FAYETTEVILLE – With his between head coaching stints spanning 27 years coaching major college offensive lines after two years piloting Hutchinson Junior College, Sam Pittman patiently capitalizes on what he can do rather than fuming what he can’t.
The coronavirus pandemic shutting down college sports in mid-March before Arkansas’ first scheduled spring practice kept Pittman and his staff from actively coaching the Razorbacks he was hired last December to coach.
But it hasn’t kept the former Arkansas 2013-2015 offensive line coach from getting the respect of his team and planning for this still uncertain it can be played season, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek asserts.
“Sam Pittman has been unbelievable,” Yurachek said during his Zoom press conference with Arkansas-based media last week. “For someone who’s never been a head coach other than at the junior college level early in his tenure, he has handled everything that has been thrown at him and his staff like he is a seasoned veteran head coach. I’ve been incredibly impressed.”
The Razorbacks have been on campus since June 8 lifting weights and conditioning but without football staff supervision.
NCAA and SEC rules allowed only the strength and conditioning and training staffs supervising those workouts.
Finally, though still without an 11 on 11 walkthrough until forthcoming Friday, the coaches in mid July were SEC allowed to supervise their teams.
“When we had our first opportunity for our coaches to truly be involved with our players on the field for about an hour Tuesday afternoon,” Yurachek said, “and how that was organized and to see him walking around and the excitement that he was walking around, I hope we get to play football just for him. Because I know he’s been waiting a lot time for this opportunity and he’s handled it like a champ.”
With coronavirus figures disturbingly high in Arkansas and raging through much of the SEC’s 11 states, prospects for Arkansas opening the season with its Sept. 5 nonconference game against the University of Nevada of the Mountain West Conference at Reynolds Razorback Stadium appear diminishing.
But until told otherwise, Pittman vows pressing on.
“We can only control what we can control in here,” Pittman said. “In our SEC head coaches meetings, everything is going on as planned, scheduled for Sept. 5. That’s what we’re preparing for. Obviously there’s a lot of different scenarios. But as of today and in the near future, we’re looking forward to starting the season off Sept. 5.”
Yurachek said that’s the current plan with him and Nevada Athletic Director Doug Knuth.
“Doug and I spoke after our SEC meetings,” Yurachek said. “Right now as they sit, they’re ready to come here and play and we’re ready to have them here on Sept. 5 to play.”
Notre Dame, a football independent but otherwise associated with the Atlantic Coast Conference, hosts Arkansas on Sept. 12 at South Bend, Ind.
As of last week, Yurachek indicated he and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick have played phone tag “but I will tell you that the ACC includes Notre Dame now under their umbrella and we’re trying to salvage as many of those SEC/ACC games as we can.”
Among the Power Five conferences, the ACC and Big 12 and SEC all still ponder their scheduling plans while the Big Ten and Pac 12 have cancelled their nonconference competition and will play football only within their conferences.
Playing conference games only is an SEC option under consideration, Yurachek. So is delaying the football season until spring.
“I would tell you that absolutely it (delaying until spring) is on the list,” Yurachek said. “But I will tell you it’s the last option on the list. September 5th has to be the first option, and then pushing it back a week or two, and then another week or two. Then maybe another week or two before you get to the spring option. I think we’ve got several options within the fall. But we just need a different trend in this virus right now.”