Highland Park (Texas) coach Randy Allen on the impact of COVID on HS football

Highland Park coach Randy Allen is one of just three coaches in Texas history with 400 career wins. Allen is starting his 47th year of coaching, 40 as a head coach. He also held stints at Ballinger, Brownwood and his alma mater, Abilene Cooper.

Allen trails only Phil Danaher (467) and G.A. Moore (426) in career victories among Texas high school coaches.

Allen recently joined FNF Coaches to discuss the impact the pandemic has had on his program.

I can’t imagine you’ve seen anything like this in your 47 years of coaching. How have you remained engaged with your players?

“We had to use Google Meets. We had a lot of Zoom meetings. We were out of school and couldn’t meet with players, but the UIL did allow some summer conditioning. That started in June, and we had good results. We did our social distancing. We had to check the players coming in each day. If they came indoors, they had their temperatures taken. They had to answer the five questions. Have they been around anyone with COVID? Have they been out of state? If the answer to any of those questions was yes, they couldn’t work out.

“We had them distant indoors. They’d lift in small groups, and if anyone tested positive in the group, the entire group had to sit out.”

Where does it stand now in your region?

“Our country shut us down after a month. We can’t work out with players anymore. I have 76 players going to work out in private facilities outside the county. Here’s the unusual thing. We had six players test positive, but they all got it away from our strength and conditioning program. The other players in the group all tested negative. So, it didn’t spread between players passing it around from one to the other.”

Do you believe you can continue to have workouts safely?

“In Texas, 25 percent of coaches took a survey. They found that 1% of players tested positive in Texas from the strength and conditioning. We’re trying to get every coach in Texas to complete the survey so we have the statistics. Our hope is that they’ll allow us to work with players again in Dallas County. Our contention is that they’re not getting it from the strength and conditioning because we’re adhering to the safety protocol.”

How did the recent stoppage affect the motivation of your players?

“Well, they want to work out. They want to keep personal contact with their teammates. So, they’ve been working out since the first Monday we were shut down. They’re willing to drive outside the county to work out. That’s how important it is to them to keep going. They’ve been resilient.

“For me, it’s hard to start and stop and start and stop. The thing to consider is how it affects them mentally. They’ve been out of school since spring break. They want to go back to school. They want to get back to football. We want to do it the right way so we don’t have to stop again once we start.”

How are you designing the schedule with so much uncertainty around the fall season?

“They delayed the start of school until Sept. 8. So, that’s the first day we’ll have the players. I know that 76 of them will be in great shape. The UIL requires one week to get back in shape before we start padded practices. So, that’s how I’m planning it.”

How will you offset the loss of any fundraising revenue that you were expecting to generate in the spring and summer?

“Right now, we’re not considering anything in terms of fundraising. Our people were great about sending the season ticket money – even without the guarantee of a season. At that time, they didn’t know how many people would be allowed in our stadium. It turns out it’s 50% capacity. We’re going to live stream on TV and radio so people who can’t get into the game can watch. We’ve rescheduled fundraisers because of the delays.”

The Google Meets and Zoom calls seem to be a polarizing topic for coaches. Where do fall on that topic?

“It’s in between a personal meeting and not meeting at all. It was as personal as it can get with talking to somebody on a screen and hearing their voice. It wears on you. It’s not the same. But you can get information out. You can show the playbook online, go over video, so the players can study. There was a lot of football teaching going on. We’ll continue to use that, but nothing takes the place of personal man-to-man, coach-to-coach meetings.”

How did you manage the smaller groups when you had to be socially distanced?

“We have a lot of coaches, so we spread our groups out to different parts of campus. We had some in the weight room, some doing agility and speed training. We kept it to two hours a day, four days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, coaches taught skills for an hour.”

The Recruiting Fallout

Highland Park is typically a popular stop for college recruiters in the spring, as the perennial state championship contender produces several Division 1 prospects each season. Allen worries what a spring without campus visits and a summer without college ID camps will mean for the future of recruiting.

“We’ve had two guys make commitments since the start of this,” Allen said. “College coaches had to make evaluations based on the video of a guy’s junior year. If affects the guy who would have made an impression if recruiters were on campus, and he could work out for them. I think it did affect them. They were shut down just like we were.”

If there’s one potential upside to the pandemic, Allen believes it is the way in which coaches have learned to communicate through online platforms. He feels recruiting might shift to that type of communication.

“We got an app, sportsYou, for every coach in Texas,” Allen said. “We were encouraged to communicate through that app. We’ll continue to use that as means of communication.”

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