Pittman’s connection to the game Ga. Goes back to high school

ATHENS, Georgia – To understand University of Arkansas coach Sam Pittman’s deep connection to today’s game against Georgia, number 2, it is necessary to go back 41 years.

An impressionable senior at Grove High School (Okla.) In 1980, Pittman watched in fascination as Georgia fight their way to a 12-0 record and a National Championship victory over Notre Dame behind super rookie Herschel Walker.

“You know, I was in high school in 1980, and yeah, he’s the biggest, fastest guy I’ve ever seen and they were riding,” Pittman said. “So yeah, that’s where it started.”

This is how Pittman’s fascination with Georgian football began. How it’s going now, Pittman’s surprising No.8 Razorbacks (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) take on the Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0) and his former boss Kirby Smart today at 11 a.m. at Sanford Stadium.

Arkansas’ rebirth – after 2-10 consecutive seasons under Chad Morris in 2018-19 – has taken college football by storm. Pittman’s slow speech, honest comments, and dry wit made him the darling of Razorback fans and many national media outlets.

The Razorbacks earned their first top 10 ranking since placing eighth in Week 2 of 2012.

They’re really chasing a slice of history today. Arkansas haven’t won on the road as a Top 10 team against any other Top 10 team since the No.8 Razorbacks beat No.1 Texas 14-13 in the National Championship season. 1964.

Smart projected a stronger Arkansas schedule following Pittman’s departure as the offensive line coach in December 2019 after a four-year run that included the 2017 SEC Championship and a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the college football playoff title match.

Neither man could have known their teams would meet in the opening of the 2020 season due to covid-19 dictating an all SEC schedule ahead of this regular game.

“I mean, it’s the culture, it creates the right atmosphere, it puts key players in key positions,” Smart said of describing Pittman’s rapid transformation in Arkansas.

“With the portal and the transfer and recruiting situation as it is, you can turn around a little faster than maybe having to build it from scratch.”

The Pittman teenager, who had attended football camps in Arkansas under coach Lou Holtz, liked the idea of ​​one day coaching in Georgia.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for Georgia, ever since Herschel Walker,” Pittman told Dawg Nation last spring.

Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, is the SEC’s all-time leading rusher with 5,259 yards in three seasons. Nick Chubb of Georgia, whose college career spanned two seasons with Pittman in 2016-17, is second at 4,760 yards and Darren McFadden of Arkansas is third at 4,590.

So Pittman, who had napkins with the phrase “Run the Damn Ball” for Hunter Yurachek’s UA research committee, Jon Fagg, and Steve Cox at his home in Athens, Ga., Has a connection and affinity with the first three. rushers in SEC history. McFadden has given Pittman resounding endorsements since he was hired less than two years ago.

The Razorbacks set their first scorer in Pittman’s opener as head coach, leading Georgia 7-5 at halftime and 10-5 at the start of the third quarter before losing 37-10 on the September 26th.

While Pittman is clearly energized by playing Georgia and eager to visit former colleagues like Smart, defensive coordinator Dan Lanning and others, he doesn’t give his players those emotions.

“Coach Pittman is the same man every week,” said receiver Tyson Morris. “Every day he arrives ready for work. He believes in us more than anyone in this building. Everyone believes in us, but he really believes in us.

“He believes we’re going out and playing with all our hearts for him, which we will. He’s not over-exaggerating, but if you say over-exaggerating, he’s over-exaggerating every week about every game. because he wants to win the game we have in front of us. We’re just focused on Georgia, just like we were focused on Rice. Just like we were focused on Georgia Southern.

Pittman’s desire to coach in Georgia boiled a lot when he rose from the ranks of high school assistant to junior college head coach to offensive line positions across the country. It took a long, winding build-up and 36 years after the Herschel Walker era under Vince Dooley for Pittman to have his chance with the Bulldogs.

Pittman hadn’t really had a conversation with Smart before, but Smart initiated one as Alabama’s defensive coordinator after the Crimson Tide defeated Arkansas 14-13 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2014. That s ‘is produced during Pittman’s stint as offensive line coach and assistant head coach on Bret Bielema’s staff from 2013 to 2015, a period in which Pittman’s national recruiting drew attention and his predominantly offensive line made the cover of the Razorbacks’ 2015 media guide.

“He just came over and said when he got a job it would be hard for me not to go with him,” Pittman said. “I said, ‘You better go back and watch the tape before you say all that.’ And he laughed. “

The remarks of Smart, a former Georgian defensive back, touched something on Pittman.

He came home and said to his wife, Jamie, “I don’t want to leave here, but if something happens to Georgia and he gets this job, I will definitely look into it. it is serious.”

Pittman said he was considering writing Smart a note telling him that he enjoyed the discussion on the pitch, but decided to let things take their course.

“I’m not one of them calling guys and writing them notes,” Pittman said. “It’s not my style. So I just waited and we went there [to Alabama] and played them and he said nice things then. Then every time he got the job he asked his agent to contact me. “

Smart accepted the job at Georgia after the 2015 season and kept his promise to Smart even after Bielema arranged for the offensive linemen to come to Pittman and ask him to stay.

“I don’t really want to go into that, but once I tell Jamie that’s what we were going to do… at this point in the business, once you tell someone you’re leaving , I mean, you go, “Pittman said. “At this point, there’s no ‘Hey, let me think about it for a few days’ after you’ve said that. I said that.”

In addition to the old fondness for Herschel Walker, Pittman saw a university powerhouse heading for a recovery with Smart.

“Georgia had an elite program, and part of me thought, I would like to experience these things, [winning] national championships and those things, ”Pittman said. “A lot of that, they were in the East at the time, and the East was not as powerful as the West. So there are a lot of things that went into there. “

Georgia won the 2017 SEC Championship in a 28-7 rout of Auburn in a rematch, then outlasted Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield 54-48 in two overtime at the Rose Bowl. The Bulldogs fell 26-23 in overtime to Alabama in the CFP Championship game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

“I’ve never had the opportunity in my coaching career to do what we did in Georgia,” Pittman told Dawg Nation. “In other words, I’ve never been to the National Championship game. I’ve never been to the Rose Bowl. I’ve never been to the Sugar Bowl. And Georgia’s fans are certainly amazing.

“I had some of the best four years of my life there in Georgia working under Kirby and learned a lot from him.”

Smart predicted Pittman’s success when he accepted the Arkansas job.

“I have a lot of respect for Sam and his team,” said Smart. “They did a great job creating a new culture and a new energy down there in Arkansas. We would expect nothing less from him.

“Very grateful for what he did with our organization before he left and just an exciting atmosphere. I can’t wait to see the atmosphere with our fan base. The kickoff should be very interesting.”

Pittman credited Smart with stepping up his recruiting game and bringing this approach to Arkansas, as well as other facets of the industry.

“I learned a lot from the coach,” Pittman said. “I mean, a lot on the organization of the practices, a lot on the assistants. I don’t know if pressure is the word, but demanding assistant coaches to be the best they can be.

“Obviously, recruiting. You know, coach, all he wants is to win. I mean … he’s going to treat people and stuff. … But he’s at his alma. mater and he wants to win for the state of Georgia, the University of Georgia.

“I mean, you have to respect all of that. His kids, they play extremely hard. You don’t find a lot of teams that play extremely hard that don’t have great respect for the head coach, and they do. . “

The same could be said of what these resurgent Razorbacks think of Pittman.

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