Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has a new contract, befitting a refreshing, rising star in the profession who's taken meager expectations and ground them into the dirt. Just the same, his feet stayed firmly planted on the ground during his Wednesday visit to SEC Media Days.
In his second season, the Hogs hit heights they had never hit. Arkansas had never won its three trophy games - Southwest Classic (Texas A&M), Golden Boot (LSU) and Battle Line Rivalry (Missouri) - in the same season. The Razorbacks achieved the sweep in Pittman's second season, and they added one more piece of hardware in the Outback Bowl trophy.
Times had been so hard for the Hogs that no player on last year's roster had earned even one of those trophies. Hence a new contract for the head coach through 2026 at least with a rare non-compete clause designed to prohibit Pittman from leaving Fayetteville for any other job in the SEC.
"I wanted that (clause)," the 60-year-old Pittman said. "I wanted to sell stability in our program, and I wanted to show the state of Arkansas my loyalty to them. With that non-compete, I'm going to be able to coach throughout my career - hopefully, as long as we win, obviously - at the University of Arkansas."
Stability will come with time, especially if the Razorbacks maintain the ability to run the rock at a record rate. Last season, powered by dual threat quarterback KJ Jefferson, they led the Power 5 in rushing. It was a first for a Pittman team, including his days as an elite offensive line coach.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Jefferson returns after leading the team with 664 rushing yards and earning the Outback MVP award in the win over Penn State. The offense will flow through the newly confident QB, who still remembers an early 2021 ranking of SEC quarterbacks that placed him dead last.
He said he still carries that chip on his shoulder but last season taught him something: "I have what it takes to play in this league."
Pittman keeps proving he belongs in his own way. Is there another SEC coach who's a better fit at his job, his school and his state? Maybe Georgia native, former player and graduate Kirby Smart, for whom Pittman worked before taking the Arkansas job, but Pittman has something Smart doesn't. It's a massive fountain in the shape of the school mascot at his lake home.
When Pittman bought the property, the fountain was a marlin. Two days later, a storm toppled the big fish. Pittman had the marlin replaced by a Razorback. "Water shoots out," he said. "Looks like he's slobbering into the lake."
Pittman works in an office with a jukebox that has Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac in heavy rotation. Jefferson reports that Pittman won't let anyone get too close to the jukebox because "that's his baby." Why wouldn't the coach live at a lake house with a slobbering hog fountain? This is a condition known as comfortable in your own skin.
Just don't ask Pittman if he's comfortable declaring that his football program has arrived. Not after two seasons. Not with a 2022 schedule featuring 12 opponents that all reached the postseason in 2021. Not in the SEC West.
"No," he said. "Oh, no, no, no, no. Arkansas is just trying to compete. We're trying to get better. We're trying to fight hard. We're trying to work hard. We're the underdog. We like it that way."