New Arkansas football Coach Sam Pittman doesn't have a native Arkansan on his 10-man Razorbacks staff, but he's got one assistant rooted to a Branch on Arkansas' football family tree.
Louisiana native and Razorbacks defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc cut his college coaching teeth under Jesse Branch from 2001-2004 at Henderson State in Arkadelphia.
As a running back for Frank Broyles, assistant coach for Broyles, Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield and administrator for compliance to associate athletic director including administrative facilities charge of the NCAA Indoor Track Championships that Arkansas then annually hosted, nobody wore more Hog hats than Jesse Branch. Between his Arkansas coaching and administrative tenures Jesse head coached Missouri State. Finally Branch scratched one last coaching itch at Henderson State just as Northwestern State (La.) State grad LeBlanc first scratched the college coaching surface.
At Northwestern State LeBlanc had played for Sam Goodwin, the Henderson State athletic director who had been a fellow assistant with Branch for two years under Holtz and brought Jesse out of retirement to coach the Reddies.
"I just wanted to coach again but I didn't have any idea who I was going to get to come to Henderson to coach with me," Branch said. "It just so happened Sam had this guy who played for him at Northwestern State. He was going to be the weight coach and coach the defensive line. He would do anything."
Turned out that guy, Derrick LeBlanc, would do very well, Branch said.
"He was an excellent, excellent coach and handled the strength program and do a little bit of everything," Branch said. "No.1 he was just a good guy. The players all loved him. They thought he was fantastic. I have not gotten to see Sam Pittman (Arkansas' offensive line coach from 2013-2015 returned in December as head coach) since he came back here. So I didn't have anything to do with it. But I tell you somebody told him something about Derrick and I think he got a great coach. I think Sam really knows what he's doing."
The first he coached under in Arkansas sure knew what he was doing, LeBlanc said.
"As a young coach I learned a lot from Coach Branch," LeBlanc said. "He's an awesome guy."
LeBlanc coached the last three years at Kentucky. His defensive lines annually so impressed Georgia offensive line coach Pittman and Missouri Coach become new Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom in their annual SEC East games that they brought him to Arkansas.
Kentucky went 10-3 and 8-5 these last two years to Arkansas' 2-10, 2-10.
Why did LeBlanc come? It branches back to those 2001-2004 years under Branch and 2005 under Steve Mullins at Arkansas Tech.
"I got my start in this state," LeBlanc said. "We have a lot of people that we love and a lot of players that I coached before that are now coaching high school and college in the state. So it was a no-brainer for us."
Sports on 05/23/2020