Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Studies in (BAD!) Leadership: Gen. George Custer

Posted by admin March - 2 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

The Battle of Little Big Horn reveals a lot about how poor leadership can cause disastrous results. Studying American Indian tribes as early as the 3rd grade captivated me. As I got older and looked into the whole Westward Migration and the battles between white settlers and Native Americans, it became apparent to me that the Indians had a legitimate “beef” against the U.S. Army. When Sitting Bull pulled together so many Native Americans to fight the Cavalry, he proved to be a master strategist. Fortunately for Sitting Bull and the (predominantly) Sioux Indian tribes, they met an American general who proved to be one who failed miserably in exemplifying the characteristics that a good leader should possess and present! George Custer is worth looking at this week as an example of what NOT to do if you desire to be an effective leader!

1- Custer refused to listen to others. He viewed his judgment of situations to be far superior to any other commander on his staff. Thus, we would characterize Custer as being:

2- Arrogant and overconfident. He saw himself as superior— particularly when it came to his opinion of the Native American warriors. He underestimated his opponent’s abilities. It is so important to have a healthy respect for your opponent— regardless of how inferior you may think he is. When I was a HC, I would make a cut up tape of our opponent every week. That cut up included ONLY those plays where our opponent “made a play.” Even poor teams occasionally had a play worth including on my Scout Tape. I wanted our players to see our opponent at his best. My mantra was, “See? They are capable of making plays IF you let them! OR… if you go into the game underestimating their ability.” It usually got their attention. Rarely over a 15 year period did we lose a game that we should have won!

3- Custer was not entirely focused on the job at hand. For a soldier, his mission is to defeat the enemy! Custer was not focused on fighting the Sioux. His misguided concern was to trap and prevent their escape. Thus, he made his major blunder and split his forces.

4- Custer was simply out-coached; out-maneuvered; out-foxed! Sitting Bull lulled Custer into fighting on his own timetable and on his own field of battle. Custer failed to “scout” his opponent. He did not realize the strength and size of the Native American force that the Cavalry was to face.

5- The U.S. Cavalry lacked passion and commitment. The men of the 7th Cavalry were “tired of chasing Indians.” They were a long way from home. The Sioux, however, were defending their land. The mental frame of mind of the soldiers was poor. The Native Americans had something to prove.

So…. Custer divided his force and sent 2/3 of his men in different directions. If he had shown more patience and less hubris (arrogance), he might not have had his soldiers massacred. Because of poor planning and a bad attitude, Custer set up his men for failure. Unfortunately, for the 7th Cavalry, that meant that they lost their lives that day.

Studies In Leadership: Nick Saban

Posted by admin February - 24 - 2021 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Everybody wants to “be like Nick!” But not everybody has the “Jimmy’s and the Joe’s” like Nick has! Talent does make a difference! How you utilize that talent, however, is where Saban has found the secret to success. A lot of people have attempted to duplicate The Process; most have failed. Think of the Saban assistants who’ve gone on to head jobs at other colleges. The only one I can think of who’s been consistently successful is Kirby Smart at Georgia.

I want to share what I’ve found to be some keys to Saban’s effective leadership. Leadership which has led to multiple national championships over the past decade. Always remember, though, it IS Alabama. As someone said, “Bama doesn’t recruit, they request!” Build a better mouse trap and people will flock to your store.

1- Nick Saban emphasizes integrity. He states that it is critical to tell the truth. As the Bible says, “tell the truth in love.” The truth may hurt sometimes but it also has the potential to set you free. How you react to the truth will go a long way in determining if you’re going to grow from the experience. Saban does care about his reputation. He does not lie to his players to win a recruit.

2- Saban has been smart enough to realize that a coach needs to see his own weaknesses and… adapt or even change. Think of the radical change in Bama’s offense when Saban hired Kiffin a few years ago. From the plodding, smash-mouth Power I attack to a wide open spread up-tempo approach to things. Saban was pushing to stop offenses from going up tempo. Now he is one of the biggest advocates for up tempo!

