Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Pittman, staff making best of situation
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman (right) is shown with his assistant coaching staff during the Razorbacks' basketball game against Kentucky on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. At left and facing is offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.
FAYETTEVILLE — At Arkansas Sam Pittman came totally unprepared for one situation head coaching the Razorbacks but thoroughly familiar with another.
An unprepared welcome to the club.
No coaches in the U.S. could say they came pandemic prepared for the coronavirus. Worldwide the pandemic has canceled nearly all sports and closed campuses since mid-March.
The Razorbacks new coach had no spring football practices with his new team. Ever since it’s been all online position group meetings and prescribing off-campus conditioning.
Pittman and staff have made the best of it. They did have some February and March winter offseason conditioning time with their new team though not in conventional practices.
“You can get an idea in the offseason and all that,” Pittman said. “But until you get them out there and actually see them play, it’s very difficult to know if you’ve got them in the right position to be able to play for you.”
Prospects of playing this football season seem dubious after White House Coronavirus Task Force infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Senate testimony Tuesday.
Regarding reopening many businesses and activities too soon, Dr. Fauci cited “a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control.”
College football, assembling crowds potentially catching and spreading the highly contagious and deadly virus, plus players virus endangered in a sport defying social distancing, unfortunately, fits the risk exacerbating what Dr. Fauci described.
Nonetheless unless officially medically told otherwise, college teams prepare for 2020 football.
If the SEC ceases its edict closing all campus athletic training facilities through May 31, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek plans June 1 reopening Razorbacks weight rooms. Yurachek seeks SEC clearance for football team conditioning drills by July 15.
Whenever Pittman’s Razorbacks reassemble they do so inherited at low ebb.
At least Pittman is used to it. Though not off dreadfully consecutive 2-10 overall/0-8 SEC seasons like Pittman inherits from Chad Morris, Pittman arrived at Arkansas in 2013 as Bret Bielema’s offensive line coach following the 2012 Razorbacks crashed 4-8 under interim Coach John L. Smith.
Arkansas started 2012 in the national Top 10.
Can Pittman compare the situations?
“I think it was different from when we came here the last time,” Pittman said. “The last time they had come off a losing season but they also had come off two and three years before that in the Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl. We’ve had four years of down time and three different coaches now so that certainly reflected recruiting.”
That said, Pittman immediately admired this team’s hunger to succeed.
“We like our football team,” Pittman said. “We like the way they work.”
That worked for Pittman previously. Though Bielema’s 2013 rebuilding Razorbacks went 3-9, Pittman established a hard-working line. His Arkansas lines blossomed to subsequent 7-6 and 8-5 seasons before Pittman’s 2016 departure to coach Georgia’s offensive line and featured now-former Razorbacks who lobbied Yurachek for Pittman’s elevated return as Head Hog.
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