On Monday, Jimmy Lake completed a Peloton workout at 7:15 a.m. Then he did some work in his garage. He went on a walk with his wife, Michelle. He spent time with two of his kids, Faith and Bronson, both of whom were home from school. As is so often the case for a college football coach, he churned through phone calls — with Washington athletics director Jen Cohen, members of his staff and a handful of prospective recruits. Then, around 8:30 p.m., he did a phone interview with a reporter from The Seattle Times.
Here’s what the Huskies’ first-year head coach did not do. He did not fly to Palm Springs, Calif., for “Dawgs in the Desert,” a series of annual donor events originally scheduled throughout the week. He did not shake hands and brush shoulders with the program’s biggest boosters. Those events were unsurprisingly canceled.
UW’s final winter workout on Friday was canceled as well, as Washington’s athletics department suspended all events and training to hopefully slow the spread of COVID-19. A day later, the Pac-12 Conference followed suit, prohibiting all team activities through at least March 29.
As of Tuesday, UW’s spring practice is still scheduled to begin on April 1, culminating in a spring game inside Husky Stadium on April 25. But, considering the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation on Sunday that gatherings of 50 or more people be prohibited for the next eight weeks, it seems inevitable that UW’s spring football activities will be canceled or postponed.
For Lake, and everyone else, this is the new normal.
Only, to state the obvious, it isn’t normal at all.
“I’ve been around some great leaders and I’ve seen them be strong and direct during hard times, through some hard seasons and all that,” Lake, 43, said on Monday night. “But this is completely different. This is life and death.
“So we really are in unprecedented times. I’m worried about just the safety and health of these young men and our staff. So every decision is based on that. There’s no decision that’s made on, ‘Oh, my gosh, we have to get an offensive play in or a scheme in so we can win the Pac-12 in 2020.’ That’s not the thought process at all right now. The thought process is, what can we do right by these young men to make sure that they stay healthy?”
On that note, Lake credits Rob Scheidegger — the team’s director of medical services and head athletic trainer — for keeping his players and staff informed on how best to stay safe during the coronavirus crisis. They have been instructed to wash their hands frequently, avoid unnecessary contact with others and stay away from the facility if they feel remotely sick. This week, the players are taking their final exams online (after all classes moved online on March 6, through the end of the winter quarter). Next week, they (along with UW’s coaches) will be home on spring break.
Beyond that, the football program’s spring schedule is frustratingly, yet unavoidably, fluid. Lake said that “obviously as we move forward here, we’re all reading the news reports and listening to the governor and what’s going on in the state of Washington. So we know that there will be some changes in our schedule here moving forward. But we’re going to wait until we find out what the University of Washington is going to do with our spring quarter, and that will heavily influence what we do football-wise.”
Lake does not know if his team’s spring break will be indefinitely extended. He does not know if his four freshman spring enrollees — quarterback Ethan Garbers, tight ends Mark Redman and Mason West and offensive lineman Geirean Hatchett — will indeed be spring enrollees. He does not know how the recruiting calendar will be affected, beyond the NCAA suspending all visits and coaches’ travel through April 15.
And, for a first-year head coach, that all might seem incredibly unfair. After all, the 43-year-old Eastern Washington alum has waited two decades for this moment — for the opportunity to reshape winter workouts; to install an offensive system; to hand-pick his staff; to settle on recruiting regions and offers and strategy; to settle on a starting quarterback; to mold the message to recruits and media; to run his program, his way.
Now, the new normal has dwarfed those decisions. Like Lake said, it’s life and death.
But if you’re expecting him to be bitter, you haven’t met the Huskies’ new head coach.
“I’m always going to try to remain positive. That’s just me,” Lake said. “I’m always going to remain optimistic. I’m hoping this thing takes a turn for the positive. When that happens, then we’ll move forward with our schedule accordingly. But if it takes a turn the other way, then we’ll delay. We’re worried about keeping our student-athletes and our staff safe and healthy.”
For now, football is not the focus. But, with that being said, Lake is pleased with the progress his team made throughout several months of winter workouts.
“I’m really excited. It was fun just seeing the energy of all the guys,” he said. “Tim Socha, our strength and conditioning coach, and his staff, they always add some wrinkles every single year. But they really did some new stuff this year to really challenge the guys. We made a lot of competitions out of basically every task they were doing, and it was fun watching those guys’ competitive juices just flow, and watching them compete. There was a really good energy and excitement about some of the new stuff that we’re installing in all three phases. I know our guys are extremely excited to actually go play some real football.
“So it was a good three months. I think the guys got bigger, they got stronger, and at the same time they learned some new football. I know that’ll help us down the road, whenever we do eventually start football again.”
Until then, Lake plans to stay positive … and use the Peloton. He’ll keep waiting, and working. He won’t be far from the phone.