3- Utilization of personnel is a key component of success. Two things here: first, Saban has no problem playing true freshmen on special teams. They get a chance to contribute and compete early on. Those freshmen get rewarded for “being patient” while they wait their turn to start. Second, Saban rotates his star players. (Think Tailback depth at Bama!) He makes it clear that “it’s not how much you play; it’s all about what you do with each opportunity to contribute.” It keeps guys fresh and gives more players a chance to get on the field in meaningful situations. It also builds depth. Did you know that Bama’s All American Left Offensive Tackle, Alex Leatherwood, had to come in and start the second half of the National Championship game that Tua threw the last second TD pass? Leatherwood was a true freshman at the time. He stepped in and he stepped up!

4- Finally, Saban is the Master Recruiter. He knows how to sell his program. Have you ever thought about why the #1 Tailback in the country would want to sign with Alabama when they already have 2 “star” running backs on the team? Why wouldn’t that guy go where he knows he can start right away? Why go to Bama? I think it’s because Saban only recruits those players who are super competitive and he is great at “selling a vision” to those select few high school recruits who possess the right amount of self-confidence that they actually want to compete. Saban can always say, “Come to Alabama, young man, and you will be competing for a National championship every year you are at our school.”

It seems that Saban has to rebuild his coaching staff every year. His coaches get hired away by other schools in hopes that a little of the “Saban magic” will rub off on the new program. Yet, he continues to win. It’s hard enough getting to the top. Staying there is just as difficult. A coach still has to deal with psychological and social issues that can cause a winning program to implode. Saban never wavers. He knows what produces success and he will not change his philosophy… nor should he. It seems to work prettttttttty well, doesn’t it??!!

Studies in Leadership: Gen. George Patton

Posted by admin February - 16 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I have read extensively on WW II. I guess I enjoy that era so much because it was America’s “Greatest Generation”— which also happens to be my dad’s generation. I seem to be drawn to that period in history. My mom shared with me that the biggest disappointment in my dad’s life was that he could not serve in the military during WW II. He was born with a cleft pallet and hair lip so he was classified 4F. He stayed home and coached the local high school football team during the war. I guess that’s where my desire to coach came from!

Some of the greatest leaders in history (both military and civilian) lived and led during WW II. George Patton was, in my opinion, one of the greatest military leaders in the history of warfare. He was different…. but the characteristics that made him different were ultimately what made him such a great leader. Patton simply did not care what others thought of him. That is… except for the soldiers who fought under his command. With his men, he made sure that they understood what he expected of them. When they performed, he was quick to compliment them. When they failed in their duty, they heard about that too! A strong disciplinarian, he demanded discipline from those who worked for him. Looking good in his uniform was a priority for Patton and he expected the same in his men.

Patton was a hustler… and he made sure that his men hustled too! He was fast. He could move his tanks at an incredible rate to attack the enemy where they never expected him to be. (Think the Battle of the Bulge around Bastogne!) Patton liked to stay on the offensive. He was aggressive— preferring to attack rather than waiting for the enemy to do something first.

An excellent “student of the game of warfare,” Patton was a man of strategy. He scouted well and knew the terrain his tanks would have to travel over. He also gained a lot of information about his enemy— both their strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, Patton’s tank corps could make their opponent divide his forces so that Patton only attacked part of them.

Finally, Patton knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. He rarely asked for council of others. He was THE leader! He was harder on himself than he was on his staff officers. He was not going to be out-worked by anyone who worked for him. He was best summed up by his staff officers. They called General George Patton “true, brave and honest.” Is that how your staff, Head Coaches, would describe YOU???!!!

Studies in Leadership: Urban Meyer

Posted by admin February - 9 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Let’s change venues this week and look at a successful coach instead of a military officer. I find the similarities interesting. See what you think!

I found a video that was aired a few years ago where 4 Ohio State players were asked, “What makes Coach Meyer a great leader.” It’s always revealing to hear what underlings have to say about their leader. They were candid in their assessment while also being insightful.

The main characteristic shared about Urban Meyer’s coaching style was that of “tough love.” He has high expectations and he pushes his players. However, all 4 players stated that Meyer has a great relationship with his players. “We know that he cares about us and wants the best for us. That’s why he pushes us to be the best we can be.” That statement is quite telling!

