OXFORD • For new coaching staffs, voluntary football workouts are about much more than physical conditioning.
For at least some members of the staff, it’s about getting to know the players too.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has bemoaned the loss of spring drills as a critical time in learning players on a roster he inherited in early December.
The football season was finished. For new coaches, spring offers the first chance for routine, for daily team meetings and practices.
COVID-19 not only took away practice but face-to-face meetings also as players scattered, and Zoom calls became the norm.
Kiffin has also missed getting to better know a staff of assistant coaches that wasn’t finalized until late January.
“Staffs are so big right now, there’s a ton of them. It used to be you had your normal coaches and a couple of GA’s (graduate assistants). Now we have 10 coaches and four GA’s and all kind of (administrative) coaches,” he said.
Head coaches and the on-field assistant coaches are not allowed to instruct players during this time in the off-season.
That’s limited to strength and conditioning coaches like Wilson Love and his staff, the representatives of the football program who are the first to really see players in a work environment. It would be that way under normal circumstances, but with the COVID-19 layoff that first look has to last for a long, unspecified time.
After COVID-19 testing and education the previous week, Ole Miss and all SEC schools opened their doors for voluntary workouts for football players on June 8.
Love and his coaches are excited to have the players back on campus and – mostly – under the same roof.
Social distancing guidelines have changed some things about workouts. Not all players are in the building at the same time, and there’s a limit of 25 people in the weight room.
But players are adapting, and so is the strength staff.
“It’s an incredible feeling. You miss those guys for so long. You get only seven weeks with them in the winter,” Love said. “Just to finally get to see them and be around them is an incredible experience in itself.”
Outside the box
Love said he encouraged his staff of four assistant coaches during the COVID-19 shutdown to rethink how they do things in workouts.
“You get to read so much different material. I challenged the staff each week to have different things like, ‘Hey, let’s hit this topic, let’s hit that.’ Maybe not just strength and conditioning, maybe mindset training. You don’t get those opportunities much, that time to rethink things and make it the best program for the kids that you can.”