FAYETTEVILLE – During his 2013-2015 tenure coaching Arkansas offensive linemen, Sam Pittman’s folksy yet demanding demeanor bred a group training hard year round to please. Now, more than ever, as not only a first-time major college head coach, but under these unfathomable coronavirus pandemic circumstances, Pittman needs an entire Razorbacks team training hard without the customary spring and summer conditioning supervision.
Since mid March, all intercollegiate athletic competition and coach led practices have been quashed with athletic weight rooms as closed as the rest of the campuses. The UA has conducted all its classes online since the pandemic hit the national shutdown button and will stay online at least through the summer sessions.
So players, whether in their hometowns or back in Northwest Arkansas in off-campus housing, are honor system on their own even as strength coaches Jamil Walker and Ed Ellis prescribe workouts and the coaches hold player meetings via Zoom and Skype and such.
From feedback, Pittman believes the Razorbacks have worked hard. But what if hope fades, that this football season, already preparation behind with spring practices canceled, will begin on time if at all?
How do you keep them working out hard then? “I think you continue to motivate and continue to talk about hope that there will be a season,” Pittman said. “Because there is hope for a season. Conditioning certainly will be a concern, but I’m telling our kids we trust you to be grown men and to come back in the same shape that you would be in if you were here and us pushing you. Now is that a tall task? Absolutely that’s hard to do.”
But he asserts already knowing they’ll do it. “If you trust your team and you trust that they’re working, there’s no reason why you can’t come back in the same type of shape they would be in if they were here,” Pittman said. “Now some people react to that different than others. But there is certainly a possibility that they could come back in excellent shape and that’s what we expect.”
It’s a big summer for the offensive line, the biggest not only in college but the NFL, too, when Pittman coached them under Bret Bielema, but mostly considerably smaller for the offense that previous head coach Chad Morris sought but couldn’t effectively implement.
The offensive line isn’t the only line that Pittman wants significantly bigger and stronger when and if preseason practices begin. “Defensively the biggest concern for us is size in that D-line,” Pittman said. “We’re not real big. So we tried to help ourselves in recruiting and we’ve got to help ourselves in the offseason getting bigger. Size doesn’t mean you can’t play. It just means you likely can play a little better if you get a little bigger. So that’s what we’re trying to look at.”
For what was supposed to be typical spring and summer albeit a considerably important one starting Pittman’s first year, the Razorbacks would have wrapped spring drills with the of course unplayed April 25 Red-White game with the staff making the May recruiting rounds to high schools and Pittman hitting the Razorback Club circuit.
Precautions against the virus vanquished all that but not, Pittman said, Arkansas fans interest in the Razorbacks. “The reception that I had from this state was and still is incredible,” Pittman said. “And I’m honored and very humbled that people’s belief in the Razorbacks is so powerful. I think we have to go out and prove that they hired the right coach and he hired the right coaches. You do that, the fan base certainly will be there.”