Finalized Pittman contract includes no-compete clause, extensive buyout language

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, July 24, 2020
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman (right) and athletics director Hunter Yurachek pose for pictures, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 during Pittman's introductory news conference in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman (right) and athletics director Hunter Yurachek pose for pictures, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 during Pittman's introductory news conference in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — As one of the only Arkansas football assistants at the time without a no-compete clause in his contract, then-offensive line coach Sam Pittman was able to leave the Razorbacks for the same job at Georgia in December 2015.

Now Arkansas’ head coach, Pittman’s contract includes no-compete language that prohibits him from taking another SEC job.

Pittman’s 32-page contract was finalized Monday with signatures from University of Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz and UA System president Donald Bobbitt. Pittman and UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek signed the contract last Wednesday.

The contract was discovered through an open records request. Pittman had been working under an offer letter he signed last December when he was hired by Yurachek.

The offer letter outlined the highlights of Pittman’s employment agreement, which runs through Dec. 31, 2024, and includes a $3 million annual salary that can increase by up to $750,000 each year if the Razorbacks win eight or more games.

Pittman would be owed a $250,000 raise for a six-win season, and a $500,000 raise for winning seven games. The pay raises cannot accumulate in a single year.

Pittman is the third Arkansas head coach to have a no-compete clause since former coach Houston Nutt resigned to take the job at Ole Miss following the 2007 season.

"(Pittman) had absolutely no issue with (the) clause," Yurachek said Friday in an email. "I can remember him saying something to the effect that this was his dream job and last job, he had no intention of looking for employment anywhere else."

Such a clause was not included in the contract of Pittman's predecessor, Chad Morris, who was fired last November after posting a 4-18 overall record and 0-14 record in SEC games. Yurachek said that contract was negotiated by former interim UA athletics director Julie Cromer Peoples, but his preference is for head coaches to be barred from taking other jobs within the SEC.

Yurachek said considerations have been made for exceptions for UA softball coach Courtney Deifel (Kentucky) and women's golf coach Shauna Taylor (Georgia). Taylor played college golf at Georgia, and Deifel — a former assistant coach at Louisville — has family in Kentucky.

Pittman’s no-compete clause would be waived if he is fired by Arkansas, but would extend through the end of his contracted date if he left the program on his own.

“Arkansas is where I want to be and this is the job that I want, so there was no hesitation in a no-compete clause," Pittman said Friday. "The only program I’m concerned about is the Arkansas Razorbacks and making our team and student-athletes as successful as possible. I think the contract reflects that. I’m so thankful Hunter and the university believe in me and our staff.”

None of Pittman’s 10 assistant coaches have no-compete clauses in their contracts. That led to offensive line coach Brad Davis and defensive coordinator Barry Odom receiving $100,000 pay raises earlier this year when they were approached about jobs at other SEC schools.

At the time he left for Georgia, Pittman was one of at least two assistants to former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema without a no-compete clause, and all of Bielema’s assistants had such clauses by 2016. None of Morris' assistants had no-compete clauses.

Pittman’s contract includes extensive language regarding buyout procedures if he is fired for convenience. He will be owed a severance equal to 75% of his remaining salary if he wins half or more of his games, and a 50% buyout if he has an overall losing record. No buyout would be paid if Pittman is fired for cause.

The UA would be the guarantor for any buyout payments owed to Pittman. The UA is also the guarantor for up to approximately $10.1 million in severance owed to Morris through 2023.

The Razorback Foundation was a third-party guarantor for up to $11.9 million in buyout payments owed to Bielema, who was fired in 2017. Bielema filed a lawsuit in federal court against the foundation in June, 17 months after the foundation stopped buyout payments, citing a lack of mitigation.

The UA replaced the foundation as the guarantor for coaching buyouts after Yurachek was hired in December 2017.

Pittman’s mitigation language is more precise than Bielema’s. It requires Pittman, 58, to “maximize…earning potential” until the contract expires or he reaches the age of 65, whichever is sooner.

His contract also specifies any contractual disputes must be settled in Arkansas’ state court system. In the Bielema case, the foundation has filed a motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, claiming state court is the proper venue for disputes.

Bielema’s attorneys cite ambiguous language that specifies only “Washington County, Arkansas” as the venue for disputes, and filed their lawsuit at the federal court’s office in the county.

According to his new contract, Pittman would owe Arkansas $6 million if he resigned to take another job at any time before Dec. 2, 2021. That amount falls to $3 million through December 2022, and to $1.5 million for any additional years on the contract.

Pittman's contract includes incentive bonuses that could total more than $1.3 million in a single season. Notable bonuses include: $1 million for a national championship, $250,000 for an SEC championship, $100,000 for appearing in the SEC Championship Game; and at least $100,000 for any bowl appearance.

Appearing in seven SEC-affiliated bowls labeled as "Tier 2" would be worth a $150,000 bonus, and appearing in a bowl affiliated with the College Football Playoff would be worth a $200,000 bonus.

Coach of the year awards and meeting benchmark team graduation rates can also trigger bonuses ranging from $12,500 to $50,000.

Any bonus earned by Pittman in his first season would be deferred to the following year, consistent with UA athletics department guidelines amid the covid-19 pandemic.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Pittman was the only assistant in 2015 without a no-compete clause. It has been corrected to reflect that all assistants in 2016 had no-compete clauses.

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