On Devon Hunter’s suspension…
Unfortunately, sometimes we find ourselves dealing with situations that we don’t want to be dealing with. Everyone in this program is somebody’s son or daughter, and it’s just incredibly sad for everybody involved. It’s just one of those things that breaks your heart and keeps you up at night and makes you question yourself. It’s hard to put into words. It’s just a really difficult situation for everyone, not for me, it is difficult for me, but really for everybody else involved.
On the cancellation of the Virginia game…
For the last two weeks, we’ve seen it trickle into our program. I’ve just been so incredibly proud of our players and our training staff and our coaches, because when we brought our kids back in the summertime, we were full-bore on trying to do a great job to defeat this thing, and we’re doing that. Over the last couple of weeks, we saw it begin, just a little bit here and there. I kind of expressed my concern a little bit and then finally it got to where it was just a matter of safety. It had nothing to do with a competitive advantage or disadvantage. I understand what we’re supposed to do and what we’re dealing with.
It’s very difficult for our players and our coaches that we weren’t able to field a team. The numbers expand pretty quickly when you start talking about not just positives, but also contact tracing and retracing steps. You’ve got all of these guys in different levels in their return to play. It’s not like everybody just returns to play on a Wednesday. That’s not really how it works. It became pretty apparent as we approached the weekend and our mock preparations for the first game. It became pretty apparent that we were not going to be able to safely play a football game.
The decisions lie with our medical people. It’s a testament to our leadership that we really lean on them so heavily and what they deem to be playable football conditions. When I told the team, they had been kind of in their own zone, and they may have not quite known where we were at. We just couldn’t pull it off, so they were disappointed.
I did call Bronco [Mendenhall]. We’ve competed so many times from when I was the offensive coordinator at TCU, and he was involved in the defense at BYU and the head coach. We played them when I was at Memphis, and then obviously here in the Commonwealth. I just thought that was what I should do. I should pick up the phone and call him and tell him a little bit about the reasons behind where we were at and what we were supposed to do.
On how seriously the players have taken the situation…
Twitter is a cesspool for people to sit on the couch and throw tomatoes at people. It’s just the world we live in today. It’s kind of gotten to that point that it’s a rush to go grab your phone and weigh in on something as if you’re an expert and know what’s happening behind the scenes. To be honest with you, we do take that personally. Our kids have taken this very seriously and worked very hard throughout this.
We’re in the middle of Blacksburg, and this area has turned into a top twenty hot spot for COVID right now, and we’re all dealing with this. We’re trying to play football during a pandemic. So, people are going to weigh in and say what they want to say. I’ll try to reconcile it with this, there’s no better or worse opinions in the world now. Everybody can put their opinions out in the world now. What used to be said at the coffee pot or the water cooler gets said online to whoever wants to listen. That’s what comes with it. Absolutely it bothers us, we try to not put too much stock into it, but we know where it’s coming from and we take it personal.
On how him and the players are handling the stress of COVID-19…
They are volunteers right now; they want to go play football. Practicing football is not the most enjoyable thing. Playing is fun, but all of the stuff you have to do to play is not as much fun. All they’ve done is practice.
I don’t know how I’m handling [the stress]. I’d hope people around me would say I’ve handled it well and I haven’t twisted off and am running down the street in my pajamas yet. Certainly, it’s a weight that we all bear. It’s always there. In order for us to play the next week, we still have five more test results to get back before we actually know what our roster will look like for the game. There’s a little bit of stress with all of that. I try to take it in stride the best that I can. We have good, supportive people around us and that’s important. For me personally, my wife and kids at home and the coaching staff. They’re invested in these kids and they’re trying to help them do the right thing.
Other people may say that I’ve handled it differently. I think I’ve done a decent job, but it’s certainly always there.
On his approach right now…
I’ve tried my best to map out the players returning. Hopefully, we’ll return to the field in some mode. I don’t know if we’ll ever practice the way that we used to practice in terms of this year. I made another tentative plan and tried to map out everyone’s return and to hopefully, maybe, be on the field for some limited work by the end of this week.
We’ll try to go through our mock stuff because there’s not a lot of physical activity involved with that, but I do think it’s important that we run through everything before we go out and play, especially with the things that will be different this year. My plan is to go through that stuff this weekend, and hopefully by next week we can turn our attention to NC State.
