FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman along with his coordinators held a Zoom Conference today with beat reporters as football drills are set to begin on Monday.
Obviously one of the hottest topics was related to how safe will it be for college athletes to play football this fall. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 are still planning to play while the Big Ten and Pac-12 opted to cancel fall sports. After months of speculation and postponements of practices, Pittman is ready to finally get on the field Monday after it was originally scheduled for Aug. 7.
“But I can tell you that we’re excited about practice starting,” Pittman said. “I think the kids are excited. You know we’ve been here a long time. There’s a lot that goes into coaching but they name you coach so you can get players out there and try to make them better and things of that nature. So you can feel the excitement of our team, our staff, and everybody in our building. We’re really excited to go see a little bit more about our players.”
The teams have been doing workouts for awhile now, but Pittman explained what makes Monday and the upcoming practices different.
“The speed,” Pittman said. “Instead of a walk we’ll be able to go full speed. The NFL teams do it all the time. We just have to certainly teach them how to practice against each other with no pads on. We’re going to have a full two-hour practice from the time flex starts til it’s over.
“Our guys are going to be able to cover. They’re going to be able to throw and catch. They’re going to be able to do some things, at least some of those things they could do on their own. But now we’re able to coach them and able to see what we can do. It’s going to be an exciting day on Monday, because it’s the first time we’ve ever seen our kids go full speed. It’s exciting to even think about. It’ll just be an amped up version of some of the things we’ve been doing to be honest with you.”
Pittman admitted he became worried when the Big Ten and Pac-12 opted to not have football this fall.
“Well, it didn’t help me,” Pittman said. “Once you saw the Big Ten and the Pac-12 decide not to do it, then you’re going, ‘Well, are we going to follow suit?’ But we were made well aware a long time ago that we felt like we were as ahead or equal with anybody in knowledge of the COVID in our testing plans.
“So I always felt like there was going to be an opportunity to play, and I felt like we’d hang on as long as possibly any conference. To this point, that’s what we’ve done.”
Seeing the SEC making an effort to have football just reconfirmed what Pittman has known previously.
“I think that we’re in the greatest conference in America, and I don’t mean just football staffs and players and all that,” Pittman said. “It’s everybody. Our medical team has been unbelievable. I think we have a wonderful plan with COVID trying to keep our kids safe. More importantly, I think our kids believe that. And so for us to … There’s always been … Like everybody else, it’s ups and downs of whether you’re going to play, whether you’re not. Now I think we’re going to. Five days ago, man, I don’t know.
“So it’s still real fluid about that. But as right now we all believe that we’re going to play, and we’re extremely happy about it. And extremely happy with our commissioner, Mr. (Greg) Sankey.”
A noticeable difference from Pittman’s practices to those of Chad Morris will be the lack of music while practicing.
“Well, we’ll have music in stretch,” Pittman said. “After that, not so much. We talk to our team about going to work. We have to be energetic as coaches. If somebody does something well, we need to be the loudest at practice at that point. If they do something wrong or make a mistake, we need to teach that. That’s what needs to happen. We need to be teachers in ties when they need taught and when they do something well, we need to bring the energy. I have a staff that believes in that same thing.
“We are a blue-collar football team in my opinion and we have to go back to the grassroots of blocking, tackling, hitting, technique and playing physical and pursuing the football. That’s what we’re going to try to get out of every practice and we’re going to try to practice better than anybody else in the country every single day. When we’re off the field, we’re going to enjoy each other, but when we’re on the field, it’s a work day.”
The Hogs will hit the practice fields at 2:45 p.m. on Monday. Pittman talked about how the team will work into the schedule.
“It’s just so different,” Pittman said. “Could we amp that up? Maybe a little bit, but you know, our walks are supposed to be walks. So probably, we’re going to go three and come back with four until we get to 12 of those to get to 15. So it’ll be four for four weeks and then end up with five the last two weeks. We were going to go 3-3 and then a 5 and a 4, but we’ve changed our mind there. It’s the first week of school and we felt, earlier, that we weren’t going to be able to practice more than three times that week, but we’ve since changed that. This week’s going to be pretty hard on them coming up because it’s going to feel like camp to them a little bit more than obviously when school starts.”
Hunter Yurachek has talked about a bubble for the team and feels it can work extremely well. Pittman reiterated that thought too.
“I feel good about the bubble when they’re here,” Pittman said. “When they go home, I feel good about it, as well, simply because they’ve been so good in the last…for a long time. But, when things change – which it’s changing, students are on campus now – then that’s whenever. We had a long talk about it this afternoon about things are changing, you can’t. That’s hard for young guys. They want to make friends and different things, so they’re just going to have to be very, very disciplined. I expect them to be disciplined because they’re grown men and because that’s what we ask them to do. So far, they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.”
Barry Odom, the defensive coordinator, is very impressed with how Pittman has handled this situation since becoming head coach.
“I can’t really put into words how impressed I’ve been with it,” Odom said. “He has created belief in our program, and it’s just the way he is as a person. There’s not anybody that’s going to outwork him. The decisions he’s making for the entire organization is for us to continue to move forward. I felt similar ways on some of these things when I became a head coach. They don’t give you a manual that says ‘turn to page seven, this is how you handle the COVID, and he’s done a heck of a job. He’s got a lot of good people around him. Leave no question, when we walk into the staff room he’s got a clear plan on what he wants, how he wants it, and he’s been able to put it into play. Above everything else, the things I’ve known about Sam for 20 years you see come out in him being a head coach. He’s passionate, he’s got great energy, he cares about the kids and he’s so deeply caring and energetic and passionate about the Arkansas Razorbacks.”
Kendal Briles coordinates the offense and is equally impressed with Pittman.
“Well you can look at some of the things we’ve been able to do from a recruiting standpoint and that’s all coach Pittman, it really is,” Briles said. “The leadership he has given our staff and I feel like we have one of the best staffs in the country. The people, the men in this building and obviously he hand-selected all those guys. He has done a tremendous job.
“There’s not a formula or a book you can turn to when this type of thing happens. You have to go commonsense and instincts and doing what you feel like is best to help you win. That’s really all we’ve done is we’ve tried to figure out what’s best for the team. The players first and the staff and then make decisions on whether or not that’s gonna help us win a game.
“I think he has kept it pretty simple. The thing about him is you know what you are getting. That’s what I love about him is the consistency on a daily basis. You know exactly what you’re gonna get every single day. You are come to work, have fun, but get a lot accomplished because he is gonna be there in the staff meetings directing us to do what we need to get accomplished on a daily basis. The thing I appreciate obviously coach Odom has head coaching experience and he’s allowed the coordinators, including coach (Scott) Fountain, our special team’s coordinator, to be very involved in all scheduling. He’s not just telling everybody exactly what to do. He wants to communicate and make sure we’re all doing it right. I think everybody appreciates that.”
Arkansas will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 26, against an opponent yet to be named.