New fall coaches adjust without normal summer schedule
Jim Johanik, set to begin his first season as Wheaton Academy's football coach this fall, already had a challenge on his hands.
Going from the Warriors' JV coach to running the program himself, Johanik has a long to-do list. It includes instilling culture, getting to know players and assistant coaches, and offensive and defensive philosophies.
For Johanik and other first-year fall coaches, their upcoming debut seasons have become all that more challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The time in June and July to accomplish most of the things before the season begins in August has been put on hold.
"This summer is the first time you have contact with the players to be able to implement that culture," Johanik said. "This puts first-year coaches at a disadvantage. Building that culture takes time and coaches who have been around for awhile those kids understand the system and what the expectations are at that point."
In some ways, Johanik has it easier than other new coaches. He's already coached Wheaton Academy's lower levels.
After three seasons at Grayslake North, Sam Baker is gearing up for his first season at Rolling Meadows. He knows what he's missing out on, especially getting to know his new players for a Mustangs team with just four returning starters off a 12-1 team.
"Your No. 1 thing is team camaraderie," Baker said. "For everybody to be together, the team building is the No. 1 thing. And who steps up, QB battle, those are key. Then everybody learning my personality, me learning other coaches' personalities. Which kids I can push, which kids I need to be a little lighter on."
A normal summer
Before the IHSA restricted contact days, teams would use June and July for weight room, 7-on-7s and practice. Baker took his teams to overnight camps at Dubuque and Platteville.
Valuable for every team but especially key for a first-year coach like George Klupchak at Maine West. He said under normal circumstances they would start camps June 8 that would run Monday through Thursday for six weeks in the mornings, with 7-on-7s for various evenings. The summer program would culminate with an overnight camp at a college campus.
Time to adjust.
"Right now, I am working with our coaching staff to outline a virtual schedule," Klupchak said. "There is a lot that can still be accomplished with the various pieces of technology. The spring coaches at Maine West did a great job engaging athletes, so I am going to lean on that expertise."
Johanik is taking over for Brad Thornton at Wheaton Academy. He is using this unique experience as a teaching tool.
"With every coach comes new philosophies," Johanik said. "Brad and I discussed this at length. There are clearly things I'll do different.
"Good leaders adapt. They find solutions to problems. Use this as something you are going to take into your life, you aren't going to let circumstances dictate or squash your ability to prepare for something."
Not just football
There are plenty of coaches in other sports ready for their first season this fall. At Batavia, McKenna Kelsay is taking over for girls volleyball coach Lori Trippi-Payne who retired after 34 years.
"As a first-year head coach, I am so excited to get everything going and I would've loved to have been able to meet with girls this spring in person and start to really establish the goals and culture for the program," Kelsay said. "However, I have been trying to establish that in other ways, like video calls. Although we are in unconventional times, just staying in communication and checking in on how everything has been going, especially academically."
Typically, the volleyball team would get together in late June for strength and conditioning training and continue that into July. That's when they also would hold their Bulldog volleyball camps.
"Both of these are to not only start getting back into volleyball shape and start to work on skills and systems in the gym, but to also start bringing together our culture to be ready for the fall," Kelsay said.
Batavia also would attend a camp to get some outside coaching. They built team bonding through community service, holding a food drive.
Kelsay is hoping that while that is on hold now it all won't be lost.
"We still have everything planned as usual but I also know that adaptations might be inevitable," Kelsay said. "We will do whatever is necessary to get ready for the fall and to continue to connect with the girls whether that is in person or virtually."
Trying to stay positive
With so much uncertain not just about the summer but looking ahead to the fall, these aren't easy times for any coach.
Johanik said he has a friend who is an NFL scout, and they have uncertainty at that level. His college roommate coaches at Eastern Michigan, and they have question marks. So Johanik knows he and his players have to be prepared for anything with high school football.
Baker and Klupchak are giving similar advice.
"My message to kids is this (stinks) but let's control what we can control," Baker said. "We're going to have faith and pray to the football gods that something positive happens."
"The reason I coach, and I am sure this is true for many others, is the interpersonal nature of it," Klupchak said. "The essence of coaching and competition is being face-to-face and interacting with the people around you, so it is certainly difficult. That being said, one of the cornerstones of educational athletics is teaching young people to continue striving for success through adversity, and this situation certainly provides ample opportunity to do those things."