Arkansas Razorback Coach Sam Pittman
Feels Like Family
By Glenda Graves
Photos courtesy of Arkansas Communications
It’s no secret in Arkansas (or anywhere else, for that matter) that the Arkansas Razorback football team has gone through some tough times in recent years. The Hogs have struggled to find their way back to a time when they felt like family. Those who remember the way it was, remember an entire state yelling “Wooo Pig.” We were not fair-weather fans. We loved our Hogs, win or lose.
Lately, that feeling has been missing. That sense of community that can only start with a coach and trickle down throughout every small town in the state. But hope seems to have returned with the Razorbacks’ new head football coach, Sam Pittman.
Though he wasn’t born in Arkansas and didn’t grow up here, Coach Pittman and his wife feel like this is home. And that this is the job he was born to do — to build the Razorback family back to what it should be. Those who watched his press conference after accepting the job would likely agree.
There really is something distinct about Coach Pittman — something that feels familiar and trustworthy and real. Something about him creates a sense of excitement that hasn’t been felt for a long time among Razorback football fans.
The early years
Sam Pittman was born in Oklahoma, not too far from Arkansas. He says, “I grew up all over the eastern side of Oklahoma. My dad was a coach and a teacher and eventually became a school superintendent. Going into my junior year of high school, my dad thought I’d have a better opportunity if I went to a bigger school, so we moved to Grove, Oklahoma.” Sam was the youngest of five children. His mother worked as a secretary while he was growing up, and he describes her as being very supportive. “I didn’t find out until I was much older how much she enjoyed going to sporting events.”
Pittman describes his father, who wasa basketball coach, as “the finest coach I ever played for. He was great on fundamentals. We won state when he was coaching. He was a great supporter, as well. He loved sports, but basketball was his passion.” Sam participated in various sports throughout high school — including football, basketball, track and baseball. He says, “If I wasn’t playing, I was practicing. I knew hard work made you a good player. We were brought up in a hardworking family. We all had jobs while we were growing up.”
He says he did everything from roofing houses to working on a pipeline, but that he always enjoyed each job. After graduating from high school, he attended Pittsburg State University in Kansas. “It was a great experience. I played football and had really good coaches. I still have a lot of friends that were on that team. We even have a group chat that we still talk in. I was also close enough to home that my parents and family were able to come see me play.”
It was in Pittsburgthat he met his future wife, Jamie. They were both 23 years old and dated one year before getting married. He says, “She was living at home with her parents at the time, and our first move was the first time she had ever lived away from home.” The life of a coach’s wife can be difficult when it comes to moving — but Sam says that there was always a little excitement, for each of them, with each new job.
His first job away from Pittsburg State was coaching high school football in Oklahoma. From there he made several changes from high school head coach to college offensive line coach and assistant head coach, with arguably one of his most important stops at the University of Arkansas from 2013-2015 as assistant head coach and offensive line coach under Bret Bielema.
It was the move to Georgia in 2015 that Sam says wasdifficult on his wife. “It was really hard on her, and she was mad at me for a year. She hated the new house…and that’s not exaggerating the truth at all,” Sam recalls. Even though Jamie was unhappy with the move, Sam was having much success with the team. The Georgia Bulldogs took the SEC Championship in 2017 and SEC East Championship in 2018, playing for the National Championship. Coach Pittman was making an impact on the sport — and that success did not go unnoticed.
The call of the Hogs
When the time came for a change in 2019, it might be easy to guess that Jamie was the first to get excited about a new opportunity. But Samsays, “It was a dream of mine to be the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Anyone who has a dream doesn’t know if they can achieve it or not. When you realize that dream, there are very few feelings better than that. It was an indescribable feeling, so humbling. I still feel that way.”
Sam and Jamie already had plans to retire in Arkansas using land they purchased in Hot Springs. Yet after landing the job at the University of Arkansas, they chose to buy a home in Fayetteville and trade their lot in Hot Springs for a vacation home instead. Sam says, “We always knew we would come back to Arkansas, we just had no idea it would be for a job as the Arkansas Razorbacks head coach.”
The Pittmans enjoy living in an area surrounded by family and look forward to hosting their families at games. Family has always been important to Pittman, and to him, this notion of family also extends to his team. He hopes to build a program like a family. He contends, “Once you get a job, the number one thing you want to do is make people proud…the people you are representing, your staff, your fans, your players. Every day we are motivated by what we can do to be better and to make people proud. When COVID-19 hit, we decided we were going to play catch up. So we developed a plan to catch up where we were behind.”
He explains, “It was hard to gain trust over Zoom. The kids have to trust their coach and have love for one another. That’s hard when you’re not next to each other. It’s all about potential. We set our expectations high because we believe we are at the best university in the country.” And Coach Pittman is proud of the way the players handled the quarantine. “Our kids came back in shape and bigger. We have been pleased with their work ethic, and we trust them. I’m not going to say what that means when it comes to wins and losses, but I love their work ethic.”
Just like everyone else, Coach Pittman is managing what the new coronavirus means for the Razorback football program. He says, “You can plan for something and then the virus changes that plan. It certainly adds a lot more planning and adjusting to our days.”
Coach Pittman says he is happy with the staff they hired to support the Arkansas Razorbacks. “I’m so proud of the guys we were able to hire. We’re going to put a lot of emphasis on recruiting, playing hard and playing smart, and with that, we’ll have a good football team. I’m going to let my coaches coach. I trust them, and I believe in them; it’s what I hired them for.”
It’s no surprise that Arkansas Razorback fans want to be competitive within the SEC, but they also want to know their coach — and to feel like he’s a part of the family. Sam and Jamie Pittman are, without a doubt, going to be the heartbeat of the Razorback football family. They are exactly where they always dreamed to be — in Arkansas — and fans all over the state are more than excited to see where Coach Pittman’s passion for the Hogs will take our team.