This is nowhere near how Jace Rindahl pictured his first spring in the defensive coordinator role.
The Cambridge native was appointed interim defensive coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team at the beginning of March after former defensive coordinator Rob Erickson took a job as an assistant at NCAA Division I FCS South Dakota State in February.
Rindahl may have envisioned getting the coaching staff organized and set for the 15 practices of April to build momentum heading into the 2020 season after the Warhawks lost the Stagg Bowl to North Central College (Ill.) in 2019. Instead, the coaching staff is getting creative with remote staff meetings and taking advantage of the time off continuing to clinic with coaching staffs across the nation.
“We’ve been using a web app called ZOOM,” said Rindahl, a former UW-Whitewater all-American and Cambridge High School athlete. “It’s been phenomenal. We’ve been able to do our meetings through it. As a defensive staff, we went through our install for Day 1 through Day 15 to work together and make sure we’re prepared for every day we get. Of course, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have those practices, but we’re still getting read as if we will.”
Rindahl has worked on the UW-Whitewater coaching staff since 2015, when he was the run defense coordinator and linebackers coach under Erickson. On the interim basis, Rindahl is working toward making sure he is as well-acquainted with the secondary as he is with the front seven.
“That’s been a little bit different to have to learn more on the back seven,” Rindahl said. “It’s just a challenge and a new opportunity to grow as a coach. I’m very excited for the opportunity and definitely think I’m ready.”
Head coach Kevin Bullis expressed no doubt Rindahl was prepared for the interim role.
“Jace’s experiences as linebacker coach and run defensive coordinator have been great preparation for this opportunity,” Bullis said. “The greatest preparation for Jace is experiencing 12 years of being a member of the Warhawk football program as a player and coach. He has lived and role modeled what we refer to as our discipline to the details of our process, which is the essence of what we mean when we say ‘Pound the Rock.’ He is fantastic at Pounding the Rock and teaching it.”
Part of getting ready is making sure the coaching staff is on the same page and “speaking the same language” as Rindahl put it. During the pandemic, that means making sure everyone is functioning in a remote environment, which offensive coordinator Peter Jennings lamented.
“Your coaching staff is an extension of your family,” Jennings said. “We all come from different backgrounds, but we all have such a united set of goals and these guys all become so tight-knit.
When you’re used to seeing (offensive line coach) Brent Allen, Jace Rindahl and (tight ends coach) Tim Shields on a regular basis, you start to miss them when you don’t see them except for through a computer screen.
“After you put together a Stagg Bowl run — you play 15 games, a bye week, preseason and recruiting and working together to get ready for spring practice spent in close confines — you don’t think you need more time together. But 10 days into the social-distancing initiative and I’m like, ‘Golly, I could use some time with Coach Bull or some of the other guys.’
“You spend so much time together, the staff feels like we’re all brothers.”
In the meantime, the priority is to find ways for the coaching staff to get better before players are allowed back on campus and before practices can reconvene in earnest.
“I think we’re handling it well. The ZOOM app is very user friendly,” Rindahl said. “Like most technology, it’s muscle memory. I honestly think this is going to be a blessing for us to be better communicators, teachers and to be more organized. I think this is going to make us a better staff and most of all better teachers. I really think there’s a lot of good that will come from this. We’re not just surviving, we’re thriving.”
And part of thriving in the age of coronavirus is taking advantage of the extra time.
“There is no doubt that managing adversity may be one of the greatest learning lessons that we teach as educators,” Bullis said. “The key is not to lose sight of who we are and why we are here. We are here to teach and learn. Nothing stops us from learning or teaching.
“Our coaches are meeting electronically daily with each other to become more proficient with what and how we teach. This is also a great opportunity for professional development and learning from coaches from other collegiate and NFL programs.”