Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for March, 2016

“Grab Some Gold!”

Posted by admin March - 31 - 2016 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

Sorry that I’m late this week. My wife and I just spent 2 days in Williamsburg with our older granddaughter— fun!!! I actually went zip-lining for the first time in my life on Tuesday. Admittedly, it was the “Junior” course but… for someone who’d DEATHLY afraid of heights, I felt pretty good about myself— even if it was just 15 feet off the ground!!! And once I got the hang of it, I even “stuck” my last couple of landings coming down the zip line!! Not bad for almost 67 years old!

A tradition that we started years ago is one of the more effective motivators we’ve used as part of our pre-game warm up routine. It started as simply “walking the field” when we arrived at an Away game. I just liked to see the condition of the field before we went out for our team warmups. The players asked if they could “walk along” too. So, they joined me. After a while, we decided to do the same thing at home games. If you haven’t read my book, 101 Little Things, you should know that we take a “nap” at all home games. Yes! All of our starters are required to go into our Team Room and lie down for 30 minutes. Lights are out; no talking; and most of them nod off to sleep pretty quickly.

Once we wake up from our nap, we walk the field. At the public school I coached at, we had a GIANT bear claw painted on the 50 yard line. When I say “giant'” I’m talking from 45 to 45 and one hash to the other! We would start our Walk in one end zone and walk out towards the 50 yard line. I don’t know why but one game I felt the need to stop all of the players and talk to them right there and then. We got to the 50 and I told them to “circle up” around the Claw. I shared a few inspirational words and then we walked the rest of the way to the far end zone… then back into the locker room to start getting dressed.

The players liked it so much that they asked if we could do it EVERY week. At some point, it dawned on me that “Gold” symbolizes excellence. Our school colors were navy and gold. The Claw was painted gold. As we circled around the Claw, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about that Claw and its significance… plus the fact that it was a Golden Claw. On the spur of the moment, I told everyone to reach down and “grab some gold!” “Take a couple of gold blades of grass and hold them in your hand,” I said. As I finished talking, I said that we’re carrying that gold to the far end zone and we’re going to “sprinkle some gold” in the end zone for “good luck!” It must have helped because our record at home for the last 15 years I coached there was like 90%! As superstitious as most athletes are, once the kids saw that “grabbing some gold” and sprinkling it in the end zone “worked!”— they ALWAYS wanted to do it.

Now… as I tell our players, you have to be able to “Adjust on the Run.” When I arrived at the private academy that I coached at for the last 5 years, our Field Engineer would not let us paint a “giant” fleur de lis (think N.O. Saints!) in the middle of the field. “It will kill the grass,” he said. OK… how can we still “grab some gold” if there’s NO gold emblem at the 50 yard line??!!

Again, 101 Little Thing readers… you know about the “Midnight Gold Diggers” and the “Gold Dot Club.” I asked our Field Engineer if he would be willing to paint a Gold Dot (about the size of a basketball) in the end zone back on the back line? “No problem,” he replied. Soooooooo… we would get up after our nap, walk out to the stadium, walk down to the far end zone and “circle up” around the gold dot. I would give my talk and then have everyone crowd in and “grab some gold” (from the dot) and we would walk the field. We would deposit our gold leaves in the far end zone and walk back into the locker room.

The players loved it and it was one more of those “Little Things” that traditions of excellence are built upon.

“What’s GOOD About It?!!”

Posted by admin March - 25 - 2016 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

Somebody posted a Peanuts cartoon on Facebook the other day that has continued to resonate in my mind. It was Charlie Brown and Linus, the resident theologian for the Peanuts gang, talking. Charlie asks, “Linus, I don’t get it. Why do they call it GOOD Friday? How can it be good if that’s the day that Jesus died??!!” Linus’ reply is classic! He says, “Charlie Brown, when someone is willing to die in your place… THAT’S a good day!”

I remember asking a man at church one Easter when I had just started “walking with the Lord” about this same thing. The question I posed to him was similar to Charlie Brown’s. I asked him, “Phil, why did Jesus have to DIE? That seems awfully extreme.” His reply still impacts my life 33 years later. He said, “Lew… without the shedding of blood, God does not forgive sins. In the Old Testament days, it was the blood of a lamb which TEMPORARILY took away a person’s sins. Jesus, who is the perfect spotless Lamb of God, had to shed his blood to permanently take away our sins. So He died on that cross so that we might live… forgiven.”

By putting our faith and trust in the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ— God’s Son— and believing that he died for OUR sins on that bloody cross… our sins are forgiven by God and we can have confidence that when our body dies, our soul will live forever in the presence of the One who loved us so much that He was willing to die a horrible death. Because we are sinners, WE are the one who deserve to die! But God said/says: “I love YOU so much that I gave my Son to die in your place… that if you will believe in Jesus, you will never die. In fact, you will live forever in heaven with us.” (My paraphrase of that famous verse that you see at all the sporting events: John 3:16.)

