Coach Mike Flannery and His Thoughts on 2020 Season
If I were asked to describe River’s football Coach Mike Flannery in a few words, I would have to say he is a coach’s coach. He has dedicated a big part of his life to the job he loves. No that’s not correct, I said job, it is more than that, it’s his life’s passion. For those who are part of his team, they realize when they come out to be part of River football, they are expected to give the same passion as Mike has for his 34 years of coaching. If they do, the success of the season will take care of itself.
But, this is the 2020 season. A season that is beginning unlike any season anyone has experienced before. When Coach Flannery leads his team onto the field this year, he is up against an opponent unlike anything he has ever experienced. Traditional offensive and defensive formations will make no difference to this challenger. You may now realize I am talking about River Football and the adversary they will face every day of this season, the coronavirus.
I would wager that Mike could recite the rule book along with his play book from memory. But as I spoke with him, I could sense frustration at the uncertainty of the rules and guidelines he will need to know for this upcoming season. He and his coaching staff know the rules are being written most every day when it comes to the new safety guidelines. There is no doubt, safety of his team members is always on his mind.
I asked Mike to tell me how the coronavirus is going to change how he coaches. Mike replied, “I don’t know the profound words to explain It’s devastated the thought process. You know it’s so foggy and the water so muddy, everyone has questions, but nobody has answers and I think the leadership at the top, meaning from the government office has just kind of turned it over and passed the buck to someone elsein my opinion in case there is a major problem.”
Mike explained on the first day he and his staff met with the players, they explained the limits and guidelines that they would be following this season. Afterwords he told me they broke them up into smaller groups of ten. The purpose of that, if one of the players was exposed, then only that group will be required to sit out for the fourteen day quarantine.
Mike also told me parents of the players, band members, cheerleaders and managers have been asked to sign a waiver, so their son or daughter can participate in this falls season activities. I asked, what does that mean for him and his staff. He explained it is supposed to provide some legal protection. He emphasized that he and his staff are following every guideline given to them, when it comes to social distancing and physical contact. When I watched the players running drills, I could tell they were adhering to the guidelines given to them. Mike went on to express his hopes that players exercised those same social distancing guidelines after they leave the practice field.
I wanted to know if Ohio football programs are using the same three phase guidelines as West Virginia teams. Mike explained that he began his summer conditioning similar to the 10 player pod format. He went on to say there are two different ways schools are approaching the guidelines. Some schools are bringing all their players in together, but if they do, then they run the risk if one player get sick, the whole team will be quarantined for fourteen days. Mike then questioningly pointed out, “This is June 24, what’s any difference come July 24th, or what’s different on August 24th, nothing is going to change” referring to coronavirus. Again, I could sense his frustration with the challenges facing him and his staff.
We talked about the recent news stories and how area schools are taking a time out to assess a situation with some players. Mike said, “that’s true, the particulars are kids went to Myrtle Beach and were in contact with several kids. So Shadyside and Bellaire are being cautious. We did not come in Monday so we could clean, but we are here today (Wednesday). As I said, we are going to be transparent about this. We have a kid right now that can’t practice for fourteen days, he doesn’t even have it. But because he was around or worked with an individual who had it, the kid has to sit out for fourteen days. Before he can come back he has to pass a test and be negative.”
Mike explained how at first the balls were to be sanitized after each player contacted the ball. Realizing this would be impossible to clean a ball each time, he chose not to use them. As summer conditioning continued, the guidelines changed. Practice balls were too be cleaned after each practice session.
I pointed out that football requires physical contact in practice to build player’s skills. Mike quickly pointed out that players would not be wearing helmets until the first of August and physical contact would not begin until the second week. He explained in order to build tackling skills they would be using tackling dummies to teach proper technique.
After we talked about his team and the changes in training, I asked, will fans be allowed into the stands? Will they have to have their temperatures taken and wear masks? Mike responded telling me the school administration will follow all state health and safety guidelines.
I next asked if the 2020 pandemic would forever change the high school sports. Mike answered, “I don’t think things will change, in fact we teach the kids good hygiene each year as part of training, wash your hands and don’t drink after someone else. Good hygiene is important every season.” He believes things will get better, but it is going to take a while before normalcy returns to our world.
Finally, I asked Mike about his team this year. I could tell he had a real sense of pride and expectation for this year’s team. He pointed out he and the other coaches are attached to this group of seniors. He explained they are a special bunch of guys and it would be devastating if for some reason they didn’t get to play River football this season.
Mike finished by saying, “The important things is, Coach Romick and me are on the same page as the administration. And we count on the administration getting the right procedures from the state.”
Coach Flannery is working with his players this year the same as any other year, with the exception of the coronavirus guidelines. He has adapted and moved forward with a team he has high expectations for. He knows the guidelines and situation changes from day to day, but he and his staff are trying to keep the world around his players as close to normal as possible. Mike ended with, “Young people are going through a lot of anxiety right now. I try and assure them every day to follow guidelines and practice good habits so you don’t give it to any of your buddies or take it home to your parents.”
I want to thank Coach Flannery for taking the time to speak with me and sharing his thoughts about the upcoming season and the coronavirus as we look Through the Lens.