Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for May, 2018

“Square Peg In a Round Hole??!!!”

Posted by admin May - 22 - 2018 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I was having a discussion with a young assistant coach the other day. He was being a bit critical of the system that his head coach was installing on defense. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like that. I’m thinking, “I sure am glad that you weren’t on MY staff when I coached. We’d have to have an “attitude adjustment” session if you were going to stay on with me!”

This could easily be a post about the importance of loyalty… but I won’t go there today. It was his next statement that gave me pause and helped me come up with a new topic to discuss here. He continued, “When I’m a head coach, I’m going to match the system with the personnel I have.” This sounds like a good philosophy to have. I’ve heard it before over the years. But, now that I’m on the backside of my coaching career, I can afford to step back and analyze things from a different perspective. I would have to say that if his philosophy is your philosophy, it it a recipe for mediocrity for your program. Why?

When we had things rolling at my high school during my head coaching days, people saw us as a “monster” program. We beat many teams on “Monday!” What? Yep…. our opponent would walk in the locker room on Monday; look and see who they’re playing that week; see that it was us; and… groan… “Oh no! We can’t beat those guys?!” Mentally, they’d already lost the game — on Monday!!!! From things that we saw on game night, I think some coaches felt the same way. Let me explain:

We’d always scout our opponents in detail. I’d get as many game videos as I could. We’d work up a great scouting report and game plan based on what we’d seen. We were ready to go! Then the game would start and our opponent had completely changed (or tried to change) what they’d been doing previously. I knew right then that we had them! This is why the philosophy of “changing to fit our personnel” is so problematic.

What I believe every head coach needs is a system of offense and defense. It needs to provide some flexibility so that, if you have an outstanding passing QB coming up in your program, you can adjust to that player’s talents. But, to wholesale scrap your offense or defense is going to hurt in the long run.

Not only do you have to teach your players a new offense or defense but, more significantly, you have to teach your assistant coaches a brand new package. That’s fine if you have veteran coaches who’ve coached in different systems. But, that is rare. You have young coaches, more than likely, who are still learning. If you keep changing the system every season or two, those young coaches are going to be as confused as your players.

What I’m suggesting is to find an offense and defense that you and your staff can study and grow together over the years. For example, you may decide that the double slot/double SE package is what you like to attack defenses with. This can be a Flexbone offense (run the option!) or it can be a Run ‘n Shoot package or it can be a Spread Air Raid offense. The formation is the base; what you emphasize is your flexibility factor.

On defense, do you run an even or an odd front? I think you need to decide if you’re going to play defense one way or the other… or have a really good staff that can switch from odd to even and still teach it effectively. Are you going to be a 3 deep or a 4 deep secondary? Are your linemen going to be 1 gap players or 2? Again, you need a system and then you can adjust if you have a really talented player or two.

What this does is help you not to “drink the koolaid!” You say, “Everyone’s running the Spread so I guess we need to run the Spread!” Why? If you and your staff don’t know the Spread, look at the pro’s and con’s before you jump into it… or any new concept. It gets back to my philosophy of: Do a FEW things reallllllllllly well. Do you know that Vince Lombardi used to lecture on his Green Bay Sweep for 8 hours???!!! Do you know your “bread ‘n butter” play well enough to be able to talk on it for even 1 hour??!!! Be a “student of the game!”

Press On!

Posted by admin May - 16 - 2018 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Have you ever watched an Olympic swimmer? Stroke after powerful stroke propelling him through the water. He takes what’s in front of him and pushes it behind him. Each stroke moves him closer to his goal — touching that finish wall/line. That swimmer literally takes the obstacle (the water) that is keeping him from achieving his goal and actually uses it to get there.

You may be thinking: great point, Lew, but I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Getting to the finish line is the last thing I’m thinking about. Welllllllllll… if all you can do right now is keep your head above water, then just keep treading water! It’s times like these that I learned in my life that you really have to rely on God. Cuz… I was in no position to keep myself from sinking.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 3:14. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” The part of that verse that motivates me is where it says to “press on.” Press is short for “pressure.” That means that there is a force that is somehow blocking me from achieving my goal. Rather than giving up, I give in!!! I admit that I can’t do it on my own and submit to God and ask Him to help me to overcome this obstacle. He may not get me OUT of it (right away!–it’s called “God’s Timing!) but He will certainly get me THROUGH it.

When things get roughest, that’s when Jesus will carry you. IF… you let Him! My pride and stubbornness have too often gotten me where I am just “treading water” or I find myself backed into a corner with, seemingly, no way out. Maybe if I’d turned it over to God’s Holy Spirit earlier, I wouldn’t have found myself in the mess I was in! But… I’m learning. How about YOU??!!!

A “Command” Performance

Posted by admin May - 9 - 2018 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve stated numerous times over the years about the importance of being a “student of the game”… of football… for those of you who are coaches who read this. It holds true for anyone in a leadership role. We need to be life-long learners — continuing to accumulate knowledge so that we stay on the cutting edge of what’s going on in our particular field. That’s why I like to read. Because one of my areas of interest is leadership, I especially enjoy reading books by and/or about great leaders. I especially like to study military leaders. They have been trained in effective leadership skills. However, until they have to put that training into action, you don’t know if they really possess the character to “step up” under pressure and be a great leader. Wartime forces military commanders to “step up” or “step away!”

