Optimism can be as hard to find these days as toilet paper. And it certainly is no less vital to one’s inner happiness.
The search for a little boost of a positive nature does not have to be all that far-flung. Look no further than one nearby football coach, who in his first season at Georgia Tech went 3-9, including a 38-point loss to Clemson to start the season and a 45-point loss to Georgia to close it, and yet never wavered in his message of better times on the way.
Geoff Collins stubbed not one toe on defeat. The man with a Waffle House addiction refused to waffle. His encouraging spiel could be a little unnerving, honestly, it was so unrelenting. He worked within stadiums but would have been just as at home beneath a revivalist’s tent.
Next to him, Mary Poppins was a mope.
Such an outlook has to carry over to a real world sheltering in place, doesn’t it?
As a matter of fact, Collins does have something of a rallying cry for these times.
“I’ve been saying it a bunch: Stay safe; stay positive, stay strong,” he said Thursday.
That message recently showed up in one of his tweets addressed to both the Tech and Georgia Bulldogs factions, urging the rivals to come together this one time if only to stay at a safe distance from one another.
Yes, Collins watches the same coronavirus-dominated news as everyone else, the news that has trended toward the progressively bleak. This is no time to play Pollyanna.
No one knows how Collins ultimately will fare at Tech, just as no one can predict the course of this virus. But on both fronts the coach will be consistent. The way he chooses to respond to the cascades of dire news is merely true to the way he has handled everything else since being hired to replace Paul Johnson in December 2018:
“I try to post positive messages on social media, get our coaching staff to do the same, get our players to do the same. There is a lot of worry, and rightfully so, about the state of events right now. But how can we be a positive influence or maybe in some shape or form influence people’s behavior to encourage social distancing, staying at home, following the guidelines the health professionals have given us?”
When coaching up a worried world, Collins would stress the hopeful.
“The optimistic point of view is how we’re going to collectively get through this,” he said.
“The examples of the real heroes (in the medical field, on the front lines of first response) are coming out now. Those who give of themselves for the betterment of others, who positively affect the community. You see example after example after example of that across our city, state and country of people going out of their way trying to make lives better, to be a positive influence.”
A college football coach is by nature a controlling sort, which must be a particularly inflamed character trait now with so much beyond his control. The NCAA just extended in-person recruiting restrictions through May. Tech’s players are scattered to the wind, taking their classes remotely and beholding to no set workout regimen. They were supposed to be preparing for a spring game next Friday (April 10). Instead, they are being told that huddling up is now medically frowned upon.
Collins said that he and his coaches already were connecting with the players in so many ways beyond the meeting room that he feels particularly confident about staying bonded with them now.
In fact, he’ll tell you, “We are naturally predisposed as an organization to handle being apart and still staying actively engaged better than I think most college football programs around the country are. We have such great relationships, we have such a positive message, we have layers of communication already set within our organization.”
And if the players have given any thought about growing sedentary during this great lull in life, they are being bombarded with the examples of their coaches, starting with the head guy.
“What I do, I get up first thing in the morning about 5:30 to keep an early routine and I go workout,” Collins said. “Invariably while I’m working out, I’m taking pictures or taking a quick video and I’ll send it to a couple different groups. I know our coaching staff is doing the same, they’re doing different workouts, sending pictures to the guys or sending pictures to each other. It’s to keep us motivated.”
When he put his young daughter Astrid on the back of his bike and took a 13-mile ride recently, the coach let everyone know about that little extra exercise, too.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit recently caused a kerfuffle when he said he would be shocked if any college football was played this year. Collins can’t operate under assumption. He has a laptop full of images to review from that part of spring Tech was able to get in, as well as game video from the Yellow Jackets’ first four scheduled opponents of 2020.
“The thing I control right now is my attitude, my effort, my belief system, how I affect others,” he said. “I have to influence a coaching staff and a support staff that’s upwards of 50 people. I have to be able to positively influence and affect a roster that’s upwards of 120 when you count the walk-ons and the signees. I’ve got to control what I can control, positively communicate with everybody, make sure there’s a direction and a plan every single day for what we’re trying to accomplish on the recruiting front, the academic front, the developmental piece.”
Not that the cessation of all sport hasn’t freed Collins a little bit. He’s on the same search for diversions as everyone else currently under a health house arrest.
Lately that search has taken him to Netflix, where he’s soaking in “The English Game,” a historical sports drama about the other football. OK, here’s a revelation: “I’m a big soccer guy. I was actually named after Geoffrey Hurst, who scored a hat trick when England won the World Cup (1966). I’m a big soccer guy,” Collins said.
He has fired up a heated Chutes and Ladders series with Astrid, not yet 4. She won twice Wednesday night and let her dad know it. “We’re trying to teach her to be humble in victory, not easy at that age,” Collins said.
For the optimist, some small moments of pleasure can be salvaged even from a crisis of this magnitude.
“For the last 14 days we’ve sat down and had dinner together, cooked the meal, sat at the table, everything,” the sidelined football coach said. “I don’t know if my wife and I have ever done that before.”
And better times, even if not yet in view, are coming. Just ask Geoff Collins.