Playoff coaches show there’s no single path to predict success


Based on the resumes of coaches in the College Football Playoff and recent history, Arkansas fans might not need to be too critical of the hiring of Sam Pittman earlier this month.

Maybe the only constant among them is they WANTED the job guiding the program they have.

Apparently nobody really wanted the Razorbacks’ job. Hunter Yurachek talked to some, but they were reportedly not that interested unless there was a guaranteed retirement option.

That means, simply, they either didn’t view the situation in Fayetteville as something they weren’t going to risk their future trying to turn around unless they made enough money they didn’t have to get a job.

One thing about Yurachek’s incentive-based buy-out plan was it sorted out the pretenders from the contenders pretty quick. It’s a good guess he’d figured out that no coach hired by the Hogs in over a decade really WANTED to be in Fayetteville.

In hindsight, that point is not really debatable. Bobby Petrino just wanted out of the NFL, John L. Smith just needed the money, Bret Bielema wanted away from his boss and Chad Morris simply wanted a Power 5 job.

None of them really knew or cared about Arkansas, which was reflected in their diminished interest with each passing year.

At least Pittman viewed the Razorbacks as a destination job, not a stepping stone.

For some fans, they were ready to throw up their hands when Lane Kiffin decided the Ole Miss job was better than the Hogs.

Yes, things have gotten to that point.

Yurachek may have figured out the main thing might be finding someone who just really wanted the Arkansas job. That was Pittman.

What most fans don’t want to look at is there’s no rhyme or reason these days to hiring a football coach that will be successful.

Just look at the guys in the College Football Playoff that started Saturday. Three of the four coaches have never been a head coach anywhere other than where they are and the one that took over a program and had three rather forgettable seasons.

Two of the four had never even been a coordinator before becoming a head coach. The two coaches in the championship game got there by getting someone to fix the side of the ball they didn’t know well.

All four were Power 5 conference champions with one loss among all four teams in the playoff.

Compare these guys to Pittman:

Dabo Swinney, Clemson: Only a receivers and tight ends coach at Alabama, then Clemson before taking over when Tommy Bowden threw his hands up and quit in the middle of the 2008 season. He promptly fired the offensive coordinator, took it over built a team that has been a national powerhouse since 2015. He got Brent Venables to put together a defense that’s been a big key to the Tigers’ run.

Ryan Day, Ohio State: Bounced around as a receivers and quarterbacks coach with a couple of stints as a coordinator for 15 years before landing on Urban Myer’s staff in 2017. He inherited a good situation, but hasn’t let it slip. He hasn’t messed around with the defense, but now we find out as he has to replace his coordinator.

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma: Was an offensive coordinator at East Carolina before coming to Norman, then Bob Stoops suddenly quit and handed him the team. He hasn’t let it drop off any, although fans would like to see them win a playoff game. Riley, who is a common name tossed out for NFL openings, has to find someone to fix a defense that struggles to stop anybody.

Ed Orgeron, LSU: Was hired at Ole Miss and promptly found himself not knowing how to swim and jumping into the deep end of the pool. He changed his mindset and lifestyle while working his way back up, landing the Tigers’ job by selling himself when Les Miles was fired and may have the best team in school history right now. A career defensive coach, Orgeron figured out the Miles’ offensive approach wouldn’t work and he’s gotten it fixed in record-setting fashion.

Pittman, a lifelong assistant, has been on playoff staffs and he’s worked in some really, really bad situations (John Blake’s staff at OU in 1997-98 and Derek Dooley’s last year at Tennessee come to mind immediately).

The thing is, a lot of those assistants learn from seeing where others fell flat on their face, crashing top-tier programs into a mess that, admittedly, wasn’t as bad as the current one with the Hogs.

But the key is, his overall experience and depth of knowledge from good and bad programs might be exactly what is needed in Fayetteville.

Morris recognized how far things were off from the direction he wanted to go, but he’d never been around anything like that at the SEC level. He didn’t have a clue how to even begin fixing things.

It looked in practice like he was more concerned with doing things wrong in a hurry than getting the offense fixed and had knee-jerk reactions on personnel decisions.

Pittman has been at programs bigger than Arkansas. He knows to win here, though, you can’t do things the same way they were done at Oklahoma, Tennessee or even Georgia. He’s coached at a championship caliber in the last couple of years.

The Razorback situation is different from those and if you think it will be fixed the same way those were, then you are wrong. The guess is Pittman knows this, too.

It can be turned around and it might not take as long as some of you think, either. By the way, that’s winning enough games to get to a bowl game, not making the playoff.

But don’t fall into the trap that there’s only one path to being successful.


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