No high school football coach could have anticipated this particular offseason, and all of them are learning a new way of life during the spring and summer of COVID-19.
That goes double for first-year head coaches — but defending 6A champion Liberty’s new coach has the advantage of continuity throughout the program, particularly on offense.
After all, it’s his offense. New coach Colin Thomas was the Lions offensive coordinator since 2015 and will remain so.
Since his hire in April as the pandemic took root Thomas has reveled in the continuity and institutional memory of the program. Almost every other aspect of his first offseason as a head coach has not been what he envisioned.
“There’s certain things when you take over a program that you want to get implemented,” Thomas said. “It’s lucky that the scheme won’t change at all.”
That is not true of the Lions’ defense. Former head coach and defensive coordinator Mark Smith left to coach his alma mater in western Washington state.
New coordinator Travis Guiney came on board in May after 10 seasons in the same role in Desert Edge. His scheme will be a bit different though its bears a resemblance in spirit to Smith’s attacking philosophy.
“Mark did a such a good job with these kids but we are running a different defense. We’ve tried to come up with quizzes,” Guiney said. “How do you check the understanding of kids?”
Guiney said the defense is likely to line up in a 3-4 base more often this season.
Thomas said Guiney made an impression on players before they returned to campus for workouts June 8. Still, being together — even in small groups — was better for everyone.
“He’s really well respected by the players,” Thomas said. “You want to get to know people face to face.”
Work outs ended at Liberty June 25, and with more restrictions in the state, the Peoria Unified School District hit pause on any athletic teams hosting weight lifting and conditioning until at least July 20.
Guiney said those three weeks were crucial for him to start building a rapport.
“They’re not going to know that I care about them and their growth,” Guiney said. “That comes with seeing that work put in.”
June was different anyway, Thomas said, since in normal years the month is “top heavy” with 7-on-7 tourneys and big man competitions.
Liberty’s new coach still said the month went well, as strength coach Brian Cherry remains in place and another arrival from Desert Edge, Ian Gardner, has a strength training background along with his roles as special teams coordinator and running backs coach.
It was a challenge getting every player in the large program into small groups and rotating stations. Thomas said he split the team into five main groups and several smaller sub-groups to meet Arizona return to play guidelines.
June workouts began at 6:30 a.m. weekdays and finished around 1 p.m.
“We’re allowed two kids per rack in the weight room and we have 13 racks. So we could have up to 26 people in at a time but usually we had less,” Thomas said.
Thomas, like every coach in Arizona regardless of experience, is along for the ride this season. Who knows when teams can reconvene and when — or if — the season can start.
All coaches can do is be flexible and creative.
“Our motto as a staff is we’re going to be adaptive. That’s all you can do at this point,” Thomas said.