Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema Expects to Hire Top-Notch OL Coach Replacement

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema addressed the loss of offensive line coach Sam Pittman to Georgia after Saturday's practice and noted that graduate assistant Eric Mateos will move up for the bowl workouts and he expects to hire a top-notch replacement.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema wasn't planning on having an appearance in the media room after practice on Saturday, but the circumstance dictated he show up.

Word came out Saturday morning that Razorback offensive line coach Sam Pittman was leaving to take the same position at Georgia, something that school announced that school officially announced later in that day.

“Obviously there is some news coming out of here with Sam Pittman going to leave us,” Bielema said. “He did a great three years with us, lot of positive things, but when somebody’s got something in their mind that they want to do, it doesn’t really matter what the situation is, it is something that they decide upon and we wish same the best in his new decision and everything moving forward.

“Really that is about it. I didn’t want to have my coordinators come in and answer a bunch of questions about that.”

Pittman will join close friend Jim Chaney - the former Arkansas and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator - on new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s staff.

Georgia contacted both Pittman and Bielema on Friday and the process moved quickly.

“It is something that Sam and I talked about yesterday,” Bielema said. “He notified me at noon that I might get a call from a coach. I got a call, the talks continued and then last night I had a conversation with him and then he informed me he was going to leave and that’s where it is at.”

Bielema confirmed that he and seven offensive lineman went to Pittman’s home Friday night to discuss the issue.

“I did,” Bielema said. “I wanted him to say, well, one of the things that I learned in my transition and I can’t sit here and throw stones and don’t act like it hasn’t happened because I left the University of Wisconsin, I left a different conference, I left a different region to take on an opportunity that I wanted to take on. 

“This one took place within the conference and I just wanted Sam to address the lineman as to why this was happening. 

“I thought that was the least thing he could do and he didn’t want to do that so I just took them to him.

“…It will probably stay private, but yeah, it was definitely emotional. Sam is a good man who cares about his players, but it was probably emotional both ways.”

Bielema noted that the linemen all reacted in different ways.

“I believe it was a little mixed,” Bielema said. “I think when you are dealing with 19, 20 and 21-year old kids, they are going to be emotional.

“Some were mad, sad, sad then mad. It is a part of the job that no one wants to talk about and Sam because of the way he recruits and the way he handles people - until this matter - had been very personal.

“He shared the edge (philosophy), but he made a business decision and he kept repeating to me that is what it was. Obviously that was his choice and his choice only.”

Bielema’s plan is to have graduate assistant Eric Mateos - who has been with the Razorbacks three years - to coach the offensive line in the next nine bowl practices and the Liberty Bowl game against Kansas State on Jan. 2.

He also had plans already for former Arkansas offensive lineman Brey Cook to become a graduate assistant in January and hopes to move that up.

“You know what I want to do potentially and we have to run through a couple of NCAA rules, but Eric Mateos, our GA, has been with us for three years so my hope and thought is to get him to move into that spot.

“Brey Cook was going to be our GA next January and I can move him into that GA position early and he knows all the communication, language and verbiage.”

Mateos’ familiarity with the system allows Bielema to hire the right coach and not one just to fill a spot quickly.

“No, it’s not, because of Mateos,” Bielema said. “ Eric is here.  He is a G.A that has worked under Sam. He knows.  He is one of the most knowledgable G.A.s  I can’t consider him really for the full-time position but in two weeks time here it’s going to be as smooth as smooth gets. 

“And I think our senior and our junior offensive linemen, I know right away they said to Eric today, ‘We are going to put some stuff on film to get you a job. 

“Eric for those of you that don’t know him is a very good personality, fun guy to be around. Kids love him.  He is very instrumental in recruiting a lot of those guys so I think it’s a great rally cry for them.”

Like most coaches, Bielema keeps a list of offensive line candidates that he would like to hire should an opening arise.

“As far as the search to replace him, I’ve got a list of about four or five guys that I carry with me at all times,” Bielema said. 

“The one thing that I have created during my time at Wisconsin and especially here is the notoriety of the offensive line. This is a prestigious program in which to have an offensive line coach.

“I began to hear from people as early as 3 a.m. this morning and I am sure my phone is pretty blown up right now.”

Bielema talked about how Pittman’s main task in recruiting was collecting his own offensive linemen. 

“The only thing that same was involved in was O-lineman,” Bielema said. “That is one thing I had kind of done things here going back to Bod Bolstad when I was at the University of Wisconsin.

“I think the reasons that we have had a national praised and accoladed O-Line is I pretty much let my guy recruit. A lot of times the only person that does that is maybe the quarterback coach goes out and nationally gets the best quarterback.

“I just thought for the program that I want to run I am always going to let my OL coach do that. Naturally it affects offensive lineman, but really has no effect on anybody else.”

He expects to hire a top-notch offensive line coach to replace Pittman.

“Even our players when the news came forward today there was a lot of ‘okay, let’s just move on.’

“I think that I have proven in history that when I have a situation like this pop up, I have been able to replace him with someone of equal caliber or higher. 

“…I think it is a true feather in my cap about the way we can hire and make people move.”

Bielema noted there would be some NFL guys in the mix.

“Without a doubt, yeah,” Bielema said. “I’ve got two or three that have been connected to me that are in different situations.  I talked to (offensive coordinator)  Dan (Enos) early this morning about some scenarios. 

“I  am going to let this one play out for a week or so that coaches within my background within this league, guys that I know in other leagues. When I have had an O-line position open I have been blown away with the people that have contacted me.”

• • • 

Smart had made an overture toward hiring Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos last week, but he has a SEC no-compete clause in his contract.

Pittman did not have that clause in his contract, but did have a $250,000 buyout in his deal.

"Everything happens for a reason," Bielema said. " My first crew, I didn’t have that. And probably thinking mistake I made in retrospect was as I signed Sam to new contracts I didn’t put that in there.  He kind of always made the comment that, ‘You don’t have to worry about me going. You can set the  buyout wherever you want it.  You can have that in there and I just believed it. And obviously it didn’t come true.  That’s the only part that it saves you headaches more than anything."

Enos noted that he was fine with having that in his contract.

"You know, to be honest with you, I understand why they do it," Enos said. "I think there's been some turnover within the league and I think one thing, it's a two-way street. The universities are paying these coaches quite a bit of money now. And they want, if they get good coaches, they want to try to keep them. They don't want their competitors to steal them. You know what I mean?

"And as an assistant coach, you want to obviously try to help your family as much as you can. But also I think we have to understand that the head coach and administration don't want to hire a guy, get him in here, train him if you will, or have them have success, then have their competitors go steal them. So there's good and bad in everything.

"But I certainly see why it's in there and understand it. Like I said, I feel very blessed. I make a very good living, a very good salary working here and coaching football and every day I wake up and thank the Lord and I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to do it."

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