Pittman said Guiton “has already won the players over.”

“I love the guy,” Pittman said. “Just a very charismatic, exciting guy to be around. I think he’s an Arkansas fit and I know he’s a great recruiter and we need some more recruiters in the state of Texas.”

Kennedy, who had just joined the Southern Mississippi staff when Pittman wooed him to Arkansas, was the Georgia 2018 offensive graduate assistant during Pittman’s 2016-2019 tenure coaching Georgia’s offensive line for Kirby Smart.

“Cody and I coached together at Georgia, and coached for a good friend of mine in Willie Fritz at Tulane,” Pittman said. “They set school records in rushing. I had coached tight ends in my career one time in 1996 at Cincinnati. I thought it was a great learning experience for me, to learn more about the game other than just the front and the box. I talked Cody, into coming here and doing that for us. Outstanding person, outstanding recruiter. We’re awfully happy to have him as our new tight ends coach.”

Kennedy said Pittman is on his personal “Mount Rushmore” of coaches most influencing him and enthuses his yearning to coach tight ends.

“It’s the Swiss Army knife of the positions,” Kennedy said. “The more the tight end can contribute, the more high pace and high functioning the offense can be. If you have tight ends that can stretch the field vertically and impact the passing game, that puts a lot of linebackers in conflict on coverage. If they’re able to come into the run game and into the box and create blocks off the backside or leading on blocks in the perimeter, that can obviously change the run game. So, they’re able to impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

Scherer, the youngest of the new coaches finishing his linebacking career under Missouri Coach Odom in 2016 after playing for defensive coordinator Odom, was an Odom Mizzou grad assistant then served Pittman and Odom in quality control in 2020. He was a fulltime assistant the Florida game week when Pittman was quarantined by covid-19 and Odom was acting head coach.

“Michael knows Barry’s system inside and out,” Pittman said. “The kids that we have on our team raved about him and his coaching ability.”

Scherer will recruit Missouri, another key Arkansas recruiting area.

Ashley, coaching the University of Tulsa defensive line the last six years, is the lone assistant of the four with no prior association to either Pittman, Odom, or Briles.

“ I did not know Jermial, but I watched tape after tape after tape, trying to find our new d-line coach,” Pittman said. “I love the way his kids played. Heard some outstanding things about him when I called and asked different folks about him. So, I’m very, very pleased to have him. Obviously he’ll have Oklahoma connections and Dallas connections for us in recruiting.”

Ashley researched Arkansas as Arkansas researched him.

“First and foremost the opportunity with Coach Odom and Coach Pittman,” Ashley said of coming to Arkansas. “The people that I knew that really had a relationship with those guys spoke very highly of them and had nothing but great things to say about them.”

None, other than Ashley said some “spot recruiting” for Tulsa have recruited in Arkansas before but all will have a piece of recriuting the instate pie in addition to their out of state assignments, Pittman said.

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