With confirmation his job was not on the line, Sam Pittman took the microphone Monday with the assembled Arkansas press and answered questions.
None were about his job security for the first time in weeks.
Instead, a day after athletic director Hunter Yurachek gave his vote of confidence to Pittman, saying the fourth-year Arkansas head man would be the coach at least for a fifth season, the embattled coach could talk about what that confirmation felt like and, more in the immediate, what Missouri brings to the table.
Arkansas faces their rivals Friday in a game that won’t much change either team’s end-of-season fortunes. The Razorbacks cannot qualify for a bowl game and the Tigers can’t win the SEC East.
As cliched as it is to say the game is for pride, it’s unfair not to, too. Pittman earned his fifth year and a big showing from his team Friday would do wonders for confidence heading into next fall.
Check out what Pittman had to say at his presser below.
Excited to play Missouri. Obviously we’re disappointed we’re not going to be bowl-eligible, but we have a lot to play for, especially since we’re playing our rival and a really, really good – really good – football team in Missouri. Offensively, outstanding everywhere. … On defense, they’re playing really well in the secondary. Safeties are very physical. Up front, Robinson has a lot of sacks. They out-physicaled us last year. Really good team. Eli’s done a really good job there. We’re excited to play our rival.
On the job confirmation
There’s a lot of emotion in the room. But I didn’t know it. He wanted to address the team right before we finished with the conversation. It was really cool because of the kids. They went off. It was, I don’t ever want to get in that situation, but it was a special moment to be a part of. It was really cool.
The importance of it happening publicly
I think it’s really big because we’re getting a lot of negative from coaches in recruiting. I’ll say this, I think when you sign up for the SEC, you have to win. It’s here. A&M. Mississippi State. Wherever. Alabama. Wherever. You’ve got to win. If you don’t, there’s opportunities for you to be unemployed. THat’s just how it is. That’s what we sign up for. I look at this as an opportunity for us to change our team. Keep the ones that are good players for us, good kids, change our team and give us a chance to do that. Financially, I think we’re going to have the money from the NIL to do that. I think when all that happens, I think we can field a really, really good football team. I’m excited about (Friday), but I’m really excited about the future.
On Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz
He’s a good man. The thing with Drink is you look at it. You look at, came in, had a nice season that first year. Two years ago close. Next year close. Finished 6-6. Then this year, they have as good a team as we have in the SEC. They’ve stayed – and I’m not saying – they stayed with him and he’s got a lot of seniors on his team and is doing a great job over there. I appreciate him saying that. I did not know that, but I appreciate him saying that. That’s just a good person saying what he feels, so I appreciate that.
What was that about NIL funding?
Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it right now. I kind of blew that didn’t I? I just feel good about it. I’ll leave it at that for right now.
How to rebuild fast
How (fans) handle that, we want to earn their trust and come back. You have to show what you can do and I think when we do, I think we’ll get them back. But I understand. The other part about it is it’s a different world than the first years I was here. Different world than the first time I was here because you did it through the portal, senior transfers and that kind of stuff. Now you’re doing it through recruiting, NIL. Things have changed. I think it’s easier to change a program now than we first came in. Feleipe Franks was here Saturday. To me, he was that key guy we needed that first year. Publicly, then obviously on the field. I think recruiting, I think we can recruit against anybody. It’s just you can’t recruit against anybody financially. I feel good about where we’re sitting now. If that’s the case, I think we can fare well against anybody in the country.
Struggled as favorites this year
That was a little rough now. You can ask the question different than we haven’t shown up. I think there was one game that was bad. I don’t want to get into that. I think we’ve addressed some of that in that you have recruit your way out of it. I think that’s part of it. Obviously injuries have played a part of it, as well. But everybody has injuries. Everybody has an opportunity to field the best team they have via recruiting. This year we’ve lost a lot of close games. Some of them we’ve played pretty good in but we’ve lost. We just need to go out and we’ve got to get the offensive line. That’s No. 1. Continue to develop the guys we have now. But I don’t look at – obviously you do – but I don’t look at it as non-competitive. I look at it as we’ve got to change the roster some. I think we have all kinds of chances to do that.
Overcoming the close-game hump
I think that’s got to be our biggest studying the offseason. Did it just happen and we played really well? The last drives, what did we do? What were my decisions during the game that affected the game positive or negative? Really, we’ve got to sit down and figure that out. We obviously do that each week per game, but in totality we haven’t this year. We need to do that and figure out how we can. It’s not just as simple as somebody’s got to make a play. There’s a lot of reasons that go into that. It’s not the last quarter as much as it might be you wasted four points in the first quarter. … How can we change that to be, maybe more aggressive with our play-calling. Maybe we’ve got to change our roster. Maybe I’ve got to do a better job. Whatever it is, but be brutally honest with how to win those close games. That’s the difference. Look at Missouri and how they’re playing. They’ve really played well and blown some teams out, but they’ve also won some close games as of Saturday. So we’ve got to figure all that stuff out.
Personal emotions about job confirmation
I wasn’t (surprised). We’ve never had a conversation that I was ever going to get fired or anything of that nature. The pressure that I have had was on myself, more about the people employed int he building. More about the state, the fans. Nobody wants to disappoint anybody that has character about them. It was never – and I mean this – it was never one time about me. Never. It was always about the recruits. The kids I’m coaching. The building. The state of Arkansas. I’ve lived a dream life and I want to do continue to do it. But it was never was about me, I, nothing like that. The relief part of it was more for the kids, for the building, for recruiting. I was really happy that he did it because I think it needed to go out publicly so we could move forward and continue to progress and change the football team in recruiting, as well.
