The phone didn’t ring many times before Southern football coach Jason Rollins cheerfully answered, perhaps still buzzing from getting his first head coaching job 2½ months ago.
Twenty-five years as an assistant reminds him that staying positive will become a much bigger challenge as reality sets in.
“I haven’t had a lot of adversity yet, but I know it’s coming,” Rollins said. “Seventy-two days on the job and nothing has hit hard.”
In fact, Rollins' situation has gotten better as the Jaguars move toward their Sept. 4 opener at Troy, which is 55 days away. An easing of pandemic restrictions has made summer far more pleasant than it was a year ago, with far more certainty.
Thanks to predecessor Dawson Odums’ nine-plus years of culture-building, Rollins has been able to step in and go after a 5-1 mark in Southern's abbreviated spring season.
“It’s just football right now; the same process,” said Rollins, who inherited a team that was three points away from a third consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division title. “It’s been very smooth. It’s a great program, so you’re not putting things in order; they’re already in order. It’s good to be a part of that.
“We started our summer program and everything has been great. The guys know how to work hard. They’ve been trained the right way. Everybody is here, the full team. Workouts in the morning and summer school in the afternoons, rinse and repeat.”
One settled issue is that players and staff members have all received COVID-19 vaccinations. Weightlifting and conditioning have gone off without a hitch, Rollins said, and players slipped in some football for a quasi-spring practice. The players will get a break at the end of July, then report Aug. 5 for preseason camp and start practicing the next day.
Athletic director Roman Banks has kept a watchful eye and likes what he sees of his interim coach, who has gone beyond coaching the team in his last two months. The school has latched onto Rollins' statement that “Southern is the standard” as the season’s motto, and Rollins is helping to spread the word. He completed his staff in mid-June with five new coaches.
“I like the way he’s operating,” Banks said. “He’s getting into the community and getting people excited. We’re ready to see what the season brings.
“He’s a little more assertive with his student-athletes in their everyday activities and will give a little bit more autonomy to his assistant coaches. We have a very good football staff that is respected across the country. He’s well respected for the job he’s done in other places. We’re excited about the upcoming season.”
Rollins said the team is relatively healthy and did not suffer from attrition. Wide receiver Jamar Washington and defensive back Jakoby Pappillion both recovered from injuries that caused them to miss the spring season and are 100% healthy.
The best part, he said, is being able to move forward without the weight of the pandemic protocols. Instead of rotating small groups through workouts, weight training and conditioning drills, the team can maximize its facilities.
“We’ll have a little more freedom being that our entire team is vaccinated, protected,” Rollins said. “Everyone in the athletic department is vaccinated. We can work out in larger groups without being masked up. In the spring, it’s tough to do that. Our weight room is smaller, so that makes it harder to socially distance.”