Well, I am officially no longer a high school football coach. Those words are very hard to swallow. However, at least I have some solace that it was done on my terms. I think that was very important and was not the case the last time I left the game. I am just hoping that it's not the last time I get to walk on the sidelines and call a game, either offensively or defensively.
I have been coaching at my Alma mater for the past 10 seasons. There were some good times early, but the past 6 years have been rocky at best. Going a combined 6-60 over that span has made me rethink my priorities not only in football, but in life. You see several years back I made the choice not to teach, but to work outside of teaching and still coach football. Although yet to be seen, this may have been a very critical error on my part. The major benefit is that my livelihood is not tied to the success or failure of the team in which I'm coaching. This is good because I own a home in a down-trodden market and had I been forced from my job due to poor performance, I may very well have been locked out of moving to another location to coach and teach. You see, where I'm at, it's easily 40 miles in any direction to the next nearest coaching opportunity. So, with that being said, I'm not sure what the future holds at this point, but I know this, I can no longer coach where I'm at due to circumstances that are beyond my control.
That is a very, very, hard pill to swallow for a control freak like myself. However, there comes a point in one's career where you have to realize you've done all you can do, and no matter what else you do, things, quite simply, aren't going to get any better. I once used to think I could will a program to victory...how naive was I?! Yep, I thought all you had to do was work hard, outwork the other coaches and the Jimmie's and Joe's thing would take care of itself. Well, my friends, this quite simply is not the case. I don't care if you're Jimmy Johnson, if you don't have some resemblance of talent, and some team discipline and chemistry, you can kiss your X's and O's goodbye. I have learned this the hard way, all too many times.
If this is, in fact, my last dance as a football coach, I will share some of things I've learned along the way. Maybe, in some small way, it'll help those that read this blog in their future and with their career moves. Happy reading!
- Have a plan. I don't care if you're just an assistant, of if your the head man yourself, have a plan of action. Plan your day, your practices your drills etc. Then have an adjustment plan. As quoted from the move Valkyrie "This is a military operation, few go according to plan". This is so very true. As a coach, you need a plan to formulate your groundwork for how you plan on doing whatever the task is that you have been chosen to do. If this plan begins to unravel, you have to find a way to get it back on course, or even adjust course if that is the necessary means of action. No matter what though, always start out with an initial plan. Just like most goal setting texts will tell you to write down your goals, write down your plan. If you have any ideas about some pitfalls in your plan, then write down the adjustments too. Writing things down helps to memorize, so when you're in the heat of the moment you can adjust your plan on the fly.
- Know who you're coaching with. I have coached with some great coaches, and I have coached with guys who couldn't sell French fries at McDonald's. You need to know this. Don't just trust that because a guy, including the head coach, has the title coach, is worth a shit. I've been with guys, who came from damn good programs, that when they coached elsewhere (particularly if it was with lesser talent), couldn't coach their way out of a wet paper bag. Before you take a job, you need to know what you're getting into. You need to look at, and investigate the quality of the coaches you'll be working with. Know who you're working for. This guy may have the title of head coach, but believe me, in this day and age, it is a title only. If you are like me, and truly dedicated to your craft, then you need to find someone that fits your mold. Whatever you do, don't try to fit into the situation. If you believe in the guy in the mirror, get in with similar folks. Trying to make a shitty situation better by just adding you to the mix, will not help things, even if you really are a good or even great coach. I agree the good ones make the ones around them better, but the ones around the great ones have to be willing to get better. Weigh your situation out, and choose carefully when looking at where to coach.
- Know the administration, and what they think of football. This is the tough one. This is a pill I still have trouble swallowing, and if you think you've worked for crappy administrations, grab a beer, and pull up a chair. I'll swap stories with the best of them. What's even better is, I guarantee, if confronted these people about the fact of how bad they are, these administrators would have no clue. In the past 10 seasons I have witnessed the first-hand, systematic destruction of what was once a decent football program. Sure, historically it wasn't good, but it had been built up to be a pillar of pride in the community. Due to poor leadership and vision from the administration, this program is all but a shell of its former self. Whether we like to admit it or not, administration has way more to do with the success of a football program in high school than many give it credit for. Know who signs your checks.
- Love the kids. If you can't love a kid that goes out for two to three hours a day and practices in some of the most grueling conditions known to man, then what the hell are you doing it for? If you are uncomfortable with this, coach college or pro ball, where the relationships can be a bit more impersonal. For the most part, I've loved every player I've ever coached. They mean the world to me, and I let them know it. That doesn't mean I'm all "lovey-dovey" with them, it just means I care about their well-being and their growth, not only as a football player, but as a person. If you aren't coaching for this reason, then what are you coaching for???
- Coach for the right reasons. If you coach for the "W", or for the ring, you have a hollow and shallow mindset. Coaching has to be about more than that. Winning and losing is such a small part of what we are a part of, that those that coach by it and are defined by it, generally don't last long. Don't get me wrong, I hate to lose, even more than I love to win, but in the end, I coach to make men. I coach, to help boys become men, and those men become productive citizens in this great nation. America needs coaches that are like this. This country needs coaches that are willing to pass on the age old axioms of hard work, dedication, discipline, etc. In many cases these young men are not getting this in the home. We, as coaches are sometimes the only shred of a father figure these young folks will ever have. There is so much more to being a coach than being the right call at the right time, or calling the right pass play for third and nine. Be more than just a football coach, be a life coach as well.
- Know your craft. I have always been the type of guy that cannot and will not half-ass. I have always and will always put my heart and soul in to everything I do. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how on Earth anyone can do any different. Know your stuff, and know it inside and out. Know how to coach your area to the best of your ability. Know the technique, and know the hows and the whys. Stay current on what's being asked of you. Pay attention in meetings and be prepared to demonstrate what you know to your players daily. Ultimately be in a position to pass on this knowledge to your players, or at the very least pass on what they'll need to know in a game situation.
- Know when to say "I don't know". Kids aren't stupid, but for some reason, coaches think they are. If you don't know something, or you don't know how to do something, a kid is going to have far more respect for you if you're simply honest and let them know that you don't know. Now, this isn't to say you don't need to find out, BECAUSE YOU DO! This is the trust factor players crave from their coaches. They need to know that although you don't know the answer now, you're going to try your damnedest to find out the answer, or an alternate solution to their question. I've seen all to many times a coach, who has no friggin' clue what he's doing, make something up just to look like he knows what he's talking about. I've never understood this logic, because 99.9% of the time, it backfires. In the end it only hurts both the player and the coach. Simply be honest with your players, their respect you for it in the end.
- Know when enough is enough. For the first time in my 15 seasons as a football coach, I dreaded the start of football. Let me rephrase that, I dreaded it, and I couldn't bullshit myself out of not dreading it. Twice, earlier in my career, I've dreaded it, but was able to talk myself through it, or work beyond the anxiety to push on through a season. Not this year. As we entered spring football, I did not want to be there. I thought that maybe just getting around the kids would help me, and it did some, but if my heart isn't 100% in something, I'm not doing it. I am burnt out. I have put everything I have and then some into this program, with little to no result, and it has drained me. You have to think of yourself and your family, and what I was doing was not healthy for either, so I have had to call it quits.
What does the future hold? Who knows, I'm not ready to give up the game, I think I just need some time off from the everyday grind of coaching. I plan on researching, and writing (good news!) some more. I have some job offers, that I will entertain after some much needed rest. No matter what, I plan to keep on researching, writing about and studying this game I love so much. So stay tuned to the blogs and hopefully one day I can return to roaming the sidelines! Take care.