Now, THAT’S GOOD news and that’s what makes this day GOOD Friday!!!

“Scripting” Your Offense

Posted by admin March - 23 - 2016 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I’m going to basically repeat what I just wrote on the Message Board at bucksweep.com. The topic is “Scripting” your first 10-20 plays.

One of the most respected college Wing T coaches in the country explained in detail on that same Message Board how his staff put together their script. Great coach; great concept. However, this is another of those cases where my experience taught me that “what works at the college level doesn’t necessarily work at the high school level. (Another example is zone blocking techniques for high school Offensive Linemen. If you have 5 guys up front who can bench press the moon and all squat (parallel!!!) 500 pounds and can move their feet like Michael Jackson… then by all means build your offense around the zone. THAT just doesn’t happen too often in high school though!!)

In my mind, “scripting” limits you in terms of what you can/will run the first 3-4 series you have the ball. To script based on your scouting report means that your opponent HAS TO run what you’ve been preparing for. What if they don’t?? For Wing T coaches, this is more likely to happen than you want to believe! We nearly lost a big “rival” game 10-11 years ago because we “expected” our rival to run the 4-4 defense we’d seen in 3 game films. When our buck sweep play got dropped for a loss the first 3 times we ran it, I was flabbergasted! I mean… we’d prepared to run our Bread ‘n Butter play numerous times against them. (Kinda like “scripting!”) However, I got our TE over on the bench and asked him what was going on and he replied, “Coach, I’m going up to that LB just like we practiced all week!” This is when that Ah Ha Moment hit. You see, those guys came out in a 5-2 defense (not the 4-4 we’d expected— and thus, practiced against all week!) and our TE “forgot” that his rule on buck sweep is “Gap” and “Down” before he goes to the LB. That DT aligned on our OT was unblocked and looking like Warren Sapp… making plays in the backfield every time!!! We corrected this “lapse of memory” with our TE and we didn’t have a problem anymore during that game.

What I learned was: Prepare for EVERYTHING! You never know in high school football when a coach will decide on Sunday to make a total change and throw you a curve on Friday!

If we would’ve “scripted” our offense, we’d have remained in BIG trouble in our state championship game this past fall. Our opponent was undefeated and only giving up 8 points a game… well-coached team full of good athletes! Our Game Plan (not “script”) was to attack them to our TE flank then come back with our patented Counter Criss Cross play to the SE side. NOTHING was working the first 2-3 series. We were 3 and out; 3 and out! I noticed something later in the 1st quarter (by luck more than anything!) that Fullback Trap to the SE side (which is NOT a play we’d run more than twice in our first 11 games!) popped for a big gain. I asked our Center if their NT was slanting. *Let me preface by saying that this outstanding defense had dominated people all year with a 3-5 Stack with lots of blitzing. The defense that we spent MOST of the week on! I say “most” because we always rehearse against “crazy” fronts during the week too! My Center’s answer shocked me. He said, “Coach, I don’t have anybody ON me!” Huh? I discovered that they were overshifting their front 3 TO our TE/Wing side… which left a huge gap over our Split-side OG! We ran fullback trap (to the SE side) 7-8 times for about 100 yards and a TD that night!) Having a Script would’ve meant “sticking to the script” and probably remaining “bogged down” for the whole first half. We probed the middle with our Wedge play too and it broke for 45 yards and a TD too! We’d thought that their NT was too big for our Center to handle; thus, our plan was to attack off tackle and outside. Once their overshifted that big guy, our Center had a clear shot at back-blocking him; pulled the OG and away we went.

What I’m saying is 2 fold: 1- expect/prepare every week for an even AND an odd front defense during practice. Always review your blocking rules against both fronts. 2- Have a game PLAN but.. I don’t recommend “scripting” in high school. It’s just too limiting as far as your play calling. I DO recommend having a “Ready List” and a “BIG 5.” If you’d like to see a copy of a Ready List, just contact me. I’d be glad to send one to you.

Set An Example

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

Two events have happened recently which reminded me why I remain optimistic about our country and its future.
First.. I was invited to speak to the Youth Group at a local church last week. It was made up of kids mostly from lower income neighborhoods. They were polite, attentive and seemed eager to hear what I had to share with them. I talked about a passage from the New Testament where young people are told “not to let anyone look down on you because you are young. But, set an example for everyone to see.” I was encouraged… because I felt as I finished speaking that those young people were “up for” accepting the challenge— in their church, in their school, in their home and in their neighborhood. A very gratifying night!

Second… I spent about 4 hours yesterday with the new head coach who’s replacing me at the school at which I just retired. He’s young (28 or so) and it’s his first head coaching experience. Yet as he shared his ideas about his offense, defense, etc. AND his coaching philosophy and how he’ll organize things… I came away thinking: “Our football program is in gooooooooood hands!” This young man knows football. More importantly, he knows how to treat people and is clear about HOW he wants things done. Here was the second time in a week that I was inspired by what I saw (and heard!) a young person share with me.

