Friday, December 11, 2015

Reflections of the 2015 Football Season

Well, I have to say this has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I've had in quite some time (seven years to be exact).  I thought that a rehashing of the 2015 season would be in order, seeing as how I've had so many emails wondering where I went, or what I was doing (obviously due to the lack of posts here and over at Football Is Life).  Well, I'll take you through what my year was like and you can see what a roller coaster ride it has been.


Coming off a losing season is tough, no matter where you're at, or what level you coach.  I was coming off losing year number two.  What was really concerning, is I felt as though I wasn't being led by leadership that could get us over the hump the way we needed to.  Sure, we got the schedule tuned in more to our talent level, and the off-season weight program appeared to be headed in the right direction, but there just didn't seem that level of confidence in the leadership, that I've had working on other staffs.  The major underlying issue was a lack of discipline program-wide.  Anyone who knows me, will tell you, that teams I've coached are always disciplined.  We may not be good, but we are trying to be.  We are trying to do the right thing, and we will try to do it, even when folks aren't watching.  I just never felt like we were creating disciplined young men, and that was always in the back of my mind as we went through clinic season, and winter workouts.  This is not a good feeling.  The Winter, in my opinion, is time to learn and recharge one's batteries for the upcoming season.  This did not seem to happen for me, and it was a very uneasy feeling leading into spring ball.

I did go to some clinics, and picked up some good information, but even then, I found myself unable to get very "fired up" about using all of it to make ourselves better.  Normally, the week after I've been to a clinic, I type out all my handwritten notes, so they are clean and fresh.  I usually even share them on my blog.  I got about 1/3 of the way through my notes, and quit.  To this day, my notes still haven't been transcribed.  If I sat down to type them in the evenings, the thought that crossed my mind was "Why"?  That's not the kind of feeling you need to have when you're trying to recharge the batteries.  I knew it was what I'd been through over the past few seasons that had worn me thin, but I thought, like most years once May rolled around, things would get better.  Unfortunately, "better" never came.


Into the start of our spring meetings, I still felt uneasy, and this uneasiness was fueled by again, the overall leadership in the program and the fact we were losing some coaches and replacing them with some greenies.  It's bad enough having to teach young new football players things they should be learning in youth football, but doing the same while teaching a young staff, can really drag you down.  I'm in my late 30's and was the second oldest on staff, easily by 10 years.  We had some pups coming in.  Don't get me wrong, they had some fire, but some had the wrong fire, others had no clue what they were doing, and some were just downright wrong for the job.  Needless to say that first day of spring football came, with little to no excitement from myself.  I'm not a "rah-rah" guy, but I do get plenty fired up for football.  As we started spring practices, it just wasn't there.  I thought I could fake it, or fool myself into being motivated, but that's only going to last so long.  Having to coach, then re-coach things that your assistants should be doing, wore me down within the first few weeks of practice and I found myself just wanting it to end.  We had a young, young group of kids, and that made life even more difficult as the disparity in coaching served only to confuse them.  The lack of leadership from the top didn't help.  When I offered to do after practice or weekend clinics to rehash topics from our off season meetings, nobody would show up.  This my friends, is signs of cracks in the foundation.  I began to wonder if anyone really gave a damn but me.  Again, not good things go find out in the middle of spring football practice.

Then one day, it hit me.  Like Mike Alstott through the A gap, it slammed into me a hundred miles an hour.  I was helping our OL coach work a pass protection drill, that was the most haphazard cluster I'd ever witnessed in my 15 years of coaching.  This was after a 30 minute defensive team session where I literally felt like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz trying to run all those gadgets by myself.  I was exhausted and then went to help with this cobbed up OL drill and I knew afterwards, I wanted out.  I knew I wanted to coach, just not bad enough to continue coaching where I was at.

