Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Why Do “Underdogs” Win?

Posted by admin January - 10 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I sat in amazement last night as Clemson and Deshaun Watson wore down and ultimately dismantled the vaunted Alabama defense. It was quite a show. There are so many factors involved in evaluating why one team won and the other lost but… one lesson I learned from last night’s national championship game was: NEVER count out a champion!!! Especially when they’re playing for pride and playing on emotion.

I fully expected Alabama to take care of Clemson last night. They pretty much confirmed it through 3 quarters. Then something happened that I didn’t hear the “experts” comment on to any degree: Bo Scarborough got injured. ‘Bama then had like 6-7 “3 and outs” in a row. And Clemson started catching fire. Pure and simple: Clemson wore out Alabama’s defense.

Another take away I had was: you need to be able to throw (and catch!) the ball if your running game is shut down. Many high schools lack the ability to throw passes and complete them when they need to. In a close game between two evenly matched teams, you’d better be able to throw the ball effectively. Clemson, for the most part, could and… ‘Bama, for the most part, couldn’t!

Defense wins championships. True, Clemson gave up 31. However, they also “saved” another 8-14 points when Alabama had good field position but couldn’t cash in. Think about it… Alabama didn’t really have a sustained drive all night. It took big plays to get on the scoreboard.

Finally, although I highly respect Nick Saban… I LOVE Dabo Swinney! I think emotion can carry you further than some think. Whereas, Alabama seemed to be “going to work”… Clemson appeared to me to be “coming to PLAY!” They were excited. They were fired up. Their coaches were enthusiastic and energetic. They did not berate or degrade a Tiger player if he messed up; rather… they were “inspiring influencers.” That, to me, is the definition of great leadership. Dabo inspired those Tigers. I heard that Watson told the offense as they took the field for the last drive, “Let’s make history.” THAT is a player who is also an “inspiring influencer.” He “took over” the game and, yes… it reminded me a LOT of Vince Young in the ’05 national championship when Texas beat USC in the last minute. I just hope that Deshaun Watson has a better pro career than Young did.

Bowl Games Analysis

Posted by admin January - 3 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I wonder how many other coaches are like me? I cannot watch a college game without “studying” what’s going on. I find myself “analyzing” what’s going on instead of just being a “fan” and enjoying the game! Life-long Learner, I guess! I’ve seen some things I really liked in this year’s bowl games and… some things that I just had to scratch my head and wonder “who thought that THAT would work?!!” Here are some general observations from watching at least some of ALL the bowl games:

1) Yes! DEFENSE does win championships! But… you better be able to move the ball and SCORE if you want to win! Case in point: Alabama. Enough said! Then, the Virginia Tech comeback. 4 of the 5 second half scores were “short-field” scores— set up by… yep: their defense!!! the Rose Bowl was verrrrrrrry entertaining— IF you like offense! Both teams struggled to stop the other from making big plays. Why don’t people take more downfield shots??!!

2) Will officials ever call offensive pass interference again? The “push-offs” by receivers are unbelievable! And the officials let them get away with it.

3) Let’s put a time limit on press box reviews! If the Review Official can’t decide in, what, 40 seconds… the play stands! Snoozer!!!

4) Special Teams play is taken very seriously by championship-level teams! I saw very few long kick-off or punt returns. Kickers and punters were solid and I’m not sure that I saw but 1 or 2 blocked kicks. Coaches: Spend the time and put the best personnel on the field to make your kicking game solid. It’ll pay off in a close game. Trust me! THAT’S the “voice of experience” speaking. We won our share over the years due to a play that occurred in the kicking game. Lou Holtz once said, “In a close game between 2 evenly matched teams, it usually comes down to a play in the kicking game that will determine the final score!” Truth!

5) Defenses have “caught up” with the spread uptempo offenses! What’s next out there?

6) Most Game Announcers have no clue what they’re talking about! If they call a Speed (or Jet) Sweep a “Flanker Reverse” one more time!!!! Whew!

