As No. 8 Arkansas prepares to take on No. 2 Georgia on Saturday, both head coaches took a stroll down memory lane this week, looking back on their shared history and heaping praise on one another.
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman has said Fayetteville is his last stop. The 59-year-old Oklahoma native worked his way up from high school coaching to community college jobs and assistant coaching positions across the country.
Arkansas is the first school at which he has led a major college football program, and Pittman’s Razorbacks have already won as many games this season as the team won in any its previous three seasons.
“He’s a tremendous leader of men, and that’s the No. 1 discipline we’re charged with,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said in his weekly press conference Monday. “One hundred percent of men in that locker room believe in Sam Pittman and what he tells them to be true, and they go out and play like it.”
In 2015, Smart hired Pittman to be the offensive line coach during the head coach’s first season at Georgia.
Smart rose quickly through the ranks of college coaching, culminating in a stint as Alabama’s defensive coordinator from 2008-2015, during which he presided over some of the most dominant defenses in college football history.
He got his first opportunity to be a head coach when he took the Georgia job in 2015. He then added Pittman to a staff that coached the team to three Southeastern Conference East Division titles and a College Football Playoff berth before Pittman took the Arkansas job in 2019.
“Kirby was very good to me. I wouldn’t be the head coach at the University of Arkansas without him,” Pittman said at SEC Media Days in July.
Some questioned Pittman’s hiring at Arkansas, as other candidates like Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach had more head coaching experience. Pittman got some support during the hiring process from his former players in the form of an open letter endorsing the hiring of the journeyman coach.
The crossover between the two programs does not end with Pittman and Smart. Pittman brought former Georgia coaches Jamil Walker and Scott Fountain with him to form his Arkansas staff. Walker is now the Arkansas strength and conditioning coach and Fountain is the special teams coordinator and assistant head coach for the Razorbacks.
“Jamil and the staff that he brought with him wasn’t quite as difficult because we were going to give him a heavy raise, and he was going to run the program,” Pittman said in his Monday press conference. “Scott’s was a deal that I was a little surprised that Scott decided to come at the time. But I’m very happy he did. I don’t know what his conversation with Coach Smart was or anything of that nature, but (I) certainly was happy that he decided to come over.”
He has since silenced his critics, with Arkansas currently ranked No. 8 in the country and tied for first in the SEC West, just 14 games into his tenure. Pittman said he is excited for Saturday's top-10 showdown with the Bulldogs.
“We’re looking forward to going back there and seeing our friends and certainly trying to compete against one of the best football teams in America,” Pittman said.
Pittman will make his first trip back to Athens, Georgia, since taking the job at Arkansas. The Hogs and Bulldogs are set to kickoff at 11 a.m. Saturday and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.