Pittman-Enos connection has produced big results in past
During the five-year Bret Bielema era, two assistant coaches stood out as having the most positive impact on the Arkansas football team.
First was Sam Pittman, who recruited and developed the offensive linemen needed to play Bielema’s preference for a hard-nosed, physical run game. In a few short years, Pittman either recruited or coached multiple pros, and the impression he made influenced some to lobby for him to become head coach in 2019. The other coach who shone brightest was Dan Enos, the coordinator who fused an exciting passing game with the running ability of backs like Alex Collins and Rawleigh Williams. Enos’ 2015 offense – with Pittman serving as the line coach – was one of the most productive in Arkansas’ history. Brandon Allen produced programrecord passing numbers. At the same time, Collins was running the ball at a clip better than any Arkansas back not named Darren McFadden. The Razorbacks put together one of their best finishes as an SEC team – a 6-1 stretch when Arkansas averaged 46.3 points and 493 yards per game. It was winning football Pittman is hopeful that he, Enos and the rest of the coaching staff can recreate. After Kendal Briles left for TCU, Pittman asked Enos to rejoin him as part of an overhauled coaching staff that has five new assistant coaches, including new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The Razorbacks also have a new strength and conditioning staff led by Ben Sowders. Pittman said there is a new feeling in the Smith Center, where coaches and players work every day. “I’ve always liked where we were until about midseason last year,” Pittman said. “There was just something off. I’m just being totally honest. When you get up and you talk to the team, there’s a feel, and about midseason I didn’t feel like we had everybody in the building. That’s a terrible feeling, by the way. Talking to some of my coaches, they had the same feel. ‘Are we getting through to them? Are they hungry?’ I’m not talking about the entire team. I’m just talking about you’ve got to have everybody rolling and going in the same direction. “As of right now, I think it is as good a feel as we’ve had since we’ve been here. Obviously the 9-4 season (in 2021), we had a tight-knit group.” Pittman said many of the conversations he had with players late last year were about the transfer portal or related to NIL. “This spring, there wasn’t any of that,” Pittman said. “Now you’re back to coaching – ‘You need to gain some weight, lose some weight, work on your foot speed, your ball skills.’ It was back to the old-school way of, ‘How’s your parents? How’s everything going? What’s going on academically?’ “In my opinion, what we were hired to do was take young men and help them go kick butt in the world as grown, confident men. I really enjoyed our 100 (or so) I talked to at the end of the spring, versus at the end of the fall it was a lot of NIL talk, a lot of portal talk. I think the portal is going to be greater in December than it ever will be in April … but I feel like I have a better grasp over how to have some type of control on it.” Winning the Liberty Bowl shorthanded – 55-53 in three overtimes over Kansas – was the start to an upbeat offseason. The Razorbacks were missing several starters to pre-draft workouts or transfers, and multiple coaches had taken new jobs. New defensive coordinator Travis Williams was on campus, but did not call plays in Memphis. Sowders also began working with players before the bowl. “You can ask every kid on the team, I think that (energy) changed,” Pittman said. “Getting fresh, new guys in the building has changed the feel somewhat. It’s certainly not anything negative about anything at all. When you get new people it’s going to change for the better or for the worse, but it usually doesn’t stay the same. I think the kids have taken to the new guys. I like where we are.” That includes on offense, where Enos began installing his big playbook during the spring. Pittman said the veteran coordinator has done a good job of mixing his terminology with some of the lingo understood by returning players. “That was one of the first questions he asked me when I talked to him about coming, ‘What do you want to do terminology-wise?’” Pittman said. “My first answer was, ‘I want you to run your offense.’” Pittman indicated he learned a good lesson about Enos’ adaptability when they first worked together. As the line coach, Pittman said he was “being bullheaded” about changing the terminology used by the previous offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney. “Jim left, so we have a room full of the same guys, a team full of the same guys, so who is going to learn what?” Pittman said. “Well, if you’re a play caller, your terminology comes off your tongue a lot smoother than somebody else’s. “I’d never been a coordinator. He needs that to run off his tongue as fast as he can and be confident. At least I learned from that. He’s really good about implementing some verbiage that we have.” Enos’ offense will have some similarities, but also some changes from past ones he coordinated at Arkansas. The run-pass option will be prominently featured to showcase the skills of quarterback KJ Jefferson. Likewise, the offense will resemble and differ some from the past three years under Briles. The Razorbacks have the potential to go uptempo, but there will be more reads and checks before the snap. “I always thought, and I still do think he’s a great play caller,” Pittman said, “a guy who is very meticulous in what he does and situational football and all that, which I thought we needed.”