Video still: Arkansas Razorback Football
If 2020 has reminded us or taught us anything, it’s that control is an illusion and every plan we make is only tentative.
Tuesday only brought those truisms into greater focus for Razorback and SEC fans as we learned that Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman had indeed contracted the coronavirus after gaining two positive outcomes from tests administered Sunday and Monday. Barring complications from the virus, Pittman should be able to resume in-person activities with his team on Nov. 18 or 19.
Pittman’s Razorbacks (3-3) will make the trip to Gainesville, Fla. to face the No. 6 Florida Gators (4-1) for a 6 p.m. Saturday (CT) contest that will be televised by ESPN without their head coach.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Florida
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14
Where: Gainesville, FL
Nov. 21 – LSU
Nov. 28 – at Missouri
Dec. 5 – Alabama
The SEC postponed three games over coronavirus concerns on Tuesday and another on Wednesday. For the first time, there is the possibility the conference may cancel a game. Alabama-LSU came into the season as the game of the year. Now, it might not even be played. LSU already has a make-up game at Florida scheduled for the Dec. 12 designated make-up date.
The Tigers will have what amounts to two open dates before traveling to Fayetteville to face the Razorbacks in an 11 a.m. game on Nov. 21.
Saturday’s Auburn-Mississippi State, Tennessee-Texas A&M, and Georgia-Missouri games have also been canceled because of the virus, reducing the SEC’s slate of games to just the aforementioned Arkansas-Florida affair, South Carolina at Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt at Kentucky.
Pittman said he was the lone member of the Razorback staff and team that tested positive for the virus on Sunday during his Monday Zoom call with the media.
“I’m feeling great,” Pittman said. “Well you know, I’m not feeling great. I’m embarrassed. I wish I wouldn’t have gotten the Covid. To be honest with you, I haven’t done anything different than what I’ve done ever since we were on test 33 and the countdown was down to 12 before the regular season. I got a call this morning at 6:30 and said that I’d tested positive.”
The Razorbacks have forged onward with practice this week with defensive coordinator Barry Odom as acting head coach. Odom spent 2016-19 as Missouri’s head coach beating the Hogs each of those seasons. Pittman, who was asymptomatic Monday, planned to review practice tape on his computer and interact with his staff through Zoom during this week and next.
Pittman wisely hired a mostly veteran and skilled staff of coaches who have worked together to quickly turn the fortunes of the Razorback program around. Pittman said Monday that the Razorbacks are in good hands, and preparation for the Florida game will go on mostly as usual.
“I’m just disappointed,” Pittman said. “You get into coaching to coach. I’m just disappointed I’m not going to have the opportunity.”
Pittman said he was looking forward to going to Florida with graduate-transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks, who played the bulk of his career with the Gators, and is disappointed he won’t be on the sideline with the Hogs’ starting signal-caller.
While Pittman said he was the only Razorback to test positive on Sunday, that does not mean the Razorbacks are out of the woods, yet.
No other staffers or players may have been tested positive as of the Sunday test, but under HIPPA guidelines Arkansas does not routinely release testing information on players, coaches, and staff, who were also tested on Tuesday and will have results today. The team’s third weekly test will be administered on Thursday.
Unless there is an outbreak among the Razorbacks forcing the cancelation of their game with Florida, we likely won’t know until Saturday or later if other coaches or players have contracted the virus.
Hopefully that is not the situation, and Pittman’s case is isolated to him, and that he has a full, safe and uneventful recovery.
Pittman’s genuineness and his love of his Razorbacks and the program in general has charmed the state in a very short time, and the unity and competitiveness that we’ve seen from his Razorbacks has returned a sense of pride to the program that had been lost during the ups and downs of the last decade of Razorback football.
While Pittman has been on the job less than a year, he’s brought a measure of stability to the program that I haven’t sensed since Houston Nutt’s dalliance with the Nebraska program after the 2003 football season.
Don’t get me wrong, the Razorbacks have had good and even great seasons since then — particularly in 2006, 2010, 2011 — but the end of Nutt’s and Bobby Petrino’s tenures at Arkansas were so acrimonious and scandalous that even the great times feel a bit tarnished.
Bret Bielema had a few decent seasons, but looking back, he was as much bluster as anything. Even in his best years, Bielema left victories on the table, and his smart-alec statements at a Texas high school coaching convention slit his throat in the Lone Star State recruiting-wise, and he didn’t even realize it.
Other than the program’s glory years of the 1960s and really even then, Arkansas’ program has always been one that needed to overachieve to touch greatness. I know Pittman’s only been on the job for a very short time, but he seems to have the temperament and psychological acumen to galvanize not only overachievement but also true strength among young men.
He has the Razorbacks playing with passion once again, which I know is gratifying to all Hog fans who suffered through the last two seasons.
There’s no way of knowing how this Covid-19 infected season is going to play out as infections rise and hospitals continue to fill up, but if we learned one thing from watching the Hogs’ last six games is that Pittman and his staff have returned a level of pride within the program that makes this team enjoyable to watch even when they struggle.
As Hugo Bezdek said after his 1909 Arkansas Cardinals went undefeated, they’re playing like a “wild band of Razorback hogs.”