Morgan State head football coach Tyrone Wheatley said it’s unfortunate that his conference was forced to cancel the fall 2020 football season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he plans to use that time as a chance to instill responsibility and maturity in his players and improve the team.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, in which Morgan State competes, announced in late July that it would suspend all fall 2020 sports. There are discussions about having the football season in the spring, but there are no definitive plans yet.
Wheatley, 48, said he is disappointed that the Bears won’t play this year, but he thinks of this time as an opportunity to grow and he is determined to show his players that this could actually provide an advantage for Morgan State.
“I believe that all things are happening for a reason,” Wheatley said on Glenn Clark Radio July 23. “And for me, it gives me extended time to really assess my team and who we are and what we are. It gives me the time to really truly assess my team to see what we’re missing.”
Wheatley called sports a microcosm of society. Even though everyone wants to have college football back, there is a responsibility to consider the best interest of everyone involved, he said.
Wheatley believes the bubble system would have been the only way to safely hold a season, but he worried some players would want to go outside and have fun because that is human nature.
“The idea of the bubble is probably the best … because once you test the players, they come in and they’re negative, and you can keep them on campus,” Wheatley said. “You have them in a vacuum or in isolation in the bubble. … But the concern is human nature.”
Wheatley explained that Morgan State was scheduled to play road games that would require the team to travel to places that have become hotspots for COVID-19 recently, such as Florida. He added that he has players from states that have seen spikes in coronavirus cases, and he worried about them coming to campus for fall camp. He said he didn’t want to risk putting young men in potential “petri dishes of COVID.”
Wheatley played 10 seasons in the NFL for the New York Giants and the Oakland Raiders during which he amassed 6,562 all-purpose yards and scored 47 touchdowns. He coached for the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars and at Michigan, among other schools.
Given his experience with the game both as a player and a coach, he said the situation isn’t ideal, but he believes his team can improve and grow even if they are not playing this fall. Although the Bears finished the 2019 season with a record of 3-9 (2-6 in the MEAC), Wheatley led Morgan State in a major upset against North Carolina A&T during his first season as head coach.
He doesn’t think that the team needs to be practicing and playing for him to evaluate his team and help his players improve.
“I do truly believe that in this time and in this space, you can get the guys better. … This game is 90 percent mental. You can continue to grow these young men’s mental IQ and football IQ,” he said. “When they get on the field, you just apply what’s upstairs to muscle memory and have them do it … until it becomes second nature.”
With the fall season postponed and no definitive information on a spring season, Wheatley said that he tells his team to focus on the things that they have the power to control.
“Continue to work out. … Continue to stay in shape,” Wheatley told his team. “Continue to master your craft via zoom and learning the playbook. Those are the things you can control.”
He added his players can take this experience with them in life. Things aren’t going the way anyone wanted them to, but Wheatley emphasized that everyone is in it together.
Though Wheatley can’t control the pandemic or when football will come back, he said he can control how he handles himself and what he does to follow the new societal guidelines. He encourages people to think about their family, neighbors and everyone else impacted by this.
“You have a social responsibility, not just to yourself,” Wheatley said. “Sometimes we have to put our selfish thoughts and what we think is right away. Let’s not lean on our own understanding. There are people who have degrees in this stuff. So sometimes just shut up, sit down and listen.”
“And wear your damn mask,” he added.
Even if the MEAC is able to defer the 2020 season to the spring, Wheatley said he hopes such a season would be shortened from the usual 12 games. He said that having a full season in the spring and then turning around and having a regular season in the fall of 2021 would be unsafe.
“I think there will be a condensed version of a season. … It’s not in a young man’s best interest to play a full 11- to 12-game season and then try and turn around and play a fall schedule,” he said.
In the meantime, Wheatley will have to figure out what to do on the weekends this fall. Football has filled every weekend in the fall since he was 8 years old, he said.
For the next several months, Wheatley says he will likely be doing projects around the house and holding team-building activities as they become possible. He said dodgeball and softball are going to be involved.
“I’m going to find something. My team, we love dodgeball so we will be playing some dodgeball and softball hopefully. We’re going to find a way to challenge each other and compete and do some great things,” he said.”This thing has to work itself out, but in the meantime, we’re going to take control of what we can and continue to move forward.”
For more from Wheatley, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Morgan State Athletics