June 8 probably can’t get here fast enough for Sam Pittman and the Arkansas Razorbacks’ football coaching staff.
Next Monday is only the beginning of “voluntary” strength and conditioning workouts for the forthcoming season, but every Razorback who plans to play this coming season other than incoming freshmen will basically be in the fold. That has to bring some relief to the coaching staff who has no doubt dealt with the strangest circumstances of their coaching career this spring.
With the unrest that we see on our doorsteps thanks to the coronavirus and the recent protests of which some have turned violent, I know the Razorback football coaching staff will have to feel better to have their players back under their sphere of influence, even if it is limited.
The Razorback coaches can’t attend the “voluntary” workouts, but the UA’s training and strength and conditioning staff can, and that is a good thing. While trainers and strength and conditioning coaches may not be that well known to fans in general, they are the heart of every healthy college athletic program.
A great trainer and strength coach is worth their weight in gold not only for their skill and knowledge but also for the human touch they apply with their jobs.
Many if not most of the time, they have the closest relationships with the players of anyone on staff. The trainers are there to help and to heal to encourage and course correct. And even provide a little levity.
Two of the most popular men in and around the UA campus for decades have been Dean Weber and Dave England, two longtime Razorback trainers who have in recent years transitioned into other roles. England is now in an administrative role as director of athletic training and Weber is the assistant director of the Razorback Foundation. When players return to campus, these are they guys that they look forward to seeing the most because of the bonds that were forged.
Trainers and strength and conditioning coaches see players at their highest and lowest. They work with the stars and the walk-ons, the fifth-year seniors and the freshmen.
There was a time at the UA where many athletic administrative positions were filled by trusted former coaches, and ex-players would visit them and feel at home. There’s been so much upheaval and change at the UA the last 12 years or so that those bonds aren’t nearly as common, particularly in the football program.
It does make the UA athletic department a bit of a different place than it once was, and that’s why its important that the program does retain some familiar faces like Weber and England as well as many of the talented and personable executive assistants that have served at their posts for many years.
These people are the connective tissue that bind athletic programs together during change and present a familiar face to ex-players and even to fans to a certain degree.
So just having the players back around the staffers that do care about them as well as the program has to be comforting to Pittman and his staff who are not only treading new ground as UA coaches but are dealing with one of the most challenging situations college football coaching staffs have ever faced.
This is going to be a challenging season for all athletic programs. It’s going to be interesting to observe how they adjust. Some might flourish, while others could struggle to adapt. Make no mistake, how athletic programs handle these changes and adjustments will impact the play on the field.
Just from a numbers standpoint, it seems football will face the most adjustments until there is a vaccine. It will be interesting to see what innovations will be developed that might actually push the game forward. We’ll just have to wait and see.
This isn’t going to be a normal season in any way shape or form, but as a fan and observer, I’m glad the first wave of Razorbacks are getting set to return to campus to train. It can only be positive for the program.
Crutchfield Accepts Head Coaching Job
Chris Crutchfield / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
When a head coach hires quality assistants, he knows at some point he is going to have to replace them. Quality people often accrue even better opportunities.
That’s the situation Arkansas head basketball coach Eric Musselman faces with the departure of assistant basketball coach Chris Crutchfield to become the head coach at Division II program East Central (Okla.) University in his home state.
“I think I speak for the entire program by saying how happy we are that Coach Crutch has earned this well-deserved opportunity,” Musselman said in a statement. “Crutch made a positive impact with our student-athletes, and we thank him for helping us lay the foundation for a successful future.
“East Central University is getting a high-quality coach and even better mentor to develop young men.”
It’s doubtful Musselman thought he would be making another hire so quickly, but every good manager always sees making a hire as an opportunity rather than a hassle.
The fact that Crutchfield moved into a head coaching position so quickly from Musselman’s program is a benefit because it is proof positive to a coach who wants to advance his career that it can happen from Arkansas.
The fact that the program signed a top five recruiting class in Musselman’s first full-year of recruiting should only make the opportunity that much more enticing for the right coach looking for an opportunity excel in recruiting, which is a must for any college coach.
Having put together his staff so recently should be helpful to Musselman because he probably still has a number of candidates fresh in his mind, but with recruiting still in a dead period because of the virus, he should have more time to research potential targets.
From a fan standpoint, it’s going to be interesting to see who Musselman hires to see what new skills and talents his new assistant can bring to a program that is clearly on the rise.