This article originally appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on December 21, 2019:
The person sitting next to Jamie Pittman, the new first lady of Arkansas Razorback football, at Coach Sam Pittman’s introductory celebration Dec. 9 might not have been familiar to the casual University of Arkansas fan.
But attorney Judy Henry has an extensive background in Razorback athletics and sports law, and the self-described Razorback fan played a huge role behind the scenes in helping the Pittmans return to Arkansas after a four-year absence.
Henry, a sports agent and attorney with Wright, Lindsey & Jennings of Little Rock and Rogers, took on Sam Pittman as a client this fall. She gave him a huge assist in his dark-horse run to the top of Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek’s list.
She called Yurachek not long after he fired Chad Morris on Nov. 10 to let him know Pittman, then the associate head coach and offensive line coach at Georgia, was interested in the Hogs’ head coaching position. The Pittmans already had a longstanding love affair with Fayetteville and the Razorbacks based on Sam’s trip to a Lou Holtz football camp during the late 1970s from his hometown in Grove, Okla., and also from his stint as offensive line coach at Arkansas from 2013-15 under Bret Bielema.
“The fact that Jamie and Sam loved the state and the people and the university was an added bonus,” Henry said. “It was certainly one of the factors that I highlighted for Hunter. This is not a career move for Sam. This is not a job for Sam. This is a passion for Sam. He really wanted to come back to the state of Arkansas to coach.
“I remained optimistic throughout the process. I never gave up hope for Sam becoming the next head coach at the University of Arkansas because I knew he was the right man for the job at the right time. I might not equal his passion, but I can come very close to it. His passion for the job was parallel to my passion.”
Henry’s passion for the Razorbacks comes naturally.
After completing her undergraduate work at the University of Central Arkansas while on a gymnastics scholarship, she received her master’s degree at the University of Arkansas in 1981. Meanwhile, she was starting a club gymnastics team at the UA and coaching gymnastics at the Fayetteville Youth Center while pursuing her law degree, which she earned in 1984.
“I literally walked from the gym into the courtroom,” Henry said of those days in the early 1980s.
She married former Arkansas football player Cliff Henry, a letterman from 1979-81, and they are the parents of former Razorback tight end Joseph Henry, now a coach who has worked at Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham Southern, Prairie View, Florida A&M and Missouri.
“There are not many lawyer-agents who can say they are the mother of a football player, and the wife of a football player, negotiating for someone to be the head coach at that university,” Henry said.
Some of her previous clients include former Hogs Joe Adams, Brey Cook and Wade Grayson.
Pittman worked 28 years in college coaching without an agent. A friend named Brandon Adams, who lives in Fayetteville, recommended Henry to him this fall.
“I talked to Judy one night on my way home from work,” Pittman said. “It was pretty late. The way she is and the way she talked and the people that she felt like she knew that she could get in contact with about the Arkansas job, I felt like it was my only chance that I could get the job. To be perfectly 100% honest, without Judy Henry, I don’t believe there’s any way in the world I would have got this job.”
Pittman said when they hung up, Henry went to work.
“I guess she was sort of like the team we want to be — she was relentless,” Pittman said. “And the next thing I know, I’m involved, which I certainly wasn’t before. She believed in me, and I could feel it on the phone.”
Yurachek; deputy athletic director Jon Fagg; and Steve Cox, a UA board of trustee member and ex-Arkansas kicker, comprised the three-man search team. While Pittman’s name came up early in the search — with the weighty backing of a large group of former Razorback offensive linemen — the trio flew from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest interviewing candidates while Pittman, in his fourth season with the Georgia Bulldogs, was preparing for an appearance in the SEC Championship Game.
Henry stayed on the offensive for Pittman and caught Yurachek’s ear.
“Obviously, Judy has a passion for the state of Arkansas and understands the state and the University of Arkansas and understands her client,” Yurachek said. “She thought Sam would be a great fit for a head coach at the University of Arkansas.
“She was persistent in continuing to keep his name in front of me and on my mind. But she wasn’t … overzealous. She did it in the right manner. It wasn’t like every day she was calling and pounding me. She picked her moments and her spots to make sure that Sam was always kind of on our list.”
Henry said Yurachek was receptive from the start.
“From my perspective it was a win, win, win, win all the way around the circle,” she said. “There was no downside. That’s what I tried to convey to everybody, including Hunter, that this was a positive. A 360-degree positive. There was not a downside for the UA, not a downside for Sam and Jamie.”
The day after Georgia’s loss to No. 1 LSU in Atlanta, the search team huddled with Pittman and came to an agreement.
Henry said Pittman, who was low-key effusive and fighting back tears at the same time during his introductory news conference, is authentic.
“I know that it was genuine and I know those were tears of happiness and a recognition that his hard work was being recognized, and I think his gratitude was probably shown in his tears as well,” Henry said. “He is a very gracious man, and it’s very exciting to see him interact with everybody at the university because he has a genuine respect for people, like he talked about, and the traditions and the program at Arkansas.”
Pittman signed a five-year deal that will pay him $3 million per year with an incentive structure, but also a buyout formula that would pay Pittman less money if he is fired with a record below .500.
“It was more important to Coach Pittman to earn his salary than to be paid to leave,” Henry said.
She has taken note of the exorbitant buyouts being doled out for underperforming coaches, such as Bret Bielema and Chad Morris in Arkansas’ recent past.
“There’s something wrong with that business model, the way the coaching world operates,” Henry said. “And it did not fit his work ethic. And so we wanted him to be incentivized for doing well rather than paid to go away.”
Said Pittman about the buyout language: “I’m not planning on getting fired, so I’m really not concerned about it to be honest with you.”
Pittman has logged roughly four hours of sleep per night in the two weeks since he’s accepted the Hogs’ head coaching reins, but he’s still grateful for having landed the job and having Henry working on his behalf.
“She has a very unique way of talking to people, and people listen to her,” Pittman said. “So I’ll say this, she was outstanding in the deal. And again, to reiterate, I just don’t feel like I could have gotten the job without her.”