I like to give things the 24 hour rule and two days later, I felt no different.  I even told myself, just give until the end of spring, then think about it.  Two more days passed by and I just couldn't do it.  I let the coach know, I'd coach the rest of the spring, but afterwards I was resigning.  Of course, he wanted to know why, but what do you say when your staring the main reason for leaving right in the face?  I just cited personal reasons, coached the remainder of spring and went on my merry way.  I had no idea where I was going to go.  See, I'm not in the school system, and I'm pretty entrenched in the local community, so leaving is not as easy as one may think.  Going to another school is a tough option, seeing that the nearest school is over 30 miles in either direction from where I live.  No, I thought this might be the end, or maybe I'd try my hand at middle school ball or Pop Warner again.  I just don't feel like taking a year off is the right thing to do.  I was afraid I'd get rusty, or bored, or worse.

What's beautiful about the game, is the networking among coaches.  Through the years of coaching, and blogging, I've made some very good friends, and these friends are one's that will look out for a buddy when he's in need.  It just so happened that a good friend of mine coaches at a very prestigious program in our area and has been on me since 2010 to join their staff in some capacity.  Now, mind you, this program is over 40 miles from where I live, so going there on a daily basis was not an option.  However, when my friend found out I wasn't coaching, he hit me up with a consulting gig that sounded too good to be true.  Alas, though, I was wrong!  As it turns out, it's one of the best coaching moves I've ever made.  I joined the staff in early June, but all was quiet and I really began to wonder about my decision, but that's why you have to be patient in this business sometimes.


The summer rolled along, fairly uneventful.  I went to some off season workouts, met with assistant coaches and discussed film breakdown procedures, game planning procedures and the like, but it was actually a very mild summer for me.  Then we had our preseason meeting in August and the wheels began to turn.  The man I work for now is an absolute legend in the local coaching community.  His programs have many accolades and he's had a very successful run dating back to the nineties with this program (not something seen in today's game...longevity).  What really struck me about the man and the mission statement of the program is that he scoreboard is so secondary to what they are attempting to do here.  No, football is a tool where I coach now.  It's a tool to mold boys into men.  To make these men great leaders, fathers and husbands.  I've always said that there has to be more to football than just wins and losses and the program I was joining adhered to my internal message to a tee.

The other thing I was seeing right before my eyes was that football was important to these coaches, administrators and the community.  It wasn't just a sport to them, it was a means to an end.  Football was the tool for making men.  Many folks talk about Nick Saban's "The Process", and where I work it's referred to as "The System".  I'll get more into "The System" over on Football Is Life later, but basically, think of Alabama when you want to get a picture of where I'm coaching at now.  Football is paramount here.  Football runs the show, and the show is glad for it.  I'm so thankful this opportunity came along when it did, because my passion has been totally rejuvenated in the past few months.

As I got to know the staff, one item was universal, they were honest, genuine dudes that cared about the individuals they coached, and the individuals they coached with.  They weren't just "yes men", but had the program's best interest ahead of their own personal interests.  See, this wasn't the case at my old program.  Not one bit.  Selfishness and the "get ahead at all costs" mentality prevailed there.  No, at my new job, the idea of "nobody is greater than the whole" rang true throughout.  When I say throughout, I mean from the Freshman coaches and players all the way up to Varsity.  Everybody understood their role, and where they fit into the piece of the puzzle.  Anyone stepping out of line, wasn't squashed, or ridiculed, but was put into place with a lesson given about patience and doing your job for the greater good of the program.  I cannot stress how important this is in running a first class program.

As preseason gave way into the regular season things really began to step up and I was quickly put to the test.  That's what I had been worried about this new job was whether I was going to be used or not, and turns out I was definitely going to get a lot of work coming my way.  From coming up with slants, stunts, and blitzes as well as throwing in my two cents I was well involved in our establishment of a cohesive game plan to attack our opponents.  With the first week of the season, I was up in the booth helping defend one of our toughest opponents of the season.  I knew right then and there this was going to be a very good year for me.


As Summer faded into fall, the hours began to rack up, and I became deeply involved in some game plans, and not so much in others.  Film breakdown was at a feverish pace, as we always tried to get our hands on as much film as possible, sometimes breaking down 10 to 12 films towards the end of the season.  Not only that, but putting together the call sheet as well as the scouting report became quite a bit of work.  Our weekend meetings were beginning to stretch from four hour sessions to six and then on to eight hour sessions as the season wore on.  I had no issue with it, that's the part of football I love, the chess match.  I think we did as good as anyone we faced this season at preparing our players for their opponent, and I can tell you this, it won us some games we might not have otherwise won.

