Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Blow Your Whistle!

Posted by admin June - 2 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

You know that the focus of these entries is the “little things” in coaching football. My intention is that little things, if handled correctly, can make a BIG difference in the success of your program! This suggestion may have you scratching your head: but, bear with me! It is this: Wear your whistle to practice. Require your staff to wear a whistle and… blow your whistle!!!

From the early annals of organized warfare, armies have used “horns” as a means of communicating movement of troops. I’ve read of bugles and even drums being used to signal a military movement to advance, halt or even retreat.

When training dogs or birds of prey, handlers use whistles to elicit certain responses in the animal. In a football game, when an official blows a whistle, he is “conveying information” to the players. Most of the time it’s telling them when to stop! Since that is the case, why not use your whistle during practice to “condition” a response in your players?? It’s a training tool that has direct carry-over to the game.

I’ve had good and bad results from the use of my whistle when I was coaching. Let me share:

During the 31 years that I was a head coach, I can’t recall but a (tiny) handful of “late hit” penalties against our players. Why? Because we “trained” our players to react to a whistle during practice. You want to incorporate drills in your position and group work that apply to the game… right? (You should!) So why not “drill” your players every time they’re moving/reacting/performing by hearing a whistle to end the play? I instructed our staff to blow a whistle on every play. Get them used to “stopping on the whistle.”

We often used a “quick whistle” in practice. We wanted to reduce the chance of injury so we blew a “quick whistle” to get defenders to lay off the big hits. This, unfortunately, backfired on me one season! This works fine (quick whistle) when you’re working on your Offense. Not so much when you’re on Defense. Here’s how it backfired on us!

I noticed in games that opposing ball carriers were breaking the first tackle we attempted more than I liked. However, the bad part came after that first tackle was broken… and we had nobody around the ball to finish him off! Lots of “YAC” (yardage after contact) was really hurting us. What was wrong? I studied play after play; watching our kids. It dawned on me: they were “quitting” early! Our pursuit was good. But, when they saw the first hit, everyone geared down. That was when we needed them to speed up! What was causing this?

I looked at our practices. That’s when it came to me! We were blowing a “quick whistle” on our Defense too! The first hit would be made and we would blow our whistles to end the play. We were inadvertently “conditioning” our defenders to gear down when they saw the first hit made in practice!!! Wow! Talk about “carry over” to games… in a negative fashion!!!

We remedied this by setting up our team pursuit drill differently. I placed 4 of those big pop-up dummies around the field. We’d snap the ball, point at a bag and all 11 defenders had 4 seconds to get to the bag. The first guy there tackled the bag. Everybody else “dog piled” on like you see baseball teams do when they win a championship! It added a little fun to the drill but it also taught everyone that they could not slow down until they reached the “ball carrier.” If all 11 did not arrive within 4 seconds, the play didn’t count and they did it again. We’d do 4 rep’s so they had to run to all 4 bags. It also tested them to go as hard on the 4th rep as they did the first! We basically shut down “YAC” gains!

Practices are for preparing your players to perform at their maximum level of ability during games. Using a whistle to end plays has tremendous “transfer of learning” potential. It’s a principle of learning that is critical to success. Apply it to your practices. It makes a BIG difference!

Determine Your Values

Posted by admin May - 27 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I love it when I, as I call it, “pan for a gold nugget” and come up with a “boulder!” It’s so important to read and listen. Don’t ever stop learning.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours studying leadership skills. Many of the experts point out that…. to be an effective leader, you have to set goals. But, for the first time this morning, I read something that was an ah ha moment!

I was reading in my morning devotional The Word for You Today from Bob Gass Ministries. The message was about integrity. There was one sentence in the middle of the devotion that made me sit up and go “WOW! Never heard that before!” Here’s what it said:

“So before you set your goals, determine your values.” Really? Boy am I glad that I caught that and went back and re-read it!

Setting goals is a critical element in achieving success. What’s the old axiom say: “A sailing ship without a rudder is destined to sail aimlessly… wherever the winds take it.” We need a target. We need something to shoot at and shoot for. We need goals!

