Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Pittman gets paid: Coach's salary largest in UA history
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown during the Razorbacks' 24-10 Outback Bowl victory over Penn State on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
FAYETTEVILLE — Details on Arkansas Razorbacks football Coach Sam Pittman’s much-awaited new contract, making him the highest-paid athletic department employee in school history with a base salary of $5 million the next five years, were released by the University of Arkansas on Thursday.
Pittman’s agreement is chock full of incentives, performance escalators and retention bonuses and includes the structured buyout language based on his record for which UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek has been a leading advocate in the industry.
The term of the deal, retroactive to Jan. 1, runs through the 2026 season. Pittman can earn an additional year if the Razorbacks win seven or more games, including a bowl game against a Power 5 or top 25 team, any year during the course of the contract. With two retention bonuses included, the five-year deal averages $6.2 million per season.
Pittman, 60, has led the Razorbacks to a 12-11 record in two seasons, including a 9-4 mark in 2021 that included four trophy game wins, snapping lengthy losing streaks against several opponents, and a 24-10 victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
Pittman, who hired Memphis-based super agent Jimmy Sexton of Creative Artist Agency, in the fall to handle the negotiation, received a pay increase of 66.7% over his base salary of $3 million from 2021, though he earned an extra $750,000 based on the Razorbacks 9-4 record.
Yurachek and Sexton negotiated during the course of the winter, and Pittman said after the Razorbacks’ spring showcase on April 16 that he had agreed in principle to the terms. The contract was completed in Destin, Fla., earlier this week with Pittman, Yurachek and Sexton in town for the SEC spring meetings.
“Coach Pittman and his staff have done a tremendous job quickly restoring the pride and belief in our football program,” Yurachek said in a UA news release.
“There is no doubt, Coach Pittman has proven to be the right man to lead our football team. He has earned this opportunity with the success he and his staff have had on the field and on the recruiting trail. Last fall, we won four trophies, including one for our victory in the Outback Bowl, and enjoyed our best season in a decade, and I believe we’re just getting started. I look forward to continuing to work with Coach Pittman as we build our football program back to elite status.”
Pittman, a native of Grove, Okla., a graduate of Pittsburg (Kan.) State and a long-time offensive line coach in major college football, has maintained he wanted Arkansas to be his final coaching stop. He and his wife, Jamie, have bought and remodeled a lake home in Hot Springs.
“Arkansas is where I want to be, this is my dream job,” Pittman said in the UA release. “I am so grateful for our University and Hunter for believing in me, our coaches and staff and the program we’re building. We are all excited to continue to build on what we’ve done and continue to make our fans and the whole state of Arkansas proud of our football team.”
Pittman’s new deal is believed to rank ninth among SEC head coaches after his 2021 salary was 12th among the 13 coaches at public institutions, ahead of only rookie South Carolina Coach Shane Beamer. Vanderbilt is a private institution and Coach Clark Lea’s salary is not subject to Freedom of Information Act disclosure.
Pittman’s retention bonus pay began accruing retroactive to Jan. 1, and those incentives have three delivery dates. Pittman would be paid a lump sum of $3.3 million on Dec. 31, 2024, $2.7 million on Dec. 31, 2026 and $1.5 million on Dec. 31, 2027, if he is still coaching the Razorbacks on those dates.
The retention pay for each calendar year would accumulate and be due to him even if he is fired during the course of the contract. That would result in $1 million for the 2022 season, $1.1 million for 2023, and $1.2 for 2024 for the first retention bonus. Then $1.3 million for 2025, $1.4 million for 2026 and $1.5 million for the final year, assuming he earns the 1-year extension.
There is language in the deal that states both sides would renegotiate in good faith if the Power 5 conference structure is revised at any point during the length of Pittman’s contract.
Additionally, Pittman has built-in salary escalators based on win totals, like his previous deal. His salary would increase by $250,000 any year in which the Razorbacks win seven games; $500,000 for any year the Razorbacks win eight games; and $750,000 if they win nine games, like last year.
The buyout language Yurachek installed in Pittman’s initial agreement is included in the amended contract.
If Arkansas chooses to terminate the agreement, it would owe Pittman 75% of his remaining salary and other compensation, including earned and achieved escalators, through the end of the term if the program’s winning percentage, starting with the 2021 season, is 50% or better.
If the football team’s winning percentage is below 50%, the UA would owe Pittman 50% of his remaining salary and earned incentives through the end of his term.
The 2021 start date is important because it excludes his 3-7 debut in 2020 when the Razorbacks played a conference-only schedule. Yurachek not only waived that season from the buyout calculation, he also extended Pittman’s original contract by a year based on that season, which was impacted by the covid-19 pandemic.
At the time Pittman was hired, the Razorbacks were still on the hook for payments to their two previous football coaches, Bret Bielema and Chad Morris. The Razorback Foundation reached a buyout settlement with Bielema last year after he sued the foundation in federal court, and buyout payments to Morris are scheduled to continue through the end of 2023.
Pittman can also buy out the contract. He would owe the UA $6 million if he bought out the deal between now and Dec. 1. For the next year after that, his buyout drops to $3 million. From Dec. 2, 2023, through the end of the term, including any extensions, his buyout figure is $1.5 million.
Pittman’s raise and extension came after he successfully lobbied the department to increase salary for all 10 of his on-field assistant coaches. The salary pool for Arkansas assistants has increased by 20.9% to $6.44 million since the end of last season.
Matt Jones of WholeHogSports.com contributed to this article
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