On the process of players returning…
I’ll do my best to try to explain it, but you’ve basically got two groups. You have the symptomatic or positive tests. If you’re positive, you have to isolate for 10+1, and we also have to get an ECHO on your heart. That can lengthen the process a little bit because you have to get those scheduled and there’s a lot of pressure on the medical community, not just here in Blacksburg but across the country. Those things aren’t just snap your fingers and go. If a guy is positive, it’s 10+1 from his symptom date, and if he’s asymptomatic it’s just 10+1. Sometimes that drags on because we have to get the heart work and labs done before they can return to play.
If you are in contact tracing and are around somebody who was positive, that’s two weeks assuming you don’t test positive. That’s two weeks on the shelf, removed from the football team. You can see how it can get pretty big, pretty quickly.
That’s essentially how it works. If you do test positive, you don’t have to test again for 90 days. You basically have three months where you should be good to go.
On playing this fall…
Our players want to go and find a way to get this done. They’ve spent a ton of time and effort on it. I know there’s a lot of conflicting viewpoints on what we’re dealing with. We feel like we’re caught up in the middle of those in terms of how regionalized it has been, whether it’s been politicized, who’s been the sickest, all of that stuff. Our kids do want to play, and I know that we’re committed to finding a way to get this done.
On the mock weekend…
I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it could look like our scrimmage. They did extend our sidelines, so we get all the way to the 15-yard line for the player boxes which will add more space for guys to space out and move with the ball. When the ball is down in the red zone, we’ll still be closer to the action as opposed to being 30 yards away from it.
I still think there are going to be times when you can hear. I read that in an NFL game that it was so quiet that they could hear every check that the opposing defense was making. Now, hearing it and knowing what it means are two different things, but I do think there’s going to be a communication deal. The artificial crowd noise should help with that some.
Our mock weekend, we basically just take all of our meetings leading up to the game. I want everybody, on game week, to know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing and how they’re supposed to be dressed and what they’re eating. That way, they can just worry about going and playing.
We have a scripted game with only helmets, but it helps us with the substitution aspect. You always have new coaches and new graduate assistants. We put our coaches up top and we work the substitutions and the scripts and half-time procedure and all of those things so we know what we’re doing.
On his NC State preparation…
We got pretty far down the road. It seems like that was nine or ten months ago. They play this week against Wake, if I’m not mistaken, so we’ll have a little bit of new film. They’ve got a new defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator, but we’ve got a good feel for what we may see. Now, we’ll get a chance to look at more next week.
We’ve done plenty of work on what we’ve got, but that one game of film will help you narrow down what you’re going to see. The benefit for them is that they get a chance to get some of the kinks out. You see what happens in week one across the country, sometimes huge mistakes are made that cost teams ball games and usually those things get fixed by the second week.
On NC State’s improvement…
I know that on the defensive line, they’ll be pretty talented. We’ve recruited several of those guys, and I know that they were very good players coming out of high school. Now, they’re there and they’ll be pretty productive. They finished the year losing four or five games last season, but they were depleted in the secondary and playing a young quarterback. There were a lot of reasons for their struggles. I expect they’ll be much improved from the way they finished last year.
On the first weekend of ACC football…
I watched a few of the games. I watched the Georgia Tech and Florida State game, and Florida State is just struggling on the offensive line. That’s been the story for them over the last couple seasons. They look good in every other spot, but they struggle on the offensive line. That was a big win for Georgia Tech in the opener.
I watched a little bit of Clemson and Wake Forest and a little of North Carolina and Syracuse. I flipped it around. I’m a big fan of watching games that are close. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of Big XII games because it was a rough weekend for them. Then, we’re always looking for situational things. It’s cool when I’m watching the game, I’ll get texts from assistant coaches and equipment managers, from everybody in the program if they see a situation where somebody messes up or does something really cool or unique. We compile them all and show them to the team.
On the rule changes this year…
We are trying to legislate safety, and I do think that [the targeting penalty] has had a positive impact on the college game, but no matter what you do, they’re still going to be inadvertent ejections. There are guys that did not mean to do it that end up getting ejected for targeting. As coaches, we always thought it was a bad look to trot the guy off through the tunnel, it was a walk of shame for really good kids that were just playing hard.
We don’t see those vicious hits anymore where people are launching at people’s heads. That has been legislated out of the game, so I think it’s a good rule that those guys can come over to the sideline and cheer on their teammates. If you get thrown out for fighting or personal fouls, then you have to take the walk of shame, which I’m fine with.
There were a couple of other rules. You can’t align with the snapper’s shoulders on kicking plays. It used to be that you couldn’t engage with him until he got his head up or had a full one-count. That rule is still in place, but the change here is that you can’t even align with his shoulders. If his feet are really wide, you can line up on his feet, but you can’t be aligned on his shoulders. There are a couple other rules, but this wasn’t a huge rule for changes.