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IU coaches adjusting to a spring without practice

There’s no blueprint for coaches to follow as they, too, adjust to a world of Zoom and unanswered questions

Indiana offensive line coach Darren Hiller looks on during a 2017 game against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Nick Sheridan expected his first spring as Indiana’s offensive coordinator would involve early mornings on the practice field, long nights in the office and recruiting trips to far-flung destinations to convince teenage boys to spend the next four or five years by his side.

Instead, his spring has entailed early Zoom meetings, long days at home and convincing a little boy that playing left-handed is the key to a long and fruitful baseball career.

“We’ve been getting some extra batting practice in off the tee,” Sheridan said Wednesday, referring to his young son, Beau. “His jump shot is not very good, but we are working on that, (too).”

It’s been more than a month since Indiana held its fourth and final practice of the spring in mid-March, and over the past several weeks Sheridan and his colleagues on IU head coach Tom Allen’s staff have been operating like the rest of us: scrambling to do their jobs from home, while juggling the needs of their families and the challenges of being on lockdown.

“Just like the kids are learning in school with Zoom meetings, we are able to use a lot of the same technology,” Sheridan said. “We have continued to have position meetings under the direction of (Coach Allen). I think it’s been productive. Is it the same as if you’re sitting face-to-face? Certainly not. But with technology the way that it is and the access from the internet and all those sorts of things, it certainly has been an easier transition than it would’ve been 15-20 years ago.”

Some things, of course, are still the same. Coaches are still working the phones to contact recruits and their families, and position groups are still meeting with coaches — albeit online — to talk strategy and review film. One of the problems with film review, however, is that coaches are running out of clips to show. During a normal spring, coaches would spend meeting times breaking down practice tape, but because Indiana only had four practices, there’s not much that’s new to review.

“We have exhausted that video,” IU offensive line coach Darren Hiller said.

So while coaching a college football team can be done from a distance, the process has its natural limits. That’s especially true for Hiller, whose primary objective is making sure his linemen are working in unison.

“They’re telling me that they’re going out and they’re doing things, but having a guy next to you and the communication from the time a play is called and the togetherness of the unit, it’s not there right now,” Hiller said. “At first in my mind, I wanted to tell these guys to go get some buddies, but obviously with social distancing as we are, we don’t want guys doing that. So I’m telling them to pretend that they’re Peyton Manning calling an audible at the line of scrimmage, but get in their stance and imagine a play is called and make a communication to the guy next to you, just have an imagination and play a game of football by yourself but it’s hard. It’s frustrating for these guys and we actually hit on that in our position meeting today.”

Those frustrations may not be solved anytime soon. On Wednesday, conference commissioners met with Vice President Mike Pence via teleconference to discuss how and when college sports might return. The consensus? There won’t be any games until students are permitted to return to campus.

In the meantime, coaches across the country, including those at Indiana, are simply trying to do the best they can.

“The circumstances are what they are,” Sheridan said. “We try to make the most of it, (and you) certainly rely on your staff. It’s not typical, obviously, just from a situational standpoint, but I think we’ve been productive in trying to make the most of it.”