It was a chilly evening in December 2015. Outside a home in Northwest Arkansas, a small group of very large individuals gathered. Towering above the crowd was 6-foot-10 lineman Dan Skipper. He and some of his teammates, members of one of the most acclaimed offensive lines in Arkansas football history, had arrived on a mission. They wanted to convince their position coach, Sam Pittman, to stay in Fayetteville.
With Pittman guiding them, that offensive line was the largest in all of football. They produced not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers. They won numerous All-SEC awards. Four of them went on to play in the NFL.
That night, though, they came up short of the goal. Pittman left for Georgia soon after. Despite their failure, as Skipper detailed in a recent interview with Bo Mattingly on the Hog Pod, they still admired the man who brought them to Arkansas, setting the groundwork for Pittman to eventually return to the Hill as head coach.
Sam Pittman’s Conflict and Exodus
Bret Bielema, after Sam Pittman’s exit, said he personally took the offensive linemen to their position coach’s house to force him to tell his players face to face that he was leaving for Georgia, but Pittman refuted those claims. However it happened, Skipper confirmed the players did show up at Pittman’s house that night.
“It wasn’t great,” Skipper said. “It was a tough night.”
The players’ intent was to talk Pittman out of leaving, but it seems that in the end, it was the players who changed their minds, not Pittman. They saw the bigger picture at play.
“The more we were there, the more it was like, ‘Alright, coach, I love you. Go do what you need to do. We’re good,’” Skipper recalled.
Pittman shot straight with his guys. Apparently, according to sources familiar with the situation, there had been a falling out between him and Bielema. Pittman needed to move on. The players seemed to get it.
“In football, especially, there’s big personalities – coaches to players to everyone else,” Skipper said. “Sometimes there’s an event that happens that just makes you need some space and that’s okay.”
Later in the interview, he elaborated: “At the end of the day, sometimes there’s things that are bigger than football that need to get handled and that’s just how it is. You gotta do what’s best for you, for your family, for your overall happiness. Sometimes there’s a lot of different factors going into it.”
Mattingly also chimed in by saying, “Sometimes we see it in professional sports – teammates get into a fight, somebody’s got to get traded or somebody’s got to move on.”
Sam Pittman’s Return
The night ended, but Dan Skipper and his teammates’ respect for Sam Pittman did not. He still loved his coach and, in fact, said, “I don’t think a single guy lost respect for either side when that happened.”
The very day after Pittman left, Skipper was one of many outside a Goodwill store waiting to buy Pittman’s clothes that had been dropped off on his way to Georgia. “It was a tough night, but got this nice little shirt out of it,” he said as he fluffed the shirt with his hand during the interview with Mattingly.
The devotion that Skipper and others felt led them to speak up when, in November 2019, Arkansas was searching for its next head coach.
After getting cut from the Houston Texans, Skipper spoke to his old coach about the job. Pittman told him that he really wanted it. As a result, Skipper went to work. He drafted a letter and then reached out to old teammates to see if anyone would join him in vouching for his old coach.
Many did, and the letter got sent on to Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek. It wasn’t long before a flight was coming in from Athens.
This time around, Skipper was more of an onlooker.
“I’m sitting online on a couple of message boards, paying my nine bucks a month,” Skipper said. “You see what everyone’s saying. All the flight trackers…(I) come in and I see the flight coming from Athens and sure enough it’s (Pittman). It was a great feeling.”
Nearly four years later, Sam Pittman has reawakened the Arkansas football program. He has brought the Razorbacks their most success in a decade, when Bobby Petrino was roaming the sideline. That’s something his former lineman knew was likely.
“No one gets you to play harder and I think that’s probably his best quality as a coach – (getting) guys to play absolutely as hard as they can,” Skipper said. “Getting Coach Pitt in, he got it, he gets it and the results on the field, trending in the right direction. I think that’s all we can ask for as fans, to go out there and have a team that we’re proud of.”
