Randy Robbins is not coaching this season, but he is directing like he has never done before.
The pride of Casa Grande, a former Cougar standout who went on to illustrious careers with Arizona and the Denver Broncos, is once again exclusively the athletic director of his high school alma mater in the middle of a global pandemic.
“I’m trying to approach it with a positive attitude,” Robbins said.
On Robbins’ agenda with Casa Grande’s football team visiting Salpointe Catholic in the season opener Friday night (45 days after the season was originally supposed to start before COVID-19 derailed that plan):
— Make certain each of the 56 players traveling to Tucson stay on their own seat in the two buses. They normally sit two players to a seat in one bus.
— Ensure they keep their facemasks on throughout the approximately 1-hour trip.
— Prevent families from attempting to drive to Salpointe’s Ed Doherty Field. Salpointe is not allowing visiting fans to attend and Casa Grande is keeping the traveling party to Robbins, the coaching staff, including head coach Jake Barro, the support staff and players. No cheerleaders or band members.
“I’m going to take a viewpoint of ‘what’s best for the kid?'” Robbins said. “They have an opportunity to play. If we can only allow so many fans into the game, let’s do that.”
When Casa Grande plays its three home games of a seven-game schedule, the Cougars will also not allow fans from visiting schools and only two guests per player can attend. Salpointe, which at first had the policy of no fans allowed to attend, will admit four guests per player.
“What I’m going to do here is, ‘Each player, give me your guest list and they are going to come in,” Robbins said. “If you’re not on the list, you’re not coming in.”
After serving as the defensive coordinator for Casa Grande last season, he was instructed by superintendent Dr. Steve Bebee to concentrate only on athletic director duties. That decision was especially necessary this school year with all the added responsibilities brought on by the pandemic.
With Casa Grande and neighboring school Vista Grande in a region that includes Tucson-area schools — the 4A Kino — Robbins was faced with the task of scrambling to develop schedules for the fall sports without the Southern Arizona schools. Casa Grande scheduled Salpointe for the opener less than a month ago.
Pima County public school superintendents announced with a letter in August that football teams would not begin competition until in-person instruction began. With hybrid in-person models for schools not slated to start until mid-October for most of the local school districts — provided a control of the pandemic is evident in Pima County — none of the teams have conducted contact drills yet.
Nobody knows when their first game can be scheduled.
Canyon del Oro, Pueblo, Sahuaro and Walden Grove could not be scheduled by Casa Grande.
“Once we found out that letter by the Pima County superintendents went out, I said, ‘Hey, that means we don’t have anywhere to play,'” Robbins said. “I made a couple calls to the AIA leadership and told them we’re in that region with Tucson and we need to put together a schedule of other schools.
“That’s why I was able to get a seven-game schedule. I got five games and then I hustled up the last two.”
After playing at Salpointe, the Cougars host Lake Havasu (next Thursday) and Vista Grande (Oct. 16) before playing at Scottsdale Desert Mountain (Oct. 23). They then host Buena (Oct. 30) and finish the regular season at Phoenix Benjamin Franklin (Nov. 6) and Mesa Dobson (Nov. 13).
It is an independent schedule full of “freedom” games as the AIA calls them. Robbins also had to readjust schedules for golf, cross country and swimming.
“We as athletic directors have no choice with the obstacles in front of us because of the pandemic,” Robbins said. “It’s a case of, ‘how are we going to navigate through it?’ This is new for everyone. Sooner or later, there will be another challenge that comes our way and we’ll have to figure out a way to navigate through that because it’s going to happen.”
Scottsdale Chaparral’s football program is experiencing the challenge of having its players quarantined for two weeks because a player tested positive with COVID-19. That means its first two games against Scottsdale Saguaro tomorrow and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor next week have been cancelled.
Chaparral’s varsity and junior varsity football teams, their coaches and staff were notified they may have been exposed to the ill player and have been instructed to quarantine and monitor their health closely. Chaparral is working in conjunction with the Maricopa County Health Department to conduct contact tracing to help identify any others who may have been exposed to the virus through close contact with the player.
This came a day after Cave Creek Cactus Shadows was forced to cancel its opener tomorrow with San Tan Valley Combs because a player tested positive for COVID-19. Combs replaced Cactus Shadows with Buena.
“This concerns me,” Robbins said. “What concerns me is the unknown.”
When asked if the AIA should have waited for football to be played in the spring because of the uncertainty now with COVID-19 with already cancellation of games taking place, Robbins answered, “No, I think the AIA is doing the right thing.”
“Eventually, you’re going to have to do something, either play or not play,” he added. “I’d rather play. However, we might have to understand that if a spike comes up — we hope and pray that it doesn’t — it might shut us down again. But I think eventually you have to take that leap and move forward.”
Robbins knows all about moving forward in the midst of challenges and compromising positions growing up with seven siblings.
The greatest football player in Arizona history — Ricky Hunley — owes Robbins a great deal for providing direction in his life at one of the most difficult times in his football career. After Hunley was selected as the seventh pick overall in the 1984 NFL draft by Cincinnati, he became mired in a contract dispute with the Bengals.
Robbins, a roommate for three years with Hunley during their Arizona days, was drafted in the fourth round by the Denver Broncos that same year.
“Cincinnati was well-known back then for lowballing their draft picks, so Ricky was holding out and was back in Tucson bored,” Robbins said. “I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come see me? You can hang out with me for a while.’
“I asked the Broncos if he could come to practice and he came to practice with me for a couple of days. Coach (Dan) Reeves and the defensive coordinator they looked at him on the sidelines and they traded for him. That’s how he came to Denver.”
Hunley went on to play four years with the Broncos — remaining teammates with Robbins and other former Wildcats such as Vance Johnson and Mike Freeman. Hunley was part of two Super Bowl teams. Robbins was in Denver for eight years and was in three Super Bowls.
After his playing career came to an end, Robbins became the head coach at Casa Grande in 1996 and 1997 before moving back to Tucson to serve on Dick Tomey’s staff from 1998-2000.
Robbins moved back to Casa Grande and worked as a high school football and basketball referee before becoming the Cougars’ athletic director in 2014. He returned to coaching last season as the defensive coordinator. He continues to officiate basketball games and occasionally plays golf with Wildcat brethren Hunley and brother Lamonte Hunley, Julius Holt and others.
“I always try to stay active,” said Robbins. “The more you stay active and around kids it keeps you fit. I like seeing this generation grow up. They have a lot of resources to be successful.”
His son Josh, a former CDO standout, is in his second year of coaching this generation. He is the Dorados’ defensive coordinator.
The two of them coached against each other in the regular season finale last season at Casa Grande. The Cougars outlasted CDO 19-17, surviving on a blocked field goal at the end of the defensive struggle.
“That was so fun for me and so fun for him,” Robbins said. “We loved it. Somebody had to win. Somebody had to lose.
“What I loved about it is we were two defensive guys. The offensive coordinators didn’t like it but Josh and I loved it. That was fun coaching against him and he’s doing a great job. He’s a very smart kid.”
This has been a tumultuous year, all things considered with COVID-19 and current national events, but Robbins has a different viewpoint of 2020.
Randy’s first grandchild, Jayden, his son Daniel’s offspring, was born in August.
On social media, Robbins posted:
“This year has been difficult to navigate through with all the uncertainty in the world. I’ll definitely remember this year … My first grandchild was born this year. I pray that God gives you peace … the peace that he always provides for me.”
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.