Petrino's return to Arkansas a 'no brainer,' Pittman says

Jefferson's record night powers Arkansas over FIU (1:09)

The Hogs' offense tallies a season-high 510 yards in a 44-20 victory over FIU as KJ Jefferson etches his name in program history with six all-time leader records. (1:09)

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said Thursday his hiring of Bobby Petrino as offensive coordinator was an easy decision once he realized the former Razorbacks coach was truly interested in returning and once the university's upper administration signed off on the decision.

At that point, Pittman said he was unfazed about any scrutiny he might face and called the move a "no brainer" when addressing the media on Thursday.

"You're going to have people that don't agree with a lot of things in life," said Pittman, whose Hogs are coming off a 4-8 season. "And my message is that we're doing the best we possibly can do for the state of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas.

"If every decision I make or everything that I've done, and I'm worried about how it's going to be received, then I'm not being true to myself, and to me, this was the best hire for our university, our program and our state. And so I'm going to stand very firm behind that, and if people don't like it, I'm sorry."

Petrino's hiring was announced on Wednesday, and he and Pittman met with the media on Thursday. Pittman said it was Petrino's agent, Christina Phillips, who first reached out to him via text message about her client being interested.

"To be honest with you, I was just trying to find the best man for the job," Pittman said. "In my opinion, I did."

Petrino, one of the most respected offensive playcallers in the game, took Arkansas to some of the school's best success in football in the past 50 years as head coach from 2008 to 2011. The Hogs won 10 games in 2010 and 11 in 2011, finishing that season ranked No. 5 in the polls and winning the Cotton Bowl.

That run marked the only time since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 that the Hogs have put together back-to-back winning records (6-2) in league play.

But in April 2012, a motorcycle crash involving Petrino revealed an extramarital affair he was having with a female staffer who he had hired in the football office. After an investigation, Petrino was fired for cause when then-athletic director Jeff Long said Petrino lied to school officials.

Sources told ESPN that current Arkansas chancellor Charles Robinson, system president Donald Bobbitt and the university's board of trustees were all a part of signing off on Petrino's return given he had previously been fired for cause, albeit more than 10 years ago.

Pittman worked though the proper channels with his athletic director, Hunter Yurachek, and said he interviewed five people for the job.

"I wanted to hire him. I know he's a good man. We all make mistakes. ... I was adamant that I wanted to hire him, and he was adamant that he wanted to come," Pittman said. "So the university went to work on all that other stuff."

Petrino, who said he's heard from tons of fans and former players since the news of his return broke, got emotional when talking about his second chance at Arkansas. He told ESPN two years ago that he was most upset with letting so many people down when he was fired.

"No, there was never any anger at all," Petrino said. "I was always a Hogs fan. People would ask me, 'Are you going to watch the game? Are you going to watch them play?' I watched as many games as I could. I cheered for them. I rooted for them.'"

Petrino, choking up, added: "I loved the players."

The 62-year-old coach said he took a tour of the Arkansas football complex when he got to town Wednesday and noted how much everything had changed. He was on campus in 2022 as Missouri State's head coach when the FCS Bears came close to upsetting the Hogs in a 38-27 game that saw Missouri State lead by 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Petrino's family lives 150 miles away in Springfield, Missouri, and his son-in-law, Ryan Beard, is Missouri State's head coach.

"I truly do love Arkansas, the university, the state and the people," Petrino said. "I think it's the most special place I've ever been."

Pittman was adamant that it would be Petrino's offense and that he is free to run his system and terminology. However, Petrino said that wasn't the case this season while working as Jimbo Fisher's offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. He said Fisher wanted him to learn and use all of Fisher's terminology.

"What we talked about was being able to come in and run the offense and put the offense in and do that," Petrino said of his conversations with Pittman, while adding that his offense hasn't changed much.

"I don't think it's about plays. I don't think it's about what you do. I think it's about how you use the players that you have, how you get the ball to a Jarius Wright, to a Joe Adams, how you get the ball to Dennis Johnson and how you work the different situations of the game," said Petrino, referencing some of his past players at Arkansas.

"So what I love to do is utilize players and then be really good at the situations of the game and the players really understand what we're going to see in third-and-short, what we're going to see in fourth-and-short, what we're going to see in the red zone, what blitzes they run from the 15-yard-line in.

"Get everybody on the same page and then practice the heck out of it."