What I didn't realize was how much I was learning, because everything was being done at a rabid pace.  Sometimes I would be out scouting on a Friday night, come in Saturday morning to prepare the scouting report from the night before then be thrust into a three or four hour film breakdown session.  Upon completing the film breakdown we always had to go back and clean up things, discuss what certain formations and plays were going to be tagged as etc.  Once that was cleaned up, we began running the rough version of the scouting report so all of us could head home and begin to digest the data.  I have to say, that data analysis and data presentation is the number one topic I learned this season.  I have some very good ideas I plan on passing on in the future over at Football is Life.  Anyhow, we would return on Sundays to begin game planning, and these sessions were intense.  There was laughter, arguing, silence and the occasional old "war story" told in our war room.  We would generally work through all the formations and plays we felt we were going to see and also the ones that might give us trouble.  I have never been a big "check defense" guy, mainly because I've never coached platooned players.  My guys usually had to go both ways, so you were limited in what you could teach them in a two-and-a-half hour practice.  I started out my career as a check guy, but quickly learned you can be over burdened with these checks if you're not careful.  Well, when your defensive players get two hours of practice time, plus and hour of video time every day to learn, you can really do a lot of things with them.

Video was another subject that I quickly learned is a necessary tool for success.  As they say "The eye in the sky doesn't lie".  Everything we do is videotaped.  Meetings, practice, games, drills you name it, it's videoed.  The same goes for lifting.  When I say the video everything, I mean it.  I found myself looking around for cameras when I went to the bathroom (lol, just kidding).  Anyhow, you get my drift.  Video is important to our head coach.  As coaches, we probably average three hours of watching film daily during the work week.  The weekends are even more intense.  However, the defining truth that lies within all the work, is the desire to succeed.

As fall wore on, I could see that the desire to succeed was paramount in this program.  I'm sure that's everywhere, but what sets us apart from the rest is the fact that we take absolute control over EVERYTHING we can control.  The motto on our staff is "No stone left unturned".  When we scout, we scout everything.  Jersey color, how loud is the band, who are the captains, what type of field is it, how do we enter the stadium, etc.  The list is endless, but the scouts deliver it all.  To the newbie, one might think this effort is useless, and doesn't translate into wins, however when you don't have as talented a roster as your opponent, any little bit helps.  For the most part, we were better than 90 percent of the teams we faced, and breezed through the regular season.  In the playoffs, we saw our cracks rise to the surface, and the one that kept surfacing and resurfacing was the fact that we just don't have the same quality of athlete as some of the other programs.  We did make it to the regional championship game, and were easily the least talented team of the remaining four in the state.  I would also say we were probably the best coached and the strongest.  Unfortunately that will only carry you so far.  Anyhow, the season was very fun and interesting and I'm looking forward to year two.