7) “Trick” plays have a place in big games! I absolutely LOVED the “fumblerooski” play that SD State pulled off against ND State in the 1AA National quarterfinal game a couple of weeks ago! I think Auburn tried it last night… but screwed it up! We ran 3 trick plays in our state championship game last season. Two of the three worked and… both went for TD’s!!!

8) Spread teams need a goal line “package.” There is still a place for a little smash mouth football!

9) It ain’t how you start… it’s how you finish that determines the final outcome. And… don’t celebrate too soon! Your opponent may get the ball 1 more time. Once again, Penn State learned last night: The only thing that the “Prevent” defense prevents is: a victory!!! College QB’s will pick you apart if they have time to throw! Strategic blitzes are the only way to go!

Happy New Year everybody! and… Sark calling the ‘Bama offense won’t make a bit of difference! Alabama by 17 points!!! Yep… they’re THAT good!

Expectations

Posted by admin December - 20 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

One of my favorite local pastors has a slogan that caused me to pause and think about today. His slogan is: “You Cannot Rise to LOW Expectations!” Think about that for a second…. in regards to your attitude toward your individual players and your team/program as a whole. If YOU don’t believe that a particular player is capable of being successful on the field, in the classroom or life in general… you’re very likely setting him up for failure. If YOU don’t think your team is going to be very good next year… you’ve very likely setting them up for failure. Why???? Go back and read Pastor Melvin’s statement again!

Psychologists have shown time and again that our preconceived notions about others whom we meet can and will have a direct impact on their success… or failure. It’s called the “Rosenthal Effect.” In the original study, teachers who were led to believe that a low-achieving student (upon first entering their class at the beginning of the school year) was one of his/her brightest incoming students actually treated this student differently. It produced some amazing results. These low-achieving students “bloomed” in the classroom and were some of the top students by the end of the year!!! Why? Because of the “expectations” that the teacher had for those students. Higher expectations actually led to greater performance!!!

I discussed “motivation” with a coach the other day. I said that I thought it is over-rated! That unless a player wants it, it’s very difficult to motivate them to do any better. That’s when I started thinking back to my Psychology classes in college and remembered the classic study by Robert Rosenthal. It became clear when I coupled it with the pastor’s slogan that we CAN improve our players’ performance!

As coaches, we set the standard. If we don’t expect much, then not much is going to be accomplished. If we work to make our players believe that they are capable of more and keep expecting it of them, positive change can occur. Whereas we CANNOT rise to LOW expectations, we CAN rise to high expectations! It’s a matter of believing in your players, telling (and showing) them that you believe in them and then continuing to encourage them to set high expectations for themselves.

I heard a talk once by former Baylor U. football coach Grant Taeff on his “secrets to success.” One of his secrets was: Set High and Lofty Goals! In other words, dream BIG! We don’t get the chance to coach many superstars during our careers. I was fortunate enough to have 4-5 former players who actually made it to the NFL. That’s out of some 3000 that I coached over 42 years. But, I had plenty of others who were willing to “grind it out” and work to become the best they were capable of being. I truly believe it was because I had HIGH expectations for them and that attitude motivated them to set “high and lofty” goals for themselves!

Improving Your Relationships

Posted by admin December - 15 - 2016 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve had a few coaching friends (high school) who’ve been let go the last couple of weeks. It makes me wonder… what went wrong? In both cases, the team had a winning record so, unless the administration expected a championship season, it must have been more than wins and losses involved. The other major area that always seems to come up is what I call The Relationship Factor. Like a friend said the other day when he called to talk about the firings: “He must have really ticked off somebody!” Yep! Probably did!

I love the fact that the Bible is so practical. I’ve shared with groups that even if you’re not a Christian, Biblical principles will still “work” in your life and will help bring you successful living if you’re willing to apply them. I have a few principles that I’d like to pass along that can help your relationships at work or home or anywhere. They will help improve the quality of your relationships.

1) Put others first. One of the key points that Coach Lou Holtz always makes when talking to groups is that a key to his coaching success was that he always tried to find out what his players wanted to achieve and then he would find a way to help them achieve their goals. The Bible says to “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” (Ephesians 6:7). If you incorporate that attitude in your relationship with others, you’re going to be very successful.

2) Always show appreciation. Practice the “3 to 1” principle: 3 positive, encouraging statements for every one critical comment or correction you have to make. Dr. John Maxwell has something he calls “the 101 Percent Principle.” Find one thing you admire in another person… then give them 100% encouragement for it.

3) Forgive it, resolve it and move past it. If someone has hurt you, the sooner you address the issue the better. As the Bible says: the other person doesn’t have to apologize for you to forgive them. That comes from having a forgiving spirit. You forgive the person and move on. As my wife reminded me constantly for 42 years of coaching, “Take the HIGH road, Lew!”

Building MENTAL Toughness

Posted by admin December - 6 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I have noticed that several coaches are already starting up their off-season programs. Wow! Not much of a break— for coaches or players! If you’re starting before Christmas, I recommend that you use the days before Christmas Break to “install” your program. Introduce the daily program; teach the basic lifts you’re going to use; get the young kids and rookies oriented to your routine and get some base line lifting max’s for each player. Then have your formal “start up” after you return at the new year.

If you are not doing speed training, you need to make it a part of your off-season program. Too many players just don’t know HOW to run. With your speed training, you need to be doing agility drills also. Do some research over the holidays if you’re not sure what to do. They’re just too important (speed and agility) not to be doing them at least twice a week.

If you can find anything on what the Strength and Conditioning coach is doing at North Dakota State, you need to study what they are doing to produce those athletes! I have seen them on TV in the National Championship FCS game for the last 5 years. They run better, cut quicker and hit harder than any other 1AA (yes! I’m still old school!!!) team in the nation! Thus, a 6-peat is not beyond the realm of possibility in a few weeks!!!

Many coaches have asked me: “How do you make your kids tougher?!” I always have to ask back… to explain what exactly they mean by “tougher?” Are you talking about physical toughness or MENTAL toughness? That always causes them to pause for a moment! My feelings are: it’s very hard to teach a teenager to “become” physically tough— or toughER. That aggressive nature is either built in or developed early in their life so that there is no fear of contact. In fact, many of them relish the contact that football provides! However, I think coaches can develop mental tougher. And, surprisingly, I believe that if you can instill greater mental toughness in a player, a byproduct of that will be greater physical toughness! It has to do with confidence that they can be an “overcomer.” We did a series of drills and activities over the years that promoted mental toughness. The self-confidence that was instilled in our players helped them to face obstacles on the field (and later in life) that they couldn’t have overcome if we had not challenged them to believe: “YOU CAN DO THIS!!!”

It really comes down to creating a competitive situation where any player will have an opportunity to succeed. I am NOT talking about the insideous concept rampant in our society today of: “everybody gets a trophy!” NO! In sports, you compete to win. That’s what we want to do in our off-season program— give everybody a chance to WIN! He accomplishes this by sometimes challenging himself. Set goals (reachable, yet challenging) for a “first level” accomplishment and then set high and lofty goals that only the few, the best are going to achieve. Pit linemen against linemen. It’s silly to expect a 295 tackle to beat a 175 running back in the 40! Let the big boys compete against each other to see who the fastest lineman in the group is.

Here are the drills and activities that we used at different times over the years:

One of my favorites (which I have talked about in this blog before) is something that one of my former coaches nicknamed: “Count Downs.” Check in my blog history to find out more about it. Or… contact me if you want more information on “Count Downs.”

Another is “Brace Up” after you have everybody do a set of push ups. Just hold them in the “up” position and see who can stay “locked out” the longest! As they drop out, they cheer on their teammates who are still braced up. During this, and ALL drills, you want to encourage them to “Push Through the Pain!” Don’t quit. Help them to see that they can go farther than they think they can.

Something similar is a contest to see who can “hang” the longest from the pull up bar.

A great one I got from the movie Facing The Giants is extremely challenging. It’s a bear crawl down the field with a teammate riding piggy back. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can see the coach challenge/encourage one of his players to perform it… and go further than he thought he could go! Great football scenes and great message in the movie!

Wall sit for time! Last man standing… or “squatting” I should say! Do some ab work every day at the end of your workout. Core work is very important. At the end, do leg lifts (6 inches off the floor) for time. Again, push them, challenge them, exhort them to “push through the pain.” I would have them yell back at me in the middle of the exercise: “I CAN DO THIS!!” Say it again guys… let me hear you!!! “I CAN DO THIS!!!”

Finally, if you can secure some big tractor or airplane tires, have races across your practice field with them. The players literally “flip” them over and over to see who can get his tire to the finish line first! This is grueling but very effective and very challenging!

Kids today don’t get challenged enough. You want to inspire them to achieve more than they even believe they’re capable of. A coach accomplishes that by being an “inspiring influence!” You never badger or belittle a player when he “gives up” too soon. You encourage; you exhort; you help him learn that he CAN do this!!! He can do it by pushing through the pain. He never gives up and never gives in. He keeps hammering that rock! Mental toughness on Friday night can be a key to victory.

Senior Day

Posted by admin November - 29 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I “missed the boat” on this one… by about 3 months! Sorrrrrry. But, you can put this one in your Off-season File that you’re starting on “things to do/explore” for next year. I want to share an idea that really came out of desperation and ended up being one of THE best things I ever did as a 31-year head coach. It involves our Senior Day activities. There are several things that you can do to recognize and honor your seniors at their last home game but what we did at our pre-game meal came to be an event that resonated with players and parents for months after its conclusion.

The school I had just started coaching at had previously had a dad/son dinner the week of the last home game. I thought it sounded like a good idea and was willing to continue the tradition… until a mom of one of the players stepped in. She was upset that the mom’s were being excluded! When I found out that she had basically raised the boy by herself and the boy wouldn’t have his dad there at the dinner nor was she allowed to attend, I knew we were in a quandry. I completely understood her feelings. The first thing I did was consult our AD. (*THIS is always the best first move any HC can make when faced with a situation that spills over to either the parents or the school— not just the football team!!!) Our AD admitted that it was a problem and (didn’t “tell” me, but) recommended we try to rectify the situation. I prayed about it. I talked to my wife about it. (*THIS is also something that those of you who are married should always do!) We came up with an idea of how to continue the dinner but include all parents.

During the pregame meal for the team on Senior Day, the parents and family would also be invited to the meal. At the conclusion of the meal, I called each senior up to the podium, said a few positive things about him and presented him with a small gift that was a token of my appreciation for him. *Now, the key! I had met with the seniors after practice on Monday and reminded them of the ceremony after our team meal on Friday. I also reminded them that each of them would be expected/required! to take 60-90 seconds to talk about his experience in our program AND… to be absolutely, positively sure that he publicly thanked his parents for all that they’d done for him. (I might add that this was a private academy that I was coaching at and the parents paid big bucks for their son to attend there! Soooooo… those boys especially had something to be thankful for.)

With an average of 12 seniors a year (small school), the ceremony took an additional 15-20 minutes. I always had prepared remarks about each senior that took less than a minute (*another key point coaches. Don’t ever get up and try to “wing it” in front of parents… no matter how great a public speaker you think you are! Most coaches don’t know HOW or WHEN to quit! Make it short and to the point and SIT DOWN!) It constrained some of our pregame agenda that always occurred after our meal was finished but, trust me, it was worth it! The seniors got recognized individually so they loved it. The parents heard the HC say something positive about their son. Most importantly, each senior had a chance to speak! Some did better than others but… it was always emotional and powerfully motivating for the folks in attendance.

Dealing With “THOSE” Folks!

Posted by admin November - 22 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

A young coaching colleague called me the other day. He said he needed to vent and get some advice. I told him that I am a good listener and my advice is free! He proceeded to unload a LOT of frustration that had been building since early in the football season. The main issue was:
dealing with parents who have a vastly different opinion of their son’s ability level than his coaches do!
*I need to add that this coach’s team went 9 and 1 and lost in the 2nd round of the state playoffs. Those of you who struggled to win a couple of games this fall… a “tip of the hat” to you!… for your perseverance and composure. I bet you’re thinking (from your perspective) that a coach who’s gone 18-2 over the last 2 seasons (he’s only been at this school for 2 years, by the way!) would be smiling and laughing all the time. Instead, he’s calling me to ask for help… cuz these 4-5 parents are spoiling the whole thing for him.