What I hear here is that there is a fine line between “pushing” and “abusing.” If a coach does not show compassion, he comes off as a martinet. That “Lombardi” style of coaching went out the window years ago!

A second characteristic that was reiterated by all 4 players being interviewed was an “attention to detail.” They knew that they were well-prepared by their coaches when they took the field for a game. Here is a classic example of my “5 P’s of Success“: PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. They called Meyer a great teacher. The players were not confused. Meyer is consistent— no mixed messages. Interestingly, one of the players said that “he is not intransigent. He is willing to listen and evaluate. But Coach Meyer is clear in what he wants us to do.” Another player said that “on game day, the only thing to worry about is: Go Fast!”

A coach who does his homework and then presents a clear and concise game plan to his team is one who will succeed more often than fail. However, preparing properly is one of those things that most people do NOT like to do. I have never forgotten the phrase I heard years ago about separating the “good” from the “great.” The quote says that “successful people DO the things that unsuccessful people do not LIKE to do!” Notice that it doesn’t say that successful people ENJOY doing those things. It simply states that they possess the self-discipline and the realization that those things must get done!

One player said that Meyer is a great motivator. He talks to the players a lot about “why are you here?” “What are your goals?” What is our mission?” By challenging his players to look inside, Meyer has that ability to spark his players’ fire.

Finally (and I think this is extremely important for HS coaches), several of his players said that Meyer develops them as men. “Coach Meyer does not look at us as just football players. He is concerned about our character too. He teaches us about being winners in life. He challenges us to be successful in ALL phases of our life. He shows care and concern.”

THAT is so important in building that coach/player relationship. It’s trite but true: “Nobody cares how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE!”

Urban Meyer, like the others I’ve shared, possesses that “it” factor. He is confident; he is intense. Meyer has high expectations…. of himself, his staff and his players. Most of all, he is a “people person.” How would your players describe YOU if asked “how would you describe your head coach?” Hummmmmmm???

Studies in Leadership: Napoleon Bonaparte

Posted by admin February - 3 - 2021 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Still considered one of the greatest tacticians in the history or warfare, Napoleon Bonaparte rose from a lowly Corporal in the French army to commanding an army that (almost) conquered the entire world. How did he accomplish this feat?

Napoleon, like all great leaders, studied the “art of war.” He understood the tactics and strategies of offensive warfare. One of his strongest characteristics was the ability to make quick (and good!) decisions in the midst of the battle. I have met a lot of coaches who do a great job in preparing all week; however, their ability to make game-time adjustments was lacking. The ability to “see” what’s going on during the battle separates the good leader from the great one!

I love this definition of a great leader. It says that “a great leader has the ability to get others to do what they don’t want to do… and like it!” I call that being an inspiring influence. Think about this: in the era of warfare (early 19th century) when Napoleon’s army was fighting, the men lined up in rows and began marching right into withering musket and cannon fire. How crazy is that? Yet these men went… because they believed in their leader. Napoleon was recognized as always making a “connection” with his men. How did he achieve this? He showed concern for them. They knew that he cared.

How did he motivate his troops? Napoleon was quoted as saying that “it is with baubles that men are led.” Napoleon handed out badges and ribbons to his men— perhaps the first commander to do such a thing for his army. He knew how to appeal to the sentiment of ambition and pride in his men. This is why I’ve always been a strong advocate of presenting helmet stickers to our players.

Another characteristic of Napoleon’s army was the high caliber of his cadre officers. Many armies in the past have been led by political appointees and/or a rich man who “bought” a commission as an officer. Not so with Napoleon. He selected officers who possessed strong leadership characteristics themselves. He knew he could count on them when the bullets started flying. How about you? Do you have confidence in your assistant coaches?

Finally, Napoleon Bonaparte had the “it” factor. Some have called it charisma. It all boils down to the leader’s personality being such that people are drawn to him. An effective leader has to “lead from the front.” People can’t follow you if you’re behind them! Effective leaders have the personality traits of confidence (not cockiness) and humility— all rolled into one. It is this combination that gets people/players to do things that they don’t want to do (run sprints; practice in August heat) and… like it!