However, this statement in my devotion put a whole new slant on things for me. It made me pause and think: what do we base our goals on? My answer? “Welllllllllll… on the things that are important to me?!” Those “things” are our values. When you stop and consider the things in coaching that are important to you, you’ll have a better concept of what it is you want to achieve. If you take the “Lombardi point of view” (“Winning isn’t everything… it’s the ONLY thing!”) then you set your goals based on how many games you can win. In a lot of cases that includes cutting corners or taking advantage of a person or situation… all in the name of achieving that goal.

The writer went on. He added that “Values are like guardrails on the highway; they keep you from veering off the road and over the cliff’s edge. They determine how far you’ll go on questionable issues.”

Here’s the KEY: “Knowing what matter and what you truly value is the key to living a life of meaning and purpose.”

During my coaching career, I can’t deny that I valued winning. That’s why we played the game! It was a competition. I wanted my team to come out on top. However, early on in my head coaching career I was challenged by a Fellowship of Christian Athletes talk to consider striving for the “double victory.” Hummmmm? OK… you’ve got my attention. What he meant by double victory is: we want our players (and coaches!) to win ON and OFF the field. I wanted young men who left my program after 4 years to be “better young men than when they came in.”

Thus my goal matched my value. Character was just as important to me as championships. I am proud of the championships that we won. At the same time, I am equally proud of the outstanding young men who have gone on to be great dads and husbands and workers in their respective fields. I tell audiences when I speak that I am proud of the district, region and state championships that we won. But… I am more proud of the “universe” championships that we won!!! There are 9 pastors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who played for us. THAT achievement is what I’m most proud of!

Two Things I Don’t Understand, Part II

Posted by admin May - 18 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I talked last week about the importance of repetition and correcting mistakes in practice. Today, I want to share another aspect of HS coaching that I do not understand. What I do not understand is: why don’t coaches study a little more Psychology? OR… apply some of the lessons on Principles of Learning that they (hopefully!) were taught in their Education classes in college??!!

This post is concerned the importance of reinforcement and how it affects performance. The practical application in HS football that I am focusing on is: grading players’ game performance AND… what a coach does with that grade once the players learn what letter grade they earned. Here’s the scenario:

A coaching staff from out of state drove 7 hours to spend a weekend with me to learn about the Wing T specifically and Coaching 101 generally. We’d had a good series of talks over 2 days. The last point that the visiting HC wanted to cover was: HOW did I grade my player’s game performance? What system did I use? The look on his face (the whole staff) when I uttered my response was priceless! What I told him was, “Coach, we don’t grade our individual player’s performance!” WOW! Let me explain.

1- We don’t have the time. Welllllllllll… we have the time. I’m just not going to prevail on my assistants to take 4-5 hours over the weekend to grade each player on every play. As we say when talking about installing a particular play: “It’s very expensive and the return on your investment (of time and energy) is not real good!”

2- Once you post a letter grade for every player, the whole team knows how well OR… how poorly each starter played. Now that it’s public knowledge, what are you going to do about it? For example… you are pretty thin on the Offensive Line (most people are!) Your right tackle is a Senior. Big kid; decent strength; moves okay but, he’s a little lazy…. and not the most coachable kid you’ve ever worked with. The OL coach KNOWS from watching him in practice and games (he certainly doesn’t need to grade every play to know that this player is limited in ability!) that he is a liability. However, the guy behind him is a Sophomore. He hasn’t played much football. Plus, he’s a “string bean”— 6’2 and about 185. This back-up is just not ready to step in.

The OL coach has graded every play of this right tackle for 4 games now and his letter grade has been an F (failing) every game! It’s obvious that he’s just not getting it done. The staff meets and they discuss this guy’s performance (or lack thereof!) and realize that… “Guys,” the HC says, “we can’t bench this guy. The kid behind him is awful. We’ll get killed! We’ll just leave him in there and hope he gets better.” Big mistake!!!

WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU SENDING TO THESE 2 PLAYERS AND… THE REST OF THE TEAM???!!!

I’ll tell you what you’re “saying”: It’s OK to fail. Just keep doing a lousy job— it doesn’t matter. We don’t have anybody to replace you with. So…… just keep on screwing up. You’ll still be starting and playing this coming Friday. Is THAT the message that you want to convey to your team?

