College football, like other sports, faces an uncertain immediate future as spring practices were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s sent coaches and players to work from home like the rest of us and prepare for a possible season under very different circumstances than they are accustomed to.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is adjusting to life at home, where he hasn’t spent this much time in 25 years since he started coaching, but beyond adjusting to holding meetings via Zoom like everyone else, he wanted to find a way to help healthcare workers in the community and make sure they knew they were appreciated. As such, he partnered with Marco’s Pizza franchisee Joe Walker to launch Feed Our Heroes, a foundation formed with the Central Carolina Community Foundation to feed healthcare workers at six hospitals in the area — with hopes to expand to more — twice a week (they currently have raised funding for about two months worth of feedings at the hospitals).
Last week, Muschamp and Walker spoke with Uproxx Sports about how they came together to create this foundation, why it was important to them, life in quarantine as a football coach and pizza restaurant owner, how Muschamp is still preparing his team for the season, what he’s told NFL teams about top Draft prospect Javon Kinlaw, and more.
How did Feed Our Heroes come together and why it was so important to both of you to start this program?
Will Muschamp: Well, personally, Carol and I were talkin’, this is two weeks ago now, just about the healthcare workers — the doctors, the nurses, the medical staffs, the first responders — about how they’re on the front lines right now. They’re in the line of fire, they’re saving lives and stopping the spread of this virus, and what can we do to help. We do have some means financially to be able help and do some things, and I just started thinking about it and I’ve known Joe since we’ve been here in Columbia, and he’s a go get ‘em kind of guy. Very active in our community and cares about our community, so I just called him up with the idea of Marco’s Pizza — and you think about the number of hours these people are working, to be able to have them feed them and taken care of as best we can. It’s a very small gesture but something to help and to just say thank you. Joe ran with it from there, I just kind of called him up and donated some money to hopefully help out.
Joe Walker: Yeah, and to pick up from there, when Will reached out with his and Carol’s idea of donating a significant amount of money to feed healthcare workers across our region, you know, Marco’s Pizza already being the official pizza of the Gamecocks already had a great platform and great relationship in place to execute on an even broader plan. I suggested to Will that we use his funding not just as a one time feeding, but to seed a foundation through the Central Carolina Community Foundation here in South Carolina. Thereby we can perpetuate the feeding and allow Marco’s and potentially other restaurants in the region to continue feeding these healthcare workers and really use their dollars at the beginning of a much larger program rather than a one-time opportunity.
What has the response been and what have y’all been able to do so far, you mention you’re about a week in, what has the response been from the South Carolina community?
Walker: Overall there’s been a lot of support from the University of South Carolina from the various personalities with the program, but more important from across the community you’re seeing it gain momentum. We’ve got a local singer/songwriter, he lives in Nashville now, but Patrick Davis who’s already hosted one tele-concert and is putting on another one this weekend in support of Coach Muschamp, which has been fun to watch. We’ve seen individual donations come into the foundation and thanks to Coach and Carol and their generosity and foresight, we’ve already seen $30,000 come in which should allow for the continuation of our feeding at hospital campuses. We’re now looking at six, seven, eight weeks of continuous feeding at this point.
Muschamp: Just to be at the supermarket and have people come up and say thank you, cause my dad’s a doctor or my mom’s a nurse, they’re going through this and people have no idea. When Joe and I delivered the first deliveries to Richland Prisma, to sit there and see those nurses and how appreciative they were. I’ve had multiple healthcare people reach out to me on Twitter and say thank you for what you’re doing. It just makes you feel good and it makes them feel very appreciated of the job that they’re doing, and that’s the biggest thing for me.
Being a football coach at a big program, particularly in the South, you have a significant platform and influence. When there’s something like this that affects the community so much, do you feel a responsibility in a time like this to use that to inspire some good?
Muschamp: Absolutely. I think any time we can positively affect our community, you need to be able to do it, and using the University of South Carolina and our football program and our athletic program, there’s no doubt about it that can get you a great opportunity to reach a lot of people and make a difference. That’s what it’s all about, making a difference right here in the midlands, and I’m really excited we are able to form this thing and really appreciate Joe and his efforts to make this thing work.
For you, coach, what is the day-to-day like right now for you? Everyone’s going through having to work from home and those changes. For you, how do you navigate trying to stay prepared for a season while at home?
Muschamp: Well there’s still a lot of work. We’re working on ourselves. We got through about five days of spring practice, so I’ve reviewed that film several times [laughs]. We’re working on opponents for next year. We have position meetings five days a week where we’re on Zoom with our players and going through our installations and different concepts we’re teaching them from anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour a day. We staff meet twice a week for about an hour to go over the recruiting board and any updates on the football team we need as an entire staff.
So, there’s a lot for us. Recruiting is year-round, that’s 24/7, so you’re constantly doing that. Evaluation of film, contacting — actually April 15, today, is the first day we could call the Class of ’21 as far as calling ‘em, you could text ‘em. There’s a lot going on, and I’m getting a lot of honey-do’s around the house. I changed a lightbulb for the first time in probably 20 years today. That was a first [laughs]. There’s a lot going on I didn’t know was happening at home, I can tell you that.
I was going to ask when the last time you spent this much time at home.
Muschamp: Well, I’ve been coaching for about 25 years, so 25 years.
Joe, the pizza business is somewhat uniquely prepared in this time of takeout and delivery only, but what have y’all had to do in terms of ensuring safe practices and preparations in the kitchen and delivery during this time?
Walker: Certainly, so Marco’s corporate has done a fantastic job tracking all the mandated stipulations whether it’s the CDC or FDA, and has kept its franchisees abreast of all those policies throughout this process by way of weekly calls to make sure we’re implementing all appropriate policies for the safety of our employees, which is paramount to us, but also thinking about the consumer. Because while we’re uniquely positioned to execute on this type of model, this is a unique time for everyone and we want to make sure we’re going above and beyond what’s required to ensure the safety of our food, our employees and our customers.
Along with that, this program is obviously about helping healthcare workers and letting them know we appreciate them and are thinking of them, but also helps your employees and food workers who I think the world is recognizing as being so important to getting people food and keeping folks fed. What would you tell folks about the efforts of kitchen staff and delivery staff during all of this?
Walker: I would tell them that it’s monumental. It’s an example that I take pride in, the pride of ownership. Our employees take pride in the store level. The pride I have in the brand, Marco’s Pizza, where I have the opportunity to engage in non-profit activities at the store level and allows us to give back to the community that we serve. It really is inspiring to watch the Marco’s community come together in a time of crisis.
Last one for you, coach. The NFL Draft is coming up and you’ve got a few guys that’ll get their name called, particularly Javon Kinlaw. Have you had contact with teams asking about him, and what have you been telling them about what they’d be getting in that young man?
Muschamp: Yeah, I’ve probably talked to the whole NFL, whether it’s a general manager, assistant, or head coach. I mean, the guy, I think his best football is ahead of him. His incremental improvements from Year 1 to Year 3 was pretty large. I mean he stepped on campus at 345 (pounds) and he’s now down to about 295 and in the best shape of his life going into his senior year. He played the way you’re supposed to play as a senior, but I think his best football’s ahead of him. His block recognition continues to improve, he’s a very unusual combination of length and power and athleticism. But that length and power, you don’t find that as far as inside players.