Seventy-six days after being introduced as the next head football coach at Plano Senior, Todd Ford at last got to meet his players in person.
With the start of the UIL’s limited summer workouts on June 8 came a pivotal juncture in an otherwise unique offseason for the Wildcats, who have been acclimating to a new coaching staff and a new voice at the top of the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ford is no stranger to the stateside coaching ranks, winning state championships as a coordinator at Southlake Carroll, plying his craft at the college level with North Texas and starting the Cedar Ridge program from scratch. But with spring practices cancelled and any in-person communication between coaches and players restricted prior to this month, Ford has had to take a different approach in acclimating to his new job.
“It was unprecedented. Whoever you call or reached out to for advice, none of them had it, because we had never been in a situation like this, unfortunately,” Ford said. “We just took the approach of slow and steady. We started small and are trying to work big.”
Like several programs around the state, the meant an embrace of video conferencing. Well before last week’s start to summer workouts, Ford conducted weekly virtual meetings with his players, normally at a consistent date and time.
“Most of the time, [the meetings] had nothing to do with football. It had everything to do with real life, character, leadership and overcoming adversity, because that’s what we were all going through,” Ford said.
All the while, Ford has juggled those meetings with assembling his coaching staff — a process Ford said is near completion. Among the newcomers to the Plano staff are offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clayton George, defensive coordinator Zack Smith and special teams coordinator Tyler Wicke — all of whom coached with Ford at Lovejoy.
Whereas the hiring of any new coach brings different philosophical and schematic wrinkles from the previous regime, Ford and the Wildcats will continue crossing that bridge as the offseason progresses, despite not being afforded spring practices to get players live repetitions on the field.
“Whether we’re a staff that’s been here for five to 10 years or a new staff, the bottom line is you miss those physical reps,” Ford said. “There’s nothing that can take the place of physically practicing and going through the trials and tribulations of learning a position and what to do or how to do it.”
Plano is among several football programs trying to make up for lost time with sport-specific training during its summer workouts, taking a similar approach in keeping the activities slow at first — focusing on getting players’ conditioning back after three months away from school — before incremental increases in the weeks ahead.
“At this point in June, it’s just fundamentals. Starting at ground zero and making sure we’re fundamentally sound at the specifics that go into each position,” Ford said. “We have to be careful we’re not doing too much too soon, but it’s all part of a plan we have in place.”
The Wildcats will be afforded an extra week of practices in August, as well as a second scrimmage, to help mitigate the time lost from the spring. Plano has scrimmages scheduled against Rockwall-Heath on Aug. 13 and Sachse on Aug. 20.
“We want to be ready to go and where we need to be by Aug. 3 (for the first day of fall workouts) as far as our conditioning goes and our knowledge of what we want to do football-wise as well,” Ford said.