Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Find A Mentor

Posted by admin February - 19 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I wrote last week about the new HC at “my” high school! He is still living and working in Northern Virginia (near DC) and we are in Tidewater (near Virginia Beach)… so he is trying to do a lot of things long distance! Thank goodness for cell phones and the internet!

One thing that I have been able to do for him, since I’m here in Tidewater, is to be an “adviser” to him. He shares his goals and vision with me and I respond. Then, at other times, I see something that he needs to take care of right now and I contact him. We have already formed a great working, and personal, relationship.

He said something today while we were on the phone that made me realize that I need to share this with those of you who follow this blog. What he basically said was, “I am sooooooo glad that I have someone with experience and wisdom that I can rely on to give me helpful advice when I need it. I bet every head coach wished that he had someone like you. Thank you.”

If you are a HC then you should take heed to what this new HC said. Each of you needs someone who is not on your coaching staff; i.e., an “administrative” person, who will be there to offer wisdom and helpful solutions when problems arise.

Most of you won’t know the name John Ballein. John coached with me at the high school level before he decided to head west to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. His desire was to work at the college level and he would not be denied. He offered his services to Hall of Fame coach, Frank Beamer. Over the years, Coach Beamer developed such confidence and trust in John that he named Ballein the Director of Football Operations at VT. John was an invaluable support for Coach Beamer over the years.

Find someone (preferably older than you) that you respect and trust. Ask him to mentor you. Be sure he knows that you want him to be honest and forthright— no “bull jiving” as we used to say in the 70’s! When he observes a problem, you want to know about it. However, he is NOT a “spy.” But he is your “eyes and ears” of the program— observing things from the outside>in! Let the rest of the staff know your mentor’s role.

Don’t be a Lone Ranger head coach! Form relationships that afford you the support and encouragement you will need… particularly when the stress level goes off the chart!

Comin’ Home!

Posted by admin February - 12 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

It has been a verrrrrrrry exciting day… for me and for our entire community. Today, the high school principal and A.D. presented the new Head Football Coach to the players and invited guests. I am so proud because the young man who was announced today as our new Head Coach is a former player of mine! Let me tell you a little about this guy:

He played Wing Back for us in our vaunted Delaware Wing T offense. It was a team that was loaded with talent. It went 10 and 0 during the regular season… only being tested once or twice. We lost in the Regional championship game to the eventual state champs. As outstanding as this young man was as a player, he had to play “second fiddle” to one of the best running backs in the state of Virginia. I like to say that Rashad was the “2nd best RB in the state!” Unfortunately, he played in the same backfield with the best RB in the state.

Did Rashad complain? Did he ever pout about his role? Did he ever give less than his very best— practice and game— every day? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding NO! This guy was the consummate “team player.” I’m sure that he would’ve rather been the “star.” But, he was a “star” in his own right. There’s not a player who I ever coached that I have more respect for.

Now he’s going to lead the program that he played (and excelled) in! To hear him share his vision with the audience today was just awesome! He is going to lead this program back to the heights that we experienced when he played in the mid 90’s. Why? Partly because of the foundation we laid when he played here; but, mostly because he is a young man of character, passion and wisdom.

Go Bruins!!!

Clinics vs. Visits

Posted by admin January - 27 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I have the honor of speaking at a Glazier Coaches Clinic this weekend. It is always a pleasure to meet and share with coaches who are hungry to learn and improve their craft. This is an encouragement to all of you to be a “Student of the Game!” One of the best ways to achieve that is to attend clinics. And… when you attend, you use it as an opportunity to learn! You accomplish that by attending the clinic sessions and not use it as a chance to party all weekend. There are some great speakers at the Glazier (and Nike) clinics. I know from experience that they are glad to sit and talk after their sessions… if you ask.

I also want to encourage you to visit other staffs as another means of being a “Student of the Game.” Select a staff that has been successful. Pick someone outside your district and go spend a day with them. Most people are flattered that you’d want to come to them for advice. You can get a lot done on a Friday afternoon/evening if you’re going there to just “talk football!” Find a staff that runs your offense or defense. Or, find a staff that coaches at a school with a similar socio-economic makeup. My dad used to call it going to “pick someone’s brain.” Take a whole list of questions and fire away. There is some great information to be garnered by sitting down with another HS coach.