Plus… that OL coach has busted his tail every Saturday to grade this guy’s performance— and nothing is done about his failing grade! That’s very DE-motivating for that coach.

How about that back-up? How do you think he feels? What about players at other positions? The whole situation gets back to the “power of reinforcement.” In essence, you are rewarding bad behavior! So… that behavior is just going to continue.

Soooooooooo… what do you do about it? This is what I told that staff that was visiting: 1- you call in the starter and tell him (in private) that he is not performing up to the standard that you expect. *Note: this should have happened after the 2nd poor performance. He shouldn’t get 4 weeks of poor showings to finally get called in. 2- You tell him that his starting position is now in jeopardy. That someone else is going to start getting a few more snaps in practice AND, possibly, the game this week. That depends on how the 2 of you perform in practice this week. 3- If you continue to perform below standards, we will have to give someone else a chance to play that position. You will have a chance to win the position back but… you will have to a) improve your performance and b) OUT-perform the guy that will be getting reps instead of you. That is what competition is all about.

Last thing, I gave “Group” grades— not individual grades. Based on what I saw on the video on Saturday, I would write up a Game Summary. The OL would get a grade. My comments would be about that group as a whole. Then the Receivers and the Backs and, finally, the QB. Yep, individual but still I spoke of the “position” and not the individual. Same thing on defense.

A lot more detail is in my book, 101 Little Things That Can Make a BIG Difference. Check out a copy.

Two Things I Don’t Understand!

Posted by admin May - 11 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

Two topics have come up in conversation in the last few days. I will take up one of them today. I’ll see if I want to cover both in this post or wait. Wait till I see how long this first topic goes.

What I want to share is: what is your practice philosophy? That is, what do you think the purpose of practice is?

Those of you who have been reading these for a while know that one of my foundational principles of coaching/learning/success is: “The 5 P’s of Success.” PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!” I just discussed this in detail a couple of posts back.

Monday through Thursday (in-season) is our time to prepare. We are preparing to play (and hopefully win!) our game on Friday night/Saturday afternoon. Are you preparing properly?

What I want to focus on is the concept of repetitions and the need to correct mistakes. Let me take you into your classroom for a minute and create an analogy. I will use Math class as my example.

The teacher calls 4 students to the front of the class to work out problems on the board. Each student works diligently and in a couple of minutes, they are done. Three have completed their assigned problem and the fourth just stands there frustrated and embarrassed because he could not come up with an answer at all.

You, the teacher, look at the class and say, “OK. We need to move on. I need 4 more students to come up and work out an equation. We have to give every student in class a chance to come up to the board and work out a problem.” WHAT???!!! No feedback? No correction? No praise for the students who got the correct answer? No help for the one who had no clue what he was doing? NO!!! The teacher has a goal of getting everyone to the board to do a problem! We MUST achieve our goal. We only have 30 minutes to complete this activity. Let’s go!!!

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!

Is this an example of efficient teaching? Is this an example of effective learning? If YOU were one of those 4 students, how would you feel when your teacher told you to “go sit down. We have to move on.” I know what my response would be? How about you? “But, Teacher…. did I get the answer correct?!!”

Let’s apply this to football practice. The HC has allocated 30 minutes for Team Offense. In those 30 minutes, he wants to RUN (we’ll come back to that!) 30 plays. That’s the objective of this “lesson plan.”

Scout D gets lined up. Offense breaks the huddle, lines up, snaps the ball and runs the play. A LB shoots through the B gap and pops the ball carrier 4 yards deep in the backfield. No whistle blows (which is another subject in itself!!!). The coaches just yell “stop. Stop!” The OL coach tells Jimmy while he’s running back to the huddle that “you need to block down when a LB shoots the B gap on you. OK?” Jimmy responds while getting his spot in the huddle, “Sure, Coach.”

What if Jimmy doesn’t know what blocking down means? What if Jimmy doesn’t know what a LB is? (I know what you’re thinking but… kids don’t know as much as you assume that they do!) Finally, do your kids understand where the B or C or A gaps are? You know what they say about “assuming” don’t you???!!!

So this continues throughout the 30 minute period. Run a play. Someone messes up. He gets corrected with nothing more than a verbal explanation… and on to the next play. The HC feels good because he got all 30 plays run in the allotted time! But… how much was actually accomplished? NOT MUCH! And he wonders why his execution on game night is so poor!!!

