Wagner College football coach never thought coronavirus would hamper revitalization program
By Carmine Angioli / For the Staten Island Advance
Tom Masella knew that revitalizing Wagner College’s football program would take a lot of work, even under ordinary conditions. The Seahawks went 1-11 last season and have had only one winning campaign in the past five.
And then, about three months after taking over as head coach of his alma mater, the coronavirus outbreak threw the ordinary out the window, which meant Masella had to revamp almost everything.
“I kind of felt it was going down and I was like for days (before the campus closed) ‘It’s not good,’” Masella said over the phone last week. “I think it was Tuesday (March 9), we started to hear rumblings and we quickly had a team meeting. I never felt like we were coming back to school after spring break.
On March 16, the college announced it would switch to online learning and closed the campus to all but essential staff.
With his players and coaches scattered, Masella faced two realities. The first was the insignificance of measured football in the face of the fight against the pandemic. The second? At some point, the Seahawks, like every other college football team, will be on the pitch for a game and an apology won’t be enough for even a head coach in his first season.
“(Football) is just little potatoes in the big picture,” Masella said. “But it’s important to me that we do it the right way and have a chance to win next year. Knock on wood, all of our children are healthy and they all seem to be attacking the classroom. “
THE PRACTICE OF SPRING ERASED
Many checkpoints had already been passed. However, the most important spring training, especially for a new head coach, was completely wiped out.
“Spring (training) was supposed to start on March 24 and we didn’t get to March 24,” Masella said. “They were able to test in the weight room before leaving. They go through an eight week period in the weight room. We wanted to see improvements and we saw improvements. And we started to change the culture.
“I coach quarterfinals and I have never seen (one of our) quarterbacks throw a soccer ball (in person). We have come up with a lot of other things. We took a few good kids into recruiting, as late as it was, touched on some areas that I thought I had, off-season conditioning, but we didn’t touch on football.
For at least a few more months, football will be approached with online meetings and phone calls. Many of the assistants of former trainer Jason Houghtaling have been invited to stay on board. The revamped schedule calls for players to videoconference with station coaches on Monday. Tuesday is the “installation day” for specific Xs and Bones. On Wednesday there is a team video conference. The work week is quite busy.
“I tell everyone, ‘I want to see your face on the computer. I want to see you sitting (at) a desk, ”Masella said. “I can scroll down and see who’s paying attention.”
And there is the telephone.
“Our coaches have done a great job keeping in touch with the players,” said Masella. “I pick up the phone six or seven times a day to see how a child is doing, how their family is doing. They now have to deal with academics. If they’re in a place where they can train really well. Otherwise, stay healthy.
While the closure makes this renovation different from the ones Masella designed as head coach in Central Connecticut and Fordham, the Tottenville HS product and the Great Kills native believe the themes he highlighted at these locations will serve the Seahawks well. .
“In some ways it was a rude awakening,” Masella said of her initial post. “I told them, ‘I can go 1-11 with anyone. Anybody. So you have to understand that change is coming. I still think this: it’s a gamer game. If you give them a concrete plan and are consistent with that plan, then you will be successful. And you’re going to look for players.
Masella says he saw enough encouraging things to keep him going until he returned to football.
“I didn’t think they were a 1-11 team last year,” said Masella, who coached rival NEC Bryant last season. “Their defensive talent (including NEC two-time defensive player of the year Cam Gill) was the best in the league. There are currently enough players in Wagner’s program to win.
“If you look at it, they were in just about every game except a few later,” Masella said. “The Monmouth game, the UConn game, how they lost to us at Bryant. They were leading 10-0 at halftime. We hung on and scored and landed a late pass. But (there were) seven or eight where they could have won the games.
There’s still a long way to go, especially if the NCAA will give extra practice time to teams that haven’t hosted a spring practice or game, assuming things get back to normal. There will be concern about how close players will be to football form upon their return, knowing that the Sept. 5 season opener in Central Connecticut will arrive quickly. There’s the vital decision of who starts at quarterback.
There’s even the issue of Masella moving his family to the Massachusetts area, where he works remotely. He had been living with his sister who lives on the North Shore since he took the job.
“Everyone will say that we are all in the same boat and I agree with that,” said Masella. “But the only thing is I don’t know who our team is and what they are right now without being on the pitch.
“Yes, you would have liked the spring ball. You wish you had known some unknowns right now, but it’s still football. I think I have looked at enough records from the players we have to say that we are good enough to compete in our league. There is a challenge ahead of us not to be together since March and maybe to go in the summer. But we have found ways around it. “