When it comes to preparing for a spring college football season, UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso doesn’t have a road map to follow.
And, in his profession, that’s a little odd.
“Football coaches, we’re all thieves, and we’re all precedent guys,” Gattuso said Monday during a teleconference with reporters. “We all follow what people have done. We learn from other people. There was no precedent for this.”
UAlbany’s six-game spring season opens Friday night at New Hampshire, just a shade less than 15 months to the day since the Great Danes’ most recent season ended with a second-round FCS playoff loss to Montana State on Dec. 7, 2019.
Since then, the wide-reaching impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the college sports scene. UAlbany had its spring practices wiped out a year ago, then, after the fall season was postponed to the spring, numerous pandemic-related pauses forced Gattuso’s team into a stop-and-start series of practices in the fall.
It’s a situation Gattuso has in common with many of his colleagues in the coaching fraternity, who are also navigating these uncharted waters.
“A lot of the guys that I’ve talked to, we’ve just been scrambling,” Gattuso said. “I’m just thankful that I have the level of experience to handle some of this stuff, because it’s tough. It’s been a challenge. It’s been really hard.”
Strangely, Gattuso said, the impact of the constant changes and delays seems to have affected UAlbany’s coaching staff more than its players.
While Gattuso and his staff had “gone a little crazy” as they attempted to organize the program during the long wait to return, he said the Great Danes’ players have been a constant source of positive energy.
“They’ve been the sunshine in this whole thing,” Gattuso said. “They’ve been excited, and our energy at practice has been really good. They just want to play.”
If anything, he’s expecting them to be a little too amped up by the time kickoff comes around Friday night.
“But,” he said, “it’s going to be fun to get out on the field and play.”
MEET THE NEW GUYS
Between incoming freshmen and a high number of transfers, Gattuso said UAlbany’s roster has been turned over by about 30 players from the end of the 2019 season.
Despite the potential pitfalls to team chemistry of introducing such a high number of newcomers — something Gattuso said was “scaring me to death” — the process has gone smoother than he could’ve hoped.
“It’s been seamless,” he said. “There’s some bumps here and there, because kids aren’t used to how we operate sometimes — we try to give the ball to the ref [after every play], we’re real hard on silly penalties and celebrations — but they’ve been good”
Gattuso estimated about a 60-40 mix between experienced and inexperienced players on the Great Danes’ roster heading into the season.
It’s a high number, to be sure, but he’s also been impressed by the talent level on display at practice.
The trick, obviously, will be translating that to the game.
“How they’re going to play in a game, in those situations, you just don’t know. It’s easy to practice well, but it’s tougher when you’ve got to go out there and play in that game — especially when you have such a tough, opening place where we have to go play.
GATTUSO ON BROWN
Gattuso spoke on the teleconference shortly after the news broke that UAlbany was parting ways with men’s basketball head coach Will Brown following a 20-season tenure.
Gattuso, whose office sits just 20 feet from Brown’s, said the two had a “really solid relationship” and praised Brown’s work in the community, especially through Coaches vs. Cancer.
“I’ve been in places where the basketball and football coaches couldn’t be in a room together,” Gattuso said. “We shared a positive relationship and a love of the university. Any time something like this happens, it’s a sad day. I think coaches are always the same. We always are pulling for each other.”