By DAVE HANNEMAN
FINDLAY — Matt Pees has been chomping at the bit to sink his teeth into his job as Findlay High School’s new football coach.
So far, he’s had to survive on a diet fueled by gigabytes.
“We’ve been doing anything we can technology-wise to stay in touch with the kids,” Pees said.
“Zoom meetings. Watching film on Huddle. Google classroom. Lots of phone conversations … You try to stay connected as much as possible.”
Pees’ hiring as the 34th head coach in the 121-year history of Findlay High football was approved at the February meeting of the Findlay City Schools Board of Education. He was in town and introduced to Findlay fans during the Trojans’ last home boys basketball game on Feb. 21.
Pees had a lot on his plate at the time.
After being on the staff of the Tennessee Titans the past two years, there was the new job, moving back to Ohio and the process of house-hunting. Pees and his wife Emily also welcomed a new addition to the family, with Adelyn joining her 5-year-old brother Wyatt on Feb. 8.
Just when Pees felt he might be starting to settle in, though, along came the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns — schools, weight rooms, athletic facilities — that went with it.
Toughest of all was the no-contact period that went with school closures, especially at a time when coaches, especially football coaches, are looking to establish weight room regimens and offseason procedures before students are let out for the summer months.
Despite those restrictions, Pees’ techno background in quality control, in college at Kent State and with the Titans in the NFL, served him well and helped him acclimate.
“We did a lot of video stuff,” Pees said. “It allowed me to get to know the guys a little better. Same with the coaches as far as talking about what our plan is.
“It’s been tough, but we’re doing OK. We’re not doing too bad when it comes to that. We’re staying effective.”
As a coach, and the new guy in town, Pees knows how crucial interaction can be.
“Regardless of what level you’re at, this game — and athletics overall — is about relationships,” Pees said.
“When you’re trying to build relationships the first time, and you’re not able to be around each other and be involved in those activities, you’re still missing that connection.
“It’s great to have a pulse of where your team is, but sometimes it can be really difficult to find that pulse. That face-to-face interaction is so important in building those relationships, so we’re anxious for that to happen.”
Pees may have envisioned a different start to his first months as Findlay High’s football coach. But in these uncharted times, he’s aware of the bigger picture.
“It’s a unique time for everybody,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty; uncertainty for your family, uncertainty for your players.
“It’s unfortunate we did not have that time in the weight room. It’s unfortunate we kinda got closed out this spring. At the same time, we have seniors who didn’t have a track season; seniors who didn’t have a baseball or softball season.
“As disappointing as it might be for us, like not being able to get in the weight room this spring or having our offseason taken away, there are bigger things at play here. We’ve had athletes — and coaches — who’ve had their entire season taken away, and seniors who won’t have that traditional graduation. Those are things they prepared for and worked hard for.
“A lot of people made sacrifices. In the grand scheme of things, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot more important stuff like people being safe and having security in their lives.”
While the coronavirus may have delayed Pees’ plans a bit, it has not diminished his preparation, and a recent decision allowing sports like football and basketball to resume skills training on May 26, could be a sign of better things to come.
Either way, Pees plans to be ready.
“As soon as they let us go, we’re excited to be around our guys and get going,” he said.
“We have multiple plans in place. A big part of this game is sudden change and adapting on the fly. Well, that’s going to be the case here.
“Whenever they let us go, we’ll do what we have to do to get our kids ready to compete at a high level.”