By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman was an assistant at Arkansas from 2013-2015 before leaving to take a job at Georgia under Kirby Smart.
He stayed at Georgia until after the 2019 season when he accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas. While Georgia and Arkansas are just two of the seven Power 5 schools he has coached it’s easy to see Smart influenced a lot of what he does today that has made him successful with the Hogs. Pittman is 12-11 as head coach at Arkansas including a 2020 season that included an all-SEC schedule.
On Thursday, Pittman talked about how he’s a better head coach after working for Smart.
“Well, that’s such a good question,” Pittman said. “In go down a list. Number one, of the urgency of recruiting in the SEC. And I felt like I recruited hard when I was here before and all that but not like your hair is on fire. So, that’s one. The templates of practice are from Georgia, which were from, I’m assuming, Alabama. Sitting back in four years, you can learn from anybody, but when your team is winning the SEC, they’re winning the Rose Bowl, they’re going to the National Championship, you would assume more than they just have really good players. You would assume that they have a really good system. And so, without Kirby, I can promise you, I’d try my hardest but I wouldn’t be as successful. I don’t know. That makes me sound like we’ve done something. I don’t mean that, but I wouldn’t have the success that we’ve had, had I not gone to Georgia, and that’s 100% real.”
Other Power 5 stops for Pittman have been Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and North Carolina. His first SEC job was offensive line coach with the Vols in 2012. He stayed there one year before heading to Arkansas and has been in the SEC ever since.
Pittman went into the hiring process with Hunter Yurachek talking about the assistants he felt he could hire.
“When you interview for a job, you’ve got to have an idea kind of because the AD’s going to ask you.” Pittman said. “You know. If you’re an O-line coach, you ain’t never had no head coaching. Who can you get? And you say, Barry Odom. He’s been a coach. Okay, well, that’ll help you. You know, things of that nature. So, I already had several of those guys.”
Pittman admitted there’s things he has learned as a head coach that allows him to do things differently in fall camp.
“I learned a lot, and I learn a lot,” Pittman said. “I’ve made so many mistakes. I don’t mean to, and it’s not that I haven’t thought about it and things of that nature. I think people are going to make mistakes, it’s just if they are going to learn from them. Yeah, I made a lot of mistakes and I have to get better at a lot of things.
I will say this, I try in practice to do everything we can in practice to where if it’s in the game, we’re taking our players from ‘I hope this works’ to ‘Hey we practiced it enough, I know it’s going to work.’ So everything you do in practice, you think about Saturday and you go okay, when we’re in this situation are the kids going to hope that we can do it or are they going to know that we can do it, because we’ve got a great plan, we’ve executed it and we’ve done it at practice. I remember when I was an offensive line coach and I’m not prepared for something. Shame on me by the way. I’m going into the game and man if they move a lot, I hope they don’t move a lot today. I hope they don’t twist game us a tremendous amount.
“Where then you take your game and your coaching into ‘you know what? If they do, we’ve got this, this and this, and we can crush ‘em with it. If they do this, we’re ready for it. We’ve practiced it.’ Those are probably the biggest things in coaching that I’m continuing to try to do. Like I thought we were really good in two-minute last year, and it was because, in my opinion, we did it so much. Even some of the guys on staff thought it was too much. But I wanted not only them to be prepared for that situation, I wanted to be prepared for that situation. Because at that point and time, it’s that last minute, minute and a half that’s going to decide the outcome of the ball game. So, I’m trying to get better at that. So everything on our piece of paper and on our board and stuff in our tape, I know. And if we can do that at practice, we’ve done a pretty good job as a coaching staff. There’s a lot of things. Everything keeps hitting, NIL and portal and all. There’s something new all the time. And you make mistakes, and hopefully you learn from them.”
Pittman feels other coaches also have learned from Smart including Shane Beamer at South Carolina.
“Yeah, Kirby,” Pittman said. “We took a lot of things from what Georgia does. And I’m sure Kirby took a lot from what Coach (Nick) Saban did. I’m not saying that, but I’m pretty sure. So we took the template, per se, of that, and then we modified what we wanted to modify. But certainly we took from when we left Georgia the template I guess of what we felt was successful, and it was at Georgia and Alabama. It was at South Carolina. I don’t know what Shane’s doing over there, but I’m assuming he’s got some of Kirby’s stuff in his scheduling.”
Arkansas will practice this afternoon and hold a scrimmage for Saturday.