This is a new feeling for a large portion of Arkansas fans.
Not the giddiness that comes from high levels of success in all programs whether men or women’s. No, it’s the feeling of someone else wanting your football coach.
When Lincoln Riley conducted the world’s shortest players' meeting to let his team know he was leaving and literally ghosted the OU administration, LSU’s top realistic target to replace Ed Orgeron fell off the board.
The search committee’s “safety coach” was also unavailable as Louisiana’s Billy Napier traded the bayous of Cajun country for the swamps of Florida.
With fan-favorite targets dropping like flies, and no hint of the eventual hiring of Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly to be found, members of the LSU community started clamoring for the “if you can’t beat them, join ‘em” approach as Sam Pittman’s name began to pop up as a desirable option.
Zach Ragan of Fansided's The Death Valley Voice argued the best option would be to look for an “under the radar” candidate — Pittman.
“The Razorbacks are 8-4 this season,” Ragan wrote Sunday evening. “Not bad for a team in the SEC West with a second-year head coach and not as much talent as the rest of the league. Speaking of talent, Pittman would be an incredible recruiter at LSU. He’s already known as one of the best recruiters in the country.
“Pittman knows how to delegate. He knows how to motivate. And he knows how to recruit. All of that adds up to winning big at a place like LSU.”
Not since the early days of Houston Nutt has anyone expressed sincere interest in an Arkansas football coach, and a lot of that had more to do with how college super agent Jimmy Sexton handles getting his clients raises than anything else.
Petrino may have won big, but his baggage pre-motorcycle was more than enough to turn off potential suitors.
It’s been easy to see this coming. However, no one expected lustful eyes to wander toward the Ozarks so fast.
When USC fired Clay Helton back in September, USA Today recommended the Trojans study the Sam Pittman hire at Arkansas to consider the importance of having someone who understands line play as in-depth as possible as a head coach.
The writers went so far as to suggest sitting down with Pittman to determine what to look for in the quest to find the next Sam Pittman.
Around the same time, the SEC Shorts crew teamed up with ESPN’s Fansville for an emotional parody comparing the coaching searches that led to Scott Frost at Nebraska and Pittman at Arkansas.
In the short, Nebraska thinks it has a “slam dunk hire,” and then watches in pain as the program falls to near-Chad Morris levels.
The character choosing for Arkansas then looks past the faces of the traditional coaching names bandied about each year to an obscured photo of Pittman and exclaims to the confusion of everyone in the room, “Now that’s the face of a leader!”
What follows is a montage of Pittman leading the Hogs back to relevancy that draws tears from the most hardened hearts of Arkansas fans.
The internet is littered with writers pleading caution in regard to hiring a name instead of finding the next Pittman as coaching dominoes fall across the country. The respect is real and so is the impact.
This won’t be the last time Pittman’s name comes up. He spent the last two years building an aura that can only be found surrounding your buddy’s charming grandfather with a heart of gold.
During that time, he built a loyalty among fans and players that hasn’t been seen on the hill since the turn of the century.
That kind of good old boy charisma and character draws attention, especially in the South.
Prior to the departures of Riley and Kelly, the level of concern among Razorback fans of Pittman ever leaving was legitimately in the negatives.
The man literally broke down in tears when he got the job.
Not only was Arkansas giving him an opportunity that no one else was willing to consider, but it was a head coaching job close to both the home in Hot Springs where he hoped to retire and Grove, Oklahoma, where he grew up.
Pittman even deepened his Arkansas roots when he followed the high of a victory over Texas by dropping $2 million on a house on the shores of Lake Hamilton.
Riley and Kelly have proven you can never say never. If Pittman keeps building the Arkansas program, his name will pop up more and more.
The egos of fans at various programs across the country will lead them to think surely Pittman would leave poor little Arkansas for their “destination” job. Money whipping will soon follow and, as The Million Dollar Man used to say in the late 80’s, “Everybody has a price.”
At some point, Pittman will hit a point where he knows he only has 2-3 years left in the tank. He’ll have to consider one final big money contract offer from another school.
That’s when we’ll know whether The Million Dollar Man’s mantra is true.
Until then enjoy the ride, the positive press, and that feeling of having a coach so many other schools now wish they had the guts to hire first.
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