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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Pittman's persona makes way to Tampa

by Wally Hall | December 28, 2021 at 2:34 a.m.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Sam Pittman has a strong opinion about bowl games.

"I don't want to cheat the players, our fans or our state," he said. "We are going to play."

The Arkansas Razorbacks have had players opt out, they even left a couple behind for medical reasons -- although there is hope they'll be here by Thursday and play in Saturday's bowl.

Yet, Monday morning four buses pulled up to the University of Tampa soccer fields for the Razorbacks' first practice here.

It didn't draw a big crowd, but it wasn't supposed to.

The players practiced in what is now called spiders. Formerly known as helmets and shorts with the lightest of shoulder pads.

When they boarded the buses at the team hotel it was still a little cool.

Within minutes after they arrived, the Florida sun and humidity came in to play.

"I was wearing too many clothes," Pittman, who had on a black, long-sleeve hoodie, said, "but it was cool this morning.'

Tampa is rolling out the red carpet for Arkansas and Penn State, who has also had opt outs and assorted illnesses, but will play.

While the Hogs rolled through the new part of campus, the old part is an architectural wonder.

Like most colleges in Florida, it is growing.

Pittman roamed the field from one end to the other, pausing to watch each position work out and make mental notes.

It is obvious the only thing on his mind is the bowl game.

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and others were there watching and lending support.

Pittman talked openly about the joy of accepting a January 1 bowl game. They had other options, but being the first game on the first day of the New Year made it a no-brainer.

When he was asked about Christmas, he quickly talked about all the shirts he received. Shirts bought off the rack, something he couldn't do 45 pounds ago.

He smiled when he said he set out to get his wife Jamie a new purse, a small one with a big price, but ended up getting her three. She likes purses he said.

Pittman was cautious about talking about why players weren't there.

He was almost apologetic that he coudn't go into detail because of rules and regulations.

"I also respect the player's right to privacy," he said.

Back at the hotel, the players grabbed boxed lunches and then waited, mostly patiently at first, for the hotel's three slow elevators to take them to their rooms so they could get off their feet and relax a little.

Part of a ballroom has been turned into training room, and just beyond that another ballroom is now the meeting room.

Obviously the hotel knew what was expected of them.

In the meeting room, Pittman took a few extra minutes for interviews with both reporters who were there.

He couldn't help himself. He kept asking how they were doing, how was their Christmas and was it good.

The football questions were answered and pens were put away, microphones were turned off and then the conversation began.

It wasn't anything worthy of headlines, but it was obvious Pittman's focus is the same as it was a month ago, a year ago or even 25 years ago.


Winning football and players' futures.

For a few minutes, it was just a few guys shooting the breeze, and when it ended he said he enjoyed the visiting part.

Then he walked a few feet to the make-shift training room to talk to a few of his players.

By then, the elevators had come and gone enough that the area was empty.

Pittman could be heard talking to the players in that self-assuring tone of his, Making a difference in players' lives is the reason he coaches, and they all know it.

Print Headline: Pittman's persona makes way to Tampa


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