One of the things I’d been most looking forward to is the chance to spend time with Sam Pittman during spring football. Hog fans have been battered and bruised by four straight depressing seasons. The previous two were like watching some sort of insane horror movie unfold. I had a feeling that Pittman would start erasing the painful memory of that time as soon as he got his new team on the field, working to get better.
Well, spring football of any type is still up in the air but Pittman took an hour out of his day on Friday to answer all of the media’s questions. He offered a breath of fresh air at a time when anything new about Razorback athletics is in short supply. A few minutes into the teleconference I noticed that he brought up a subject that none of us in the media had thought to raise.
Like with the players scattered, how do the coaches make sure they are staying up with all of their online classes, associated homework and projects? Getting them back in great shape physically is important but that wouldn’t matter as much to players that are academically ineligible.
“We have a plan every day of what we’re going to do and we know a bunch of it is staying in touch with our players,” Pittman explained. “We have to make sure that they stay eligible and they’re doing well in school.”
One of Pittman’s best responses came when he was asked about the problems of installing a new offense and new defense to a group of players that never seemed to grasp what the previous staff was trying to teach them even with a full spring practice schedule going into year one. What happens if Pittman and his staff get their first on-the-field contact with their players in August Camp with just under a month to get ready for the season opener?
“We’re going to practice in the high 20’s,” (during the preseason) Pittman noted. “If you just count Tuesday and Wednesday practices (once the season starts) you’re gonna practice just about half your season before the first game starts so we may not have the total amount of offense that we normally would going into the Nevada game but certainly we’d have enough to have success.”
Translation: We’d rather hold back a bit on the pace of the install and get it right rather than to put a bunch of guys on the field trying to run a part of the offense they haven’t perfected. On the surface that may sound a lot like what Morris kept telling us. The difference is he was still complaining about not being about to install the total playbook in year two. Even with the issues a lack of spring football would create this fall, Pittman is still confidence of success.
Pittman is a people person, somebody that thrives on face-to-face contact with those around him including Razorback fans that he meets in public. So how is Pittman dealing with the social distancing directive that every American is being asked to employ during the COVID-19 outbreak?
“Everybody wants to be friendly to me but now they’re not as close friendly,” Pittman said with a laugh. “They’re looking at me like, ‘This dude’s touched a lot of guys. I’m not sure I want to be around him.’ Now, everybody pretty much understands, let’s keep a little bit of a distance. With the restaurants, I don’t go out as much as I did simply because of the virus. Trying to be educated and be smart myself. I do miss that part of it because I enjoy being around people. I enjoy that they want to meet me and things of that nature. It’s an honor but I’m trying to be smart about it as well.”
So what is the Arkansas head coach telling his players as far as their travel plans for the upcoming spring break? Wherever they ended up after classes shifted online and the athletic complex was closed, that’s pretty much where they should spend spring break Pittman indicated. “Stay where you are safest,” he added.
But does that directive also apply to the head coach himself who was specifically asked how he and his wife plan to spend spring break?
“It’s supposed to be 75, 76, 76 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so we are going to go to the Bahamas at my address in Fayetteville, Arkansas,” Pittman joked. “I think I’m going to heat the pool up to be honest with you.”
The shutdown in college athletics has forced a number of changes and a lot of uncertainty on this first time head coach in the best conference in college football but Pittman says he’s moving forward with the same attitude he’s always had: “All we know to do is to go to work. There’s a lot of things we (as a staff) can still do. When everything starts back up we’ll look at it as a positive. We’ll go out there and try to have the best practices of anybody in the country.”