That Bible passage that I mentioned goes on to say, “Be diligent in these matters (how you present yourself to others… particularly people who are older than you)… so that everyone may see your progress.” Be DILIGENT! As Prime Minister Churhill challenged the citizens of Great Britain during WW II: “Never give up!!! and… never give in!” We’re going to face obstacles. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not always going to take the “high road” and present ourselves in the best light. BUT… the first thing you do is ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG! (Sometimes the two strongest words you can share with someone is: “I’m sorry.”) and then you refocus your efforts to be an example for others. Let eveRyone SEE YOUR PROGRESS. Never give up and never give in!!!

Helping and Getting Help

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

I am excited for “my” school that I just retired from. They hired a new HC last week and they got a “good one!” He’s a “football junkie” like me and we are already talkin’ ball. I have volunteered my help (behind the scenes— not on the field–I’m done with that!) and told him I’d be interested in being his “Offensive Quality Control Specialist”— whatever the heck that means! (I saw it on a couple of college staff’s websites! It sounds pretty cool.) Anyway…

It got me thinking about THIS time of year and what you need to doing as far as R & D. I mentioned that on the bucksweep.com Message Board and a coach wrote back asking what “R&D” means. For businesses, it’s Research and Development. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you’ve got to be doing your “homework” during the off season.

For some of you that will mean a total revamping of your system. If things haven’t been going well on the field or in the locker/weight/coaches room, it may mean choosing to go in a different direction. But, first you have to identify the problem. For others, as my dad used to say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! It’s always good to evaluate and see what the “state of your program” is. But, don’t get sucked into that lie that you’ve got to be changing with the times!

I did that one year with our Delaware Wing T offense. We’d been averaging 350 yards and around 35 points a game for 4-5 years…. and 8-9 wins! I sat in on a clinic presentation where the coach “sold” me on how I needed to make the Jet Sweep (instead of the Buck Sweep) the foundation of our offense. Needless to say, it was a disaster. Without boring you with the details, I realized that next winter/spring that the MAIN reason our productivity dropped off so significantly was because I didn’t know how to attack defenses with Jet like I did with Buck. In other words, my play-calling stunk! I messed with a good thing and got burned.

Soooooooo… take your staff and attend the “big time” clinics and… go to the presentations! It drives me crazy to be walking through the lobby of one of these big hotels and there are coaches just sitting around. When I am asked to speak at a clinic, I ask to speak on Saturday morning! Yes, the crowds are smaller first thing Saturday morning (I wonder why??!!!!) but… the coaches who attend my presentation are there because they came to learn.

I want to encourage you, though, to set up a coaching “visit” with another staff or coach who will spend time alone with you covering the things you need covered. Offer to pay the guy or buy lunch but spend a day “digging into” his program or scheme. You’ll come away with a LOT of useful information.

DON’T BE THE “STRONG, SILENT TYPE!”

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

In my youth (and I’m in my mid 60’s now!), the westerns ruled both tv and movies. Guys like John Wayne and Gary Cooper… James Arness and Clint Walker were our boyhood idols. They epitomized the stereotype of the “strong, silent” leading man. Unfortunately, this carries over too often in the home… especially of coaches. I’m quoting a portion of a daily devotion from Bob Gass ministries. It goes like this:

“In their book, The Language of Love, authors Gary Smalley and John Trent tell of a woman who was feeling frustrated because her husband would come home from work each night and not talk to her. Finally, she told him a story about a man who went to breakfast with some friends. He ate a big meal, then gathered up the crumbs, and put them in a bag. Later that day he went to lunch with some business associates and ate another big meal. Again, he put a few crumbs in the bag. When he came home that night, he handed his wife the bag of leftovers. Then the woman told her husband, ‘That’s what you are doing to me. All day the children and I want to talk with you when you get home. But you don’t share yourself with us. After being gone all day, you hand us a doggie bag and turn on the television set.'”

Does this strike a cord with YOU?? As husbands, it’s our responsibility to make some time for our wives to share their day with us and… just listen! If you’re the “strong, silent type” this is even harder. You’re going to have to work on opening up with your wife. Help clean up from dinner and TALK to/with your wife. Give the kids a bath and TALK to/with them. Tuck your kids into bed and read them a Bible story (and pray with them!) before they go to sleep. Sit on the sofa and talk with your wife after the kids are in bed. There are things (work-related) that you probably have to complete at night but… make sure you have your priorities in the right place. Family always comes before work.

It’s like I heard recently… there aren’t too many guys who admit on their death beds that… “I wish I’d spent more time at the office!” Think about it. And, don’t just think about it— DO something about it!

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