And… offer to take the guy out to dinner when you’re done!

Discipline vs. Punishment

Posted by admin January - 21 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Today’s title created an “interesting” discussion that I had with a coach over the week-end. First off, is there a difference between the two? (The answer is a definite YES!) and when, if ever, are both needed when dealing with your team.

Discipline is an over-arching term which can (and does… occasionally) encompass punishment. But, in its broadest sense, discipline is defined as “training.” Those of you who know the Bible, the New Testament talks about Jesus’ disciples. See the close connection of the two words? A disciple is someone who’d best be described as a “follower.” Someone who is seeking knowledge, wisdom and emotional/spiritual growth by a leader. We might call him a student… or, a “trainee.”

When a coach disciplines his players, he is trying to teach them something— hopefully of a positive nature. EX: Work hard; be rewarded! We used to give a special helmet sticker award for someone who showed Outstanding Effort! Why? Because we wanted to encourage our players to hustle; to give a total effort. When players see someone being rewarded for great effort, they want to do the same thing… in hopes of getting the reward (i.e., the Golden Claw helmet sticker!) As a coach, you are teaching something positive.

Let’s look at another scenario and study the opposite effect. I was at a pre-season practice at a local high school one August. The practice was supposed to start at 8 am. At 7:59, the HC blew the whistle and the players lined up for team flexes. One of the assistants started taking roll. About 5 minutes later, a group of players ran out on the field! Late! The HC immediately blew his whistle and told everyone (note: everyone) to line up on the goal line. He proceeded to run them on 10 110 yard sprints. Why? Because a couple of guys were tardy!

He “disciplined” his players- no doubt! But… what did he “teach” them? That being tardy was unacceptable? Sure! But… who needed to learn this lesson? The guys who were responsible and were on time? OR the ones who were late? And… nobody questioned the players who were tardy to find out why they were late!

My question: who needed to be (here we go) “punished?” Here is where “discipline” moves into the area of negative consequences. Players need to learn to be on time. But, should the players who were on time be punished? The coach explained to me that everyone has to be accountable for each other. How? Do they all get to school from the same house? Does a player who lives north of the school have to drive 20 miles south of the school to make sure that a teammate gets to practice on time?

There is a difference between individual responsibility and “team” responsibilities. Be careful that you are not confusing discipline with punishment. It can back fire on you and create discontent among your players!

Micromanaging Your Program

Posted by admin January - 17 - 2020 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

I had a situation arise this week that, although it was sad… like anything that happens to us, there is a life lesson involved. It’s a chance for me to grow and, once you read what I’m going to share, an opportunity for you to grow too.

As some of you know, I came out of retirement last year to accept the position as Offensive Coordinator at a local high school. It was my understanding that the HC wanted me to run the Wing T offense for him. I have 32 years of successful experience running this great offense. I was under the impression that an Offensive Coordinator is the one in charge of planning, implementing and running the offense. To my surprise, the HC began dictating what he wanted our offense to look like. I agreed (cuz he is the HC) to try to implement his ideas. I wasn’t totally comfortable with the way he wanted to do things but, my wife kept reminding me that HE is the one in charge.

The season started and he continued to dictate how he wanted things to go. It came to a head during one of our games when he demanded that I run a certain play when I had been setting up the offense to run a different play. It got a little heated.

We made it through the season and had a great record running what was basically the “base” Delaware Wing T system. We had 2 running backs rush for over 1000 yards and averaged almost 36 points a game. Despite not having the over-all control of running the offense (like I thought I’d been hired to do), it was a pretty satisfying season. I grew because I had to learn to be an assistant again— after being in charge (as a HC) for 35 years!

Then this winter, the HC began telling me that he wanted to “move in a different direction” with the offense. I disagreed. It was my understanding that the OC is the one who is responsible for running the offense. When he told me that he wanted to promote one of the assistants to “Passing Game Coordinator” I’d had enough.

I explained that this is not what I signed up for. It’s his program and his team. He has the right to do things whatever way he chooses. However, I did not agree with the changes that he wanted to institute. He wanted to move the offense to a place where I do not feel comfortable. It was my opinion that we did not have the personnel to run it (“Spread”) that way. I also did not feel confident in my ability to call the offense using a system that I have not run before. Soooooooo… on Wednesday, I submitted my resignation.

