The coach of football’s largest offensive line has taken another job. Sam Pittman, the Arkansas offensive line coach since the Bret Bielema era began in 2013, took the same position at UGA.
Bielema addressed the media Saturday about Pittman’s departure.
“There’s news coming out of here. Sam Pittman’s going to leave us. Sam’s had a great three years with us. A lot of positive things,” Bielema said. “But when somebody’s got something in their mind they want to do, it doesn’t really matter what the situation is. It’s something they decide upon and we wish Sam the best in his new decision and everything moving forward.”
Bielema, who was addressing the media so his coordinators and coaches wouldn’t have to, said he first got word from Pittman on Friday that another coach may be calling.
“It’s something that Sam and I talked about yesterday. He notified me at noon that I might get a call from a coach. I got a call. The talks continued and obviously last night I had a conversation with him and he informed me he was gonna leave and that’s where it’s at,” Bielema said.
The Arkansas offensive line is the biggest in all of football — college or pro. The veteran line was featured on this year’s football media guide and paved the way for a running game that eclipsed the 200-yard rushing plateau in six of eight SEC games this season. Running back Alex Collins rushed for 1,000 yards this season — joining former Razorback Darren McFadden and Georgia great Herschel Walker as the only running backs in SEC mark to reach 1,000 in each of their first three seasons.
“The one thing I’ve created during my time at Wisconsin, and especially here, is the notoriety of the offensive line,” Bielema said. “This is a prestigious program to have an offensive line coach. I began to hear from people as early as 3 a.m. this morning and I’m pretty sure my phone’s blowing up right now.”
Bielema wouldn’t compare his transition from Wisconsin to Arkansas the same as Pittman moving from the SEC West to the SEC East.
“One of the things I wanted to learn in my transition, and I can’t sit here and throw stones and act like it hasn’t happened. I left the University of Wisconsin. I left a different conference, a different region to take on an opportunity I wanted to take on,” Bielema said. “This one took place within the conference and I just wanted Sam to address the linemen as to why this is happening. I felt like the last thing he needed to do. He didn’t want to do that so I just took them to him.”
Bielema said the meeting was emotional, but that’s not uncommon for young men in college football.
“When you deal with 19-, 20- and 21-year-old kids, they’re going to be emotional. Some were mad, some were sad, and then sad then mad. It’s a part of the job no one wants to talk about. And Sam, the way he recruits and the way that he handles people, this matter had been very personal,” Bielema said.
“He made a business decision, and he kept repeating to me that’s what it was, and obviously that’s his choice and his choice only.”
Bielema said Pittman is a much sharper offensive line coach because he spent time at Arkansas, making him a hotter commodity than when he first came to The Hill.
“Sam’s great, I’ve enjoyed my time with him, but you know I’ve helped his career quite a bit,” Bielema said. “He wasn’t really a resound offensive line guru until we got things rolling here.”
Bielema said he’ll go through the NCAA rules on hiring, but indicated he’d want to promote Eric Mateos from general offensive assistant to the offensive line coach. Mateos has spent the last three years working closely with the line.
However, surprises could happen once the position occasionally opens.
“In history been able to replace them with equal caliber or higher,” Bielema said. “When I’ve had an O-Line position open, I’ve been blown away by the candidates who contact me.”
Bielema said he’d thought of including a non-compete clause in Pittman’s contract each year, but Pittman reassured Bielema he wouldn’t leave.
“Probably the only mistake I made in retrospect was as I signed Sam to new contracts, I didn’t put it in there,” Bielema said. “He kind of always made the comment that, “You don’t have to worry about me going.” That’s the only part that saves you headaches.”