Most high school programs are not afforded the opportunity to have meetings with players before and after practice… and during the school day. This is when college programs can go over mistakes via video and white board. They don’t need to STOP PRACTICE AND CORRECT like high school’s do. Thus, the nexus of what I’m driving at.

You cannot expect your players to improve unless they know; i.e., SEE, their mistakes and…. be SHOWN how to do it correctly!!!

I’d rather perform 15 plays correctly (even though we had to stop and walk through it again) than race through 30 plays…. just to say that “we completed our objective.” When creating my game plan, I’ll know to focus on those plays that we executed the best! This is why I’ve always encouraged coaches to: “Get realllllllllllly good at just a few things!

There’s a lot more I could say about this. Hopefully, I’ve given you something to chew on. If you’d like to discuss it further, please feel free to email me at coac...@gmail.com.

“Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid!”

Posted by admin May - 9 - 2020 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

Some of you recall the origin of this axiom. In 1976, Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple religious group convinced his followers that it would be best for ALL of them to die together in their encampment in a South American jungle. Representatives from the U.S. government were flying in to get the people out. In a panic, Jones urged his group to drink poison rather than surrender. He mixed the poison with kool-aid… thus the axiom presented in my title!!!

How does all this apply to football coaches? I am attempting to caution you to be sure that “going along with what the group does” isn’t necessarily the best thing for you. Some might call it peer pressure. I recall getting in trouble at school in the 6th grade because a friend “dared” me to do something wrong. I got caught! They called my dad and I got the old “double whammy” when I got home— punished at school AND punished at home! I do recall my dad asking me sarcastically, “Would you jump off the top of the school building if you friend dared you to?????!!!!!!!” Gulp!

Soooooooo…. why are so many of you “drinking the kool-aid” of we GOTTA go to the Spread offense??!!! Wellllllllll…. everybody else is doing it. I guess we should be doing it too! WHY?

Most of you know that I am an old school Delaware Wing T coach. I love to stay up on the latest trends in football, though. (Once a “Student of the Game;” always a “Student of the Game!”) I’m reading more and more of Wing T coaches who are looking to spread things out and…. here it comes: run RPO’s as a major focus in their offensive package! Wow!

I’ve been around football long enough to go back to the early days of the T formation. My Jr. High coach still ran the old Single Wing in the early 60’s! Then (here it comes!) everybody caught the “Wishbone” bug! When Bear Bryant at Alabama went to it, that was it. Did you know that Bryant made Joe Namath run the Wishbone/Triple Option in college? Joe was a darn good runner; but, that’s where he started having knee problems! We all were trying to run some form of the triple option. But guess what? Defenses saw it so much that they started coming up with answers to it and slowly it faded away to guys running the I formation! THAT was the new “answer!”

People who break the mold and stick with an antique, broken down old jalopy of an offense actually have an advantage. Nobody sees it very often so nobody knows how to defense it!!! The most fun I had in the last decade of following Virginia Tech football was watching Bud Foster, DC at VT, go up against Paul Johnson’s Triple Option offense at Georgia Tech! Observing those two trying to out-wit each other was like watching two chess masters. So good! Guess who usually won? I hate to say it but GT!

If you’ve got a system, work with it! Build it up to where people fear you for running that offense. The same could be said for defense. We went to a Wing T coaches clinic at the U. of Delaware when Tubby Raymond was still the HC. He was on the over-head machine (that’s how long ago it was!) diagramming a Wing T play. He drew up a defense against it. It was a defense that guys in the audience were kinda scratching their heads on as they saw it. Then Tubby said something that’s always stuck with me. He started erasing the defense and said, “Sorry. I just automatically drew up OUR defense. Most of you don’t recognize it, do you?!” A lot of nods in the crowd. He continued, “That is the College 4-3… or as some call it, the old 6-1. We use it cuz NOBODY else uses it!” AH HA!!! Not only was Tubby a tremendous innovator on offense with his devastating Wing T package; but, he ran a NON-traditional defense too! He knew the value of being unique!!!

Try it. You’ll like it!!!

BEST PLAYERS I EVER COACHED

Posted by admin April - 26 - 2020 - Sunday ADD COMMENTS

            My high school coach, Billy O’Brien, at Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake, VA wrote a book years ago that I enjoyed immensely.  I just recently RE-read it.  One subject that he remarked about was that “people were always asking me ‘who was the best player you ever coached,  Billy?!’”  Interestingly, I’ve had that same question posed to me numerous times over the years. 

            So…. I decided to “steal a page” from Coach O’Brien’s book and do a rather unique version of my Best Players I Ever Coached … during my 22 years (1985- 2006) as the Head Football Coach at Western Branch HS.  I say “unique” because you are going to find some “different” categories than you might expect to see in this sort of “all star” list.  The thanks for the concept goes to Coach O’Brien; who I’m sure was trying to give as many of us who played for him the recognition that he felt we all deserved!

            I included categories that indicate those attributes and achievements that I feel are just as significant as being a great “on-the-field” football player.  This listing also expresses some of the best memories that I have when looking back over a successful 22-year career.  

            In this time of government-directed quarantine, I thought that this list would stir up a LOT of “discussion” on Facebook!  Please know that I tried very hard to include as many of the outstanding young men with whom I had the pleasure of coaching at WBHS.  I hope there won’t be too many hurt feelings. It was an honor to coach all of you!

            Feel free to share this list.  Any mistakes in years that these young men played for me or the college they attended is due to poor research (or failing memory!) on my part.

Here we go:

BEST FOOTBALL PLAYER: Vince Hall (99-02), Virginia Tech

BEST ATHLETE: Dre Bly (92-94), UNC

BEST COLLEGE PLAYER: Dre Bly (92-94), UNC

BEST PRO PLAYER: Dre Bly (92-94), St. Louis Rams; Detroit Lions; and Denver Broncos

ALL-AROUND FOOTBALL PLAYER: ***Reggie Jordan (75-76), Pitt

THEPROGRAM-CHANGER”: T.J. Giles (89-92), JMU

TOUGHEST FOOTBALL PLAYERS: Blair Gregory (91-92); Mark Edmondson (94-95)

“IRON MAN”— BEST 2-WAY PLAYERS: Anthony Wolfe (96-97), Elon College; Keif Gordon (86-88), Richmond & Norfolk State

MOST INTELLIGENT: Daniel Tanner (01-02), Harvard University; Matt Cannella (03-04), Penn State

MOST COURAGEOUS: Justin Davis (86-88), JMU; Darryl Walton (93-96)

MEANEST FOOTBALL PLAYERS: Roy Norfleet (01-02), Elizabeth City State; Omar Hurdle (96-97)

FASTEST PLAYER: Darren Walton (93-96), Hampton University

BEST DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Frank LaMagna (96-97); Jaye Holland (00-01)                                       

BEST DEFENSIVE ENDS: Antonio Burt (010-02), Bridgewater; Jason Chandler (99-00), CNU;

BEST INSIDE LINEBACKERS: Vince Hall (99-02), Virginia Tech; Kenny Holland (86-87)

BEST OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Roy Norfleet (01-02), Elizabeth City State; Carlton Bitgood (98)

BEST DEFENSIVE BACK/FREE SAFETY: (tie) Jarnae Somerville (98-99), Norfolk State; Lamonte Stanfield (01-03)

BEST DEFENSIVE BACK/STRONG SAFETY: Lorenzo Ferguson (93-95), Virginia Tech & Western Carolina        

BEST DEFENSIVE BACK/CORNERS: Jason Parker (95-96), University of Houston; Daniel Tanner (01-02), Harvard

BEST PASS RECEIVER:  Kien Windley (02-03)

BEST ROUTE RUNNER: Stuart Baiza (00), CNU

BEST DEEP RECEIVER: Darren Walton (94-96), Hampton University

TALLEST RECEIVER I EVER COACHED: Jamel Ramage (91-92)

BEST HANDS I’VE EVER SEEN: Josh Baker (02-04), University of Delaware & NW Missouri State; NY Jets

BEST ALL-AROUND END: Emmett Johnson (97), Virginia Tech

BEST TACKLES: Todd Hollowell, Wake Forest (92-94); Daniel Johnson (00-01)