I share all of this with you for 2 reasons:

First, to the Head Coaches reading this (or those of you who aspire to be HC’s one day), I want you to read what an assistant coach’s perspective would be on a very integral part of your staff organization. I hope that what I shared enlightens you to the feelings that your assistant coaches have… but may never share with you.

Secondly, it’s an important lesson in how you lead your staff. If you’re going to give someone a “title” be sure that he understands what his role and responsibilities are— before things get started. If a title/role on the coaching staff is simply a “title” (not really any responsibility… just “bragging rights” to tell his friends!) that you’re sticking behind someone’s name, be sure that the assistant understands what his 1- role, 2- responsibilities and 3- authority is before you start working out.

Along these lines, if YOU (as the Head Coach) are really going to be the one in charge of your Offense and/or Defense, be sure that your “coordinators” know that you can and will overrule them at any time. By the way, we’ve had several successful coaches in our area who have “done it all.” They hand out “titles” but.. they run everything.

I do not agree with that approach to leading a staff. As long as you hire an experienced, successful coach who is knowledgeable of his part of the game. let him have the authority to run that side of the ball the way he sees best. If you don’t like it, you can let him go at the end of the season! I was fortunate that I hired an excellent DC late in my career as HC. After “holding in the reins” a bit our first season together (as I gained confidence in him), I turned over the defense to him. Rarely did I ever need to step in! He was highly qualified and did a great job.

As the leader of your program, I challenge you to do some SELF-evaluation. Are you willing to admit to yourself that you are micromanaging your program? Are you basically “doing it all?”— when you have assistants to assign those duties to! It could be something as simple as making sure the locker room is cleaned up after practice each day to a weight room coach… to an assistant coordinating your defense. If you’re going to give a responsibility to an assistant, be sure that both of you understand how much autonomy you’re giving him BEFORE you start working together.

Clear lines of communication are so important to the success of your program. Make sure that you keep them open!

Pick Your Battles

Posted by admin January - 16 - 2020 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

I have 2 things that I want to write about this week. I’ll pick one and probably post again tomorrow.

A retired teacher/friend of mine stirred up a hornet’s nest last week! She is a member of the same fitness center that I belong to. A very nice lady but…. don’t push her. She is a bulldog.

She approached the Manager of our club about putting closed-captioning on the tv’s in the fitness area… so that those of us who aren’t blue-toothed into the tv remote can read what the people on the different channels are saying while we walk the tread mill or eliptical. She was also concerned about those members who are hearing impaired being able to read on the screens as they work out. Wellllllllll… you’d think she asked the manager to eliminate all monthly fees for the members!!! He hit the ceiling— berating her for asking for such an outlandish change. “Nobody else has close-captioning in their gyms! Why should we put it in here?!” he snorted. She was embarrassed and a little angry at his response. She checked around with the local YMCA and other private clubs and… wouldn’t you know— they DO have closed-captioning! So back she went to the manager at OUR club.

Now… he’s the one who’s embarrassed and angry! “Why did you check with our competitors? Why did you post your question on Facebook? Don’t you realize that you’re costing me business?! People are going to join other clubs and not this one!!!” the manager stated. She tried to explain that IF he would put in closed-captioning, maybe people would come to HIS gym! He was out of line and totally unreasonable! He was so ugly to my friend that she went over his head and reported it to senior management in the company. Guess who got “called on the carpet??!!”

Let’s apply this to your situation as a head football coach. Suppose that a parent of one of your players calls to complain (*key word there!) about… I don’t know… how her son has missed the activity bus a couple of times after weight-lifting and she had to drive all the way to school to pick him up. Legitimate complaint? Maybe… maybe not! HOW do you handle it?

My first bit of advice is: most people just like to complain! It’s become the way of the world. If you listen (*first key) and respond politely (*2nd key!) and say something like “I will be glad to look into the situation and get back to you, Mrs. Smith”…. that may be all you need to do! Again, most people just want to complain. They really don’t expect anything to be DONE about it— they just like to spout off!!!

Then, it is important that you check with her son and find out WHY he’s missed the activity bus after practice. It is probably something that can be rectified quickly and easily.

However, let’s go back and “flip the script!”

