The word "panic" is not in Dawson Odums’ vocabulary. But another word, "planning," sure is, and that is why Odums has a laser focus on his Southern University football team.
Call the Jaguars' ninth-year head coach a control freak and he would consider it a compliment with one caveat — in Odums’ world, control consists of mastering what you can control. He says the novel coronavirus pandemic is not one of those things.
“I think part of my tenure at Southern University has been about handling adversity. This was another phase of it. I don’t think it was overwhelming,” Odums explains. “It was ‘Here’s what it is, and you adapt to it.’ I’ve always had that approach in coaching and in life.
“I deal with it like a game of spades. You’re dealt a hand and now you handle it to the best of your ability. Me calling coach O (LSU coach Ed Orgeron) and saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Why? We’re all figuring this thing out as we go.”
Odums’ point about handling adversity at Southern is rock solid. Unlike other college programs, the Jaguars weathered past seasons without the benefit of a spring practice as the school worked to meet Academic Performance Rate standards set by the NCAA.
Executing an audible
Once Odums and his staff found out that Southern, like all other colleges, would move to remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester back in March, he said it was up to the staff to adjust. Odums believes the key to success was making the process simple.
“When you are in a crisis situation you have to break it down and not try to stretch the focus to too many things,” Odums said. “If you put a lot of attention to detail into the few things you focus on, you have a better chance for success.
“Our primary focus until two weeks ago was academics and workouts our players could do at home. Their health and well-being, along with the health and well-being of their families, was most important.”
SU players were sent workouts each week. There were position meetings and offense/defense meeting via Zoom, along with Zoom study halls. Full team meetings were held on Fridays. Odums offered support through social media platforms for players as they took exams.
As per Odums’ stick basics ideals, workouts designed by the strength and condition staff were creative. For example, a player without access to weights could do pushups and fill up a backpack and use it to execute squats.
As the Jaguars await spring semester grades, phase two of a revamped offseason kicks into gear. There will be more workouts and a virtual playbook to study and review. Odums will do virtual meetings with each player that he says will be just like the ones he normally does in his office.
Odums expected around 120 players at spring practice. Now he hopes is that as other communities open, SU players get opportunities to work out in gyms/facilities near their homes. Odums targets the start of fall practice as Aug. 7, based on a season-opener vs. Tennessee State at Detroit’s Ford Field on Sept. 5. He realizes that date could be a moving target as COVID-19 evolves.
“Good coaching takes care of a lot of problems when you have a crisis. When you’re good at the top, you may waiver a bit in the face of a crisis, but you won’t break,” Odums said. “Our report date is set. We based our August plan to report on when school is supposed to start. Our calendar for the year is set. If this (pandemic) changes our season, we go back and adjust the calendar accordingly.”
Odums says having plans in place helps alleviate stress for coaches and players. He concedes that the team development that began during the 2019 season missed a chance to carry over in spring practice.
Spring practice also would have been an opportunity for SU players to mesh with a revamped coaching staff that includes five new assistants led by a new offensive coordinator. Zach Grossi replaces Chennis Berry as OC. Berry is now head coach at Benedict College.
Though Grossi is one of four new offensive coaches, Odums insists the Jaguars “core values” of running the football, physical defense and solid special teams will remain. Grossi, the quarterbacks coach at Hampton last year, has five years experience as a scout and assistant with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
“On offense, I think the biggest difference you will see is the NFL background,” Odums said. “The game-planning and preparation done from an NFL standpoint should make a difference. We have talent and I believe this approach will allow us to get the most out of our players.
“I think the competition between those guys getting their chance to prove what they can do and earn a starting spot was going to be a big part of spring practice. But I believe our players will show they are ready to contribute when the time comes.”
Odums is a military buff. His summer reading includes a book about the Marine Corps, “Lead Yourself First.” The SU coach sees a strong correlation between sports and the military.
Coming off an 8-5 season that included a SWAC Western Division title and a berth in the SWAC title game, Odums seeks more.
“In both (military and sports), when you’re training and attention to detail are so great you know what is going to happen,” Odums said. “You don’t panic because you’ve put yourself in that situation so many times before.”