Coaches in general and football coaches in particular have an obsession about being prepared for every possibility.

Controlling the controllables, they call it.

But how do you prepare for the unthinkable, a situation so unexpected and traumatic that it never comes to mind until it actually happens?

There is no playbook to help Virginia coach Tony Elliott deal with the tragedy that took the lives of 3 team members on Sunday. No chart to tell him when to go for 2 or specific protocol for how long to keep a player out of action after suffering a concussion.

Everything he has done since the shooting deaths of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry has been by the seat of his pants.

And he’s done it solely out of concern for the well-being of his surviving players.

The book is still out on how successful Elliott will be as a head coach. His first season on the job hasn’t gone particularly well from an Xs and Os standpoint. UVA is just 3-7 (1-5 ACC) and is ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories.

Football notwithstanding, he has already distinguished himself as a leader through his words and actions over the past few days.

“I’m trying to figure out step-by-step how to be strong for these young men,” Elliott said during a press conference on Tuesday. “My job is to lead in moments like this.”

While the university has provided its players with counseling and other resources to help them come to grips with what has happened, Elliott has contributed in the only way he knows how – by leaning heavily on his faith and by simply being there.

He gathered the team as soon after the shooting as it was allowed and has kept its members together as a group as much as possible to “make sure we have eyes on them” and “that nobody was isolated.”

The coach and his staff have hugged them, cried with them and done everything they can to ease the pain, at least somewhat, by celebrating the lives of their lost teammates.

“I’ve had my moments where I’ve broken down and showed my emotions and I’ve even had those moments in front of the team,” Elliott said. “These are outstanding young men that we don’t understand why they’re gone so early. I’ll look for the signs as we move forward, but right now it’s just to put my arms around these guys and tell them we love them and figure out the best way to grieve.”

The one thing they don’t need to be doing at this moment is preparing for a game. Elliott and athletic director Carla Williams did the right thing by canceling Saturday’s home finale against Coastal Carolina.

There’s simply no way the team could possibly have been ready, either physically or emotionally, to play so soon after such a harrowing event.

It’s still undecided whether the Cavaliers will return to the field for their final scheduled game at Virginia Tech next week. Whatever UVA chooses to do, it will have the support of the rival Hokies.

If there’s anyone that can relate to what the Cavaliers are going through, it’s the folks in Blacksburg. They lived through an even greater loss of life in 2007 when 32 of their own were killed and many others wounded in a mass shooting on Tech’s campus.

The Hokies’ first-year coach Brent Pry wasn’t there for that tragedy. But he’s well aware of what happened and how UVA rallied around its rival in its time of need.

And he’s been quick to show his own kind of leadership by doing the same for the Cavaliers.

“Football is something that is important to all of us. It creates a brotherhood,” Pry said, adding that the shooting in Charlottesville “is a reminder to me and all of us that life is precious and a challenge to love each other more.

“We are family and when one of us is hurting, we all hurt. I’ve hugged my own family, felt so close to our team through all of this, these last 24 hours. UVA was here for us in 2007 and we are here for them now. It’s bigger than football.”

At the same time, football could become part of the healing process.

Returning to the field to play a game dedicated to the memory of Chandler, Davis and Perry might be therapeutic for the Cavaliers by allowing them to regain at least some semblance of normalcy.

Whether it happens next week in Blacksburg or next fall in the 2023 season opener against Tennessee in Nashville is a call Elliott and AD Williams will make at some point in the coming days.

Either way, this much is certain: The decision will be made solely out of concern for the well-being of their players.