MORGANTOWN – “These,” West Virginia football coach Neal Brown said on Wednesday afternoon as he drew near to the end of a ZOOM video conference call with the media, “are challenging times.”
They were before Tuesday’s in house bombshell that had safety Kerry Martin Jr. accusing defensive coordinator Vic Koenning of insensitive comments and actions toward players of color, leading to placing Koenning on administrative leave and igniting an investigation and they got a whole lot more complex with that to deal with.
Brown would not discuss the ongoing situation during this call, which was the first since voluntary workouts for his players began, other than admitting that “yesterday a tough day.”
But he left no doubt that he and his staff and players are heading into unknown territory, facing not only the turmoil but a pandemic, a season with disrupted practice schedules and with an uncertainty that it even will be played on time … if at all.
For example, normally at this time of year the head football coach might be talking about the health of his players coming off injuries and surgeries, but now Brown is talking about players who have been quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two tested positive, both asymptomatic and did not go through the workouts. They were quarantined, as were those they came in contact with, a group for the first positive just being tested and all coming back negative while a second group connected to the other positive player will be tested on Friday.
In all, 167 tests were conducted, 134 of them on athletes.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Right now, voluntary workouts are being conducted, as are meetings, but all the meetings are being done virtually and the workouts following protocols without coaches participating in any way.
Brown pleads ignorance to what is going on as far as the workouts go.
“I haven’t asked a lot of questions. All I talked to Mike Joseph and his staff about is I want to know our protocols are all right,” Brown said. “I want to make sure we are safe. I’ve got an idea who is in town but I’m not sure who goes every day. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. This is totally up to our guys.”
When this session ends they will head home until returning July 13 to start preparations with coaches … but that, like everything else, will be completely abnormal.
“This is not a normal college football year in any respect. Not for us, not for our staff, not for the media. I don’t know what it is going to look like,” Brown said.
They are trying to work through a number of models, both for safety and efficiency during practices and meetings.
“You will see a combination of virtual meetings and socially distanced meetings,” Brown said. “You start planning, and you got all these protocols — cleaning, split practices.”
Nothing yet is settled.
“Normally, on Tuesday, our first meeting is at 2:45 and you have all day to prepare for that and practice as a coach,” Brown said.
But they are thinking of maybe practicing the No. 1 and 3 offenses and the No. 2 and 4 defenses at one practice, the No. 2 and 4 offenses and No. 1 and 3 defenses at a different practice.
As Brown notes, you don’t want to have your top two players at a position practicing together or in the same meeting because you don’t want to risk having both injured or contracting the virus.
But to do this, you lose preparation time as you have a meeting, practice, a meeting, practice, dinner and then another meeting.
“Practices,” Brown said, “will have to be shorter. And you will have to time to clean between them.”
Brown says innovation will be important.
“We will have to be out of the box thinkers to get our players to the games without injury or the virus,” he said.
The result of this come the season, Brown thought out loud, might be reflected in the product.
“It might be a simpler product,” he said. “Will the product be as clean as it normally is early in the year? I’m not sure. Will the fans be able to notice? I’m not sure.”
But he leaves no doubt, it won’t be the same.
“It’s going to be different. There’s not going to be any type of normal activity. I don’t know if there ever will be until there’s a vaccine,” he said.
In the end, it is as he noted earlier.
“These are challenging times. You just try to navigate it,” Brown said. “Whether it’s medically related, whatever, it’s complex times. You are going into new territory at all points You can’t have a plan for everything so we are learning as we are going. We are trying to be proactive rather than reactive.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel