Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Renewing Friendships

Posted by admin October - 12 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I haven’t written in a couple of weeks— been busy writing my book! I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was encouraged to write my memoirs. A 22-year career as HC at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, VA has produced a lot of stories about some great players and some even greater times.

This past weekend I enjoyed renewing friendships with players from my other HC experience. I came out of retirement (my friends will tease me and say that it was the second time that I came out of retirement!) to take the head coaching job at nearby Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Suffolk, VA in 2011. It was 5 wonderful years. Yesterday, one of those players got married. I was honored to have been asked to be the Officiant for the occasion. Yes, in my spare time between retiring and coaching again… I studied to be a pastor. In 2014, I was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Tim and Madison asked if I would be their minister for the wedding celebration, I immediately said yes!

The groom is a former NSA player. His Best Man is a former NSA player. And two of his Groomsmen are former NSA players. It was grrrrrrrrreat to be able to spend time with those guys. They are all now in their mid 20’s and doing well in their professional careers. To be there for Tim’s wedding meant the world to me.

Riding home today, I remarked to my wife, “That is what coaching is all about.”

She replied, “what do you mean?”

“Just seeing those guys and how well they’re doing brings a smile to my face. That they were glad to see me and spend time just sharing stories of our football seasons together makes all of the work involved worth it,” I explained. She just nodded and smiled. My girl is the consummate “coach’s wife!” She knows me better than I know myself.

The moral of the story for you younger coaches out there? Enjoy the time you have with your guys. Make a positive impression on them. They will truly always remember it. Whether it’s 5, 10 or 25 years from now when you see them again, they’re going to talk about things that happened off the field as much (or more) than the games. Build relationships that last a lifetime.

One Way OR… BOTH Ways?

Posted by admin September - 15 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Friday nights around here in Virginia have just NOT been the same! No high school football till Spring! “Booooooo!”

A coaching friend from West Virginia texted me last Friday and said, “If you’re not doing anything tonight, our game is going to be live streamed. I’d love for you to watch it.” I replied, “Heck, yea!!! I’d love to watch your team.” The cool thing is that he is a Wing T guy so watching his offense was really fun for me. I even texted him at halftime with some suggestions from things I saw in the first half. He was nice enough to use them coming out in the 3rd quarter and his offense went right down the field and scored!!! Cool!!!

We talked a while Saturday. I congratulated him on a good win. He appreciated it but was a bit apologetic about the “lack of talent” he has this year. I reassured him that his team looked well-coached. It got me to thinking… how many of his players went both ways on Friday night??? This has been a subject that I have “gone round ‘n round” with coaches over the years.

Some guys swear that “2 platooning is the only way to go, Lew!” I concur… as long as you have a big squad and a LOT of good athletes. Otherwise, I have always held to the philosophy that “if you have a cannon, FIRE it!” In other words, I’m not going to leave an athlete on the bench just so I can say that I 2-platoon my team! The 3 very best players that I ever coached all went both ways. And I’m glad they did!

For those of you who lack numbers overall OR… just have a few (say) quality linemen… I think it is the “smart move” to have them go both ways. Tell them in the preseason that they will be going both ways and that they will need to get themselves physically and mentally ready to go both ways. Most kids liked the challenge.

Early in the season, we set up a rotation where every 3rd or 4th series, the 2-way starter would get a break. I always felt like I needed my best players on the field as much as we could get them out there. Yes, they get tired but… aren’t they supposed to??!!! My best athlete at 90% is still better than his back up who’s only gonna give us 75% production. I don’t recall which great running back it was… maybe Archie Griffin when he was at Ohio State. But they asked him after the game if he was tired since he’d carried the ball over 30 times. His answer was classic! He said, “No. The ball only weighs 13 ounces!!!!!”

You coaches out there with smaller squads— I highly recommend that you build up your best players’ stamina. They have to go both ways. When we did Conditioning— at the beginning of practice, by the way!— the starters ran a couple of more sprints than the back ups. And the 2 way guys ran a couple of more than the 1 way starters. Some grumbled but they appreciated it later in the season when they realized that they were not fatigued.

The best athlete I ever coached played Wingback, Safety, was our Punter, Punt and Kickoff Returner and held for place kicks. I even had him kick off some. He thrived on that amount of work. He loved playing the game and told me once that the more he was on the field, the better “show” he could put on for the fans!!! And he did. All State in high school; All American in college and All Pro in the NFL. He was a competitor and enjoyed competing! I bet your guys will too.


Posted by admin September - 11 - 2020 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

I am so glad that someone encouraged me to start keeping a Journal many years ago. It has come in handy lately.

It just dawned on me (“Thank You, Holy Spirit” for prompting me!) that I have not composed a blog in a couple of weeks. My reason for this is that I have been writing my memoirs.

Some of you who follow me weekly and continually (Thank you!) saw that I posted a list of The Best I EVER Coached a couple of months ago. It hit Facebook and the folks in our area went crazy. Everybody seemed to enjoy reading the list. One friend even commented that I should “write a book.” Here I am… writing a book! It is a “look back” at a lot of the kids whom I coached. I’m sharing stories about them that either impacted our program or impacted me personally. I have gotten so engrossed in composing the manuscript that I forgot about posting on here! Sorry…

One of my main resources to jog my memory as I’ve composed these “memoirs” has been my Journals. Being able to read what was happening and… what I was thining/feeling about the particular situation as it happened has really helped me recall details.

My father-in-law kept a journal of his where-abouts during World War II. He was sent to Europe as soon as he graduated from VMI in 1944. He started logging all of the places he was stationed in England… then France and Belgium. Finally the final push into Germany itself. He was a Forward Artillery Observer in the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first Americans to come upon a Nazi Concentration Camp. My wife keeps that Journal under lock and key! It is so interesting. Our plan is to, one day, travel her dad’s route through Europe and see the places he saw while in the war.

I would recommend to any of you out there to consider starting a journal. I write something in mine every Monday morning with breakfast. It is good to be able to “look back” and recapture the thoughts you were having “back then.” It’s good to “look back” occasionally. It can be helpful (and healthy) to see how far you’ve come.

High School vs. College

Posted by admin August - 26 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

There is a vast difference between the things that college coaches can teach (and expect their players to execute) and the things that high school coaches can expect their players to excel at. How many of you have at least 1 Div. I player in your program right now? Think about it: that one guy is the only player whose skill level is such that an ACC or SEC or Big 10 school wants him to come play for them in the future. Do you think it’s wise to expect the rest of your players to be able to perform at your D1 guy’s level? I submit that you are setting goals that are too high! Nothing wrong with having high expectations…. and encouraging your kids to reach for the stars. There’s also a point where a standard is unachievable. Then it becomes frustrating for everyone involved. “Well, Lew… anything is possible!” you may say. My response is, “No. Not everything is possible.” I’m as positive a guy as you want to meet. And I know that miracles DO happen. But… still. I was watching Miracle again on tv the other night. That team was so well-prepared when they met (and defeated) the Russians, that when you look at everything they went through to get to that one game, I don’t think you can call it a miracle win. They were good enough to defeat the Russians and on that night they DID!!! The best strategy when setting goals is for them to be challenging and…. realistic!

I am not advocating “dumbing down” what you teach your players. But, I think you have to be careful in assuming (and you KNOW what the definition of “assume” is??!!) that your high school players really know the game. They play a lot of computer football and they watch the ESPN “Talking Head Experts”… so they think they know football. But, my experience tells me that you might have those 2 or 3 guys who really understand the game; the majority are clueless. I did a routine “experiment” one season and checked to see which of our players were logging in the hours that the coaches hoped they would in watching game video on Hudl. Even our best player told me that he really “didn’t get a whole lot out of watching Hudl!!!” Wow! and he’s in an NFL Camp as I type this!

My point here is to encourage you to check out other high school coaches who are running your schemes before you seek out a college coach. If you have one near you, the best college coaches I found to get information from were D3 coaches. Their athletes; their facilities; their program in general is the closest to what we experience at the high school level. Most of those D3 coaches are young and gung ho! They would be happy to talk “X’s and O’s” with you.

For those of you who won’t be playing (hopefully) until the Spring, you have 5-6 more months of off-season preparation. Use this time to continue to study and learn. There is so much information out there now on the internet that you can utilize. It will help you to grow your staff, yourself and your program. It’s worth repeating: Be a “Student of the Game” and a “life-long learner.”

Try it! You’ll like it!

Make Your Special Teams “Special”

Posted by admin August - 21 - 2020 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

Have you ever wondered why the call them “Special” teams?? Where did that name come from??!!! The reason I say this is because far too many times over the years, the teams that we went against were anything but special when it came to their Special Teams!!!

You’ve probably heard the adage that the “kicking game is 1/3 of the game.” I believe it to be true; however, how many of you spend 1/3 of your practice time on your kicking game? Not many, I bet! I will admit that we did not either. We did spend a LOT of time in preseason practices getting every kicking team installed; but, once the season began we only spent about 20 minutes on Special Teams during a 2 hour and 20 minute practice. Yet, our kicking game was almost always superior in performance during games. Why was this? Two reasons:

  • We put a high priority on Special Teams… and the players knew it! The first segment of practice each day was the Kicking Game. Putting it first showed the team that we were not going to overlook it. Yep! It was that important. Also, we were not opposed to playing starters (on Offense and/or Defense) on our kicking teams. We let our back-up’s know that they could play a lot of ball and even earn their Varsity letter by contributing to our Special Teams but… it was not going to be “given” to them. They would have to show by their hustle, aggressiveness and positive attitude that they deserved the chance to to play on our Special Teams. Why? Cuz we wanted our Special Teams to be “special!” If a back-up was the starter on, say, our Kick-off team, then the defensive starter would be the back-up on the Kickoff team. There were games where we would insert the defensive starter on the kickoff… just because it was an important; i.e., playoff, game. We also sent our starting Running Backs deep on Kickoff Return. For 2 seasons, we had 2 future NFL players as the deep returners on our Kickoff Return team! Yep! It was that important!
  • The second reason that our Special Teams were “special” is because we did things a bit differently (uniquely) than most teams. You’ve read of the team in (is it) Missouri that only On-side kicks their kickoffs? Kinda crazy huh? Wellllllllllllll…. he “stole” that idea from us!!! (Just kidding!) But, we were “onside” kicking everything as early as 2001. Our concept was not a true “onside” kick but rather a “sky” kick to the opposite 30 yard line on the numbers. What we wanted was a “pitching wedge” golf shot. Accuracy was critical… as was hang time! We wanted our opponent to have to fair catch all kickoffs. That put the ball on their 30 yard line with NO chance for them breaking it long. We had one hard and fast rule on our kickoffs: Do NOT kick the ball deep down the middle of the field! It’s a recipe for disaster. The best part of our “sky” kicks is (as previously mentioned) people did not properly prepare for it. There were many games that we recovered a kickoff (or two!) simply because our opponent’s return men stood there and watched the ball bounce…. thinking it was like a punt. We’d dive on it and always loved to see the official direct his arm towards our opponent’s goal line! “First down!!!”

Not only did we do things differently, we only did them one way! We had one Kickoff Return. We had one way that we punted. Our Punt Return team did it one way! We rarely faked because we did not have time to work on it. By doing things one way, we could get a LOT of reps in each day in practice. The players knew how we did it and we never changed things. You’d be surprised how many reps you can get in 7-8 minutes by doing your kicking team only one way!!! Plus, doing it this way, we got realllllllllllllly good at it. For example, our goal was to return at least 1 kick-off back to (at least) the 50 yard line. Our Kickoff Return team was disappointed if we didn’t return one for a TD each week. We got so efficient with our Kickoff Return that people stopped kicking deep! We got great field position and didn’t have to set up our Wedge/Middle Return.

A coach whom I worked for years ago was famous for saying: “What you emphasize, you will achieve.” True…. to a certain extent! You can emphasize something (D End “wrong-shouldering a kickout block, for example) but if you’re not teaching it in a way that a player can excel at it, you’ve wasted your time. It’s why I came up with the adage that “PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!” Work hard on your execution in your kicking game and you will see results. Lou Holtz was known to say that “In a close game between two evenly-matched teams, it’s probably going to come down to a play or two in the Kicking Game that’s going to determine who wins.” Think: Auburn’s “Kick Six” against Alabama or Michigan’s punter “whiffing” on that last-second punt and Michigan State recovering for the winning TD! Just 2 examples of how Coach Holtz’s adage proved to be true.

Spend the time it takes to truly make your Special Teams “special!!!”

Spring Football

Posted by admin August - 11 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I’m wondering how many other states have already declared to do what Virginia is going to do??? Football in high schools in Virginia will not be played until March and April. In fact, NO high school sports in VA till (at least) Christmas.

Several coaches have lamented to me about how disappointed they are and… of course, how down their kids are that they can’t play football this fall.

The question becomes: how do you take a bad situation and change it for good? The answer: an attitude adjustment is needed!

We use the word attitude a lot. But… exactly what is “attitude?” The dictionary says the definition of attitude is: “A settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in one’s behavior.”

So the way we “think” impacts the way we “act!” The attitude that you, as the Coach, project to your players has a major impact on their behavior. “Take that frown and turn it upside down!”

Here’s what I’ve shared with a couple of coaching friends who were struggling with how to present this major change in the sports calendar so that their players would accept the (radical) change and have a good attitude about it. I said:

Tell them (fall athletes) that “now you get to see what baseball players have dealt with since they started playing organized ball!!!”

Create a paradigm shift. You’ve got to bring about a “fundamental change in underlying assumptions” about a certain situation. When you get football players to “see” themselves the way that “spring” sport athletes “see” themselves, you can begin the shifting.

What is is about being a “spring” sport athlete? Wellllllllll…. you start school in the fall and nobody is talking about or even interested in your sport! Why? Cuz it’s still 6 months until you start playing. Soooooooo…. what do you do in the meantime? Work hard to prepare properly for the start of pre-season practice! You lift; you run; you do drill work; you play 7 on 7 (IF it’s allowed in your area)—- you do the things that are necessary to get ready to have a great season!

You LOOK AT yourself as a “spring” sport athlete this year! Do the things that “spring” sport athletes have done for years! Mentally prepare your mind the way that “spring” sport athletes have done for years! THAT is what you “plant” in your athletes’ minds!

An Attitude of Gratitude!

Posted by admin August - 5 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

We live in the Mid-Atlantic region of the East Coast… Tidewater Virginia. Beautiful summer weather— perfect for visiting the numerous beaches in our area. The problem is: we are also “on the radar” for any hurricane that races up the coast! We got hit the other day. Not hard… just a cat 1… but it was enough to knock down trees and power lines. As my wife and I sat in the dark early yesterday morning, it was apparent that I would have to get out our generator and gas it up.

Oops! The only gasoline I had was a small can for the lawnmower. Soooooo…. off I went in the car to search out a gas station that was open! I passed numerous places that were closed due to no electricity. I finally found a gas station that was open; but, so did a LOT of other folks! It felt like I was living in the late 70’s again with the Arab oil embargo causing gas shortages and looooooong lines at the gas pump! People were generally nice, and patient, and 30 minutes later I had 3 gas cans filled and on my way home.

Fortunately for us, it was only 4 hours later that our power company got our power restored and our lights (and AC!!!) were back on. Last night my wife said to me, “I love electricity!” I couldn’t argue with that!!!

Which brings me to my point: appreciate the small things! You never know when they might be taken away from you. How sad that we groaned and complained that we couldn’t use our oven. We couldn’t watch tv. All I could do was sit in front of the fan and read a book! Whiner…..

If you’ve followed me on this site for any length of time, you’ll know that one of the most important “sayings” that I emphasize is: ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING!!!

It’s amazing how much our attitude (our frame of mind) can affect everything we do. My wife and I both stopped and took a few minutes to think about the things that we are grateful for: the men/women who worked throughout the night to get our electric power restored. The folks who opened up their gas station so I could buy some gasoline. I even said a prayer of thanks for Thomas Edison… for coming up with the means of running current throughout a city!!! Our “attitude of gratitude” made for a great evening of rejoicing!

Girls vs. Guys!

Posted by admin July - 28 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Because of the “virus scare” and the closing of the fitness center where I worked out, I bought a Beach Cruiser bicycle a few months ago and have been riding a couple of miles each day through my community. It led me to meeting a neighbor who is a former Ice Hockey star. We’ve bumped into each other several times and yesterday we got to talking about coaching.

Now that he’s retired, he’s coached both his daughter and his son in various sports. He shared something that really “jumped out” at me when he said it. Let me share it and then…. YOU think about the impact of it for a minute. What he said was:

The difference between coaching guys and girls is… guys “play well and feel good about themselves” while girls have to “feel good and then they play well!”


I attempted to coach my daughter in both softball and basketball when she was young. I found it very frustrating. I could not “reach” the girls the way I was “reaching” the guys whom I coached. Flashing back on those futile attempts to coach girls sports occurred as my neighbor uttered those words. “That’s it! He’s right!” I found that if I fussed at the girls or sternly corrected them, they shut down! But… when I encouraged them or (gulp!) laughed with them over a mistake, they responded positively! *”There’s no crying in baseball!” and… there’s no laughing in football coaching!” LOL!

Those of you who read this blog are more than likely coaching guys. So let’s unpack the male side of my friend’s statement. It will shed some light on why I’ve stressed for years that we have to be properly prepared so that we perform at peak performance on game night. Remember: Guys “play well and feel good about themselves.” Why is this so?

First, guys and girls are simply “wired differently.” It’s the way God made us. (Look it up in the Bible… it’s right there in the first chapters of Genesis!) Not that girls aren’t competitive but guys just seem to take it more personally when they lose. I think it’s the competitive spirit that our society infuses into the male ego. As I’ve heard Joe Erhmann speak, he says that “guys compare and compete.” We look at others and accept the challenge to look/perform better. Guys simply feel better about themselves when they win!!!

As coaches, then, it is imperative to strive to bring out the best in our male athletes. Most of them want to be pushed. Guys need encouragement too; but, making corrections and fussing at them when they don’t hustle (one of my pet peeves when I coached!) is almost expected. We need to prepare them properly so they play well. They play well… they usually win! This is why I talked to my teams constantly about “eliminating mistakes.” The team that has the least turn-overs usually wins. I harped on not committing foolish penalties. I stressed execution. It was more important to stop practice and correct a mistake than getting a bunch of plays run before the period ended. If we could out-hustle and out-execute our opponents then our chances to win increased tremendously.

When guys “play better, they feel better.” When they feel better, they subsequently play with more confidence. When they play with more confidence, they play with more vigor. You find that the snowball gets rolling and the momentum that’s built leads to a program that is consistently successful. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to say, “I don’t worry too much about my opponent. I focus on preparing MY players… prepare them to compete and execute. Don’t worry about the outcome (winning or losing); focus on correcting mistakes.” Nick Saban has taken this philosophy and created his “process.” It’s worked pretty well for him! You should consider doing the same thing.