As some (a LOT??!!) of you have to deal with, he was upset over the attitude of those parents who thought it was their place to not only complain about every little thing but… would call and write letters to the principal, AD and even downtown to the superintendent’s office. The sad part of it is: the players whose parents were being the stinkers were not bad kids! The other interesting aspect of this whole situation is (as I said earlier), the players in question were NOT talented enough to get the D1 scholarship that their parents were positive they deserved!

He finished and I asked: “Do you want my advice?” I always ask cuz sometimes people just want to get it off their chest! He responded, “Yes, please!”

My first question was: “Have you gone to your administration and AD about this situation/these parents?” This, I think, is important— to keep your administration informed about what’s going on in your program. I always liked to give my AD or principal a “heads up” if I knew that they were going to be getting a call from a disgruntled parent. Administrators appreciate it when you can keep them from being “ambushed.”

The coach said, “I have talked to them. Unfortunately, my AD was NOT sympathetic to my situation. In fact, he implied that he was tired of having to deal with all the mess. I was stunned that he would not stand up for me.” Wow!!! If you’re not getting support from your administration, then you really do have a problem!

“Have you met with the parents of these players? I asked. He had and basically had not gotten anywhere with it. I told him that I was sure that he felt “boxed in” on all sides! He sighed deeply.

I was left with the BIG QUESTION for him at this point. “Coach, is this situation bad enough that your only recourse is to resign? In other words, have they taken the enjoyment… the satisfaction… out of it that you get from coaching? If so, then you need to prayerfully consider submitting your resignation. You don’t get paid enough to be robbed of the joy of coaching!” I might add that this young coach does things the right way. He is smart and motivated and cares about his players.

My “last resort” question gave him pause. He said, “We’re talking out of 75 players… about 15% of the parents are causing problems. That means that 85% of the time I like my job. It’s the other 15% who make it NO fun!” “Is that enough to make you want to resign?” I asked again. He said, “No. I really want to coach here.” OK, what do we do from here??

My recommendation was to meet with the parents of all returning players— one on one and in their homes! Yep! Call and ask for an appointment when you can come by and talk. You can’t do these meetings with just the disgruntled parents or they’d see right through what you’re doing! It’s important to meet with all of the parents. And, one on one is best. You need to go into that meeting with two points you want to make: 1- you care about their son as more than just a football player. You know that they’ve put their trust in you, as the coach, to be responsible for their most prized possession— their son. Share about the things you do, besides molding him into a football player, to help him mature. 2- If he wants to play college football, you will do everything you can to help make that dream come true. However, you cannot GET him a scholarship!!! You will promote him, get his name out there and give him opportunities to show his talent on the field. But, he (the player) has things he has to do in order to get that chance. Here’s where you share what the expectations are in order to start on your team. I never had a problem explaining to a parent or player what he had to do to get better. If a parent, with an attitude, came up and asked, “Why isn’t my kid playing?!!” I would turn that around and say: “The decision as to WHO starts and who is a back-up is solely the decision of my coaching staff and me. I would be glad to meet with you and discuss the things that your son needs to do to improve his chances of starting, though. Would Monday afternoon at 2 pm be convenient for you?” Treat parents with respect but also emphasize that you are the one who leads this football program.

Is it easy? No. Will you build good will with every parent? No. But, by meeting with them, you plant seeds. Seeds that hopefully, over a period of time, will build good will and understanding. I learned that you need to keep doors open as far as communication is concerned. Doors to your office, the AD and principal’s office and even doors to parents’ homes. You’re never going to please all of the people all of the time. However, as my daddy used to say: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar!”

Stay Focused!

Posted by admin November - 15 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I read this recently in my Bob Gass ministries daily devotional book, The Word For You Today. Sound advice for coaches and anyone else in a position of authority.

