MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This was supposed to be West Virginia’s second week of spring practices.
Life has changed rapidly since the Mountaineers held their first practice session on March 10.
West Virginia coach Neal Brown estimates that 25-30 team members are still in Morgantown, but the remainder of the Mountaineers are flung across the state and country as virtually everyone is homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Speaking] as a planner, nobody planned this out,” Brown said in a Wednesday night appearance on MetroNews Sportsline. “But we can control our response to it. We are trying to get the most work done we can as a staff, and hopefully our players do the most they can. Hopefully we can have a competitive advantage when we get back if we act in a really structured way.”
Of course, no one has any idea of when it is when West Virginia will be able to get back together to begin preparing for the 2020 season.
The very existence of a season hinges on how seriously the concept of social distancing is taken until an effective vaccine is created. One of Brown’s upcoming projects is a public service announcement with WVU Medicine that preaches the importance of staying home at the moment.
Being cooped up at home isn’t preventing Brown or his coaching staff from doing their jobs.
“A bit of an eye-opener for me is how much you can get done working at home,” Brown said. “This experience may make me reevaluate after this experience how much our staff can work from home and get a lot of work done.”
He’s mandated that position coaches have daily video calls with their position groups. It’s more about maintaining a social routine for players than it is about football.
“‘Every day we need eyeball-to-eyeball contact with your position groups,'” Brown has told his assistants. “We need to have our antennas up on the mental-health aspects of this and being on the preventive side of that.”
Technology is helping in other ways. Like every other program in the country, West Virginia is currently unable to conduct recruiting visits on campus or in homes. But coaches can still show recruits what will be awaiting them at WVU. That’s particularly necessary in the cases of prospective recruits who were scheduled to attend West Virginia’s spring game.
“It used to just be talking on the phone. Now it’s Facetiming,” Brown said. “We get parents and an athlete on the phone and we’re treating it like they’re at my office from my office at home.
“We’re trying our best to take our product to them. A lot of our top recruits have been on campus multiple times. A lot of recruits in the Southeast haven’t yet, so we’re trying to take our information to them via video, Facetime and all that stuff.”
Brown is admittedly grateful that such a massive disruption to everyday life did not take place when he was getting to know his new team last spring.
“It would have been really inconvenient to deal with this in your first year. A lot of these guys who are first-year coaches won’t truly know what they have on their roster until they get into fall camp, unless NCAA allows some type of spring practices into the summer,” Brown said. “We have established relationships with our players. It makes virtual communication a lot easier.”
He also made it clear that he understands inconveniences are just that — inconveniences. For those in the world at large, life continues to be altered in significant ways.
“This is a huge burden on people,” Brown said. “It’s not just the medical ramifications, but the financial ramifications. This ripple will go on for quite some time.”