FAYETTEVILLE – Georgia Bulldogs offensive line coach Sam Pittman, the effective and popular Arkansas offensive line coach for Bret Bielema from 2013-2015, has become the top candidate to be the Razorbacks new head football coach, sources and media outlets reported Sunday afternoon.
Several former Razorbacks who played for Pittman have lobbied for his Arkansas return as head coach.
Because Pittman has not been a college head coach, his name seldom has been included among those reported to be in Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek’s considerations to replace Chad Morris, fired Nov. 10 with a 2-8 overall, 0-8 SEC record for 2019 after a 2-10, 0-8 Arkansas debut in 2018.
Barry Lunney Jr., Arkansas’ tight ends coach since 2013 and the interim coach completing Arkansas’ 2-10, 0-8 season with 56-20 and 24-14 losses stuck playing nationally No. 1 SEC champion LSU in Baton Rouge, La. and taking a team depleted by injuries and a mumps outbreak vs. Missouri in Little Rock, Eliah Drinkwitz, an Alma native and head coach of Sun Belt Conference champion Appalachian State, and Bryan Harsin, the former Arkansas State head coach and coach of Mountain West champion Boise State, were believed most under Yurachek’s consideration following Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin’s decision to become the head coach at Ole Miss.
Under then first-year Arkansas coach and former Wisconsin coach Bielema, Pittman arrived with Arkansas struggling off a disappointing 4-8 2012 season under interim coach John L. Smith.
Bielema’s first Arkansas team went 3-9, 0-8 but Pittman coached senior and eventual NFL center Travis Swanson earned All-SEC. Pittman began assembling and nurturing a young line that included stalwarts Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper and as the teams progressed to 7-6, 2-6 and a Texas Bowl victory over Texas in 2014 and 8-5, 5-3 with a Liberty Bowl victory over Kansas State, included linemen Frank Ragnow, an All-American currently playing for the Detroit Lions and All-American Sebastian Tretola.
Pittman, 58, is considered both a strong coach and strong recruiter and while at Arkansas was sought by Nick Saban to coach Alabama’s offensive line before he eventually parted company with Bielema in 2016.
Arkansas’ offensive line play noticeably went down in the 7-6 and 4-8 final Bielema seasons and these last two seasons as Pittman since 206 coached the offensive line at Georgia under Kirby Smart. The 2016 Bulldogs went 8-5, then 13-2 in 2017 with a SEC championship before losing to Alabama in the national championship game, 11-3 with a SEC East division championship in 2018 and 12-2 in 2019 winning a SEC East division championship with a Sugar Bowl game to come against Big 12 runner-up Baylor.
While not an Arkansan, Pittman has extensive familiarity to the region hailing from nearby Grove, Okla. and playing his college football at Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kan. Pittman was a head high school coach in 1987 and 1988 at Princeton, Mo. and 1989 and ’90 at Trenton, Mo. then coached offensive line in 1991 at Hutchinson, (Kan.) Community College and elevated for 1992 and ;93 to Hutchinson head coach.
From 1994 to 2019 Pittman has coached offensive lines at Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Western Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Northern Illinois again, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia.