Rob Luther has one advantage most of his playoff-bound counterparts don’t during the most frantic week of the high school football season: The Collins-Maxwell/Baxter coach is also a principal.
That makes it easier for Luther to get a hall pass to step away from his regular obligations for a couple of hours Thursday and cram for his football team’s next test, provided the unbeaten and fifth-ranked Raiders survive the opening round of the Class 2-A playoffs.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association’s rapid-fire postseason schedule pushed coaches to pull all-nighters in recent years to prepare for two football games in the span of roughly 125 hours. In an effort to maximize what precious little practice time they had, coaches sacrificed sleep to organize scouting reports and practice plans.
Their preparation window has been closed even further this year by the IHSAA’s decision to scrap predetermined brackets in favor of pairing opponents after each round in a move designed to cut down on travel.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Interactive brackets
MOBILE-FRIENDLY PLAYOFF PAIRINGS: First-round matchups for all six classes
“I’m not a big fan,” Luther said. “I don’t put stock into the mileage (issue). The biggest problem is everybody’s complaining about (playing on) Wednesday and Monday nights. Get off the Wednesday and Monday night (schedule), because if you’re playing on Friday nights who really cares if you’re going two and a half hours because you’re sleeping in on Saturday?”
IHSAA assistant executive director Todd Tharp has said his goal is to have Iowa’s prep football teams playing once per week in the postseason beginning in 2016.
In the meantime, though, Luther said the blind pairings add another layer of complexity to the current situation. He said coaches at his district meeting ranged from “really not liking it to lukewarm” when the subject was mentioned.
In past years, some coaches would know their second-round opponents shortly after walking off the field with a first-round win. They could scout teams from sister districts throughout the season and get a jump start on preparation for the short turnaround in the playoffs.
“The way things are now makes it so much more difficult on the coaches in trying to plan ahead,” Dowling Catholic coach Tom Wilson said. “With things being rapid fire the way they are to begin with and then with really no idea or a limited idea (of your next opponent), I think it makes our nights longer and our days shorter, and I worry about our overall preparation and the quality.”
Some coaches have already hypothesized and started preparing for multiple opponents, knowing some — or all — of their homework will go to waste. Others intend to stay up late Wednesday night for the release of second-round pairings before diving into hours of overnight video study.
“This time of year, what you don’t want to do is have a lot of wasted effort and time that’s not productive,” Valley coach Gary Swenson said. “You can start and guess, but it always seems like if you start that, you guess wrong anyway. It basically means waiting around until they release the pairings and then you go to work.
“We’ll get as much ready (for Thursday’s practice) that is opponent-specific as we can. We’re at the mercy of when do they want to release the brackets? If they release them at 3 in the morning, it makes it kind of tough. You can wait them out and hope they come out by midnight. You could still get a lot of work done that night.”
Luther said he’s already done some “computer legwork” and preliminary preparation for a few possible second-round opponents.
“We’re going to give some coaches some time off on Thursday out of the classroom to break some film down,” he said. “If you don’t, I don’t know where coaches would get the time to get together if you’re asking kids to come in Thursday at 3:30 or 4. You wouldn’t even have a game plan.”