When he was coaching at Texas A&M, seeing the kids each morning was just part of the routine. Because their school day began at 8:15 a.m., Will Bolt could take his eldest son, Jaxon, to school and still make it into the office by 8:30 to begin his day. Consider this time cherished.
Now, for his daughter, soon to be two years old, who wakes up around 7 o’clock every morning, there’s plenty of time to spend enjoying those little moments before his day begins, but in Nebraska, his boys’ school day begins at 9 a.m., and for him to be at the office between 8 and 8:30, which he is on most normal days, there’s not really any wiggle room for him to play the role of chauffeur.
He missed that time. Especially during the first few months after being named Nebraska’s new head baseball coach in June of 2019. His family stayed back in Texas that summer while Bolt tried to get his program up and running. For a family man with three children all elementary school-aged or younger, that’s tough.
“Last summer and the move here was such a whirlwind,” Bolt said. “I really missed out on a lot of stuff with the kids.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into everything, Bolt had settled into something of a routine.
At the office by 8:30. A rather informal meeting—Bolt called it congregating—of his coaching staff either in his office or assistant coach Lance Harvell’s office just to start the day and prepare a practice plan. Go for a workout. Get lunch. Then get ready for practice.
If the Huskers were off, Bolt was home around 6:30, 7 p.m., but if the Huskers had a game, “It’s going to be later than that,” he says. Sometimes significantly later. In-season, Monday is a day to regroup, catch your breath, spend some time with the family. Seasons can be a grind. The offseason, Bolt says, often features more travel than can be found in-season because of recruiting.
“My wife (Lauren) is very independent, which you kind of have to be as a coach’s wife,” he says. “She’s used to doing stuff by herself, she’s kind of got it down to a science of how to maintain the household at a high level. She’s basically doing it with half a partner most of the time.”
By mid-April, that was no longer the case. Family time became everything. Among the many things the coronavirus has changed, this is one of the better results. Call it humans’ innate desire to seek out the light in dark places.
Took a few weeks to get there, though.
On March 12, the Big Ten conference announced that all competition for winter and spring sports would be canceled through the end of the 2019-20 academic year. Bolt’s first season at the helm ended 15 games into the campaign. The Huskers had gotten hot, winning six of their last seven, and stood just a few weeks away from beginning conference play.
“Probably the initial couple of weeks, there was still some uncertainty,” he said. “I know they’d announced that they were going to shut things down, but I think everybody kind of still just held out hope that maybe things slow down and we can get back to playing again here in a couple weeks.
“So, probably the first two weeks, not a lot changed. You’re still going into the office, still kind of just taking your days to… I guess you’re more focused on recruiting at that point because you’re not having to do practice plans or think about your current team as much.”
Still that same 8-to-late schedule the family was used to.
“But then as we got a little bit further into it after the first couple weeks, the kids are shut down from school, we’re really not going into the office much because they’ve asked us to stay away,” he said. “That really changed the dynamic there.”
Coaches crave routine and schedule. It seems a prerequisite to getting into the business because every coach you talk to has that same kind of Type A personality when it comes to a personal calendar. When it’s taken away, you simply adjust.
With him suddenly home every day, and his kids going through virtual school at home, Bolt built a new routine.
The family put a whiteboard in the kitchen and each day he and his wife would create a schedule for the kids to follow. “We’d kind of just give them a little bit of a routine, but it also gave us a little bit of a routine as well,” he said.
Each morning, he’d write a Bible verse on the board and the family would go over it before breakfast. That began the day.
The kids were set up in their dining room. His eldest had a Chromebook from school and that’s where most of his work would get done. His middle child, Austin, used the family iPad to watch videos provided by the school. Lauren would sit at the head of the table and keep the boys on task or help with any problems that popped up.
“My main function in the homeschooling was to do some PE in the afternoon,” Bolt says with a laugh. “I’d get the kids out and we’d do something, especially when the weather got a little bit warmer, we’d get out and do different activities and get some exercise and do some of those things.
“When you homeschool, you kind of find that you don’t have the full school day like you did. You get schoolwork done and you’ve got some time to do some other activities.”
Another job Bolt had: taking his daughter on a walk.
When quarantine began back in late March, early April, Bolt’s daughter, Bella, was around 16 months old. By 11 a.m. each day, she was waking up from her first nap right as the boys were settling into their “school day.”
“One of my main functions during that time was to take my daughter on a long walk so it was quiet in the house,” he said. “That kind of became the highlight of my morning, and it was a pretty cool bonding experience for us. She would get excited about getting in her stroller with her sippy cup and her snack cup and she would last for an hour.”
So they’d walk close to three miles. Every day. Bolt would push the stroller, and, if he needed to, pop in headphones to jump on a meeting or talk to a recruit.
“She’d talk to the birds and point at all the dogs she saw and wave at everybody,” he said. “That was a really neat kind of thing for her and I to bond at a pretty cool time in her life where she’s so young, but at that point where she’s starting to develop a personality. That part of it was really neat. I could get out and I’m helping out because it keeps the house quiet for them while they’re doing their schoolwork, and I’m able to get out and get some exercise.”
Still plenty of work to be done. (Bolt jokes that because he’s usually gone this time each summer, Lauren is probably ready to have him out of the house. “As we look back now, it’s been about four months,” he says, “so I think she’s probably ready for me to go on a trip at some point soon.”)
Nebraska recently announced the additions of four more signees to the team, to go with two signed in April and 10 last November.
There’s definitely such a thing as overthinking when your day was once packed and then suddenly you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with. You could overthink your strategy, obsess over game tape, start to question some things.
Bolt kept his mind pretty focused. Instead of looking back, he kept an eye toward the future of the program and his head in the present with his family.
“As much as you hate to think of it in these terms, the 2020 team is done and will never be seen again, so we’re moving on to the 2021 team,” he said. After that first month, that’s been the primary focus. “Once we had the finality of knowing we’re not going to be playing with this team, I don’t spend any time thinking about what-ifs at that point.”
He misses the in-person part of being a coach. Sitting in a room with your team and feeling out the mood. Reading body language. In a lot of ways, Bolt is still in the relationship-building period with this Nebraska team. “You just try to stay in touch the best you can,” he says.
Most everyone on the roster is currently playing summer baseball. “That’s been something good that’s kept our guys engaged and (given) us something to kind of go back and forth with them about,” he said. He’ll get updates from their coaches about how they’re doing. Gives everyone something to talk about. Some sense of normalcy in uncertain times.
Hopefully soon he can regain some semblance of the structure he lost. Even if it’s not an 8:30 a.m. arrival followed by meetings followed by workouts and lunch. Even if it’s something looser. A return to sport would be a welcome start.
In the meantime, family has been more than good enough. “That’s been the best part,” he says. One hundred percent a silver lining.
“In retrospect, to be able to hit the pause button during this odd time has been a godsend for our family.”
This begins a series in which Hail Varsity is looking at how different Husker coaches managed their time away from sports over the past few months, what quarantine looked like, and what it meant to be home with family. Keep an eye out for a new entry next week.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.