The mom comes with her complaint. Your body language is “screaming” at her that “you are a pain in the butt, lady. I need to get home so hurry up.” Then when she’s finished, you immediately blame it on her son! Point the finger at him. (THAT will earn you “good will points!”) Then conclude with, “There’s really nothing I can do about this, Mrs. Smith.” Shirk the blame. Refuse to help and, oh, don’t take any responsibility for trying to solve her problem! This is where I got my title of: Pick Your Battles!

It’s usually a no-win situation when you choose to “fight” a parent. Just like my friend went to upper management when she was “blown off”… parents are going right to the principal or school board member that they know to get you in trouble for failing to take her problem seriously.

When you let her know that you will look into the problem… you also tell her that “I will get back to you within the week with an answer.” Set a time limit that is reasonable (a week is enough time to get some facts AND let her cool down!) and then…. like you promised— call her back!

In most cases, I found over the years that if you treat parents with respect and show some integrity (get back with her if you promise to get back with her— your “word” is good!) they will show respect in return. Yes, there’s going to be that parent who is totally unreasonable! The first person that you let know that “something” is going on between you and this unreasonable parent is your AD and then your principal! Keep them informed. It means you’ve gotten your side of things to them first and keeps them from being “ambushed” by an irate parent. What’s the adage? “Forewarned is forearmed!”

Oh, by the way… as I did my elliptical work-out this morning, I was able to “read” what the people on ESPN were saying!!! Yep! Closed-captioning running on every tv screen in the building!!!

Leadership Training

Posted by admin January - 9 - 2020 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

This is the time of year when a coach needs to start “Building a Championship!” The “foundation” work starts now. There are things that you need to be doing to make sure that your “foundation” is strong. One of those “Little Things That Can Make A BIG Difference” is: Leadership Training.

There are some great resources out there to help you train leaders. They are an excellent way to build leaders. I’ve found, though, that the best way may be “in house.” That is… giving your players the opportunity to exhibit leadership. Give him a small task and see how he handles that. If he shows promise, then you step things up.

I want to share some things I’ve used in the past that helped me 1- identify a potential leader and 2- begin to build him into a bona fide team leader.

Generally speaking, you need to “put him out front!” That’s where leaders are seen in relationship to the rest of the group. Be careful to observe how they respond to being “in the limelight.” Something as simple as telling him to “Come out front and lead team flexes today.” Watch his body language as you call his name. You can tell real quick if he is excited or embarrassed that you’re calling him to “step out and step up!” Then, how well does he take charge of the rest of the team when he IS out front? If you see something you like, call him out again at another time.

You can make him a “squad” leader in the Weight Room. Give him responsible for 4-5 other guys. For example, he takes attendance and then reports to the Strength Coach. Can he carry out this simple responsibility? Watch him while his squad/group is lifting. Is he “taking charge?” Is he encouraging the others to work hard? Is he making sure that everyone is on task? THIS is a great opportunity to see if he is more worried about what his teammates think of him than he is about seeing his team succeed. Great leaders possess great self-confidence. They don’t let others’ opinion of them sway them from succeeding at their given task.

Once you identify a cadre of potential leaders, then you can do some focused training to help enhance their skills. But, the first step is identifying who is showing leadership without being “trained.” I want to “catch them in the act” when they aren’t looking!

Win A Championship OR… Be a Champion???!!!

Posted by admin December - 31 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

One of our Associate pastors presented the message this past Sunday. It has been resonating in my head since I heard it. It sounded so much like some things that I’ve heard Nick Saban say that I decided to dig a little deeper.

I guess most of you have heard about Saban’s process. He credits it, the Process, as being the KEY to his team’s success over the years. (I think getting some assistant coaches who will stay for a few years might help too!) Anyway….

What our pastor said that really stood out to me was: “Instead of setting goals for things that we want to accomplish, set goals to embody the character traits of WHO you want to be.” Let me “splain…”

Everybody makes New Year’s Resolutions. For example, “I want to read 12 books this coming year— 1 a month.” Or “I want to lose 20 pounds this coming year— 2 pounds a month.” Sounds good, right?

Well, how about changing those “things” goals to “character” goals? Instead, set a goal to become a “full-time reader.” Or… “I want to be a healthy, active adult.” I’ve heard it said that “Leaders are readers!” I’ve challenged those of you who follow this blog to become “Students of the Game.” How do you accomplish this “character” goal? One of the best ways is to read! And, secondly, what does it take for you to become a “healthy, active adult?” You know!!!