Misgivings and Lessons Learned

One of things I really learned is an old football axiom, "Think players not plays".  The DC I worked for, does this better than anyone I've ever been around.  He doesn't strap himself to a system, yet he straps himself to the idea of defending his opponent with who he has.  What this means at times is we have LB's lining up where they don't always traditionally play, or DB's moving into the box to play LB, DE's that stand up vs. one formation or have their hand in the ground vs. another.  I can only imagine how hard we are to break down for our opponents because we are base 4-3/4-2-5 defense, but we play a 4-4, 6-1, 5-2, 5-3, 6-2, 3-4 and a 3-3 at some point during the season.  What is imperative about "the system" (see above) is the fact our upperclassmen know the base scheme like their livelihoods depended on it.  We can get in trouble during a game, and make a base front, stunt, blitz or coverage call, and the kids know exactly how to run it.  The reason why is the fact many of them have been doing it for four years and thousands of reps.  Memory, both physical and mental is preached around here.  It allow us to bend our scheme and tailor our scheme to fit our players, as well as defend our opponent with different looks.  You might see our JV defend something out of the 4-3, only to see the Varsity using the 3-3.  What's unique, and what I'm sure many are asking is, how is it that your don't get paralysis by analysis?  Again, we may line up in a 3-3, but we aren't a 3-3 stack team.  Our blitzes we run from the 3-3 are the same ones we would run from the 4-3 with some slight tweaking.  Our kids aren't doing anything different than they would do from the time they are taught how to line up, run a blitz or stunt, react to a block etc.  The unified theme here is reps, reps, reps.  These players are repeating techniques from their freshmen year on up into the time they are seniors, all of the techniques are simple muscle memory.  What a key component of our schemes focus on is having what we deem as the primary tackler.  This is a defender that will arrive at the point of attack (POA) unblocked.  This may be a safety, or a linebacker, depending on what kind of scheme or offense we are facing.  This past season we had a LB who was very good at taking on lead blocks and getting pressure on the QB when he blitzed.  This LB, however, was not very good at making one-on-one tackles.  Our other LB was a very good all around player, but sometimes a bit undersized to be taking on lead blockers all night.  He also was a very good tackler, so many times in our schemes this young man became the primary tackler.  This meant that we had to move these guys around based on formations and how the offense was attempting to attack us.  Things tended to get interesting at times finding ways to get these players in the right position to do what they were best suited to do, but for the most part it worked out, and is the crux of what made our scheme so tough to move the ball on.  The same could be said for our defensive ends.  We have one young man, who would be classified more as a "rush" DE, whereas the other DE is really just a smaller version of a NG.  When we would get into our three man fronts, we didn't as the bigger player to play with his hand off the ground or to drop into coverage, we worked things out where our "rush" DE was always this guy.  Again, based on what we were facing, this meant sometimes having to move guys around just because somebody came out in three-by-one versus two-by-two.  The underlying theme is simple though, don't ask your guys to do what they are not good at.  Get them in positions to do what they do best.  Sometimes that means not doing it EXACTLY like the playbook you downloaded on Scribd says to do it, but that's what being a quality coach comes down to sometimes.  Don't be afraid to think out of the box.

The second lesson I learned was mentioned above and that is the importance of video.  As I mentioned, we video EVERYTHING.  One-on-ones, team, seven-on-seven, one-on-one pass rush, kicking and punting.  You name it, we probably video it.  For the younger players they video and review weight lifting techniques.  The underlying idea behind using so much video is that we want to control EVERYTHING we can control.  We cannot control that a kid is not a 4.3 40 yard dash guy and he only runs a 5.5 as a freshman.  However, we are going to do everything we can by working with strength, conditioning, and technique to get that freshman time of 5.5 to as low as we possibly can by the time said freshman is getting varsity reps.  The video comes into play by helping teach technique.  In the weight room it's used to make sure of proper body posture and form, as well as to insure nobody is doing movements that are potentially damaging.  On the track, video is used to aid in the teaching of proper running form, such as arm placement and stride.  When practice rolls around, it is utilized to reinforce technique, work on schematic deficiencies and yes, to catch the occasional loafer.  There are usually two cameras that operate in the weight room filming mainly, bench, power cleans and squats.  Some other lifts are filmed, but those three are ALWAYS filmed when the freshmen lift.  On the track there is usually one camera set up on the press box filming sprints and distance running.  During practice, there is usually two cameras,and sometimes up to four cameras operating at any one time.  All of this video does take quite a bit of managing.  There are four managers and three coaches assigned to practice video.  On game nights our guys look like some sort of television crew as we usually have three cameras up and running on any given night (sometimes we add a fourth as well).  Sideline video is huge for us, so much so that on Thursdays, our video crew usually sends a couple of guys to wherever we are playing to test the WiFi and search for the best available signal in the area.  Again, we are controlling everything we can control and leaving no stone unturned.

I also got to remember what it felt like to coach on staff that got along, had no personal agendas and genuinely cared for one another.  The reason all of this worked, was great leadership from the top down.  I got brought in to a great group of coaches, that really didn't need me, but adding me made us better.  In some circles, guys would've looked at this move jealously, and would've been trying to tear me down from day one on the job.  This did not happen, because it was clearly communicated to all the members of the team the following items:

  1. What my role was on the staff
  2. What my duties and responsibilities would be
  3. How we were all going to work together
This is extremely important when getting men motivated to work with one another, especially if these men all come from different backgrounds and different walks of life.  There were only two guys that really even knew me on this staff, the rest didn't know who I was from Adam's house cat.  What made the transition smooth was the leadership explaining why I was being added and how I was going to help.  It was a great lesson in leadership, as I think one of my shortcomings, and definitely some of my former bosses shortcomings was not being effective communicators of who was doing what, and what was expected of everybody.  