Studies in Effective Leadership: U.S. Grant

Posted by admin January - 25 - 2021 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

Since I was a boy, I have loved reading biographies…. particularly of famous people. In my youth, it was guys like Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson. These days I am still reading about successful men— who have proven themselves to be outstanding leaders. This post will begin a series of blogs about some of those men, and women, who proved themselves to be effective leaders. Hopefully, it will cause you to evaluate your own leadership skill level and… to study in more detail what made these leaders so great!

Recently, I came across an article about U.S. Grant. It was a study in his leadership style during his military career. There is a tremendous correlation between a military leader and a football coach. What I will share with you has a direct effect on how you conduct your program. The question poses by the author was: “What made U.S. Grant such a great general?

If you don’t know much about American Civil War history, let me give you a quick synopsis. For the first 2 years of the war (1861-83), the South and its commanding general, Robert E. Lee, had run circles around any commanding general that President Lincoln threw up against the Confederate forces. Out-manned and out-witted, the Northern army appeared to be hopelessly overmatched in leadership and battle strategy by Lee and his staff of officers. Fortunately for the North, Lee took a calculated risk and then blundered in the Battle of Gettysburg and lost to Union General George Meade. Even then, with the Confederate army in full retreat, Meade refused to “finish the job” and let Lee and his army escape back into Virginia. Lincoln had had enough. Meade was the 6th commander that he had fired since the war started just two years earlier. Enter one Ulysses S. Grant onto the scene. Lincoln put Grant in charge of the Union army and told him to crush Lee. Over the next year and one half, that is exactly what Grant did. The leadership skills Grant exhibited saved the union. His ability to wage war put an end to the Southern effort to form their own nation. We have a lot to be thankful for. Let’s look at those characteristics which Grant exhibited:

1- Grant had tremendous knowledge of tactics, strategy, troops (personnel) and deployment of those troops. A coach must be a “Student of the Game” if he is to be successful. Just because he watches ESPN doesn’t give him the expertise he needs in developing strategy and tactics necessary to be a winning football team. Grant graduated from West Point. He was properly trained in war-fighting. More importantly, he applied that training on the battlefield. As a coach…. do you know how to attack defenses with the offense you run? Do you know which blitzes to use in different situations? Do you know which positions are most important and get your best athletes aligned there? Do you know which defensive alignment best suits your personnel? This is all extremely important for a Head Coach.

2- Grant was unflappable. He did not bend to public opinion. He did not let the mystique that Robert E. Lee had created intimidate him. During a battle, Grant remained aloof (not in a bad way— rather, he stayed unemotional so he could be clear-headed and make calculated moves) and focused. How do you react when things take a turn for the worse during a game? How do you react after a bad call by an official? How do you react when your team goes up by 3 touchdowns?!

3- Grant knew his prime objective. In war, it’s simply to defeat the enemy army. Grant took a “whatever it takes to win” attitude. He not only kept his prime objective in the front of his mind but he also knew HOW to achieve it. He knew how to utilize the resources he had available to overwhelm his opponent. Grant simply smashed the South’s ability to wage war. Do you know the best way to achieve success as a coach? What do you know about Psychology and Sociology? What do you know about Principles of Learning? What do you know about Principles of Motivation? What do you know about principles of organization? All of these are critical to a leader’s success.

4- Finally, Grant kept pressing. He was relentless. Grant took the battle to Lee’s army until he overwhelmed them. That was something that the 6 previous Commanders of the Army of the Potomac had failed to do. Grant took a “Never give up… never give in” attitude! Not every battle he fought against Lee was a resounding success. Grant lost a lot of men during his time as commanding general of the Union forces. But he would not let up. He pressed and he squeezed Lee’s army until he finally forced them to give up the fight. It was not easy. It took almost 2 years to complete the victory but Grant was unwavering in his commitment to his plan. You need to portray the same persistent attitude. In my case, it took 5 years to “turn around” the program I was leading. I would not give up. In the 6th year, we went 7-3 and THAT was the worst regular-season record we had over the next 15 years! As Philippians 3:14 says, “Press on…”

“Be Realllllllly Good at ‘Something!'”

