Fortunately for Nick Sheridan, there were no plans to implement a complete overhaul of Indiana’s offense during the spring.
With his entire offense and coaching staff dispersed throughout the country, that might have proven to be impossible.
Still for Sheridan, there are his own tweaks to the scheme, new players, and a new coach to get on board.
For now, he is simply making the best of the situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when Indiana would have been readying to hold their spring game this Friday.
“The circumstances are what they are,” Sheridan said. “We try to make the most of it, certainly rely on your staff. Not typical, obviously, just from a situational standpoint. I think we’ve been productive and trying to make the most of it.”
The pandemic has forced a reset of priorities and perspective for most, including Sheridan.
For now, putting his signature on the IU offense has been placed on the back burner.
“Our care has been focused on our player’s well-being and their health and their safety,” he continued. “While we’re still teaching football and trying to implement some things schematically, our primary focus has been academics and the health and well-being of our players.”
While nothing replaces the familiarity of the practice field, positional meetings or film room, modern technology has allowed Sheridan to stay in touch with his players.
Operating under guidance delivered by the NCAA after the pandemic struck the United States, Sheridan and his position coaches have been able to continue to provide instruction.
“We’re able to, just like the kids are learning in school with Zoom meetings, we are able to use a lot of the same technology,” Sheridan said. “We have continued to have position meetings under the direction of Coach (Allen). I think it’s been productive.”
Sheridan grew up in a football family. He knows the value of live coaching as well as anyone. So while the adaptations necessarily being made are helpful, they are no substitute for what he expected to be doing with his offensive unit this spring.
“Is it the same as if you’re sitting face-to-face? Certainly not,” Sheridan said.
By the same token, what Sheridan is able to accomplish now is vastly superior to what his father, a former NFL defensive coordinator and current defensive line coach at Air Force, might have been able to pull off a decade or two ago.
“It certainly has been an easier transition than it would’ve been 15-20 years ago without a doubt,” Sheridan said. “We feel like we’ve still been able to be productive. We feel like we’ve still been able to teach and implement some things. There’s no substitution for reps. Obviously, that piece is missing but as far as the teaching standpoint and being able to communicate regularly and efficiently with the players, I think it’s been pretty effective.”
Head Coach Tom Allen has made it clear since he hired Sheridan in January that the offense that added an average of a touchdown a game to the Hoosiers’ point total in 2019 would be carried over from Kalen DeBoer’s one year stint as the OC. That no doubt is making the transition more manageable.
Sheridan has been with the IU program since Allen was hired as the head coach, and three offensive position coaches with long tenures in the program return in 2020 as well. Only tight ends coach Kevin Wright is new this year.
“I think continuity on our staff and with the players is important and has been beneficial for sure, Sheridan said.
“As I mentioned after the first couple of days of spring practice, the staff I’ve been fortunate enough to work with has been fantastic from top-down. That has without a doubt been beneficial and helpful for me. It’s always a collaboration. It’s always a group effort in all areas, recruiting, game planning, play calling and etc. We all work together and we communicate very well. It gives me a lot of confidence because of the quality of staff that Coach Allen has assembled.”
The continuity on the coaching staff has helped with the delivery of a consistent message to the players — and a key component of that message has been to view this moment as an opportunity.
One thing that has become clear over the last few weeks is that college athletes have substantial limitations when it comes to their ability to train and prepare for upcoming seasons.
Along those lines, the coaching staff has emphasized that the players that adapt, maintain a positive outlook and find solutions rather than excuses will end up with a competitive advantage down the line.
“We have high expectations for all of our players and we challenged them during this time,” Sheridan said. “We tried to approach this as an opportunity to create an edge, to create an advantage.”
With all of the upheaval, challenges, and day-to-day disruption of routines, Sheridan is practicing what he preaches, and capitalizing on the opportunities that life has presented outside of football as well.
Making lemonade out of lemons, if you will.
What Sheridan is missing on the football field has been replaced by some familiar faces at home.
“If you’re asking me if I’ve enjoyed the extra time with my wife and my son, I would say without any hesitation, ‘Yes,’ Sheridan quipped.
“My son is probably going to be a left-handed hitter. We’ve been getting some extra batting practice in off the tee. His jump shot is not very good but we are working on that.”
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