Streator's Riley McCurdy (7) tries to break free from Coal City's Ashton Harvey (14) after hauling in a first-quarter catch during the teams' 2019 meeting at the SHS Athletic Fields. Streator is one of numerous schools with first-year head football coaches being forced to get creative at the start of their tenures.
Streator's Riley McCurdy (7) tries to break free from Coal City's Ashton Harvey (14) after hauling in a first-quarter catch during the teams' 2019 meeting at the SHS Athletic Fields. Streator is one of numerous schools with first-year head football coaches being forced to get creative at the start of their tenures. — Shaw Media | file

This is not how Kyle Tutt envisioned his first season as a head football coach beginning.

But like other first-year coaches and coaches changing locations across the state, the Streator Bulldogs head coach is making the best of it.

"It's still early in the summer," said Tutt when asked if his plans have been put off schedule by the school closures and social distancing protocols due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "I'm lucky to have a great staff that's committed to the kids and to the program, and I think even while we're unable to meet face to face, that's got us on the right path to have some success this season.

"If we get to play."

Installing new X's and O's, building or maintaining a winning culture and forming strong familial bonds are at the front of most new coaches' playbooks for starting their tenures. Unable to physically meet with their players and awaiting expected IHSA guidelines on summer contact, coaches have had to be creative to get their programs going.

"It's been unique, that's for sure," said first-year Rolling Meadows head coach Sam Baker, who came over to the perennial Mid-Suburban East powerhouse after three years at Grayslake North. "I was named the coach, met the kids on a Tuesday, and we went on lockdown that Saturday. ... I still hadn't met everybody at that time."

Baker, Tutt and first-year Minonk Fieldcrest head coach Mike Freeman — previously an assistant under former Knights head coach Derek Schneeman — have turned to technology to take the place of in-person meetings and weight-lifting sessions. Group text messages, HUDL communication and online Zoom meetings have proven invaluable in that regard during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"We wouldn't be on the field yet," Freeman said. "So far we're just trying to build relationships, build mutual respect and build expectations.

"I've been in contact multiple times with everyone on the team. We've done Zoom meetings, we're texting back and forth, and (the coaching staff) is letting them know all the time how eager we are and how fun this will be when we are all finally able to get together. ...

"We're not trying to build a playbook right now; we're trying to build camaraderie."

At Rolling Meadows, Baker said weekly captains' meetings, bi-weekly quarterback virtual gatherings, a great coaching staff and a P.E. teacher who has set up four-day-a-week workouts for the school's athletes by sport have all been extremely helpful in getting things going.

Still, it's not the same as getting together ... something football coaches are hoping happens sooner rather than later, with new IHSA guidelines for summer contact expected any day now.

"Face to face, you crack a joke and have a laugh together. Now it's crickets," he said. "That's what I miss most.

"And who knows about summer? We had a plan to continue what we were doing in the summer, but now we're kind of on hold because the IHSA might come out with new guidelines.

"So many things are in a holding pattern. We think we know what we're going to do. We're just not really sure how we're going to do it or when we'll be able to do it."

Tutt, too, says his coaching staff and virtual tools have been great helps ... but it's not the same and most certainly isn't ideal.

"It really does help the process," he said, "but I don't think anything is going to take the place of being face to face with the kids, being able to talk with them, seeing their faces when maybe they're confused and being able to help them.

"Video helps ... but it's not nearly as quick or responsive as being face to face. And I think just being able to be with the kids, have a laugh, things like that really help develop a program.

"Especially for a first-year coach at a new school like me."

With added restrictions, an eye toward safety and an OK from the Illinois Department of Public Health, it could happen soon.

"We all want to get out," Freeman said, "but we want to do it in a safe manner. I've been promoting to the kids that, yeah, we all want to get out there, but let's do it the right way.

"We'll be blessed to be together whenever that day comes."