Gass writes, “Many of our endeavors in life fail for one reason— broken focus. We allow ourselves to get distracted.” Concentration is the key! We are failing to develop an effective “concentration span” in our kids because we let them watch too much TV. Our brains become accustomed to “taking a break” every 10-12 minutes. Why? Because that’s the length of time a TV program is on before they go to a commercial break! We need to shut off the TV and get kids to read… and not on a tablet! Open a book— a real book with paper pages!!!

Gass goes on to ask, “Where should you focus your concentration? (Answer): On your mission! And when you make a mistake, acknowledge it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade; in short, in all management of human affairs.” We need to “keep our eyes on the target.” There are too many distractions out there in the world… and none of them are going to help us be more successful. That’s why they’re called distrations! I’ve shared this before but it’s worth repeating: even with teens, it’s important to 1- get their attention and then 2- make sure that they are fully involved when you are coaching them. That’s why we use our “Ready- Ready” drill to get their attention. I make sure they are fully involved by a) watching their body language and b) asking questions! If I caught a player nodding off or mentally “drifting” I would ask him to repeat out loud (in front of the whole team!) what I just said! Or, if we were reviewing our game plan (and the players had already had a chance to study it, practice it and review it) I would ask a player to give everyone his assignment on a particular play. If the players know that they can be called on at any moment, it keeps them focused.

These are some practical ways that I helped players stay focused. I like what Normal Vincent Peale said about this. Dr. Peale pointed out that, “Positive thinking is how you think about a problem. Enthusiasm is how you feel about a problem. The two together determine what you do about a problem.” Bob Gass closes his devotion by pointing out, “And in the end, that’s what matters.”

Staying positive in your thinking helps you to stay focused. Staying focused is a key to success.

Evaluate ENTIRE Season!

Posted by admin November - 8 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

For a number of you, your season has come to a close. Others (a few!) are still in the (playoff) hunt! Good luck to those of you who are fortunate enough to still be playing. I want to speak to those coaches, though, whose season has come to an end already.

It was an interesting fall for me. I helped out “behind-the-scenes” with several teams around the country. A couple of them here locally in the Tidewater Virginia region and others from as far away as Minnesota and Ohio. Hudl, email and the phone are marvelous contraptions!!! Four of the six teams that I “consulted” with are play-off bound. The other two packed up their gear last week. One of the two teams that made the playoffs has already lost in the first round. It was interesting talking to this coach. He was just as “down in the dumps” as the two guys who didn’t have seasons good enough to make the playoffs. It brought up an interesting reaction on my part and, thus, I want to share it here:

Regardless of how your season went, don’t judge it based on one game! For the coach who lost in the first round, he was upset with himself and his team. I had to remind him how far the group had come. He went 7-3 in the regular season with 18-19 kids to play with! He upset a couple of schools who looked like on Hudl (when I watched the game on Saturday) had about 50 players! The team they went up against in the first round of the playoffs was in the same situation: A monster squad. He had 18. I cautioned him about NOT letting the last game leave a bad taste in his mouth.
“You need to look at your whole body of work, Coach,” I said. “Evaluate your season based on your season… NOT just the last game!” He received it well and assured me that he’d be building on what they accomplished this season.

Another coach whom I helped had high expectations coming into the season. Injuries and simply not enough team speed to compete against some very talented, fast football players spelled his downfall. He then had to deal with the added insult of having a parent question the “direction the program is going in.” I reassured him that he was 1- a good coach; i.e., he knows football and he treats his players (and staff) with respect and 2- he needs a few more “horses” before he can compete at the level of competition that his team faces each week. I did encourage him to get out in the halls and start talking to potential players; encouraging those who already play and… this is KEY: get down to the middle school that feeds into his high school and make his presence known down there. The lifeblood of a program is numbers! You have to (legally) “recruit” the kids whom you can legally talk to. I met the finest QB we ever had in our program at a middle school basketball game he was playing in his 8th grade year. I went solely to see him play and let him know that I knew who he was and was counting on him playing football at the high school the next year. That young man went on to start for all 4 years at QB for us; led up to 3 District and 1 Regional championship and our record for the 4 years he was our starter was 40-7! It all started because I took the time to go watch him play a couple of middle school basketball games.

