Bo Wallace distinctly remembers the summer grinds as the quarterback at Ole Miss, he and his teammates relentlessly running and lifting weights to prepare for the upcoming week-after-week physical battles.
Those summers were tough but “it’s hard to play a season without it,” says Bo, the new offensive coordinator at Coahoma Community College, near Clarksdale. “I remember the year I had (shoulder) surgery right after the season and I couldn’t lift weights that summer. My body began breaking down in October the following season because of it.”
Therein lies just one of his concerns, along with those of other football coaches at every college level. Teams can’t gather to workout because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He stops to qualify his comments.
“Look, I’m selfishly talking about football and how I would like things to be when there is a lot more important stuff going on with this virus,” he says by phone. “I get it. Last I checked, we had 33 cases in Clarksdale. So it’s touching us. It’s touching everyone.”
His grandfather in Pulaski, Tenn. is recovering from a stroke. Bo hasn’t been able to visit him “because we don’t want to take the chance of him getting (the virus). That’s tough. It’s been hard on my parents, not being able to see him the way they would like to.”
But football, certainly in the South, is real life, too.
We want the games. We can’t imagine life in the fall without them. And, frankly, we are getting nervous that we just might find out what that is like in 2020. The next few weeks are vital.
“Our league is a little different in that all of our teams are in Mississippi,” Bo says. “So whether we can have a regular preseason training camp and then play a season will be determined by how things are going in Mississippi.
“Most leagues have teams in several states. That’s a lot more complicated.”
Still, Bo says the critical date for Mississippi jucos is July 1.
“If we can get our players on campus by then, I think we can start the season on time,” he says. “That will give us time to do some strength training. Right now, our guys aren’t allowed to go to gyms. Nobody is. The guys are just working out at home the best they can. We’ve sent them body-weight exercises that they can do on their own, but there is only so much of that.”
Bo, 27, says he realized things were serious during spring break.
“They called and told us not to come back to campus for at least a week,” he says. “And the staff still can’t gather in the athletic offices. So we have our weekly coaches meetings on Zoom.
“I’ve been putting together a plan of how I want to install my offense. It’ll be all new to the players because we didn’t have spring practice with them, either. I’m confident we can get it all in because the way we call things is simple.
My biggest concern is: How many times can we rep the plays so the guys are comfortable with them.
“But, again, we need to get our players in by July 1. We’ll see if that happens.”
This is a great opportunity for Bo. Coahoma was won three games over the past three seasons.
The new head coach is Travis Macon, a Starkville native who has 11 seasons in the Mississippi juco league. His defenses at Northwest CC led the league in points allowed (19.5 per game) and ranked second in total defense in 2017.
“Coach Macon and our staff did an incredible job recruiting and signed a really good class,” Bo says. “We’re going to be young but we’ve got talent. I think this team will get better and better as the season goes along.
“We had already started changing the culture around our team, letting them know that they can win, they can win the close games, that it’s all about preparing and playing together and believing in one another. You could see that growing before we left for spring break.”
Bo hedged when I asked what his scheme might look like. “Nobody has any tape on it, so I don’t really want to go into detail about that,” he says.
Take it from me: It will be fast-paced. He will get the ball to his playmakers in space. The run game will be important because it sets up so many other options.
Yes, it will be some of Hugh Freeze’s philosophy that Bo learned while playing for him at Arkansas State and Ole Miss. “But it will be things I’ve learned from other coaches and things that I’ve come up with,” he says. “I want it to be an offense that when players see it, they say, ‘I want to play there.’ ”
One of the three quarterbacks battling for the starting position is Bo’s brother, Bryce, a freshman.
“He’s 6-foot, about 170,” Bo says. “He can run it enough to keep people honest. He’s faster than I was.”
Wait, I say. He’s faster than the guy who juked LSU’s All-SEC safety Eric Reid, then ran 58 yards for a touchdown at Tiger Stadium in 2012?
“I got lucky with Eric Reid. And I still can’t believe nobody caught me,” he says. “I remember getting to the 20 and wondering where everybody was.”
After the play, Freeze grabbed Bo as he came to the sideline and apologized for all those times at Arkansas State when he kidded Bo about his lack of speed.
“Bryce knows my offense,” Bo says. “That might give him a slight advantage. But we’ve got two other guys who can play, too. I’m looking forward to the competition. And I’ll play the best guy. I’m not going to make it easy on Bryce. If anything, I’ll expect more from him.”
Since graduating from Ole Miss, Bo has coached at East Mississippi CC with head coach Buddy Stephens for a year and at Tennessee high schools.
Yes, he will face Stephens and the Scooba Lions this season.
“The challenge will be fun,” is all he would say about that.
After writing a book with him (Bo: A Quarterback’s Journey Through an SEC Season) during his 2014 senior year — he gave me full access to his thoughts and opinions each week — I got to know Bo pretty well.
People are shocked when they ask what he’s really like and hear my answer: “Great heart. Competitive as anyone on earth. Isn’t comfortable talking about his accomplishments as the quarterback at EMCC (a national championship) and Ole Miss (21 on-the-field victories, three bowl games, 9,354 yards passing with 62 TD passes, the unforgettable victory over Alabama in 2014 and a 2-1 record in Egg Bowls, and never missed a start). Would give you his last dime if you needed it more than him.”
And about the win over Alabama: During an interview for the book in July before the season, he told me: “I don’t know what our record will wind up being. I don’t know how many touchdowns I’ll throw for or any of that. But I can tell you one thing for sure — we will beat Alabama. They can’t match up with our offense outside.”
Sure enough, Ole Miss beat Alabama 23-17, its first win over the Crimson Tide since 2003 when Eli Manning was the Rebel quarterback.
I’m looking forward to watching him grow as a coach. And I think he’s going to be a good one.
I ask him where he would like to be 10 years from now.
“Calling plays at one of football’s highest levels,” he says. “I know that right now I’m on the ladder and trying to climb my way up. But my focus is here at Coahoma. Coach Macon has given me a great opportunity, and I want to help him get this program turned around.”
And, yes, I did ask the question everyone would ask if they bumped into Bo Wallace: How do you think Lane Kiffin will do at Ole Miss?
“Time will tell,” he says. “But I thought he did a great job distributing the ball to his playmakers when he was (offensive coordinator) at Alabama. The way he moved (wide receiver) Amari Cooper around and game-planned things to do with him was impressive.
“And he did a great job with his quarterbacks, Blake Sims and Jalen Hurts,. He kept those guys comfortable by the way he game planned. I learned a lot watching his teams.”
One last note: I ask him if he heard Freeze say on two podcasts that Bo Wallace was the most important signee during Freeze’s career at Ole Miss.
“I did,” Bo says. “He had said it before, but for him to say it now, after some time has passed, I have to admit that it was pretty cool to hear. I appreciated him saying that.”