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Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Baylor football coach Phil Massey said this season being played amid the COVID-19 pandemic and with great uncertainty about whether games will happen each week has introduced a new type of stress.

By nature, prep football coaches are control freaks. Every day of every week of the season — and every part of that day, from practice schedules to the tiniest pregame detail — follows a strict script with little room for even the slightest deviation.

Although offensive and defensive philosophies may vary, the common personality trait among the coaching fraternity is a belief that consistency is the key to success.

So while high school coaches throughout Tennessee are grateful for a plan that has allowed games to be played amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is no one is actually in control of any aspect of the season.

In a profession where the stress level already runs high enough that it often affects coaches' mental and physical health, the uncertainty of not knowing whether the next game on the schedule, or even the next day's practice, will happen has been jarring.

"It's not the typical type of stress we're used to, and it has been a mental drain," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "We're all creatures of habit, but from camp to everything we've done since preseason has changed. We're all out of rhythm. You anticipate the worst but plan for the best.

"I have to check my attitude every day before I talk to our kids because you know they have their own stress in dealing with everything that's happening during this pandemic. There are so many things we can't control, but we have to find a way to have a great attitude every day and encourage them that we're moving forward."

After seven weeks of the season, a total of 23 Chattanooga-area teams have had games either canceled or postponed so far due to team members having tested positive for the coronavirus. The number of games involving area teams that have been canceled currently sits at 37, with more almost certain to come in the final weeks of the season.

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ Brainerd football coach Tyrus Ward has spent a lot of time this season trying to find new opponents when scheduled foes are forced to cancel or postpone games because of COVID-19.

Another 12 games that did get played were not originally scheduled and came about only after teams had sudden openings because of other cancellations. That includes Walker Valley scheduling a new opponent the night before a game, as well as the predicament faced by Brainerd coach Tyrus Ward, who has had to find replacement games three times for opponents who had to cancel.

Ward was on the phone with five teams for more than two hours earlier this week attempting to find a replacement for Tyner, which will be under quarantine next week and won't be able to play the nonregion rivalry matchup against Brainerd. For the second time this season, Ward replaced a local team that had to cancel against the Panthers with a state-ranked opponent by scheduling Pearl Cohn for next week.

Red Bank has been one of the local teams hit hardest in terms of having to cancel games, doing so three times due to being quarantined.

"There is a real concern each week about whether a game is actually going to get played until both teams step onto the field on Friday night," said Red Bank coach Chris Brown, whose team also had a fourth game rescheduled. Brown also noted there is still an entire section of the state — Memphis' Shelby County schools — in which 35 teams will not be allowed to play at all this season.

"There has been added stress, but the way I look at it is it's our job to provide a sense of dependability and normalcy for the kids despite incredibly inconsistent circumstances. You look back at the spring sports and those kids who weren't able to have their season, and you realize we're so fortunate to have played five games, four at home including our senior night. We've been hit harder than a lot of teams, but we don't dwell on negatives because the woe is me attitude serves no purpose. We're still in a position to be playing for all the same goals we had to start the season."

All of which highlights the need for coaches to be flexible and willing to be creative in finding ways to fill their schedule, as well as being creative in finding silver linings to the type of dark clouds 2020 continues to have lurking.

"One aspect I do like is that I've noticed every practice and game, the kids are invested in that one day. As a coach, I like that the kids aren't looking ahead," Signal Mountain's Josh Roberts said. "Sure, the worry is in the back of everybody's mind, but the biggest thing is to say you've got today, don't worry about tomorrow until it comes.

"We're playing and practicing for each day, so that's just another way football is a lot like life."

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Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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