The HEAD Ball Coach!

Posted by admin July - 22 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

If you’re like me and you are “starved” for some sporting events to watch (that are not college bowl games from 5 years ago!) then I have a show for you! I recorded it so I’m going to watch it again and take notes. It was on the SEC Network last night. The series is called SEC Storied. The episode was about Coach Steve Spurrier… not the “Old” Ball Coach but, the “HEAD” Ball Coach— he corrected the interviewer a couple of times!

I’ve never been a big Spurrier fan. When he was at Florida, I rooted for Florida State. So, I was really glad when Nebraska (who I also liked) crushed Florida in the National Championship game in ’96. This show, however, cast Coach Spurrier in a different light. If you are the type who studies other successful coaches for tips to help you and your program, then you need to find and record this show. I was amazed at the job he did— not just at Florida but later at South Carolina. Did you know that USC won 11 games for 3 straight seasons while Spurrier was there??!! They didn’t win 11 games total while our son was there as an undergraduate in the late 90’s!

One thing that jumped out at me was how many people said that Coach Spurrier was actually a really humble guy! I never saw that in his public demeanor. Whether it was “running it up” in a game— and his histrionics on the sideline— or his snarky comments during interviews, I did not find him to be very appealing. What I did not see, though, was the confidence that he instilled in his players. I believe it was former Tennessee Head Coach Phillip Fulmer who said during the show that “Coach Spurrier not only motivated his players but… he inspired them.”

Your players are going to reflect your personality. What you model is what they are going to exhibit. Keep that in mind as you prepare for your season. In Virginia, it’s not going to be until January. No football this fall!

The “New Normal”

Posted by admin July - 13 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

My family and I spent a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina last week. It was good to get away. We’ve been going to the Nags Head/Duck, NC area of the OBX for almost 40 years. So, it was nice to “get away” and enjoy something of the “old” normal! Cuz what I want to share with you today has to do with the “New Normal” and what that looks like.

Call me a pessimist; though, I prefer realist… but, I have my doubts that any football is going to be played this fall— at ANY level!!! I’ve talked with coaches from about 7 different states in the last 2-3 weeks and they all say the same thing: “Welllllllllllll…. we’re hoping that we get to play. But the way the State Association is talking, I just don’t know.” I think those state associations are just putting off the inevitable!

Now… let me make it clear. I, too, hope we play football this fall! I’m even praying that God would take away this pandemic and get things back to normal— the “old” normal. And, I will continue to pray that prayer. But, I have also learned that God is a LOT wiser than I am and He has a plan and a purpose for every season under heaven. I sense a shaking in the heavenlies and it’s all about re-thinking our priorities and values in our culture.

Think about what our country would look like without football— or basketball next winter! Professional athletes (who are grossly over-paid!) would have to go out and find a real job. Many colleges would have to close their doors for lack of revenue. Without football and B-ball, the money dries up. They can’t afford to keep the doors open. College athletes would have to go to class— to get an education; not to stay eligible. High schools (if they even open) will lose the excitement of school opening and football season starting— bringing excitement and enthusiasm to the school and community. High school athletes wouldn’t have to spend innumerable hours training to get that elusive college scholarship. Entire TV networks would fold. There’s no “big time” sporting events to cover so they have no reason to charge money to watch their programs. Get my point? Our whole culture will change. For the good? Or… bad?

Sports (football in particular) has been a huge part of my life since I was a kid in the ’60’s. *That’s the 19-60’s… not 18!!! LOL It shaped my life— personally and professionally. But maybe we’ve allowed athletics to consume us. What happened to playing sports for the fun of playing and competing? Now it seems… it’s all about the money. Whether it’s a scholarship or a big contract, we seem to have lost sight of what the true value of athletic competition really is.

But… I think we’re going to find out this fall! I hope not. But I think we need to get ready for the “new normal!”