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Legendary University of Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles once opined that you can never pay a great coach too much, and you can never pay a bad coach too little.
While Broyles didn’t like hiring head coaches without head coaching experience, I think under the circumstances, he’d approve of the deal current Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek cut with the Razorbacks’ latest head football coach Sam Pittman.
Pittman, who was introduced Monday as the Razorbacks head football coach at a pep rally before he held his first news conference with local media, will make $3 million a year for the duration of the five-year contract, according to his employment agreement the UA released Monday.
Arkansas hired Pittman away from the Georgia Bulldogs where he served as Kirby Smart’s associate head coach and offensive line coach since he departed Arkansas after a three-year stint as offensive line coach under Bret Bielema from 2013-15.
While there was interest in the Razorback job, some of it was just in passing and some of it was for leverage. Though Arkansas reportedly came close to a deal with former Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin, whom Ole Miss hired Saturday, Yurachek said Sam Pittman was the only coach who received an employment agreement to sign from Arkansas.
There had been contact through Pittman’s agent prior to Sunday, but the 58-year-old coach met Yurachek, interviewed, and accepted the job all in the same day.
There are incentives to Pittman’s deal, and, of course, dreaded terms of a buyout. However, the buyout isn’t the golden parachute that former UA athletics director Jeff Long regularly issued to his hires, although it does remain punitive if Pittman is fired without cause.
Yurachek said Pittman wasn’t too concerned about the terms of the buyout because the latest head Hog plans on winning.
If he does win, there are incentives, and those incentives speak to the risk Pittman took in accepting the Razorback head coaching job and the general state of the program that has lost 19 consecutive SEC football games dating back to October of 2017.
Sam Pittman will earn an extra $250,000 if the Razorbacks reach six wins, $500,000 with a seventh win, and $750,000 with eight or more victories. Bonuses kicking in at just six wins seem pretty generous until you consider the depths to which the Razorback program has sunk.
When Yurachek made his first major hire at Arkansas — Eric Musselman as head basketball coach last April — he made it clear that one of the most attractive qualities about Musselman was his desire for not just a raise and a more prestigious job but also that he wanted the Arkansas job in particular.
Yurachek is now two for two on that front with Pittman, who grew up a Razorback fan in Grove, Okla., and even attended summer Razorback football camps in the late 1970s when Lou Holtz was Arkansas’s head coach (1977-83.)
Pittman became emotional stopping just short of breaking down in tears a couple of times while expressing how much being Arkansas’s head coach meant to him during his introduction to fans and media at gathering in the Walker Pavilion.
A lot of different things have happened during head coach introductions dating back to the first one I saw televised when Ken Hatfield was introduced as Holtz’ successor, but I’ve never seen a coach become that emotional.
Some like SEC Network commentator Paul Finebaum found it awkward. He generally questioned the hire in the first place, citing Sam Pittman’s lack of head coaching experience on the college level.
However, there are many examples of assistant coaches being elevated to head coach such as Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Kirby Smart at Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt at Finebaum’s alma mater Tennessee, and Dan Mullen at Mississippi State just to name a few.
Heck, Vince Lombardi was the offensive line coach for the New York Giants before Green Bay took a risk on him, and the Packers at that time was just as monumental of a rebuilding challenge as the Razorbacks are today.
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