Dan Skipper’s Journey
For the past six years, Dan Skipper has been in and out of the NFL. The 28-year-old Colorado native has struggled to find consistent playing time and has played for six different teams during his time in the league. He even found himself making pies for his in-laws’ pie shop at one point. However, that all changed last year.
Playing for the Lions, Skipper made his first career NFL start in Week 2 against the Washington Commanders. He played so well that after the game he was recognized by his head coach, Dan Campbell, in the locker room.
That clip went viral. Afterward, Skipper was as humble as ever.
“Just knowing that I earned the respect of him (Campbell) during that and then all the fellas, it was another one of those moments that you get emotional about,” Skipper said. “It’s not only the football side, but (that) those guys like me and care for me that much. That to me as much as anything (is what matters).”
Skipper made four more starts last year and played in 16 of the Lions’ 17 games, but now faces the unknown again. He is once again a free agent looking for a team.
“Just waiting to see what happens,” Skipper said. “At the end of the day, if I get the call then I’ll be ready to go. If I don’t, then I’ve played 6 years in the NFL and there’s not a lot of people who can say that.”
When asked about what might be after the NFL, Skipper talked about helping run his wife’s marquee letter business. Former teammate and friend Travis Swanson runs the couple’s Northwest Arkansas branch, but Skipper is also interested in following Pittman’s footsteps.
“I’m thinking about going into coaching,” Skipper said. “Gotta decide if the work-life balance for me is something that is what I want to do… Let’s go out there and find something that I love and if that’s coaching, I’ll be the best damn coach I can be.”
If he’s anything like his old coach he’ll be a good one.
Below are a couple of excerpts from Dan Skipper’s interview with Bo Mattingly:
About Getting Married
Dan Skipper has been married for six years and now has twin boys. When Mattingly asked him about getting married, he talked about the need to get married quickly and how one of his teammates went to great lengths to get the video of his proposal.
“She told me, ‘I’m not moving with you to wherever in this country unless we’re married,’” Skipper said. “So I was like, ‘Alright, after training camp, this thing’s got to go,’ so I actually got engaged here (at Reynolds Razorback Stadium).
“Frank (Ragnow) went and got a video camera from the video staff. Frank’s laying down in a puddle so we got the footage. He was the videographer in all his Grizzly Man Outdoor videos (Ragnow’s YouTube channel).”
How Skipper Came to Arkansas
Here’s the story of how Dan Skipper ultimately signed with Arkansas football in the Class of 2013, the first under Bret Bielema.
“I was committed to Tennessee and then that staff got fired when Dooley was the head coach. Pittman (was) the o-line coach there at that time and he just said, ‘Promise me that wherever I end up, you give me a visit. If it’s a major school, just one visit.’
“So I’m keeping in touch with the carousel while I’m going through visits scheduled and then when Bielema got hired here, I was like, ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ I hadn’t heard from Arkansas or Wisconsin.
“I didn’t think a whole lot of it and then Coach Cheney got announced here and Pitt called and said, ‘Hey, are you available? I can’t tell you where yet, but this is the date.’ He got announced and I came shortly after that and came on that visit to Fayetteville…just the feeling of it’s Arkansas, ‘the cool place.’
“It’s got the home atmosphere that I didn’t get at the other places that I visited. It just fit me personality wise and I knew right away, as soon as I got off the plane and Coach (Barry) Lunney picked us up from the airport.”
Skipper’s Time at Arkansas
During the interview, Dan Skipper also went into detail about his time playing for Arkansas football.
“I loved it. It’s great people, great weather, you got everything you want in one area. Fayetteville itself is a small town feel, but you got all the amenities of any big city. The people, the fans and it just comes back to the atmosphere of being here.
“It’s a good place and it felt like home to me right off the bat. After four years here, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. At the end of the day, it was a great experience for me and (I) hopefully put something on the field for people to remember and gave some people some good times.”
Listen to the full interview here:
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