CAUTION: Take some time off now that your season is over! I’ve said here and in my book— take your wife and treat her to a special “Get Reacquainted” weekend at a resort or getaway of HER choice. Spoil here and let her know how much you appreciate her support!!!

Keys to Success in HS Football

Posted by admin November - 1 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve watched Hudl video and seen a bunch of different HS teams in the area this fall since I am not coaching. I have drawn a couple of conclusions that those of you who are coaches might find of interest and value. I’m calling this the Keys To Success.

First and foremost, the obvious key is the “Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.” X’s and O’s are important but unless you have some talented players, it’s going to be difficult winning on a consistent basis and… at a high level. But, I have also discovered that talent involves more than just being 6’3 225 and benching 300!!! I have found that the great equalizer is: speed! If you have more kids who can RUN than your opponent…then, sooner or later in the game, you’re going to be able to exploit your advantage and make something happen.

I have been fascinated with the program at North Dakota State for the last few years. I don’t get to see them on TV until the 1AA Playoffs but when I do, I am always amazed at the speed they put on the field— from guys that you’d normally not think of as being “speed merchants!” I’m surprised that more people haven’t talked to their Strength & Speed Training staff to find out their secret! It’s obviously working! I watched Carson Wentz on TV Monday night and marveled at his ability. Then it dawned on me: IF he was THAT good in high school, why didn’t Ohio State or Michigan sign him?? ND State’s program developed his skills.

What I’m getting at is: don’t look at your roster and say “he’s too slow.” Make him/them faster!!

Secondly, having a mobile QB is a “difference-maker.” We see it on the college level all the time and we’re beginning to see it in the NFL. Having a high school QB who can turn “nothing” into “something” is huuuuuuuge! Having some basic passing skills helps but (again) working with him in the off-season can develop those skills. It’s tough to teach “escapability” though.

You’d think I’d say a big, dominating line would be the next thing… but it’s not! I used to think that the “good BIG man will beat the good Little man” every time. As Lee Corso would say: “Not so fast, my friend!” Or rather… “Yes, so fast, my friend!” Once again: speed on the line is a great equalizer…. especially on the defensive line. Find a tough, aggressive, FAST kid and turn him loose! Of course, a 6’6 285 lb. guy who runs a 4.8 would be preferable but how many of those have you had in your program over the past 20 years???!!!

On Offense: Execution. On Defense: Pressure. Being able to block the blitzes when you’re trying to move the ball is key! When you’re trying to play defense, the ability to pressure a QB and dominate the O Line comes down to stunting and blitzing till you get the guy with the ball! I heard a former college coach whom I really respect once say: “The key to HS defense is putting pressure on the QB. Rarely do you find a HS program that is willing to let their QB get hit in practice! Thus, that QB doesn’t see many people in his face on Monday to Thursday. Sending that extra guy on a blitz can cause real problems for them.” Think about how many “Summer Wonder” QB’s you’ve seen! They tear it up during summer 7 on 7 games but… when it’s time to put on pads and NOW a pass rush is added???!!! Welllllllll… that “summer wonder” QB just became a “Fall Flop!”

Finally, taking time to make your Special Teams “special” is the final key. Wow!!! How many poor or bad punt snaps have I seen this fall??!!! And rarely does anyone take advantage of it!!! So, first, you have a coach who did not find a decent punt snapper and second an opposing array of coaches who did not take the time to scout that bad snapper and work on a punt block scheme to capitalize on it. I have always ascribed to the following “truth” about football: “In a close game, between 2 evenly-matched teams… it usually gets decided by a mistake in the kicking game!” (Think Michigan/Michgan State last year! Think of Auburn/Alabama 3 years ago! Or “wide right” for Florida State all those years.)

Those of you going into the playoffs now need to be aware of this… cuz you’re going to be playing teams that are probably just as good as you or a little better. Something you can capitalize on in the kicking game could win that contest for you!!!

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