BUILDING A PROGRAM Pandemic Impact

How a champion coach at a low-income school in California is dealing with the COVID-19 stoppage

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

Mike Moon recognizes that coaches aren’t supposed to win state championships at small, low-income California public schools like Oxnard Pacifica.

But that’s exactly what Moon and the Tritons did last fall. Moon will forever be known as the coach who directed Oxnard Pacifica to its first Southern Section championship in Division 6 and its first CIF state championship Division 2-A bowl victory. He did it by convincing neighborhood kids to stick with their public school.

Moon typically spends the spring season overseeing his team’s strength and training program in the school’s weight room. Like every other coach across the nation, he’s been forced to adjust to the coronavirus outbreak. Moon shared with FNF Coaches how he is dealing with the stoppage.

How are you reaching your players since school got out?

“Year-round, we always use the Remind teacher app. All of the coaches on staff are teachers. I get a hold of my team the same way I get a hold of my class. We have all of the individual numbers for personal conversations and texts. This time of year, I just call it spring football. It’s not varsity, JV and freshmen. We do everything together. I’m of a different school of thought. For us, March and April are about strength and conditioning with less time on film and field work. I’m not saying we don’t do that too. There’s just more emphasis on the weight room, strength training and plyometrics.”

But you can’t have them in the weight room, can you?

“I’m not stressing and the coaching staff isn’t stressing about that. We’ve been in communication a couple of times a week. I’ve created an at-home strength and conditioning program. I took a week to study stuff that college programs are doing. I talked to a couple of high school coaches about what they’re doing. We’ve tried to replicate what they’re doing when they’re at school as close as we can.”

Do the kids seem to be doing it?

“It’s a four-part program. They print it out and post it in their room. I told them to take a screen shot so they can have it on their phones. When you called, I was going on the Remind app to send them the workout for today. They have so much time on their hands. There’s no church, they can’t meet up with friends. They have at least an hour or hour-and-a-half they can commit to exercise. It’s the best we can do, but it’s killing us not to be in the weight room.”

Are you assuming they don’t have any equipment at home?

“We’re an extremely low-income area, which was a big story about our state championship last year. None of the kids have equipment. They might have a little space in the backyard. All they need is 50 yards for our sprint training. They can do that in the street or a local patch of grass. One day, we have them do a mile run, which they can do in their neighborhoods. We focus on the fact that they shouldn’t do anything in a group. That’s really all we’re doing. As this goes to May, all of it will change. We start spring football in May. That’s when our coaching staff will reach out to every one of the players. We’ll do group texts and Zoom. We all have access to Zoom. Each position coach will reach out to his specific position grouping.”

What can you do to replace the team-building you’d be doing right now? What can you be doing to establish a winning culture?

“I think a good program has that embedded in the system. I’m thinking we’ll be back in July — I hope so, at least. So, I don’t feel the needs to force it right now. I’ve seen some of the programs other coaches are posting, and some of those seem like a lot. My question to them is, ‘How much do you normally do with your team in March and April?’ We typically work out for an hour-and-a-half and let them move on.

“If we come back in July, we’ll have the types of workouts and practices that establish a winning culture. The spring games and competitive stuff bring a certain atmosphere to it. You can’t emulate that right now. One of the things we’ll miss is 7-on-7 tournaments with the skill guys working together and the linebacker camps. Those things raise the bar to get everyone ready for that next evaluation period. It’s not like a teenager is going to be motivated by training for a game in September. Give them things throughout the year to look forward to, work on that first, and the other stuff will fall into place.”

What will be the biggest consequence of this for your team?

“We normally send a lot of guys to college. This is having a huge effect on recruiting. Recruiters are typically at our school from April 15 to May 31. The kids get a lot of attention, and we’ll have four or five coaches on campus evaluating kids and getting their paperwork. We have a kid who was 6-foot-1 last season. He’s 6-foot-4 now. I can tell coaches that over the phone and take pictures. But if they can’t see him in person, it’s not the same thing. I can tell them a kid is moving better now vs. last year. But colleges are cancelling camps. That’s another way of evaluating kids. That’s my big concern right now. We have five guys who should be getting looks.”