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The day starts around 6:30 a.m., like any other, for Dan McHale.
Sleeping in for the basketball lifer and UNM Lobos assistant coach hasn’t exactly been an option for a while.
“I haven’t been able to sleep since I became a head coach,” said McHale, who landed his first Division I head coaching job at the age of 35 at Eastern Kentucky five years ago. “So, I don’t sleep much anymore.”
And while he and his Lobo basketball coaching peers are still working, they’re trying to do it from home under the same COVID-19 precautions most other UNM employees, and the rest of the state and country at this point, are undertaking.
It isn’t as though there still isn’t work to be done. It’s just much, much different right now.
“Yeah, I am. I’m trying to finish up next year’s schedule with a couple more games to get and we’re just breaking down a lot of film,” McHale told the Journal recently during a podcast interview now posted online. ” I do recruiting film in the morning and I do self scout (other teams) and some other new concepts in the afternoon. It’s been good.”
So, it’s not a case of just sitting around the house being bored and looking for things to do?
“Man, I’m working like crazy,” McHale said.
The Lobo coaching staff is hitting recruiting hard right now, just not in the same way they have in the past.
Usually, the month of March is the busiest time of the year for college basketball coaches. They’re either still playing in the postseason or hitting the recruiting trail hard, hitting the home stretch in shoring up the 2020 class and getting the all-important head start on mapping out targets for the summer recruiting circuit for the 2021 class.
But with work-from-home and no-travel guidelines in place, McHale said this year is more about film study – of his own recruiting targets and much more of his colleagues’ targets than in most past seasons..
“I want to see what Brandon (Mason) or Jerome (Robinson) think about a kid that I might have missed, and vice versa,” said McHale. “We keep a database. We fill out these forms after watching every game and put it all into one and share notes a little bit. …
“This is all new. Normally you go out on the road. You see the kid in the spring. You sit with him. You meet with him. Now it’s doing it all online, and it’s making it a bit challenging, but we’re making the best of it.”
Lobos head coach Paul Weir said he still goes into the office regularly, but he’s the only one at the moment. He and his coaching and support staff the rest of the time have been hitting email and video conferencing hard over the past week, and for the foreseeable future.
And it’s not only about future Lobos.
“The first thing is the well-being of our current roster,” McHale said of the staff’s responsibilities at this unusual time.
With current Lobos – those graduating or still on the team – now taking classes online, the coaching staff has divided up the roster amongst themselves, much as they each have recruiting targets they are the primary contact with. Coaches are in contact with all Lobo players on a daily basis, checking on both physical health and well being – and making sure there are not COVID-19 related symptoms or concerns the staff should know about – as well as making sure the motivational work-from-home struggles some Americans are realizing right now don’t hit the players with their online coursework.
They do, after all, need to remain academically eligible to play basketball at the end of all this, whenever that may be.
PITINO TALK: The extended Talking Grammer podcast conversation with McHale, available on the Journal’s website and iTunes, covers much more of McHale’s coaching journey – from getting in the college basketball game as a freshman student at Kentucky in 1997 to being a graduate assistant for Rick Pitino, being a Division I assistant coach by the age of 26, a Big East assistant by 29, a Big Ten assistant by 32 and a D-I head coach by 35.
The Pitino bond remains strong, which is why his name was floated as a possible assistant for Pitino when he took the Iona job last week, a school McHale worked at as an assistant from 2007-10.
“The amount of phone calls I received – I think there was an article on Yahoo Sports speculating that I would join his staff,” McHale said. “No, there was no real talk. He and I are still close and I’m obviously still close with Richard (Pitino, Rick’s son and McHale’s former boss at Minnesota), but it’s just not the right time for me and my family and what he was looking for. …
“For me, I was flattered to be part of the conversations, but I’m committed to Paul Weir and to building Lobo basketball. I couldn’t be more excited about that.”