Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Winston-Salem State football team, looks forward to his weekly interactions with his team through technology.
His players ask plenty of questions, and he answers those questions as best that he can. Through his conversations with his team through Zoom meetings or phone calls, Massey tries to shed light on what the COVID-19 pandemic means for his program.
There’s no playbook for this.
There's also no spring football, and with the campus closed and every student at WSSU home working on studies online, there is plenty of adjustment.
Massey and his assistant coaches are staying in contact with the 70 or so players on the roster with weekly interactions.
“I usually take Wednesdays to make sure and reach out to the guys,” Massey said. “It's real important as we try to get through this thing together that we communicate now more than ever. It’s a strange time, and even though we don’t have the answers as to what lies ahead, we need to listen and answer questions as best that we can.”
Massey makes sure that his players know, if they didn’t already, that the pandemic is bigger than football.
“We have to make sure we get back to normal at some point and all have normal lives again,” Massey said. “When I talked to a lot of the guys over these first couple of weeks, I just said that the priority right now is to stay healthy and stay connected to your family. Those are the things that are important at this stage of the pandemic.”
Massey and his full-time coaches, Lawrence Kirshaw and Marvin Bohannon Jr., want to make sure that the Rams are keeping up with their school work, practicing social distancing, and working out in a safe way.
“Even if it’s getting out to run a mile or two,” Massey said, “it’s important for their well-being to just not sit around.”
Kirk Herbsreit, an ESPN college football analyst, has said publicly he would be shocked if there is college and pro football at all this fall. But Massey remains optimistic.
“People have brought that up,” Massey said. “Personally, I think there will be football. Football is a way of life in this country and has been for so many years, and it’s a chance to go out and have fun and play the game so I would hate to see it come to that where we would cancel this season.”
Massey, working from home, continues to try to fill out his staff. He has three openings, but Malcolm Gaither, a volunteer assistant last season who worked with the wide receivers, is a candidate for one slot.
“Coach Gaither did some good work for us last season and we like what he brings to the table,” Massey said of the former Greensboro College player. “He came highly recommended to us by Rodney McCoy (WSSU alum and Walkerton High School head coach) because Malcolm coached under Coach McCoy for a while.”
Massey, who for the second straight season will be the interim head coach, said he's taking his time with hiring the rest of his staff.
“We have time to make the decision on these vacancies,” Massey said. “We want good coaches who can relate to the guys and who are good people as well. We don’t have to rush into the hiring of these coaches because right now everything is at a standstill.”
With the hope that things do return to normal by late summer, Massey says the NCAA should allow football practices to open sooner instead of the 21-day practice window before the first game.
"It would benefit everybody if camp did open a week early since most schools didn’t have much in the way of spring football,” Massey said.
Massey said his players miss life on campus and the daily grind that was supposed to be spring football.
“I miss it,” he said. “The guys miss it, and we’ve had conversations and they are disappointed in this situation because like I said football has been a big part of my life and all of their lives and that’s not available right now. I do think once we do get back to normal, guys will appreciate the little things a lot more than maybe they did in the past.”