“Momma called” is southern for your alma mater or another entity close to home and heart offering you a job.
That was what coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said after the 1957 season when he left Texas A&M, where he had just dramatically turned around the program in 1956 with a 9-0-1 mark for the Aggies’ first Southwest Conference title since 1941.
Bryant went to Alabama, where he played end from 1933-35 and was an assistant coach from 1936-40. He was Texas A&M’s coach from 1954-57 before Alabama called to offer him its head coaching job.
“And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’,” Bryant said. And the rest is southern fried history.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, whose No. 21-ranked team plays at No. 2 Alabama on Saturday (CBS, 2:30 p.m.), grew up an Arkansas fan in Grove, Oklahoma, 90 miles northwest of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Pittman was Tennessee’s offensive line coach in 2012 when Arkansas — in this case, Momma — called, and he took the offensive line coaching job under new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema in mid-December.
Pittman told reporters he was going to his “dream” school.
But about a month later, Alabama coach Nick Saban called because of an opening on his staff and offered Pittman his offensive line coaching job. And Pittman was thinking about it. He strongly admired Saban, and the Crimson Tide had just won back-to-back national championships in the 2011 and ’12 seasons.
Then his other Momma — the real one, Jackie Pittman — called. He missed the call, so she left a message.
“I don’t know how hard you’re thinking about this,” the voicemail began, Pittman said in a FootballScoop story early this year. “But I didn’t raise a son that would commit to a place and then four weeks later, leave. So I don’t think that what you were talking about with it being Coach Saban and all those other things has anything to do with those kids.”
And Pittman stayed at Arkansas.
“It was just bad timing,” Pittman said this week as his Razorbacks (7-3, 3-3 SEC) prepared to play the Tide (9-1, 5-1 SEC). “I was at my dream school, which was Arkansas. I had just got here. I hadn’t been here maybe three or four weeks. It’s hard to go into a job, and then leave three or four weeks later whenever you just said, ‘Hey, this is the greatest place in the world.’ It just didn’t make any sense to (wife) Jamie and I.”
Saban soon hired Mario Cristobal, who had been fired in early December as Florida International’s head coach. In 2017, Cristobal became offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator at Oregon and took over as head coach in 2018. He has been considered as a candidate for the LSU job, according to media reports.
Pittman left Arkansas after the 2015 season for the offensive line coach job at Georgia, where he remained until Arkansas hired him as head coach before the 2020 season.
“You couldn’t consider it because of timing,” Pittman said of the Alabama job all those years ago. “Let alone my love for Arkansas.”
Who knows where Pittman would be, had he left for Alabama before the 2013 season. And had Pittman not left Arkansas after the 2015 season, he may not have been hired to return as head coach as he would have been on the staff of a fired coach — either Bielema after the 2017 season or of the next one, Chad Morris, after the 2019 season.
Pittman’s respect and admiration for Saban remains.
“I just have so much respect for Coach Saban. I just really do, and I would say that if this was the summer and we never played Alabama,” said Pittman, who lost 52-3 at home to Saban last year to end the season.
“What he’s done is incredible,” he said. “The coaching tree, guys that have worked for him that go out and then have great success. He’ll go down as – in my opinion – one of the, if not the all-time greatest. And I really believe that. That has nothing to with we’re playing Alabama. Zero to do with it. It has everything to do with my respect for him.”
Saban, in turn, praised Pittman this week.
“He has done a fantastic job with this team in the two years that he has been there,” Saban said. “They’re probably as improved from last year (3-7) to this year as anybody in the country. We’re going to have to be at our best.”
Alabama is a three-touchdown favorite by FanDuel.