BEST GUARDS: Brett Ainsley (02-05), JMU; Brandon Carr (04-06), ODU

BEST CENTERS: Bryan Johnston (92-94); Matt Boykins (00-02), CNU

BEST TIGHT END: Rayshawd Barkley (98-99), Liberty University

MOST VERSATILE OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Michael Wood (00-02), Hofstra University

BEST RUNNING BACK: Shyrone Stith (93-95), Virginia Tech

MOST EXCITING RUNNER: Keith Burnell (96-97), Virginia Tech

BEST FULLBACK: Malik Cook (93-95)

TOUGHEST FULLBACK: CJ Griffin (90-92)

BEST WINGBACK: (tie) Rashad Cook (96-97), Virginia State; Quentin Forbes (01-02), VMI

MOST ELUSIVE RUNNING BACK: Devin Fentress (03-04), Penn State

MOST VERSATILE RUNNING BACK: CC Harrell (99-01)

BIGGEST BACK I EVER COACHED:  Marvin Urquhart (95-98), Virginia Tech

FASTEST RUNNING BACK: Courtland Marriner (03-05), William and Mary

TOUGHEST RUNNER: Hykeem Brodie (06), Penn State

BEST ALL-AROUND QUARTERBACK: Ryan Pond (00-03)

MOST ATHLETIC QUARTERBACK: Kevin Newsome (05-06), Penn State

BEST DUAL-THREAT QUARTERBACK: Darryl Walton (93-96)

MOST DECEPTIVE QUARTERBACK: Magic Johnson (96-98), Norfolk State

BEST PASSING COMBINATION:  Ryan Pond to Kien Windley (03)

BEST PUNTER: Daniel Dussia (93-94)

BEST KICKER: Brian Dawson (01-02)

BEST KICK RETURNER: Doug Casper (02)

BEST KICK BLOCKER:  Lamonte Stanfield (02-03)

UNSUNG HERO AWARD: Pete Conroy, QB (04)

BEST “LITTLE MAN” PLAYER:  Offense: Travis Bullock (98-99); Defense: Jeremy Cooper (98)

BEST PLAYER THAT I ALMOST “MISSED” ON: Bryan Barnson (04-06)

BEST LEADER: Jason Davis (98), CNU; Darien Kearney (05-06)

MOST INSPIRATIONAL: Brian Neas (87-88); Gino Martin (04-05)

TWO PLAYERS THAT I’M GLAD CAME OUT FOR FOOTBALL THEIR SENIOR YEAR: Jef Fitzgibbons (03); Daniel Rhodes (01)

PLAYERS WHO BECAME PASTORS: Mark Thomas (85); Keith Vinson (85); Matt Stafford (85-86); Quentin Battle (94-95); Anthony Wilkins (98-99); Jason Knight (01-02)

BEST PLAYER WHO BECAME A DENTIST: Reggie Ballard (85)

BEST PLAYER WHO’S NOW A PROFESSION IRON MAN COMPETITOR: Brian Lambert (00)

BEST PLAYER WHO BECAME A LAWYER: Maurice Cheeks (05)

BEST HIGH SCHOOL COACHES THAT I COACHED: Robert Decker (85); Rashad Cook (96-97); Rashawd Barkley (98-99); Justin Conyers (04-06)

BEST SET OF TWINS WHO BOTH STARTED AT SAME POSITION: James and Jeff Stevens (99)

***Reggie Jordan played for WBHS in 1975-76 when I was an Assistant Coach.  Reggie was going to sign with the University of Pittsburgh (who’d just won the NCAA National Championship with Tony Dorsett) before he was tragically killed in a car/train wreck near his home in Cedar Grove off of Airline Blvd.  Reggie is still THE greatest football player (pound for pound/inch for inch!) that I ever coached!!!

“Adjust On the Run!”

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

I recall standing in front of the team one day before preseason practice was to start. In August, we get a LOT of afternoon thunderstorms in Coastal Virginia. It was pouring outside. We weren’t going out to our practice field for at least an hour. Looking at our coaches, I asked, “Can we get in the gym?” “No,” was the reply. “The soccer team is in there,” he said. “OK…..” I queried, “How about the Middle School gym at the other end of the campus?” One coach said, “We’ve never practiced in there before, Coach J.” I stated, “Well, please go find out if it’s available.” And off he went. Arriving back 5 minutes later, he said, “The AD says that we can use it!” So… down to the Middle School gym we went!