Posted by admin January - 22 - 2021 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

As I was writing my memoirs for my latest book, The Best Is (STILL) Yet To Come, it became apparent to me that a lot of my coaching philosophy came from my high school coach when I played. He, and our assistant coaches, had a tremendous impact on me… personally and professionally. I was honored to have been invited to speak at our Head Coach’s retirement banquet. I closed with this: “My dad was a great man and I loved him a lot.” I then turned and faced my coaches. “But you guys were my heroes!”

One of the things that my high school coach imparted to me was my overall philosophy of Offense and Defense. Our high school Defensive Coordinator taught me that defense is primarily putting the 11 toughest guys on the field and then turning them loose! My teams were always very aggressive on defense. We were not a “bend but don’t break” defense. I wanted a DC who was aggressive and liked to attack offenses. In that sense, we wanted to put pressure on the opposing offense. Oftentimes this led to the opponent’s offense cracking under the pressure.

Offense, though, was where my heart and mind always focused. I enjoyed the game planning and play-calling on Friday night. With the Delaware Wing T offensive system, I felt like I was always one step ahead of the DC during a game. But…. I digress.

I have heard from 5 or 6 coaches in the last 2 weeks. They are all looking for some “answers” on how to develop an effective offensive attack. Too often I find that offensive-minded coaches see themselves as innovators and “creative geniuses.” “The more offense we have, the better!” is something I hear a lot. My counter is: there is NO correlation between how thick your playbook is and how successful your offense is!!! In fact, in my mind, it’s often exactly the opposite. “Be reallllllllllllly good at a few things!” ha always been my mantra.

This leads to a key point that my high school coach shared with me early in my career. He was also a mentor to me once I got a HC job. I remember him saying that “there are only 3 types of offenses: 1- Power Running Game; 2- Option Running Game or 3- Pass-oriented Game. Lew, you can only get good at 2 of them (due to the limited amount of time you have to work on things in high school) and you can only get realllllllllllly good at 1 thing. Choose carefully which one that is going to be. Because the majority of your practice time will have to be devoted to that 1 thing!” I applied that to our offense for years and we were successful on offense throughout my career!

Now…. that doesn’t mean that you don’t (or can’t) change your focus depending on your personnel. In fact, you need to tailor which of the 3 types of offenses you want to focus on based on your personnel. For example, there were only 2 seasons out of 30 that I was a HC that our focus was: Option Run Game. Our QB dictated that we focus on Option. It was never my favorite! For the other 28 seasons, 3 of them were “Pass 1st-Run 2nd!” Our run game was limited, yet effective, because we spent so much time perfecting our pass game. That leaves 25 years that we were “Power Run” oriented. However, as Coach Tubby Raymond says in his book on the Delaware Wing T, “the run game is dependent upon an effective play-action passing game.” We loved to throw the ball. More importantly, we loved to catch the ball! When we threw, there was a good chance that it was going to go for a big gain. Why? Because we threw (play-action) when people expected us to run! During those 25 years, we had 1000 yard passers in 15 of those seasons.

Choose wisely. Look at your personnel (obviously you start with your QB) and decide where you need to focus your energy and your time. Whichever of the 3 “types” of offensive attacks you choose to make your primary attack, don’t forget to spend time on the “other” one too.

Roll Tide!

Posted by admin January - 12 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I thought that Coach Saban’s emotion-filled remarks after the game last night were quite revealing. Yes, he has some verrrrrrrrrrry talented athletes! But, so did Ohio State. What got my attention was when Coach Saban stated that “these guys ‘bought in‘ to ALL of the principles that our program is built upon.” If you have not read about/studied Saban’s “Process“, you need to do so— soon!

I have a good friend who is a die-hard Bama fan. We talk a lot about the Tide when he calls. One thing that he pointed out, as did the announcers last night during the broadcast, is that Nagee Harris did not “jump ship” to go to the NFL at the end of a disappointing season last year. I believe that except for Tua, no underclassmen bolted. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) That, to me, speaks volumes about the culture that Coach Saban has created in Tuscaloosa. Those guys are 1) committed to success and… 2) committed to that Alabama program. How does that happen?

