Pac-12 Football Coaches Webinar: The Road Ahead

Monday's conference with the media featured Stanford's David Shaw, USC's Clay Helton, and Washington State's Nick Rolovich

On Monday, three Pac-12 football head coaches met the media on a Zoom call to discuss how teams are operating during a time dominated by COVID-19. Stanford's David Shaw, USC's Clay Helton, and Washington State's Nick Rolovich took part in a conversation moderated by commentator Yogi Roth. Below is a summary of their discussion.

Question: Two of you had fathers who were coaches, while Coach Rolovich’s dad was a firefighter.  How did your upbringing help you deal with the current uncertainties?

David Shaw: My dad, before my first football internship, just said to me: be yourself.  In order to truly engage with your players, you have to be authentic, honest, open, and accessible.  My father was real with his players.  I’m going to be myself and who I need to be in order to reach my players. 

Clay Helton: Dad was a tremendous relationship builder.  He coached guys really hard but also built trust with them through character, knowledge, care, concern, and honesty.  Given what we’re going through, you have to be honest.

Nick Rolovich: My dad said: “Never eat soup in the rain.  You’ll never finish.”  If you put your mind to it, you can make stuff happen.

Q: You weren’t around your fellow coaches at spring meetings.  When are we going to play?  What are the discussions like now?

Shaw: Woodie Dixon (Pac 12 General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Business Affairs) has led the conversation.  What I love about our conference is the engagement and mutual respect.  We have a great group of guys who love the sport and want it to be played at a high level.  Our meetings have been very productive.  We’ve all learned a lot.  Hopefully we’re in a position to handle whatever comes our way.

Helton: I appreciate how much care and concern is going into the health and safety of the student-athletes and everyone involved.  We need testing and secure environments.  There is an unbelievable wealth of knowledge out there.  There are some brilliant people who are formulating a plan.  Student-athlete health and safety is priority number one.

Q: Coach Rolovich, it came out that one of your players (wide receiver Renard Bell) battled COVID-19.  How have you connected with your team during this uncertain time?

Rolovich: The current situation has allowed us to focus on those personal relationships, concentrate on getting to know who our guys are.  It has been productive.  We are looking forward to getting on the field.

Shaw: There are many questions.  What is the safest way to go about doing what we want to do?  That includes processes and contingency plans.  What if the campus isn’t totally open?  What about weight rooms? What does quarantine and testing look like?  Will it look different two months from now?  We need rapid diagnostic testing.  Those things have to be in place to go to step one, two, three four.  We need a process in place.

Helton: We’re all optimistic as coaches.  We don’t know what the start date will be.  We’ve been talking about all different scenarios, whether it’s on time, pushed back, abbreviated, or what the playoff situation will look like.  We’re all going to have a tremendous gratitude to play the game we love if it does happen.  In 6-8 weeks, we should have a better picture of what will happen.  What the NFL does may matter, too.  

Rolovich: It’s a blessing for the people and students still here that we haven’t been that affected locally by COVID.  We’re all in with Washington but haven’t had it as bad as many other West Coast regions.

Q: What was your reaction to Rolovich becoming the coach at WSU?

Helton: What an unbelievable hire for Washington State.  What an awesome fit, with a personality that’s big.  Rolo: don’t change, man.  Just be yourself.  You got there for a reason.

Shaw: Go after all those records, all those Mike Leach records.  Preferably against Clay, not me.

Q: Coach Rolovich, you used to bring a gift to Pac-12 Media Days for other coaches.  This time the event will be virtual.  What’s your plan this year?

Rolovich: The coaches that bought in, it really gave us a camaraderie.  I would bring some Cougar Gold cheese if I could attend in person this year.  We’ll probably get something going when we meet in person again.

Q: What level of concern do you have about California being open in time to start the season?

Helton: There’s a lot of unknown out there right now.  I think we’ll have a much clearer picture in 6-8 weeks.  We’re all glass half full guys about the possibility to play a season.  What the start date and structure looks like is uncertain.  The discussions have taken place with a national scope, even with some of us under stay-at-home orders.  We are trying to start the season all together.

Shaw: I have been encouraged.  Our governor (Gavin Newsom) has been one of the most outspoken and aggressive governors, but he has also been sharing ideas with officials in other states.  Hopefully all the Western states can be on a similar timeline, but they are keeping in communication.

Q: Can you identify some of the issues with recruiting during the lockdown?

Shaw: Not being able to talk to people face-to-face, showing them around campus and featuring the academic aspect.  We are still on FaceTime with recruits.  It has been a challenge for us, trying to show all parts of our academic and athletic experience to prospective students.  We are having to think outside the box.  Now we’re all experts on Zoom and many of us hadn’t heard of it a couple of months ago.

Q: Could the schedule be changed so that all 11 games would be played against conference opponents?

Helton: We have discussed this.  That is one of the many structures as we go through this situation, the possibility of an all conference schedule depending on where we are in 6-8 weeks. 

Shaw: There are all big conversations we have within our conference and with the College Football Playoff authorities. 

Q: What about playing in empty stadiums?

Rolovich: We can save time on silent count practice (laughter).  Fans are part of the financial model, but how we handle that is not really part of my job description.  We’re just trying to play some games this fall.

Helton: Health and safety has been priority one.  We don’t know when we can be back together as 110 men.  When we’re given the opportunity, we’re going to be grateful.  Fans or no fans: that is the unknown.  Hopefully it means that the virus is further behind us if we can play.  The grand day of celebration will be when we’re all back together.  We love the passion of the fans.

Q: You’ve never been away from your teams for this long.  What are you worried about when you’re back together?

Rolovich: Making sure players are physically ready for the start of the season.  They don’t get enough time away usually.  This is giving them a good opportunity to reset and realize why they are really doing it.

Shaw: Making sure that our guys have the same community feeling compared to before the time they had to leave campus.  This has been a tough time for a lot of guys.  They need to know that we care about them even though they are with their families instead of here.  They are a big part of us, and we’re a big part of them.  We want them to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.

Helton: We want to avoid soft tissue and joint injuries.  We need walkthroughs, strength and conditioning time, organized team activities, then training camp.  It does take time before you go and start a season.  Their preparation is important.

Q: Would a playoff system carry validity if not all teams are able to play this season?

Shaw: Depending on who plays and who they face, do we expand the playoff?  With so many unknowns, talking through all the scenarios is important.  It may not be 12 games or even start on time.  Those factors will affect the bowl season and playoff.

Helton: Whether we have 12 games or it’s abbreviated, the structure of the regular season will dictate the postseason.

Rolovich: I plan on playing against Utah State.  I’m optimistic about playing the 12 we’ve got until I am told otherwise.

Shaw: The scheduling conversation will get hot and heavy in a week and a half.  I think where we are is the definition of a fluid situation.  Every campus and state will be different.  The President, state governors, every chancellor and provost will have an opinion on when to start fall sports.