Just a few weeks into taking over Arkansas’ football program, Sam Pittman has shown his recruiting ability and I’m not talking about just high school players and transfers … or even just players.
With the announcement of Kendal Briles as the offensive coordinator Monday, he’s put someone who’s averaged nearly 40 points a game with offenses he’s coordinated with one of the best defensive-minded coaches in the game.
At a cost of roughly $2.2 million a year for assistant coaches, Pittman has shown he’s wanting good coaches around him. Some coaches are reluctant to go after assistants that good, mainly because there is the concern about them trying to get the top job.
It’s happened for decades. Bear Bryant warned Red Parker at Clemson back in the mid-1970’s about hiring an assistant named Charley Pell. It turned out to be prophetic as Pell ended up the head coach after kicking Parker out the door.
Years later, Parker told me in a phone call while he was sitting in the lobby of his car dealership in Fordyce that before Pell died in 2001 he called Red to apologize for stabbing him in the back.
“I won’t forget, though,” Parker told me.
Frank Broyles never worried about that. He simply got his assistants better jobs somewhere else when they were flat-lining with the Razorbacks. That continued into his athletics director role when the head coaches he hired didn’t want to make a change. Broyles quietly got them a better job somewhere.
Having never been a head coach, Pittman has been on some teams in rocky times and turbulent times. Let’s face it, Oklahoma in 1997-98 was as dysfunctional as the Hogs were last year with John Blake running things. North Carolina later was mired in a mess during Butch Davis’ tenure, then was Derek Dooley’s line coach during his last season at Tennessee.
He’s also seen the other side lately being Kirby Smart’s right-hand guy at Georgia.
Pittman knows he can’t coach every position on the field. It’s a good bet Hunter Yurachek planned this pretty well, too, putting together a pool for assistants around $5 million and it’s shaping up that will be about the right amount.
Here’s how it breaks down annually with six of the 10 spots filled:
• Barry Odom, defensive coordinator, $1.2 million
• Kendal Briles, offensive coordinator, $1 million
• Brad Davis, offensive line coach, $550,000
• Justin Stepp, wide receivers, $400,000
• Rion Rhoades, linebackers, $225,000
• Sam Carter, cornerbacks, $225,000
Old-timers like me remember when the entire Hogs’ coaching staff combined — including the head coach — made less than half what the lowest-paid assistant makes now.
Head coaches are only as good as their assistants. We may be starting to see that at Alabama as Nick Saban’s team has slipped a little bit with nearly a complete turnover of his staff after Smart left the Crimson Tide for the Bulldogs.
Granted, that doesn’t mean they’re in the same shape as the Hogs. But you’ll notice they did lose to LSU and Auburn. Recruiting is part of it, but if you don’t, as Steve Spurrier used to say “coach ‘em up,” it really doesn’t matter how good they are.
That’s why the assistants matter so much. As much as anything, the previous staffs haven’t exactly been stellar in that area. They may prove to be better recruiters than coaches.
The talent they brought in wasn’t 4-20 bad over the last two seasons. My guess is the previous staff might have been 6-6 with four Top 10 recruiting classes because it really was that bad.
Recruiting coaches is one thing, but Pittman has also managed to talk Rakeem Boyd into staying for his final year and nearly all of the redshirt freshmen that Chad Morris managed to save for him.
Some on the roster have left, but the guess here is most of them won’t be missed much.
The next thing we’ll find out about is how they develop and put it all together on the field.
But the hardest part might be getting a complete buy-in to what Pittman wants to do and all indications are looking good in that area. Better than it was with the previous coach.
Fans are hoping that shows up in September.