New hires face logistical hurdles as they settle in

Steve Spinks says that it takes roughly five minutes to understand what he’s about as a football coach. Luckily, he had a little more time than that — barely — to get to know his new football team.

Hired as Indian Creek’s head coach in late February, Spinks was able to meet all of his new players and their parents in person before the COVID-19 outbreak forced schools to shut down and prevented teams from getting together in person.

Spinks can consider himself fortunate. Everybody who has accepted a position as a coach or athletic director in recent months has had to face some unexpected hurdles while getting acclimated to their new jobs — and some are having to do so without the benefit of ever having met their players or co-workers.

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One coach in such a situation is Ashley Fouch, who was hired as Whiteland’s new girls basketball coach earlier this week. Fouch has had the opportunity to watch some game film of her new team, but her introduction to the current Warriors is coming through a series of phone calls.

For Fouch, who’s coming to Johnson County from Daleville, one of the top priorities is getting to know the Whiteland seniors well and trying to ensure that their final high school season will be a memorable one.

“I think that’s going to be really important for me,” she said, “just to recognize them the best that I can and get to know them as quickly as possible, get them to trust me as quick as possible, because I want their last year to be enjoyable.”

Making the transition right along with Fouch will be David Edens, who takes over as the Whiteland athletic director when Ken Sears retires at the end of June.

Unlike Fouch — who was his first coaching hire at the high school — Edens does have the luxury of already knowing most of the people he’ll be working with; he grew up in the community and has been the middle school AD for the last eight years. He has not, however, been able to use the spring season for on-the-job training as he had planned.

“I was going to live in that high school world,” Edens said. “I was basically just going to jump on staff with (assistant AD Todd Croy) and Ken, and treat it like I was an assistant even though I wasn’t, so I could really get the feel of the spring season. The weather changes, the rescheduling. Those are the things that I was really looking forward to.”

Fortunately for Edens, he’s been able to at least get a small taste of what’s ahead; he’s been sitting in on Zoom meetings with the other athletic directors in the Mid-State Conference — and none of them, no matter how experienced, have ever had to navigate a pandemic before.

“It’s the first time anybody’s done it,” Edens said, “so I’m no further behind than any other AD right now. We’re all kind of learning together.”

On the coaching side, the inability to get together with players for workouts during the spring presents a setback for every team — but especially for ones that will have a first-year coach trying to implement a new system and a new culture.

Just like Spinks, new Franklin College football coach Alan Hensell had enough time before schools shut down to meet each of his players; in Hensell’s case, he even met personally with each of the recruits who will be freshmen this fall. What he did lose was 15 spring practices that would have offered the chance to get more of his offense and defense installed and given the team time to adjust to a new way of doing business during the week.

That will put much more of a premium on getting it right when everyone can finally return to campus.

“You’re going to have to be really organized when it comes to the fall when you do get them, because you’re going to have to make up for lost time,” Hensell said. “We’re going to have to do our best job coaching that we’ve ever done coming into this fall — in terms of organization, in terms of install, in terms of utilizing every minute of the day.”

Franklin volleyball coach Jess Giles will be fighting the same battle. A former star for the Grizzly Cubs — Jess Admire was the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year in 2013 — and a coach for the freshman team last fall, Giles is fairly familiar with the school and the returning personnel, but the lost offseason time that would have been spent with the entire team is going to leave a void that will have to be filled in a hurry when schools re-open.

“That’s one of the main points of volleyball, working together and flowing together,” Giles said. “On the court, you have specific assignments and zones that you work within, and it takes time to learn, when you’re playing next to someone, ‘Oh, I’m better at getting this ball than she is,’ or ‘this is always her ball’ or something. A lot of drills are people working together, so that’s going to be a huge obstacle to overcome.”

Thankfully, the past two months or so haven’t been a total waste. With plenty of technology at their fingertips, new coaches have been able to at least stay in touch with their teams remotely, allowing everyone time to get a feel for one another.

Spinks, for one, managed to lay a foundation before the quarantine period came.

“The cultural stuff, I was really able to drive home in the one meeting,” he said. “As far as Xs and Os and stuff, if we start (back) July 1, we’re going to be in business; we’re good.”

That, though, is the big “if” that nobody can bank on. High schools are tentatively set to re-open at the end of June, but if that timetable is altered at all, it could severely disrupt the preseason plans for just about everyone — especially those trying to adjust to a new job on the fly.

”Having not started a fall season at the high school level, that was a challenge in itself,” Edens said. “And the real challenge may be, ‘Hey, you have three weeks to do it.’”