I learned early in my head coaching career that things won’t always go according to plan. I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ll a “tip of the hat” to Mike Tyson. He said that “everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth the first time! Now what are you going to do?!” My recommendation is: you better be able to ADJUST ON THE RUN!

In Mike Leach’s book on the famous Indian warrior, Geronimo, he states that “Improvisation is key. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you don’t have. Think about the resources you DO have and how you can best use them.” Soooooooooo true! With the U.S. Cavalry chasing him all over New Mexico and Arizona, Leach writes, “For months, Geronimo used all his craft, guile, leadership skills and toughness to reamin nearly invisible to the army.” Rather than fretting over what he and Apache band lacked, Geronimo adapted and succeeded in outwitting the army. Geronimo knew how to improvise.

Coaches need to do the same thing. Instead of lamenting over the personnel that you lack, look at what/who you have and ask: How can I best utilize their talents to maximize our chance of success? You don’t have time to sit around and complain about what you lack. Focus on the the people you have and how you can best coach them.

This is what led me to the Delaware Wing T offense in the first place. We had pretty good speed. I had an excellent offensive line coach; but, we lacked size on the line. A coaching friend encouraged me to look into the Wing T. “It’s created for small, aggressive offensive linemen,” he stated. We learned the offense and “improvised” until we got the right people in the right places. For 15 straight seasons, we had winning records.

Then, as I learned more and more about our offense, I also discovered how to “adjust on the run” during a game. I don’t know where I first heard it but it makes sense: “If you have a cannon, fire it!” Find your star and hitch a ride. Over the years, we’d adjust our attack based on the personnel we had. While I preferred the running attack, when we had a 6’3 230 QB with a rifle arm… we threw it all over the place! He threw for almost 7,000 yards and 75 touchdown passes in his career. Then, in my last year as a head coach, we had a good athlete at QB but he was not a great passer. So, we gave it to our star running back— 212 times for 2,112 yards! We won a state championship with him leading our offense. Oh… and we had a darn good Defensive Coordinator who knew how to improvise too! We only had 17 or 18 guys on the team who could really play. (Yes! A lot of guys played both ways.) So, he “mixed and matched” all season long to keep us one step ahead of offenses.

Learn to adjust on the run! Don’t get bogged down by the naysayers who want to tell you that “we’ve never done it that way before!” Well, maybe that way is exactly the way you need to do things to be successful! Be willing to improvise and find a solution.

Ingredients in “PROPER” Preparation!

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

I spent an enjoyable 40 minutes earlier today talking on Facebook Live with one of my former players who now lives and works in California. Matt Stafford: if you’re reading this… “Thank You!” I appreciate the invitation to speak. It’s always a joy to share what wisdom the Lord has bestowed upon me over the years with others who are striving to be successful in their life.

Matt asked me to explain my “5 P’s of Success” axiom to his viewers. It forced me to dig a little deeper— in exploring exactly what PROPER preparation entails. Here are the thoughts that I came up with:

1- PRECISION. I talked about this in a previous post. It really impacted me while reading Coach Mike Leach’s book, Geronimo. If you are going to prepare properly, you must PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS! I will quote (again) the statement from Coach Leach when he says in his book that “Anything that they wanted to be good at, they practiced and trained for with as much precision as possible.” Soooooo good!

2- PERSISTENCE. We give up too easily! When faced with obstacles that are impeding our progress, how do we respond? I shared on the show what I learned from Pastor Bill Hybels. He said that “most obstacles appear to be brick walls…. when in reality, most are made of tissue paper.” With a little persistence, we can often break through—- IF we will just stick to our plan!

3- PASSION. One of my high school coaches said something 55 years ago that still sticks with me. “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm!” True! When we have a passion for something, it shows in all aspects of our work. We are going to focus on the little things. We are going to be persistent. We are going to be strategic in our planning. Our level of enthusiasm will dictate how far we go in achieving a goal. Another axiom that I’ve used a lot is “Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?!” (Appropriate as we wait out this pandemic!) A positive attitude is a by-product of the level of passion we possess. When you are passionate about achieving a goal, your energy level is high… your enthusiasm will capture other’s minds and propel them toward achieving the goal with you.

