Two days before kickoff, football practice at Arkansas-Pine Bluff seemed normal.
Well, maybe a little quieter than normal. But isn’t that to be expected?
When a team is 48 hours away from the first-ever meeting against an in-state program that’s won 20 games the past two seasons and plays in a higher division of football, shouldn’t there be a quiet focus? Or is it even a question of focus?
The players on the sidelines during practice didn’t seem jovial as usual, but that could have been because they’re giving Arkansas State their undivided attention. The practice itself was up-tempo, and the players responded.
Normal preparation, right?
Then again, they may have known something isn’t right. They just didn’t say what.
UAPB coach Monte Coleman didn’t hide that fact that something isn’t right. He just wouldn’t elaborate on it.
“We’ve got some issues with certain things, but it’s one of these coach’s nightmares that I’m going through right now,” he carefully said after Thursday’s practice.
The question that prompted the response: “Is everyone healthy?”
If someone isn’t healthy enough to play, Coleman usually says so. He gave a rundown of injured players and their statuses for the A-State game during Monday’s SWAC coaches’ teleconference.
He usually doesn’t leave it up to imagination what specific “nightmare” he may be dealing with.
A coach’s nightmare can be anything going wrong within a program, usually when a player or a number of players become unavailable due to injury or suspension.
“It’s going to take something to get us all on the field, but we’re working through it,” he continued.
Whoa, now wait a minute. What did that mean?
Playing semantics here, it sounds like someone or some players won’t be available for the Arkansas State game. Is that the case? If so, why?
Coleman didn’t offer a clue to either question.
Asked to elaborate on the nightmare, the coach said: “I really don’t want to right now. I think it will be obvious come game time. You and I will talk about it then, but it’s just a bad time right now in Golden Lion Nation.”
Now, the worrying in Golden Lion Nation begins. Because it’s a bad time right now in Golden Lion Nation.
How often have you heard Coleman use that particular phrase?
It’s supposed to be a good time because two Arkansas football programs meet for the first time. UAPB has a shot at stronger national posture. Two conference champions will hook up. Bryan Harsin will make his A-State head coaching debut. The game is almost sold out. The hotels are booked. Talk about the game and after-party plans are rampant.
Those are distractions the Lions never mind dealing with.
But it’s obvious Coleman is dealing with a big concern. The concern, however, is not obvious.
At least publicly, it’s still a mystery.
It’s enough of a concern that Coleman couldn’t keep from reverting to it when asked how the team has responded to planning for an opponent after weeks of preseason camp.
“It’s actually been very good. It’s been a great week of practice,” he said. “They’ve flown around. They’ve held on to what we’re trying to teach. It’s actually been a real good week of practice. We’ve just got other things that’s overtaken us right now.
“Like I said, it’s bad timing in Golden Lion Nation.”
Did you catch the shift in the tone of that comment?
Maybe the Lions will have an answer for Coleman’s concern. Maybe today, the problem will be revealed. And maybe whatever has developed is only another distraction.
That’s about the only thing Coleman would confirm.
“I still believe in this football team,” Coleman said. “We will get over this distraction, and that’s how I’m looking at it, as a distraction.”
A distraction bad enough to hint at, but bad enough not to disclose just yet.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at email@example.com.