By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – An official Arkansas Razorbacks starting date to commence football practice boosts the morale but doesn’t change the mindset, Razorbacks defensive coordinator Barry Odom said.
Odom, the former Missouri head coach joining new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s staff, supervises a defense that never had a spring practice.
The ongoing shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic cancelled spring drills before they began and closed the UA campus putting classes all online for the remainder of the completed spring semester and through the summer sessions.
Players have been meeting with coaches visually online and working out on their own since the Razorbacks’ weight rooms and facilities have been closed through May 31 by SEC edict.
Presuming the SEC lifts that edict on its institutions as states either gradually, as Arkansas is doing, or fully lift their coronavirus caused restrictions, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek plans on reopening the weight rooms on June 1.
Many Razorbacks football players homesick, meaning sick of being home as many college students are with extended stays at home after leaving home for college, are back in Fayetteville if they had off campus housing.
On July 15, providing approval of state and UA health experts, Yurachek said the Razorbacks would start walkthrough practices and conditioning towards the official Aug. 5 start to preseason practice leading into the Sept. 5 start of the season at Reynolds Razorback Stadium against the University of Nevada.
Odom was asked about finally having a target date for his defense to start practice even if that could be delayed pending the virus’ July impact.“Well myself defensively we’ve always the mindset is we’re getting back,” Odom said. “We don’t know when but we’re going to stay on a mission on becoming our best and that hasn’t ever changed from our mindset. But for us to get at least a little more clarity on maybe what it looks like I think that has been a boost of positivity which is awesome. And everyone needs it.”
Meanwhile his teaching through virtual reality goes on.“The things that we’ll continue to do is our meetings,” Odom said. “Our guys are doing a great job with that and working out and doing the things they are able to do away from us. But there will be a time that we’re all back together and I know they are excited and hungry for that day to get here.”For coaches never previously working together, Pittman and Odom are about as close as a head coach and coordinator can be.
Both are Oklahomans, Pittman from Grove and Odom from Maysville. Both operate on substance rather than flash. Yet both have accomplished flashy numbers from offenses generated by Pittman’s offensive lines he’s coached including at Arkansas and Georgia and Odom’s nationally ranked defenses he coordinated at Memphis and Missouri and for the last four years oversaw as Missouri’s head coach.
They’ve been on opposite sidelines, including annually in the SEC East with Pittman at Georgia and Odom at Mizzou yet been friends so long that Odom can’t pinpoint when they first were acquainted.
“Close to 20 years I think,” Odom said. “I’ve known him in a lot of different capacities in a lot of ways and always had a lot of respect for him and the job that he’s done but more importantly the type of person that he is. So excited that I’ve gotten the opportunity to work for him. There have been times that over the years trying to be in position to work together but it didn’t ever work out. In the coaching world timing is everything so excited to be here and thankful for his leadership.” Since Pittman is a first-time major college head coach, he sometimes looks to the 2016-2019 Mizzou head coach for more than just defensive input.
“You can’t help but run some different things by him.” Pittman said. I’m very open with our entire staff. I don’t want to be closed-minded if there’s a better way to get things done. I want to make the right decisions because a head coach is a motivator and a decision maker. And if there is a decision I’m struggling with I’ll go with Barry because I know he’s had it in his path.”
Pittman said Odom didn’t spare himself describing obstacles that bumped his path.“He’ll be very honest and say sometimes ‘I did this and wish I had done that,” Pittman said. “If there’s a situation I bring up where he felt he did something right or learned from the job by making a mistake he’ll tell me about and we’ll discuss it.”