Springtime for college football coaches presents an exciting opportunity. Under normal circumstances, Oregon football would be three weeks post-spring game and looking forward to summer workouts. Instead, the Ducks had just a handful of spring practices before Oregon’s stay-at-home order went into effect.
Under the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 universe, programs have to adjust. That was the theme of the Pac-12 football webinar conference Thursday afternoon, featuring University of Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin, University of California head coach Justin Wilcox and University of Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.
The 2020 college football season is still very much in question. Coaches discussed the possibility of new season formats, including an eight-week season or a full season starting in January. On May 7, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown banned attendance at large events such as concerts and sporting events through September, meaning Autzen Stadium will be empty for the highly anticipated matchup with Ohio State slated for September 12. In such an unusual time, Cristobal is getting creative with his preparation methods.
The Ducks meet regularly over video calls to stay engaged and focused as a team. Despite the lack of personal connection, the team is still bonding through a relaxed virtual environment. Cristobal has brought in guest speakers, including former players Marcus Mariota and LaMichael James, to share their perspectives. Cristobal said his biggest test is figuring out how to improve his players without being able to work with them in person.
“You still have to stay fresh as a teacher, whether it be in person or via Zoom,” Cristobal said at Thursday’s conference. “Human contact is really critical.”
Part of spring football is building relationships. Normally, the foundation for a football team is set in early practices. The Ducks lost several key players in the NFL Draft, and new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead needs to get acclimated to Oregon football. However, these changes are eased, Cristobal said, by the culture Oregon football has already established.
Cristobal’s attention is also focused on recruiting. He loses the edge of showing recruits Oregon’s top-notch facilities, which presents another challenge of connecting with young players over video calls.
“Not having people on campus is difficult for every coach,” Cristobal said. “To be able to sit with people face to face and build relationships, there’s nothing like that.”
Above all, the Ducks are focused on maintaining a positive attitude. When the season will start is out of their control. For the time being, all they can do is prepare.
“At some point in time, we’re going to play ball,” Cristobal said. “The team that handles this type of stuff the best is going to have the best chance to have a successful season.”