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Tramel: Big 12 coaches more important than ever during the pandemic

At Kansas State, the defensive ends are learning a little defensive tackle, the nickelbacks are learning a little cornerback and the punter is practicing field goals.

At West Virginia during the summer, offensive players with the least bit of defensive acumen and vice versa — receivers, for example, who played safety in high school — were taught the basics of the other side of the ball.

At OSU, the ideal roommate duo is one player who has recovered from the coronavirus and one who has yet to test positive. Anything to mitigate transmission.

Welcome to pandemic football, where coaches, among the most rigid and inflexible of humans, are learning to adjust on the fly.

The Big 12 season starts Saturday with nine games — TCU-SMU was postponed because the Horned Frogs fell below below 53 available players last week — and it’s going to be crazy.

“This year is going to be unlike any other that we’ve ever experienced,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

And that includes the coaches. In fact, coaching is more important than ever. And I don’t mean run-pass options and cover-2 zones. I mean organization and mid-week decision-making and keeping a cool head amid the COVID chaos.

For instance. Practice is not required.

Oh, coaches always made exceptions. If a Baker Mayfield or a Vince Young or a Brandon Weeden couldn’t limp through a week’s worth of workouts but could drag himself onto the Saturday gridiron, he was playing. But for many players, practice was essential.

“This year, you can throw that one out the window,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “You really can … we’ve told our guys, it’s all hands on deck.”

From practice schedules to weightlifting routines to sideline communication, everything must change. And that’s not easy for coaches so accustomed to doing things a certain way, their way, day after day, week after week, year after year.

“Change is difficult for males a lot of time, even more difficult for football coaches,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “You either adapt or die; in this game, dying is losing. We’re adapting.”

In Morgantown, once camp opened in August, the Mountaineers practiced in split groups. Half the team earlier, half the team later, to slow the virus spread.

The good? Virtually every player got more repetitions and more practice time. The bad? Competition suffered.

It certainly was a different experience. The Mountaineers lifted weights and had their ankles taped outside. Only the offensive linemen met in groups of more than four or five. All in the name of contact tracing. Keeping the effects of positive cases to a minimum.

The coaches who adapt to such profound change will be ahead of the coaches slow to embrace 2020 as a strange, new world.

“I think this is not just football,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “This is everything. Leadership is critical … the ability to lead when things are really hard and challenging. These are defining times for all of us.

“So the ability to adapt, the ability to lead, the ability to plan, that is our job. It is our responsibility to prepare our organization to play this sport and adapt as needed for the safe and well-being of our kids.”

Coaches still will be set in their ways. They still will punt on fourth-and-3 when all the analytics say that’s nuts. They still will want to leave Friday afternoon for a 7 p.m Saturday game played two hours away.

But the coaches who realize that the pandemic has turned football upside down, that punters might have to kick a field goal, will give their teams an edge. To paraphrase an old U.S. Open line, the pandemic won’t penalize good coaches, it might just identify them.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.

Related Photos
<strong>Iowa State coach Matt Campbell says "these are defining times for all of us" dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. "Leadership is critical … the ability to lead when things are really hard and challenging." [Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports]</strong>

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell says "these are defining times for all of us" dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. "Leadership is critical … the ability to lead when things are really hard and challenging." [Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-742d0f5da401a1d262c916d9c54f8e92.jpg" alt="Photo - Iowa State coach Matt Campbell says "these are defining times for all of us" dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. "Leadership is critical … the ability to lead when things are really hard and challenging." [Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports] " title=" Iowa State coach Matt Campbell says "these are defining times for all of us" dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. "Leadership is critical … the ability to lead when things are really hard and challenging." [Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports] "><figcaption> Iowa State coach Matt Campbell says "these are defining times for all of us" dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. "Leadership is critical … the ability to lead when things are really hard and challenging." [Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c098bfe7fb9c0f5fd0fdaa1156707a13.jpg" alt="Photo - West Virginia coach Neal Brown had his team practice in split groups once camp open in August to help slow the virus spread. [Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports] " title=" West Virginia coach Neal Brown had his team practice in split groups once camp open in August to help slow the virus spread. [Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports] "><figcaption> West Virginia coach Neal Brown had his team practice in split groups once camp open in August to help slow the virus spread. [Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports] </figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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