COVID-19 wasn’t the ultimate excuse for UW’s 2-4 campaign, but it didn’t help
LARAMIE -- It would be really easy to point the finger at that worldwide pandemic that has impacted everyone in some way.
Craig Bohl did that.
But is that the ultimate excuse why his Wyoming football team failed to meet its own expectations in 2020? Not a chance.
That doesn't mean it didn't bring plenty of frustrating moments though. Like when nearly the entire freshman class was forced to quarantine during fall camp, for instance.
"There's some guy named John. He's out there and he had a red shoe," Bohl joked about not knowing freshman walk-on kicker, John Hoyland, who was thrust into the starting role in Week 1 against Nevada.. "And that's about all I know."
And Bohl coaches the kickers.
It's been that kind of year.
In an emotional 40-minute season-ending press conference Monday, Wyoming's head coach highlighted some of the good, bad, horrendous and everything in between.
COVID-19 presented plenty of problems for the Cowboys in 2020. Bohl, who spent practices with a plastic face shield on and a six-foot wooden stick, pointed out subjects that could easily get lost in the mix.
He said his teams are built on things like culture, cohesiveness and chemistry. Bohl called those three elements the program's "secret."
This season, some of those things just weren't possible.
"If you look at everything that COVID has done, OK, it is forced everybody to operate in a different silo," he said. "Hell, we go in our guys' training table. That used to be one of my favorite things. Our coaches would go in there and we'd sit down with our players a couple times a day. Now, our guys go in there and they get a little box and they walk out. They have to stand six foot apart ... I can't even talk to our damn guys on a damn pregame meal because we're worried about COVID. Our guys are 15 feet apart.
"So, all the things that that have been really helpful for us, you throw that s--- right out the window."
Bohl wanted to get one point across --loud and clear -- again: his team was prepared to play all eight games on the schedule this season. The Cowboys, of course, played just six because of virus concerns at the Air Force Academy and Utah State.
Bohl said he made a promise to Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and kept it.
"I don't want that to go unnoticed," he said. "I think it's important that we recognize that we were provided a game plan and our coaches, our support staff and our medical staff, and particularly our players, bought into that protocol ... But you know, we answered a bell."
Bohl said he told Thompson that the Pokes would be ready to go each week, whether that meant guys were playing out of position or needed double the repetitions in practice.
"You can count on the University of Wyoming to be able to meet their responsibilities and to give both teams an opportunity to play," he said. "I can't get into the specifics, but that was not always the case around our league and it didn't happen to us twice."
Another aspect of this virus gave student-athletes the opportunity to opt out of the season for safety concerns. Solomon Byrd, Titus Swen, Mario Mora, Rome Weber, Claude Cole and Devon Wells-Ross did just that.
Bohl was asked Monday whether he expects those six players to be back next fall.
"You know what, I have not had any conversations with any of them when they opted out or they opted out of their athletic activities," Bohl said. "They were still students but I haven't had one conversation with any of them."
"I think there will probably be some honest conversations," Bohl said bluntly. "You know, with them it it has been — I’ll just be real frank — I’ve coached, I don’t know 38 years, I’ve never been through more of a frustrating time my whole life. OK, we have one guy who opted out because he already had COVID … Now, you tell me, what the hell does that mean? He had COVID and then he opts out because he had COVID already? I got to be guarded about what I say but we’re gonna move forward by God. I can just tell you this, we’re gonna move forward with a bunch of guys in that locker room that want to put their hand in the dirt … They want to get better because this season was unacceptable.”
Bohl said he is pushing the Cowboys' spring game back to May 8. That's the latest it's ever taken place. A five-week spring practice will begin in April. Why? Bohl said to give his players a chance to compete with some semblance of "normalcy" -- he hopes.
"We're in hopes we can operate in more of a traditional mode," he said. "It's going to be more of a safer mode for our guys ... I mean, we had a plan and we answered the bell, but did that plan hinder our performance and who we are to a certain degree? Yeah. We're a developmental program, which is why we're moving everything back."
"I got so damn excited this morning when I saw those planes going out FedEx and UPS that vaccines are coming."
Bohl highlighted some of the positives this season brought. The guy in the red shoe, for instance. Hoyland made 13 of his 14 field-goal attempts and was perfect on extra points. He talked about the Cowboys' front seven on defense. You saw guys like Charles Hicks, Jordan Bertagnole and Easton Gibbs make strides this fall.
Bohl also pointed to game experience. Levi Williams got plenty of snaps. So did players like Isaiah Neyor, Parker Christensen, Latrell Bible and Treyton Welch, among others.
The news wasn't all bad, but Bohl said excuses like the virus don't take away from some glaring issues that need to be resolved in the offseason.
"I will not say, 'well, you know what, we took a step back for this year," he said. Oh, COVID. Peace, we're out. Give us a pass. It's COVID. COVID had an impact. I want to to be real clear -- COVID had an impact -- and it affected different programs in different ways. But, for us to minimize our productivity in all three phases of the game, we have got to get better. Like I said, I'm taking responsibility for that."
"2021 has started."
Bohl said that numerous times Monday. Sounds like the head coach is ready to put this campaign in the rear-view mirror.
"I'm just saying, we're putting a stake in the ground on 2021 and recalibrating some stuff," he said. "We don't have rose-colored glasses on, it's gonna give us a chance to get better. You keep on critiquing us and keep on writing, I'm cool with that, but by God, I'm so damn glad 2021 is here and I hope you guys are, too."