Let’s focus squarely on football for a minute. How many of us have set a “thing” goal of: “We want to win a state or conference or city championship?” That’s great until the chance to accomplish that goal goes out the window during the season! Now what do you do? How do you motivate the players after that??!! There’s nothing to work for; you’ve already missed your “thing” goal for the season!!!

Shift your focus. Get everyone’s mind on the process and not the outcome. Change that goal to: “We want to be a Champion in everything we do!” How do you accomplish THAT???

It does not involve just winning football games. It is a process of developing “winning attitudes and behaviors.” There’s not enough time nor space to write about those attributes here. Suffice it to say that… IF you sit down with your staff (and then with your Seniors/Leaders) and discuss: “What does a “champion” look like?” and… “What does it take to BE a “champion?” You will get some great discussion going!

Please write me and let me know what you discover. Or… if you want to explore it further. Happy New Year!!!

Have A “System!”

Posted by admin December - 17 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Remember a few years ago when the “Smart People” said that “So and So’s QB is just a System player. He’ll never succeed in the NFL!” Wrong! They were mocking the Mike Leach’s; Lincoln Riley’s and Urban Meyer’s of the college football landscape.

NOW… everyone is saying: “HAVE a ‘System.” I’ve been saying that on here for years. I’m a Wing T guy— always have been; always will be. Tubby Raymond (who kinda “invented” this offense) called it a System of Offense since its founding.

I see unsuccessful coaches who flounder because they DON’T have a system. They keep looking for answers. When something doesn’t work in a week or so, they give up and move on to the next “best” thing.

A note of interest: 2 of the 6 state champions in Virginia football this year run the Split-back Veer as their base offense!!! Reallllllllly???!!! Don’t those coaches know that the Split-back Veer went out of style back in the 70’s??? I guess not. The coach, whom I know well, who won our Division 4 state championship with the Split-back Veer doesn’t give a flip that he runs an “antique”/out of date offense. It works. He knows it. His staff knows it. His players know it and… they believe in it. Their school has been running it since (yep!) the 70’s!! And they were young this year. They’ll probably win the state in their division again next year! And… I bet he won’t change offenses!!!

Find an offense AND defense that fit your program. Study it! Learn it! Teach it! But… most importantly: STICK WITH IT!!!

“Stick to your knitting!”

Posted by admin November - 19 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Sorry… I haven’t posted in a few weeks because I was simply focusing on other things! First was my wife. I retired from coaching with the commitment to give my sweet wife the first fruits of my time. She’s always wanted to travel and we missed out on half the year because of football! So, since I retired in 2016 we’ve been to Europe twice (take a Viking river cruise— you’ll love it!) and seen parts of this beautiful country that we wouldn’t have been able to see if I were still coaching.

Those of you who follow this blog will say, “but, Coach, you ARE back coaching!” True! But I told the HC when I took the job as his OC that I would have to miss a game… because of my commitment to my wife! He was fine with it. We went to the Hudson River Valley to enjoy the autumn colors and to see an Army football game! More on that later.

Second commitment has been to our football team. We are now in the Final 4 in our (very competitive) Region and will play an undefeated team this Friday. We have our work cut out for us! But, they’ve never seen the Wing T before… and certainly not the style of Delaware Wing T that we run. Which brings me to my point: “sticking with what you do/know best!”

Our HC is young… in age and experience. But, he is loaded with wisdom. I’ve said before, he is a great leader! He admitted to me yesterday that he has gotten a lot of teasing and… down-right ridicule, because he (we) run this antiquated offense. We need to get hip! We need to “catch up” with everybody else and run the Spread!!! Through it all, he has (maybe) wavered; but, he has not succumbed to the pressure! So proud of him!!!

This antiquated offense, by the way, is averaging 35 points a game and we have 2 RB’s who’ve rushed for over 1000 yards! Plus our Freshman QB has passed for over 800 and 12 TD’s. In many ways, it’s one of the best offenses in the area!

My word to you guys is this: Be a “student of the game.” Learn your craft— study it; grow with it. Be known for something! We are known for running our vaunted Delaware Wing T offense. People laugh at us but… they HATE trying to defense it!!! And don’t succumb to the pressure to change if things aren’t going well at the moment. Instead, find out what’s wrong and try to fix it!

Stick to your knitting!!!