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Sports

James Perry ’00 discusses how Brown football has adapted during COVID-19

Perry talks remote training regimens, community service, changes to recruiting

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2020

Head Football Coach James Perry ‘00 shares how the Brown football team is coping with challenges brought on by the pandemic, from coaching without a field to virtual recruitment.

Head Football Coach James Perry ’00 has won two Ivy League Championships with the Bears, first as a player in 1999 and again as a quarterbacks coach in 2008. While playing quarterback for the Bears from 1996-1999, Perry broke the Ivy League record for career passing yards (9,294), passing yards in a season (3,255), career completions (789), completions in a season (309), career touchdown passes (74), touchdown passes in one game (6) and total career yards of offense (9,236). He was named the 1999 Ivy League Player of the Year, a three-time First Team All-Ivy selection and ultimately was inducted into the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame in the fall of 2016. 

Last football season, Perry’s first year as head coach of the Bears, Bruno averaged 454.4 yards of total offense, ranking fifteenth best in the nation, threw for 301.1 yards per game, good for tenth in the nation, and more than doubled the scoring output of the year prior. Under Perry’s direction, the Bears won their first Ivy League game since 2016.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Perry is coaching football without a field. The Ivy League has cancelled fall sports and staff face unprecedented challenges such as recruiting without leaving home, team building with players separated across the country and managing their teams in the wake of widespread economic challenges and political unrest. For his efforts on and off the field, Coach Perry has been selected for this week’s edition of The Herald’s Coach’s Corner.

Herald: Did the team’s virtual experience in the spring inform your plans for the fall?

Perry: As we looked at this fall, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t just copy and paste (the spring) because we’re not playing any games. So, the coaches and I will hold a series of Zoom meetings which will act in place of our practices. We’ll be following a three days a week Zoom meeting format to replace the fall practices and games we typically have. We’re going to look at football a different way and try to have some fun with it. For example, maybe there’ll be times when wide receivers are coached by defensive coaches and vice versa.

How is the team maintaining a consistent fitness program without full access to University facilities?

On the top of all of our fitness documents it says, “Stay safe, healthy and fit,” and the guys have taken that seriously. Sometimes that means (measures such as) the quiet period and following those rules very closely. Other times it’s going to mean having access to weight rooms and opportunities to get bigger and stronger. But no matter what they have access to or not, for us fitness is everything. So, it works well with a COVID world, because we believe that we can be fit and healthy (no matter the circumstances) and that it’s always a priority. So, we do still follow a strength and training program, and we’ve been very adaptive. Like I said, sometimes staying safe, healthy and fit doesn’t include access to facilities and sometimes it does. We’re hopeful that once the quiet period is over on campus, we’ll be back in the weight room, getting bigger and stronger as well.

Did the entire team return to campus, or are some doing virtual learning this semester?

We’re at about a 50-50 split. We’ve had a number of guys who felt their situation, from a studying and workout perspective, was best at home. The other half will be on campus, so we’re telling them all to be very diligent with the quiet period. Through those efforts, we’ll hopefully be back in the weight room with that group as a team, once we’ve finished the quiet period.

What are your plans to adapt to a hybrid model with half of your players at home, potentially in other time zones or managing work/family responsibilities alongside football?

Everyone in the country is experiencing all sorts of challenges. We see that as a bit of an advantage, because our kids are mature, so they handle those challenges better than our opponents. So, while it’s tough that half our team is on campus and half are off, I’m confident both cohorts will handle it maturely because the last six months have gone really well in that regard. Many of the kids at home have access to weight rooms. Those who don’t are still going to stay healthy, safe and fit. For those who are on campus, we’re really excited about being able to get back in the weight room after the quiet period. Then when it comes to coaching these guys, it all happens remotely. We’ll have no in-person meetings, so the whole team does have the ability to get together in a film session or get together in a schematic session. The three days a week that we do (Zoom meetings) will bring both the kids who are at home and the kids on campus together.

What will the impact of COVID-19 be on recruiting this year?

It’s going to be crazy. I’d say about half of the country is playing high school football. That leaves a big chunk of guys who don’t have senior film. That makes the entire staff’s job as evaluators more difficult. Additionally, for 21 years I’ve traveled three straight weeks in December, to a different city almost every day. That’s done. The NCAA has ruled that will definitely not happen, and (Brown) has a travel ban anyway. So, December is going to be a crazy month in which to do things virtually.

The one positive thing about recruiting is, through these Zooms and other online methods, we’ve been able to contact more kids than ever, and that’s a real positive. I think we’ll get a really strong class, because we can virtually touch so many of these kids. When it comes to some of those other things like commitments and knowing their parents, we’ve all just got to put our thinking caps on, because it is a new world.

 As a coach, what has been your proudest moment since football was taken off the field?

I’m just really proud of the initiative the kids have shown with some community service stuff. They’ve channeled energy that they have on the heels of (the death of) George Floyd into some powerful community service engagement activities. I’ve been really happy with the follow-through they’ve shown, even in a virtual world, with their community service engagement. There’s an organization in the Providence area called (Tides Family Services) and another called RISE (Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education) and some of the guys on the team have found ways to provide some mentorship and get engaged there. I’ve been really, really proud.

What has been your most positive takeaway from this experience for the football team? ?

Probably the most positive thing is people recognize how much we all miss (sports). I guess sometimes you don’t realize how much you love team sports until you don’t have team sports. For me last spring, I (usually) love going to lacrosse games and baseball games and softball games, so to not be able to do that makes you miss it. I don’t think any of us will take for granted how much fun it is or how important a part of our lives and our school it plays once Brown can start competing again. It’s clear to me, from everybody I talk to, just how much we all miss it. We won’t take the 2021 football season for granted. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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