These are just 3 of the qualities that I believe explain what “proper” preparation looks like. I’d love to hear from you, my readers, to hear of any other qualities that you’ve discovered that go into making your preparation proper. The only requirement is: you have to be creative and only use words that start with “P“!!! OK??? Blessings, Lew

5 P’s of Success

Posted by admin April - 7 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I continue to find “nuggets of gold” in this Mike Leach book on Geronimo, the famous Apache warrior. It is rich with information.

A point that struck me yesterday reinforced a key aspect of any successful leader’s program. It ties in with the foundation of my coaching philosophy… the 5 P’s of Success. They are:

PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Leach points to the Apache way of life as THE factor in creating great warriors. He points out that the Apache culture embraced Discipline, Practice and Daily Routine. Leach says that these were “all a part of their daily lives. Anything they wanted to be good at, they practiced and trained for with as much precision as possible.” Key word: PRECISION! This is what it meant by “Proper” preparation. You can’t just go through the motions and expect your players to improve! One of my coaching mentors hammered into me to “pay attention to details!” I know that this was a determining factor in the amount of success that teams that I led enjoyed. Why? Because I always looked to hire coaches who were excellent teachers. They knew how to instruct.

People talk a lot about “creating a culture” in our football programs. You need to find a culture that breeds discipline, toughness and competitiveness. You’d do well to study the Apaches under Geronimo’s leadership!

Lessons From an American Warrior

Posted by admin March - 31 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I have continued to read and make notes as I read Mike Leach’s book, Geronimo- Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior. To reiterate what I said last week, this is a book that anyone in a leadership role should read!

The story itself is a biographical account of Geronimo’s life. It is amazing to me that even early in his life, the elders in Geronimo’s tribe had him earmarked for leadership. He was being trained and mentored by 2 of the greatest Apache Chiefs: Mangas Coloradas and Cochise. They taught him the art of guerrilla warfare— which was the mode of fighting that the Apaches used. At an early age, Geronimo was leading raiding parties across the border to Mexico. He showed tremendous heroism— which earned him a tremendous amount of respect among his people.

Once in 1861 during a raid on a Mexican mule train, the tide of battle turned against the Apaches. Geronimo got shot in the face; yet, he continued to fight and lead his band of Apache warriors. The LESSON that Coach Leach emphasized in this account is an important one: “Stay calm under pressure at all time… and those around you will be calm too.” The leader who possesses this ability is going to be very successful!

A former player called me recently. He’d been watching one of our games on YouTube. It was a nailbiter against a tough opponent. The video was actually a rebroadcast of the local tv station that carried our games… so there were camera’s and sideline reporters involved that you wouldn’t normally have if it was simply a game video taken from the pressbox. At one crucial point late in the game, our opponent called a time out. The announcer said, “Let’s go down to the sideline and listen in as Lew Johnston talks to his players.” The roving cameraman stuck the camera right in the middle of our huddle and captured the moment. What my player who’d called wanted to know was… “Coach J- how come you were able to stay so composed during that time out and the rest of the game?!” Note: we pulled out the victory with a TD pass with 40 seconds left in the game!

My reply to him was simple, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. I can do everything through the strength that the Lord gives me.” Someone else might say that I have trained myself. I would say that I let God train me! At any rate, it is something called SELF-DISCIPLINE. It comes only to a person who has been trained to remain calm in the face of adversity.

For me, it took a long time. When I played, it was easy to get “wild and crazy!” I loved the contact of football and my adrenaline was always flowing during a game. There were times when I was on the verge of losing control. Fortunately for me, my high school head coach (his whole staff) exhibited a quiet and calm demeanor. It filtered down to me and my teammates. It was a trait that I knew as a Head Coach that I wanted to be a hallmark of my program too.

As a coach, I recognized that I was a role model. If I didn’t allow my players to lose control, then I had to set the example for them. What I learned to do was: STAY IN THE MOMENT. Instead of letting my circumstances or surrounding environment affect me, I looked within and stayed focused on what was happening right then. It’s something that you can learn to develop too.