Montana State coaches navigating working from home

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MSU v Idaho State Women's Hoops (copy)

Montana State women’s basketball coach Tricia Binford talks to her team during a game against Idaho State on Jan. 25 at Worthington Arena.

BOZEMAN — Danny Sprinkle has used his cell phone more than ever. Tricia Binford has worked on puzzles with her daughter. Jeff Choate has spoken to his family more than he has in a long time.

The three Montana State head coaches are navigating how to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Each has put their own spin on how to go about their days. Sprinkle, Montana State’s men’s basketball coach, has continued waking up at 6:30 a.m. Binford has taken time to rejuvenate since the women’s basketball season ended nearly three weeks ago. Choate has stressed the importance of “mental health time” to his football players as they adjust to new routines while incorporating old ones.

“Work-life balance, if we’re going to teach our kids the right way,” Binford said, “then we’ve got to live out what we’re asking of them. I think that’s what’s important for everybody.”

Classes at Montana State moved to an online format, practices for all teams within the Big Sky have been canceled until May 15 and the NCAA has banned in-person recruiting until April 15. With players on each of the teams scattered around the country, the men’s and women’s basketball and football offseasons have been significantly affected.

When Sprinkle, Binford and Choate went into their office before Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay-at-home order, they focused on working efficiently and returning home. While all three are in their offseasons, their preparations for the future have been altered.

“It’s kind of uncharted waters for everybody,” Sprinkle said, “but the one thing as coaches, we still got to recruit and we still got to make sure our guys are taken care of.”

MSU v Southern Utah Men's Hoops (copy)

Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle talks to a referee after a call during a game against Southern Utah on March 5 at Worthington Arena.

Both Sprinkle and Binford are prepared if the recruiting dead period extends beyond April 15. They’re planning on scheduling campus visits once they’re allowed.

In the meantime, they’ve prioritized recruiting digitally through phone calls and text messages. Nick Gazelas, a junior college transfer, chose to verbally commit to MSU because of his relationship with the coaching staff without taking a trip to Bozeman.

MSU director of athletics Leon Costello added that since no workouts can take place, coaches may have more time to research recruits. But the lack of in-person meetings leaves open the possibility of more unknowns.

“You can kind of tell a lot more about them when you are looking eye to eye,” Sprinkle said. “And you’re able to sell your university more. Some kids when they come up to Montana State, all of a sudden they’re just like, ‘Holy cow, I had no idea it was this nice.’”

While the basketball teams are missing opportunities for workouts, the football team’s spring practices have been canceled. Choate, though, has often downplayed the importance of spring ball in recent years, placing a greater emphasis on practices during the summer.

Without the ability to meet in person, the Bobcats’ football team has used video conference calls to keep up with scheduled position meetings. Offensive coordinator Justin Udy viewed continuing to schedule time to review football as a chance for players to escape concerns relating to the virus outbreak that consume their lives.

Defensive coordinator Kane Ioane welcomed the opportunity to learn new technology. He downloaded video he anticipated he’d need to reference while at home and has since shown it to players during meetings. He can then review plays, schemes and draw diagrams on the screen to further explain concepts to players just like he would if the meeting was in person.

“Technology is awesome,” Ioane said. “There are days when it frustrates the hell out of you, but it’s amazing what you can do in that regard.”

MSU Fall Football Practice (copy)

Montana State head coach Jeff Choate watches practice on Aug. 2 at the MSU practice fields.

Choate has stressed the value of accountability in a time when weight rooms are closed and training must be done creatively. Sprinkle said he’s told players about “old school” exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and whatever else they can do on their own.

Binford, who has prioritized embracing the year-long journey of each season, doesn’t want players losing joy even in unprecedented circumstances. She cited meditation as a way to help find peace.

“How do we make sure these days aren’t lost? That’s really important for all of us to think about,” Binford said. “You don’t want these to be lost days. I think we can still be growing and challenging our minds.”

Bullock’s stay-at-home order is scheduled until April 10, but social distancing measures could continue much longer. As uncertainty swirls, MSU’s coaches have begun learning how to make do.

“Hopefully this clears up,” Sprinkle said, “not just from an athletic standpoint, but just for how serious this virus is.”

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.


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