Three days removed from when spring football was supposed to begin at Washington State, first-year Cougars coach Nick Rolovich spoke to local and national reporters Tuuesday in a conference call to discuss the impact of COVID-19, the delay of spring camp and his initiative to support loal restaurants.
Below is a transcript of Rolovich’s call with the media.
How often are you communicating with players right now and what will that look like over the next few months?
Rolovich: “We’re expecting to talk to them every day. Mostly on the academic front. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of concern on the football side of it right now. It’s really, can we get adjusted to this online learning and how are they doing in their own unique situation with their family or wherever they’re staying at this time.”
Is there a large portion of the team back in Pullman right now?
Rolovich: “I would say the majority are back home with their families?”
What are players able to do as far as working out on their own right now? Can quarterbacks throw with receivers, etc.?
Rolovich: “Well, we’ve gotten a little bit of guidance from the weight room, but there’s also –you’ve got to be careful of what you tell them to do, because most of them are going to go do it and is there proper supervision? A lot of it’s just bodyweight, and they’re having a little bit of fun with it starting the group chat challenges and push-up parties and things like that, but it’s not a high level of direction coming from our strength department, mainly because of the supervision issues we have now.”
What’s it been like to not have spring football? That’s been a built-in part of your life for 20 years or so.
Rolovich: “I’m fine. I like spontaneous things. I don’t think this is a time where football should really open their mouth too much as far as ‘poor me.’ I think when the time is right and the people making decisions feel the time is right, we’ll get back to it and when we get back to it we’ll attack it with everything we’ve got. But there’s zero part of me for not doing football in this situation. We wouldn’t have their full attention. They have family, these kids have got their own lives to live. I think it’s the best thing right now to be concentrating on them and academics and if we can get some football stuff done as we move forward, we will, but a lot of the time we would be spending on football is being spent on recruiting and the uncertainty of when this thing would open back up. We can do some recruiting at this point, not necessarily on campus but just start building or establishing relationships with the next class of kids. And we can’t forget about our signees either. Our signees are also, they want to know. They’re supposed to be up here in a few months, so there’s really three groups. Call it four groups, you’ve got your family as a coach, you’ve got your current group of players, you’ve got the signees and you’ve got the next year’s recruiting class to kind of start ramping up.”
Are there advantages, disadvantages to this being your first year at WSU?
Rolovich: “Well I think most people would say it would not be advantageous for a first-year coach. But it just is what it is. There’s probably some teams that, a lot of their guys have an idea about their offense and defense, and I’ve got to give our team a lot of credit. They’ve come up and they’re eager to get comfortable with the new scheme. So I thin khow they are wired and how they are built has put us in a better place whenever football returns. But we tend to think of coaches, because of what the money’s become, the pressure of the job and to always think you need to do more, more, more. I think we need to be cautious of being good at what we do, is the important part, and having the team believing in the system, believing in each other is really what wins football games when you come into the fall. So as long as we have ample time and whatever time we get will have to be ample to establish our scheme and continue to build our team chemistry, that’s what we’ll do. The not being able to see guys in person during the normal spring time is just different. Here’s what it is, because we’re creatures of havit as football coaches, and OK it’s March, we should be in spring ball. OK it’s June, we should be in camp. It’s May, we should be in recruiting. It’s December, we should be in home visits. We’ve just been conditioned a certain way and being able to adjust midstream – when you need to midstream adjust, you’ve just got to be ready to go. I call it your hero moment. You’re ready for your hero moment.”
We’ve been following your local eatery giveaways. Where did that idea come from and how well-received has it been on your end?
Rolovich: “I think people appreciated it. We tried to figure out to help as much as we can with some of the businesses locally. Gift cards are good and me and the family, it gave us a good excuse to eat out every night for a week. Then talked to Bryan Blair, actually talked to some business owners in town and they said, hey would it be good if everybody go eat at this place tonight? And just kind of bounced it off some people. Bryan Blair said, why don’t you just do it with football and see how it goes? Then when I got there, I heard about the pizza deal and said let’s see if some other people who are struggling, they’d get a little relief with the free pizza. Then it’s kind of carried on the last couple days. I’m not sure, it’s getting attention but as far as the impact on the people that need it, I’m going to change a little bit tonight maybe. I just don’t want it to become a wild goose chase for where I’m buying free food, because I don’t think that is – well first it’s not the intended consequence and it’s not really the spirit of the exercise. We’ll look for, maybe the hospital needs some food. I know somebody tweeted at me that the hospital workers on the night shift always appreciate food, so I think that might be a better way for us to maybe go drop that off tonight so they’ve got some food. It’s just what we’re trying to do. Support local businesses and help people.”
