College football coaches are accustomed to having to make adjustments. That’s what they do — between quarters, at halftime, sometimes after a practice or drill.
But in the new normal created by COVID-19, the number and frequency of adjustments figure to go up. Way, way up.
Florida’s Dan Mullen can already attest to that.
Mullen did not give the exact number, or the names, but said some players sat out the opening preseason practice Monday and are considering (or have already decided) to opt out this season, forcing opening day adjustments that could continue into the season.
“We had a couple guys not practice today, but we’ll see how that goes moving forward for us,” Mullen said in a Zoom call with media members. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you have guys opt out. I’m going to support them fully. Really wouldn’t be surprised if we had coaches opt out, to be honest with you. Coaches are at such high risk because of the age group that they’re in. So statistically I think coaches are probably even at a higher risk.
“But we’ll figure it out. We’re going to adapt to whatever happens as we continue to move forward. I think it’s the team that’s able to adapt best to whatever situation — there’s a lot of moving parts — and the team that’s able to adapt will end up holding up that national championship trophy at the end of the season.”
Mullen would not reveal which players sat out Monday’s practice, but said he has been in communication with them.
There are multiple reports, citing unnamed sources, that there were four players who elected not to practice — defensive end Zachary Carter and wide receivers Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland and Kadarius Toney. All four are projected starters.
Grimes posted the following on Twitter on Monday afternoon: “Don’t believe everything you read.”
Two weeks ago, Toney and Copeland posted on Twitter that opting out is an option they were considering. But have yet to follow up on those Tweets.
Mullen said for any players opting out, it’s their responsibility to announce their decision.
“I’m not going to share that stuff right now,” he said. “That’s for those guys, if they want to share that, I’m sure they will with you. That’s not my place. I’m going to let them, that’s their thing.
“Everybody is going to have very individual decisions about what’s going on, how things are going to work, how they handle it, what their comfort levels are.That’s for them. It’s not for me to share the personal interests of people that would be on our team.”
So, right away, on the opening day of practice, a potential significant adjustment for Mullen, his staff and the Gators moving forward.
But then this is the new normal.
Coaches, players and staff have been adjusting on the fly and making necessary alterations since the players returned to campus in June. With all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, that’s likely not going to change.
Mullen is OK with that. Likewise for the players, Mullen said.
“There’s going to be a couple of different phases of it,” he said. “We have the altered training camp,” he said. “(The SEC) wanted to decrease the hours, so it’s our adjustment to that in step one. Then it’s the adjustments to students back on campus and classes have started (later this month), step two.
“Then, it’s making sure we are managing and adjusting to in-season, which will greatly increase testing, up to three times a week. And then you’re adding travel and some other aspects.
“It’s just an adjustment to all those things. We’ve had adjustments already moving forward and our guys have handled those very well. Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that in the future.”
Mullen said the players have made a fairly seamless adjustment to the health protocols and have entered preseason camp without any serious issues.
The Gators had multiple positive tests during voluntary workouts earlier this summer, but the number has dwindled significantly since the team began mandatory workouts a few weeks ago, Mullen said.
“When we were away and having voluntary-only workouts and our guys were kind of off and about, we had quite a few positive tests,” Mullen said. “Then we got back together and started having the mandatory workouts with full team activities and those numbers greatly decreased.
“Statistically, speaking off of that, you would think the safe place to be is practicing football and doing organized team activities, because that’s where our numbers greatly decreased. That’s the information we have now. That’s why I feel comfortable.”
With students starting their return to campus for the start of classes at the end of this month, and with the pads coming on and the contact work set to begin soon on the practice field, more work and more adjustments lie ahead for the Gators.
It figures to be a long and potentially perilous journey getting from now to the start of the season Sept. 26 at Mississippi.
“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen long term,” Mullen said. “But our guys have handled everything really well. Our medical staff and UF (staff) have done an amazing job creating a safe environment for our players and coaches.
“We’ve changed a lot of our setup and everything we’re doing, from where we’re eating, where we’re meetings, where we’re lifting, how we’re practicing, how we’re even in the locker room. Every aspect of things we’ve changed, our guys have done a really good job of adapting and staying safe.”