FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman returned in person Wednesday from COVID-19 quarantine to his Arkansas head coaching job only to find some of the Razorbacks who have played for him unable to play Saturday against LSU because of COVID positive tests or contact tracing quarantine.
Quarantined at home since Nov. 9 because of positive tests causing him to miss last Saturday’s 63-35 loss at Florida, Pittman has since tested negative.
He was back in the office and practice field Wednesday as the 3-4 Razorbacks ready for Saturday’s 11 a.m. SECN televised SEC West game against the LSU, Tigers, 2-3, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I’m personally excited to be back at work and looking forward to seeing our football team this afternoon,” Pittman said on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference.
Pittman then was asked how he’s feeling personally and about reports that a sizable portion of Razorbacks either have tested coronavirus positive or through contact tracing are in quarantine and will be withheld from Saturday’s game.
“Well, me personally I’m fine,” Pittman said. “I feel good. We’ve had some positives this week that certainly will affect our football team. But per numbers mandated by the SEC, we’re still within that number, ratio, so we’re looking forward to playing.”
Do the absences include key starters? Do the Hogs have the depth to compete?
A long pause …
“We’ve got an adequate number of people to play,” Pittman replied.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron certainly can empathize.
Because the Florida Gators were too numerically COVID-19 positive afflicted, the Tigers earlier this season postponed their game with Florida until Dec. 12.
Last week, the Tigers were so COVID-19 positive tests and contract tracing afflicted they had to postpone their last Saturday’s scheduled game versus Alabama.
Finally reassembled after last playing on Halloween, does Orgeron fear Saturday’s game becoming postponed?
Under SEC protocol for this entirely SEC 10-game season, teams must have a minimum 53 scholarship players available to play a game.
“I haven’t heard anything yet, so we’re planning on playing,” Orgeron said. “I feel like they are going to want to play and unless their numbers get so low… Our numbers got so low last week that it wasn’t in the best health of our football team. We couldn’t play. So I understand if their numbers get low, but I haven’t heard anything.”
Until the Razorbacks received their Sunday and Tuesday COVID tests results, the early-week speculation centered on if LSU had enough available players for Saturday.
“We had most of our guys back,” Orgeron said Wednesday of the Tigers’ Monday and Tuesday workouts. “By our take of practice yesterday our guys are ready to play.”
Pittman and Orgeron can compare more than COVID notes.
As head coaches, both former defensive line coach Orgeron, at Miami, Syracuse, Southern California, Tennessee and LSU among other places, and former offensive line coach Pittman became head football coaches without first being coordinators.
Pittman, in the SEC an offensive line coach at Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia before called last December to head coach the Hogs, has personally, including this week, twice thanked Orgeron for his 2019 national championship head coaching success at LSU with trailblazing his Arkansas head coaching path.
“I think he’s one of the guys that paved the way for non-coordinators because of the success he’s had,” Pittman said Wednesday.
Orgeron opened his teleconference expounding on Pittman reviving the Hogs from the 1-7, 0-8, 0-8 SEC teams preceding him to the current very competitive 3-4 Hogs.
“First of all I would like to compliment Sam Pittman and his coaching staff,” Pittman said. “What a tremendous job they’ve done to turn this Arkansas team around. Outstanding coaching job and I compliment their players the way they play. They have a good football team. They will be a challenge for us.”
Arkansas assistantships influenced their career paths greatly.
Orgeron’s 1987 and 1988 Arkansas stint under Ken Hatfield, first as an assistant strength coach and then graduate assistant defensive line coach, marked his first Division I experience.
“I spent two great years there,” Orgeron said. “I love the place. I learned a lot under Ken Hatfield, I’m going to see him before the game. Dean Weber (Arkansas’ 1973-2008 trainer since 2009 in the Razorback Foundation) hired me up there. Just tremendous guys. They taught me how to be a football coach. I respect the Arkansas program. I’m glad to see Sam Pittman is bringing it back.”
Pittman’s 2013-2015 Arkansas tenure coaching Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks offensive lines include the 2014 and 2015 17-0 and 31-14 victories over LSU in Fayetteville and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the last times that Arkansas beat the Tigers and claimed the Golden Boot awarded the winner of the annual SEC West game.
“I remember it was a big deal,” Pittman said Wednesday when asked to recall those games. “The guys went over there and grabbed the trophy and all that kind of stuff. Certainly was glad to be a part of that. But it’s 2020 now and we’ll have to figure out how to try to get the win this year.”