BOSTON (CBS) — Jeff Hafley is ready to live out his dream, eager to take the field as a head coach for the first time in his career. Hafley is the new man in charge of Boston College football, hired to turn around a program that has been stuck in the mud of mediocrity for the last few years.
That dream may be a little different than Hafley ever imagined though. He and his staff are working hard to get the Eagles ready for the 2020 season, even as the prospects of a 2020 season remain up in the air. The potential remains that the NCAA season could be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently making things tough for the new head coach to put his fingerprints on the team.
With stay at home orders in just about every state, Hafley’s players and coaches are scattered all over the country. The Eagles are relying on video conferences to keep in touch and hold meetings, which isn’t ideal for a new staff installing a whole new system.
But Hafley, who has experience as a coordinator in both the NFL and college ranks, is tackling that challenge head-on.
“The hardest part is building that relationship with both a new staff and a new team. It makes it harder now that some of us are trying to do that through the computer,” Hafley told WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton. “The biggest challenge is staying organized; I thought I was organized until this happened. Now, I’ve found that I’m more organized, realizing how on top of this I have to be.”
Those daily chats hit on much more than football.
“Every day we have small position groups, and we like to break that down into some football stuff, but mostly relational stuff — how are you, how is your family? We just talk, because they need that right now and it’s so important,” he said. “The mental health is just as important as the physical health.”
Boston College had five practices this spring, which allowed Hafley and his coaches to lay down some groundwork. That was a good start, but they’re now relying on PowerPoint and game film to install new offensive and defensive systems, all of which is being done virtually.
And that is just part of the new normal for the Eagles as they prepare for 2020. With fields and gyms closed everywhere around the country, teams in every league and level of sports are finding it difficult to keep players in shape.
“That’s another thing we’ve had to be really creative with. We don’t want to send guys out to fields and parks that are closed, and we don’t want guys sneaking into gyms like you hear,” he said. “We want our guys to be safe. [Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Phil] Matusz and his staff have done a really good job. Each morning he’ll send some stuff out that players can do at home, using stuff in their basement or their body weight, creating different competitions and filming it, having fun with it.”
Hafley knows his players won’t be in their best condition whenever they get back together, but he’s confident they are all doing their best with what they have.
“If we can continue to work and compete, which I think we will, I think we’ll pull ahead of some people who aren’t,” he said.
Hafley is hopeful that he and his players will be taking the field at Alumni Stadium come September, but he fully understands if that is not the case. With young children at home and his team — his second family — far away, he said the main objective right now is to keep everyone safe and for everyone to do their part in flattening the curve during this crisis.
“I think everyone is hopeful that come Saturdays in the fall, everyone is watching college football. But more importantly we have to make sure everyone is safe. If it’s not safe at that point, we all have to understand that,” he said. “There are some people that are taking this seriously, and then there are some that aren’t. We all need to encourage everyone to take it seriously right now so it doesn’t get worse.”
Every head coach dreams of taking the field to a rowdy stadium, especially young coaches experiencing that rush for the first time. There’s a possibility that sports could resume, but will be played in empty stadiums with no fans. After watching over 100,000 fans pack Ohio Stadium throughout last season, that’s an image that Hafley has a tough time imagining.
“It would be strange. How about that, the first time I step on the field as a head coach, I put on my headset and look up and no one is there,” he joked. “I haven’t thought about it, but I’m hoping for the fans that things will turn and they’ll be able to get out there.
“I’d rather not think about that at the moment. I’ve got enough to think about,” he said.
All of this juggling is certainly making things tough, but Hafley believes all of it will make the Eagles stronger whenever they do get back together.
“I think it’s an exciting time for BC football. I think it’s going to be a process, but if we all understand that and work hard, do the right things the right way, you’ll see steady improvement,” he said. “I think we’ll get to a point where everybody wants it and everybody will be happy.”