Obviously, winning solves a LOT of problems. But, there are other winning programs that have guys leave early for the NFL or exit through the Transfer Portal. Not so much for Bama. This culture is something to be studied. I think it shows that Saban builds from the inside>>>out. That means that when they recruit a high school player, they look at his character as much as they look at his athletic talent. You, as a high school coach, should consider doing the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for giving a young guy a second chance. Kids are going to mess up. There were very few times in my 30 years as a head coach that I “banned” a player from my program. If a player quit and then changed his mind, I made the initial decision as to whether we were going to even consider letting him back on the team. If he passed my initial examination, then he had to appear in front of the Team Leaders. He had to explain to them why he quit. They would then talk about it and take a (secret) vote on whether to allow him to return. If the captains/lieutenants hadn’t been selected yet, I put it to the whole team. The player had to apologize to his teammates and ask permission to be reinstated. Remember: I made the initial determination as to whether I wanted him to talk to his teammates. If I felt that his attitude was not contrite nor sincere… or simply, if I did not want a “bad apple” spoiling the whole bunch… he never got to go any further with his appeal. It was stated in the contract with the players that I had the right to dismiss anyone from the team at any time during the year if I felt that his behavior or attitude was detrimental to the team. Sometimes, guys, you’re better off without that superstar! Part of your job is winning your players’ respect. If you look the other way in a situation like this… where a starter or a star is caught breaking a team policy… your players will lose respect for you. Lose their respect, you lose their allegiance. Lose their allegiance, you lose their heart. They stop wanting to play for you. I’ve seen it happen. I know of what I speak!

Wall “Flowers!”

Posted by admin December - 29 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I hope everyone had a great Christmas holiday. We did!

A coaching friend posted something on Facebook the other day that realllllllllly struck me! I’ve always been a fan of axioms and slogans. When I find a good one, I make a poster and stick it on the wall. I used to do this a lot in our locker room when I was the HC. Somebody told me that, “Coach J… those posters are kinda like Wall Flowers. They brighten up my day!” Smart kid.

The slogan that this coaching friend posted was unique and creative. Plus, I’d never seen it before. If you are an advocate of promoting positive thinking…. which produces positive attitudes, then you are going to enjoy this one. If you are not a fan, then I want to strongly encourage you to think about becoming one. People ask me all the time: “How did you turn around your program, Coach?” My response? “It started (and ends) with the mind set of the people in our program.” Positive thinking produces positive results. It’s why I like this slogan so much. Check it out:

“If you FAIL, never give up! Why? Because “fail” stands for: “FIRST ATTEMPT AT LEARNING!!!”

The “end” is not the END. It means: “EFFORT NEVER DIES!!!

If you get “no” as an answer, remember that “NO” means: “NEXT OPPORTUNITY”…. to succeed!

Good stuff, huh???!!!

Happpppppppppy New Year!!!

My New Book!

Posted by admin December - 21 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I am very excited to announce that my new book is now available through Kindle eBooks. If you prefer a paperback, Amazon will be releasing it in paperback form in a few days. Here is the link to Kindle: http://coachlewj.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/The-Best-Is-Still-Yet-To-Come-eBook-small.jpg

The title of the book is The Best Is (STILL) Yet To Come. In it you will meet the players, coaches and support staff who helped me achieve such great success during my 22-year head coaching coach at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. It is full of stories that take you “behind the scenes” to learn what went into producing such an outstanding record. From the struggles that I experienced early in my career to the ride through a 32-straight regular season winning streak later in my career, I guide you through the highs and the lows. Most importantly, I share how perseverance propelled us to unprecedented heights of success. Heart-breaking and heart-warming in it scope, The Best Is (YET) To Come will leave you with an understanding of how God opens doors if you continue to trust in Him.

I hope you will consider purchasing a copy. The profits will go toward setting up a scholarship for a deserving Western Branch football player who wants to play college ball but his college does not offer any money.

Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas!!!