This was clearly evident in my first staff meeting.  The first meeting of season, is a VERY long one because what happens is the head coach brings up some painful topics, that lead into some pretty deep discussions.  He cites what has happened in the past, how it helped or hurt the organization, and what was being to to remedy or reinforce these historical lessons.  In my opinion, it's clearly genius.  History is sometimes all we have to fall back on when we are faced with a situation, and in many instances when the head coach was discussing things we were doing based on the past, I found myself going back to my head coaching days and realizing how much I had done wrong, by failing to recognize the significance of the moment.  The experience has been truly eye opening, and if I ever do become a head coach again, I'm sure that these lessons will aid me in my journey.  In the meeting, squabbles, and firings were brought up, and there were times that the head coach was even scolding in his comments to the staff.  One thing rang true, he was the boss, there was no bones about that.  He made it a point that if you had a problem, that couldn't be solved, you can always leave.  It is ALWAYS clear where you stand with him.  He doesn't use psychological ploys or verbiage to confuse you, or get something out of you.  If he wants to know something, he asks it.  If he wants you somewhere, he tells you to go there.  If you aren't doing your job, he corrects, you, tells you how to do it properly and does so in a very direct manner.  All of this goes back to the effective communication of being a good leader.  Yes, he's not a robot, he will laugh and joke with the best of them, but only when it's the proper time.  In this meeting he was very blunt, almost to the point of being stern.  You could easily tell he was passionate about his job.  I had no doubts as to who the boss was once our meeting was over.  I also had no doubt of the expectations of myself and the others.  Our goal, on the field, was simple, do things the right way, every time and the scoreboard would take care of itself.  

Also from the first staff meeting I garnered the love this man, and the staff had for the players.  There is one unifying goal where I coach, and that is football will be used as a tool to create men.  These men are ones that will be good husbands, fathers, and productive members of society.  That simple, defining mission statement is one I actually wrote down in my program manual, oh so long ago when I got my first head coaching job.  It is also why I left my last job.  At my last stop, we weren't doing this.  The inmates were running the asylum, and that erodes at the foundation of my very desire to coach.  Where I'm at now, we coach for a greater purpose than the lights on that scoreboard.  We coach to create the men that this country needs.  I cannot see one single reason why anyone else would coach for ANY other reason.  Don't get me wrong, as  young pup, I coached for the wins and the rings.  The funny thing is, these become forgotten.  However, the life lessons can last a lifetime.  The impact we have on coaches MUST last longer than four years.  If all I was doing was coaching from one four year window to another, that would be a very hollow job, and I'm sure I would've long quit the coaching profession.  No, as a coach, we must foster the idea that the scoreboard is secondary to the ultimate goal, of creating men.  This can sometimes be hard to do, but once a coach realizes this, I feel it gives them a greater sense of purpose in this confusing world of being a coach.  This was also probably one of the toughest realizations I had when taking this job is that I would not have direct impact on players.  I'm adjusting to it, but I cannot lie and say that this is all I was meant to do.  No, I'm sure someday, I'll return to the field and coach players that I can impact and mold, as that is what I love most about coaching, but for now, I'm happy with where I'm at.

For all this season was, we did fall short of state championship appearance.  In the end though, I found myself not truly bothered by that, because I knew we had done our best, we had done right by the kids, and nobody could say we didn't work hard attempting to get to our goal.  Sometimes their Jimmies are just better than your Joe's.  I'm fine with that.  I'm fine with it, because I know our Joe's got one of the best sports experiences, as well as life lessons of anyone in our state.  That's something no plaque, or ring can signify.  I truly look forward to the future.  I don't know if the wins will be there or not, but what I do know is, we'll do it the right way, and we'll work our ass off getting there.