In a matter of a week, the groundwork Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley had established for the Eagles football program as it launched intospring practices was put on hold, swiftly and indefinitely.
As heightened concerns over the spread of the coronavirus brought day-to-day life to a virtual standstill, first suspending large gatherings starting with sporting events then imploring people to stay inside altogether, BC was among the college football programs around the country still sorting through its next steps amid so much uncertainty.
“It is tough and, unfortunately, that could be the world we live in for a little bit,” Hafley said. “You urge people to stay home, especially these next few weeks so everybody’s safe.”
The Eagles practiced last Tuesday and Thursday after returning from spring break. By mid-week, an increase in confirmed cases led several entities — first the NBA, and later the NCAA — to suspend their regular seasons or cancel them altogether along with their postseason tournaments.
BC first announced it would hold all athletic events on campus without spectators. Later, the school announced it was following the other 14 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference and suspending all activities indefinitely. The school decided Tuesday that it was canceling all athletic activities through the 2019-20 academic year.
“This is a challenging time for all of us, and the health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and community remains our top priority and concern,” BC athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “We agree completely with the ACC’s decision to cancel the remainder of the spring sports. We hope everyone continues to take the necessary precautionary and protective measures resulting from the evolving public health concerns.”
One catalyst for the shutdown, Hafley said, was that BC was scheduled to have several recruits visit campus last week. It led the school to reconsider whether it was prudent to putrecruits, players, families, and coaches at risk by exposing them to an uncertain environment.
“The ultimate thing for us was the safety of our kids,” Hafley said. “Then, as we started to think through that, it started to steamroll a little bit, and around the country, everything started to get canceled.”
The Eagles coaching staff has been out of the office since the start of the week, Hafley said.
“I told everybody I wanted them to go home, because I do believe we could accomplish our work from home with peace of mind knowing our families were doing OK," he said. "And we want them to be there with them rather than being with each other in the office every day.”
All players were expected to be out of campus housing by the end of Wednesday.
“A lot of them didn’t want to leave and they were upset to leave,” Hafley said. “I think they were enjoying it. I think they were having fun playing football and they were having fun around our staff.
“I needed to explain to them why we had to leave, and why we can’t be around each other right now, because it isn’t necessarily about them. It’s about the people around them and their families, and they need to be home and they need to stay home.”
Some members of the coaching staff have yet to move to the area full time. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti returned to New Jersey where he lives with his family. Special teams coach Matt Turner went to Columbus, Ohio to be with his family. Hafley held his first long-distance staff meeting Wednesday morning.
“Is it going to be harder? Are there going to be some things that don’t work perfect? There are,” Hafley said. “But we’re going to do the best we can. Hopefully, we’ll get better at it every day.”
The Eagles were just beginning a new chapter after hiring Hafley last December and managed to get through five practices, the coach said.
“Fortunately, we were able to have those five practices, and in that time the main objective was to start building our culture, to show the guys what practice was going to look like, what meetings were going to look like, our expectations for them, their expectations for us,” Hafley said. “And I believe we did get that part accomplished.”
The suspension of all activities left BC with 10 practices. Having so few practices is less than ideal for a new coaching staff, and Hafley said he hoped the NCAA would provide an opportunity to hold the remaining practices in the future.
“God-willing, we got back in June, and we were able to get an extra mini-camp or an extra few days of practice,” Hafley said. “I think these are all things that are going to have to be on the table and are going to have to be discussed.”
Hafley said he and his staff had to be creative in mapping out a plan for players during the hiatus. The strength staff put together workouts they believed players could accomplish at home. Coaches will hold virtual meetings with players to keep in touch with them daily.
On top of the hiatus, coaches are also in a holding pattern with regards to recruiting, which is set to begin April 15.
‘I think it’s so important right now for everybody to listen to what’s going on and take this seriously and to stay home and not be around a lot of people. Unfortunately, I don’t think everybody’s taking it that seriously and that’s troubling to me. People need to listen and I hope that they do.’
BC football coach Jeff Hafley
“If you can’t go out, we have a very detailed plan right now of who’s going to be FaceTiming what kids, whether it’s me, the coordinator, the assistants,” Hafley said. “We have to set those up because if we’re just texting kids right now, we’re not getting in front of them, we’re not going to be able to develop that relationship.
“The hard part for us is no one’s been around this staff yet to see the energy and the interaction face-to-face with them. It will be hard. So we’re going to have to find some creative ways through social media and through FaceTime and through stuff on the computer to do the best we can.
"I’m going to prepare like we’re not going to be out on the road at all and we’re going to have to find ways to show kids what we’re all about.”
Hafley also said his staff planned to block out an hour each day while players are away to check in with each player about issues aside from football.
“We have to be very sensitive to the fact that these guys are going to need other people to talk to,” he said.
The priority right now, Halfey said, is to be safe and be patient.
“I think it’s so important right now for everybody to listen to what’s going on and take this seriously and to stay home and not be around a lot of people,” Hafley said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think everybody’s taking it that seriously and that’s troubling to me. People need to listen and I hope that they do.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.