Keeping UCLA Together During A Crisis

The country, and indeed the world, is in new territory in trying to get through the Covid-19 virus. In a less significant manner, the sports world is struggling to figure out what is next, when does it start, and what does it look like, in terms of potential games being played. So now for UCLA head coach Chip Kelly, it is about keeping UCLA together during a crisis

This space has sometimes smirked at Kelly’s so-often-used claim that he and his team are just trying to control the things that are within their control. But the UCLA coach met with the media Thursday via conference call. Now, the statement sounded less cliché and more pragmatic under the current circumstances.

“I’m not going to weigh in on what my opinion is on how we should do that, (on current plans for college football in the Fall), because I am not well versed on infectious diseases. I’ll leave that to the Dr. Fauci’s of the world. I’ve got a lot of faith. When I listen to him, he seems like he has a pretty good grasp on it, so when he says ‘Go,’ we’ll go.”
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Bruins were just two weeks into Spring camp, and then getting ready to take a pause for the academic Spring Break, when everything came to a screeching halt. The media showed up for the regularly scheduled media availability with Kelly when we saw that all players were being pulled off the practice field and the media relations staff told us all practices were postponed until further notice. That led to the UCLA announcement of a more long-term postponements for all Spring sports. Then came the Pac 12, and finally the NCAA.

Who Knows What Is Next?

Whether there is a 2020 college football season is anyone’s guess. Taking the same schedule as normal is less likely. With each state handling their own shutdowns or stay-home orders in different ways, there is no one answer. Each state is going through it on its schedule, or actually the virus’ schedule. That makes one unifying answer for a national landscape game like college football impossible as we near mid-April.

Kelly said he and his staff have no choice but to prepare as though there is going to be a season, so that they do not get caught flat-footed by the constant changes in medical updates.

So how do you maintain a college football team while everyone is at home in some form of quarantine. It’s not easy. “It’s managing your players. Making sure that they are on track and their routine is accountable,” Kelly said.

Maintaining A Daily Routine

Like every college across the country, UCLA went to on-line class instruction. Kelly said he and his staff made sure all the players had the equipment and facilities at home needed to take the classes. He said the position coaches check in with their players to make sure they are staying up in their classwork. They also go over at-home workouts.

Kelly said they also do what he called “mental health” checkups on all the players. “How are they doing? Is there anybody in their family that is affected by this? Or anybody that is close to them? How do we handle that? It’s been coordinating and making sure our guys have a good foundation so they can succeed.”

Kelly is working from home. He says he has not been in his office at the Wasserman Center in a couple of weeks. He meets with the coaches via Zoom, and then staff meets with their players in the same fashion several times a week.

“You prepare like you are going to play a season.” He said what they cannot afford to do, as players working out on their own, or as coaches trying to keep them all focused is assume an indefinite suspension, and then someone decides it is time to open camp, or practice, or school. Kelly said he estimates the Bruins would need six weeks of practice and workout time prior to playing a game. He said most of that would be spent doing more game-ready fitness training with the strength and conditioning staff.

“We’ll prepare like there is going to be a season, but I will leave, are we going to play to the experts. There’s medical experts that understand this a whole lot better than any football coach ever will.”

Who Makes The Call

Clearly, big picture perspective is important to Kelly right now also. He said he spoke earlier in the week to ESPN analyst Lee Corso. He said the former college coach told him the game of football is not more important than one person’s life.

That segues into the topic being discussed in some parts of the country of playing games with no fans. It is a non-starter for Kelly. “If it is not safe for fans to attend the game, then I don’t know why it would be safe for players to participate in the game. “

Because any decision to re-open schools is going to be done on a state by state basis, the NCAA can issue statements as it wishes, but Kelly says it is the individual governors that will have the real final say. “The NCAA may weigh in on it, but the governors of the states and the mayors are the ones that are going to tell you when you can do it. The NCAA can say anything. You guys are all going back. But if Governor Newsom says you are not going back, then you are not going back.”

In the meantime, the staff and the players are just, as he put it, working to “control the controllable.”