What’s your scouting report on Pizza Perfection, Nuevo Vallarto and Tan’s?
Rolovich: “Well, I’ve been told this on Twitter. There’s multiple good pizza places. We hit one, Porchlight, a few days before and then Pizza Perfection, for the time it was perfect. The kids loved it, the two-for-one deal on takeout. I got the chili verde from Nuevo Vallarta and that was excellent. The thing I needed to go was give these places some heads up because I think they did get some business but maybe weren’t ready for it completely. So, try to give them a heads-up. Hey, we’re going to order some food, tell people to come order from your place. If I’m going to do anything from the beginning, I would’ve changed that. I liked the firecracker chicken last night at Tan’s. That was a Twitter suggestion. My wife’s a hot eater, I’m not necessarily a hot eater, but that had good flavor and I appreciate the firecracker chicken from Tan’s last night.”
Just doing that, how has the community received you so far and how much fun are you having getting acclimated there?
Rolovich: “I’m having a ton of fun, just because I didn’t realize this place was wired like me so much until I got here. On the surface, I like the small town, raising a family here, I like the opportuntity to coach in the Pac-12, I like coach Leach had built a roster that we could transition fairly easily. Then I see the passion of the fanbase. I’m sure there’s some fanbases that have similar passion as far as levels, but the goodness involved in the passion from the people around here. The family values that are kind of treasured as part of Coug nation. … And then, people like to good things and people like to have a good time. This has turned out to be an even better place than I thought for me personally.”
Can you talk more about recruiting? How has it been impacted? You were planning on bringing a good size number of recruits in during spring ball…
Rolovich: “Yeah, it was going to be a pretty active visit as far as unofficials. The nice thing was, we were going to be able to secondary visit some of our early signees. So we had a chance to kind of be around each other. I thought that was going to be good during the spring game. I thought we had, you know some good responses from the local and in-state high school coaches that were going to come over a few times. We had a couple good junior days that I thought we were going to be effective with. Washington State is a place, I think, you’ve got to get on campus and see this place and then feel it. I think it’s a positive for us in recruiting. I think it was trending the right direction … you’ve got to be ready to adjust quickly when this thing opens back up.”
Are you able to use Zoom or FaceTime to connect with prospects, or is it just phone calls, texts, that kind of thing?
Rolovich: “We can’t make any phone calls to them. FaceTime has been kind of the new – we just went on a facility tour, stadium tour with a recruit on FaceTime right before I got on this phone call. So, it’s as good as we can provide right now for kind of a virtual tour in substitution for the usual on-campus visits you get this kind of year.”
Obviously there are a ton of unknowns, but what are the spring ball options you’re thinking about or considering?
Rolovich: “None. Whenever they tell me to go, we’re going to go. I’m not going to waste time trying to figure this out. I like pressure anyway. … We can talk about, are we going to interrupt June, is camp season going to be flopped with spring ball. Blah, blah, blah. Everyone wants the same thing. I think when it comes down to it, you’ll probably see a few people grumbling, but they better be appreciative we get to have a season when they open the thing back up. Some of these spring sports didn’t, so I don’t want to hear a bunch of whining either when it comes down on how we’re going to move forward.”
What’s a date where, knowing your guys have not been doing conditioning work, that you’d want them to be on campus? Where you feel like you can be prepared mentally and physically for December?
Rolovich: “That’s the biggest question. The biggest question that, I don’t know that I’m as qualified to make that hard line date right now. I think that’s what’s going into this conversation. What do these kids need, what do these kids deserve to be able to withstand a 13, 14, 15-game season and you’re talking about health, wellness of student-athletes. They can’t just show up to training camp, not in today’s game, and think you’re going to get 25 practices in and feel your guys are prepared to not only put on a good football game, but just safety wise. So I’m sure there needs to be some kind of strength and conditioning period, acclimation. All those have got to come. I think we’ll handle the online stuff, academically. I think we’ll, when things calm down and people feel like we can come out of our houses again and get back to a little normalcy, I think those concerns will be addressed and we’ve just got to trust the leadership at all the levels to pull us through this thing and then come out the back end stronger.”
Do you think you’d need more time than the normal July 10th, if that’s the normal day?
Rolovich: “July 10? What is July 10?”
Just a random date I threw out. I don’t know when you’d normally expect to have everybody on campus participating in some kind of summer program. But essentially whatever date that is, you’d need a little more than that?
Rolovich: “I don’t know. I think you would need at least that, in my opinion. You’d need a good four to six weeks to make sure there bodies are ready for training camp. Us as coaches need to be prepared to adjust knowing that. Maybe we need to take it easy a little bit, maybe we don’t need to scrimmage as much. I don’t know. I just know there’s a lot of smart people with initials after their name that will make that decision and not me.”
I saw someone from Yakima saw your (restaurant) idea and passed it on. How does that make you feel seeing that?
Rolovich: “So Kolny is our offensive quality control, he’s from Washington and he’s very familiar with what it means to be a Coug and we coached him and he was able to work on our staff in Hawaii. So, a little bit of that aloha spirit. He wanted to do something in Yakima to help them. I said, yeah go ahead and do it your way and I’ll support you and get the word out. That’s how it works, call it random acts of kindness or just doing the right thing. I think it mulitiplies very quickly as people just look at how grateful the stuff they do have and how they can help other people and you have to be creative.”
You said you might change it up a little tonight. Are you expecting to do something like this every night, how long will you do this?
Rolovich: “I don’t know. … I don’t want to mess something up. We’ve got the social distancing thing going on. I don’t want to start becoming a problem, either. But I like the suggestion of being able to help some of our first responders with food. I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. Because a lot of the people in town have been going to the restaurants we put out and even when we made it a scene, go eat at your favorite Asian, Chinese restaurant. Because there’s a lot of suggestions on Twitter. I think people are helping, I think it’s doing more than just being something on Twitter. I think there is some positive and some uplifting spirit that’s going on with some of the people when we walk in to purchase food for them. We hear stories, we would’ve had to lay these guys off a couple days, blah, blah, blah. It’s like, it’s not that hard, let’s go help boys and girls.”
Are you attempting to do any type of distance learning training in football, education remotely?
Rolovich: “Yeah, we are but I think there’s a limit on how far and how effective that goes. I think it’s going to become part of an every day communication with our staff and their position groups. If they can spend 10, 15 minutes going over a concept, I’m not at the point where I’d say we need to have two-hour online meetings right now because we’re all pent up inside. Because here’s the deal, if they don’t handle their online learning stuff with academics, they’re not going to be ready to play whenever it opens back up. The thing that is positive, though, is that yes, it’s forcing the coaches to go into a little bit of an uncomfortable realm of, what can you teach online, how can we teach? So, there’s been great discussions by our staff, suggestions. There’s plenty of technology to get some done. I’m hesitant to think we can get the whole playbook and the whole schematic identity in over the airwaves. There has to be a point where we can get on the field, and I don’t want to stack knowledge on top of bad foundations. We’ve got to be very clear and understanding of our players – it’s not what we know, it’s what they know. And with them not being able to make the physical mistakes in practice and get coached on it, I don’t want to just assume we can go through the installs in two weeks on Zoom and feel like we’re ready to go play. There’s a development of the entire person that I believe needs it’s own in-person contact. So, to answer your question, yes, that was our secondary thought until we got kind of an idea of, what the next steps were going to be in this state, what the next steps are going to be at this school and after we feel we’ve got them in a good place with their responsibilities academically, online.”
Are you sharing ideas or trading tips with others in the coaching profession to get through this time?
Rolovich: “I think there’s a lot of stuff on social media, some of the online clinic stuff is good. As long as we keep the young men in our program at the forefront of our thought, and making sure they’re OK, I trust Pat Chun. When he’s got some info for me, they’ll tell me and then we’ll start making a plan. But it’s been very unpredictable, it’s been very volatile as far as the decisions and the severity of what’s happening. … I just don’t like wasting energy on stuff I don’t have a lot of control over. When they make a decision, I think there will be a lot of communication within the profession. Right now, it’s who’s got the scoop on what’s going to happen. And gossip doesn’t do a lot for me. But when we want to talk strategically or scientifically about how we’re going to move forward, I think this is a profession where people are very willing to help each other and look out for each other. Right now it’s like, what do you hear, what do you hear? Oh, I’m hearing this. I’d rather go hang out with my family and play Chutes & Ladders than talk about what might happen. I just think when it’s our turn to know what’s going to happen, they’re going to tell us.”