One is his determination and his drive. Obviously he’s very talented. Fast. Reads holes unbelievably well and can run over you. He went to Truman State. Truman State used to be old Northeast Missouri State. … He’s just, he fits MIssouri well. He would fit into our place. Tough, physical programs. What he’s done is earned every accolade. He’s over 1,200 yards rushing and obviously you have to have a really good offensive line, wideouts blocking on the edge and stuff. I’m happy for him that he took that chance, went in there and is one of the top running backs out there in the country. It’s a really, really neat story.
Rocket has a labral tear. At some point here in the next few days, he’ll have to get that repaired. Rashod has a meniscus tear, which is actually better news than what I thought on Saturday. He is probably just getting out of that surgery right now (lunchtime Monday). Braxton, he practiced yesterday. I don’t know if he’ll be able to play or not but he practiced the entire practice. Patrick, as well.
Odds of losing staff?
I feel as confident as I have the first three years. Obviously if you do a fine job, people are going to come look at you. As they did myself when I was an assistant. Not any different than normal. Somebody is going to come in and say I’ve got a job opportunity. Somebody. It happens every year. It’s up to me to figure out how much it’s worth to keep them or not.
Last East-West game in SEC
The West went through its time of being probably very, very difficult, then the East had its time in there as well, where it was unbelievably strong top to bottom. I really like how they have it set up where a kid comes in, plays four years and he’s able to play in every stadium in the SEC, play a home-and-home with everybody in the SEC. So I’m really excited about the future of doing those things, keeping MIssouri as our rivalry game. I think most of the rivalry games were able to get kept. Some obviously won’t get to play each other every year, but most of them did. I’m really excited about how they set it up. I don’t know that it’s going to be any harder than what it was normally just simply because you still have the same number of conference games and where they’re at that year, if they’re playing well or not that year. It’s a logo conference. It’s the best in America. Not saying others don’t have great teams, but certainly proud to be a part of this new era of the SEC.
Plan at running back
We have three left. Isaiah obviously earned his carry time. Dominique, he looked really good the other night, I thought. Certainly AJ. Obviously we’re going to try to rev up 23 more after his performance. I like Dominique when he got his shoulders turned, did some good things, moving the ball. More importantly, I think he got some confidence out of it. He really didn’t have a lot of confidence in that knee. It just hasn’t. Some guys get over it earlier or faster than others. I think he got some confidence out of a few of those really good runs that he made the other night.
Missouri's balanced offense
Are you going to play man-to-man coverage and try to stop all the stretch plays, the nakeds? Because Cook’s fast. Fast fast. Can hurt you with his legs and his arm. Wease, the transfer that came in there, he’s outstanding. Cooper, too. They’re talented. It’s going to be very difficult. We’re going to have to show them a lot of different looks. … We’re going to have to tackle well in space. We’re going to have to tackle the running back. Very tall task. They’ve got a really good offense. But we’ve played a lot of good offenses this year. They are probably the most balanced star, skill players of anybody in the conference. They have a lot of stars there that can hurt you on any given play.
They stayed with us for four years. That’s not the norm anymore. I’m not saying anything good or bad about that. The guys that came in here like Brady and Beaux and KJ, there’s several, that are for their last game and all they put into the program. Had a lot of great moments with them. Some down moments as well. They basically, I feel bad for them because we’re not being able to go to a bowl. That group of guys kind of changed where we were in respectability. At times we’ve been ranked in the top 10 over the last two years. Man, to say you could get there from the 4-20, these kids really worked their tail off. It’ll be an emotional deal when they leave. They’ve been really good to me, to our staff and good to the state.
Anyone surprising walking?
Not all 26. Some of them have opted out of that. Going to be a lot of them out there, though. I think it’s 13. Might be 12 that are definitely not coming back. They are bright red on our board. That means they don’t even have a plus-one, so there’s no conversation to have. So we know those will be out there. Then guys like Hudson Clark, he’ll be out there, but he has a plus-one. Brady and Beaux, they have a plus-one. We’ll try to figure that out (after the final game). They’ll be out there, as well. KJ, he’ll be out there and he has a plus-one, too. Who knows what’s going to happen with all that stuff.
Better to fund NIL than buyouts
I believe in me and I believe in our staff, so I would say whichever one fo the two you said first. If you said give us an opportunity NIL wise to see what we can do, I think that would be the smartest thing to do. Sometimes you gotta be careful what you wish for. Sometimes you change the program, it might get worse, too, you know? I think we get the budget, we can go recruit against anybody. But it’s hard if you don’t.
Mizzou owns the series
Barry was over there for four of them. What are we, 1-2? I don’t know. There were times in there where Missouri was really good, too. They’ve had better seasons than we have over the last (decade or so). Most times it’s a really close game and we just haven’t come out on top.
Playing with confidence. What they do is exactly what he does well. He can throw it out of the pocket, but they move him a lot. Play-action. Their entire team is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, which they should. They’re 9-2, ranked in the Top 10 in the country. You can see him growing each and every week. I remember seeing a press conference from Eli and he was talking about Missouri booed him during the game and he was upset about it. Talked about it. From that time on, he’s been, and he was probably good that game, too, but he’s a really good player. A lot of people would like to have him.
Importance of Friday for the future
I think it’s important. I don’t think it’s, I don’t know that it’s going to hurt us in recruiting if we happen to not win, but I know it could really, really help us. That’s the plan. We’re going out to play really well. I think it could certainly, we haven’t beaten a ranked opponent this year. We have the other years. That would be our opportunity to do that.