My current reading list includes a book about the Mexican-American War of 1848. It is amazing how many of the commanders (on both sides) of the American Civil War fought in the Mexican-American War. Names like Lee, Meade, Grant, Jackson, Beauregard, Longstreet and Pickett. All of these Civil War generals where lieutenants or captains in the Mexican-American War. These were all U.S. Military Academy graduates who were thrust into the foray of battle shortly after their commission. They “cut their teeth” on battle tactics and strategy and… how to LEAD during this war. It certainly trained them to be the formidable commanders that they became a decade later in the War Between the States!

One other commander (who would be considered the lead character in the book and the Mexican-American War) was the Commanding General of the U.S. Army in Mexico. That man was Winfield Scott. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and was one of the few full-time officers in the U.S. Army at that time. President Polk sent him to Mexico to defeat Santa Anna and secure the Southwest Territory.

Scott took a liking to a young lieutenant by the name of Robert E. Lee. It was this relationship that the book I’m reading Gone To Soldiers by Jeff Schaara focuses on. Lee becomes Scott’s “right hand man” and helps lead the Americans to victory. The interesting part for me was how much wisdom and experience Lee gained while sitting under Scott’s veteran leadership. I see so much of the commander that Lee became in the Civil War being forged in the Mexican-American War.

One dialogue between Scott and Lee really jumped out at me. Scott had just met with his general staff after a victory. He’d asked Lee to sit in on the meeting. It became a bit contentious because of all of the huge ego’s in the room! Scott dealt with his staff, dismissed them but asked Lee to stay back. Scott speaks to Lee about leadership and states, “My friends consider me an outstanding commander. Hell, so do I. My enemies, and there’s a few, they think I’ma foolish old peacock. Davy Twiggs (one of Scott’s generals) thinks I’m soft. Gideon Pillow (another general) thinks I’m dangerous. Worth (still a third division commander for Scott)… God knows what Worth thinks. I’m his personal tormentor. Point is, Mr. Lee, command is all about the minds of the people around you, understanding how they think, how they see you, and how they see themselves. Am I making sense, Mr. Lee?”

Wow! The last part of that statement about “command” is sooooooooo important as a leader! It means that you have to know your assistant coaches. You have to study them. You have to see things that are not necessarily apparent to the naked eye. In a way, you have to become an amateur psychologist so that you can command most effectively. Everyone has to be treated uniquely; yet, we have to, as head coaches, treat everyone the same. NO!!!

I know some of you think you have to treat all of your coaches (and players) the same… but that goes against General Scott’s tenet of commanding/leading others.

Something I learned as a head coach years ago was: “you earn the right to be listened to.” A coaching staff is not a democracy. An assistant coach had to show me that he was motivated and educated before he earned the right to move up the ladder of responsibility. We had a coach who related well to the players but was neither motivated to do the “little things” nor did he have a lot of football knowledge. What he did have was personal ambition. He bugged me for months to be made a Varsity assistant. I told him on several occasions that he was serving our staff and program the best as our JV coach. He finally got so frustrated with me that he quit. He didn’t deserve being elevated to a Varsity assistant’s position so I wouldn’t give him the status that he wanted. Sometimes as a head coach, you have to make the tough decisions.

General Scott’s words to Lieutenant Robert E. Lee really resonated in my mind. Taking them to heart will help you become a more effective leader.

“Don’t Drink the Koolaid!!!”

Posted by admin May - 2 - 2018 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Let me rattle off a few names for you. Let’s see if you know what they have in common. Some may not be as familiar to some of you cuz I’m probably a lot older than you and my interest in sports goes back further! Here goes:
Michael Jordan; LeBron James; Allen Iverson; Danny Ainge; Charlie Ward; David Justice; Russell Wilson; and Rajon Rondo.

What do you think? What do these athletes have in common? Yep… the obvious point is: they are all professional athletes (or were.) They are all top athletes in their sport. What else?!! You may not know it but… they all have another thing in common: they were all multi-sport stars in high school!!! Yep! LeBron was an all-state receiver in high school. I saw AI play in high school. He may have been the most “electric” HS football I’ve ever seen!

My point? These athletes’ careers were not “messed up” because they chose to play two or more sports in high school. David Justice of the NY Yankees starred in 3 sports!!! Why is it then that young athletes today are being “pushed” to concentrate on 1 sport?? It is an issue that continues to bug me. And I’m not even coaching anymore! I guess it’s because my heart has always been to do what’s best for the kids!

I’m pretty sure I know the reason why many coaches (football included!) are trying to “brainwash” their players into playing only their sport. It’s simply because too many coaches are more concerned about their ego; they are more concerned about their winning percentage. So they “sell” their players on the idea that “if you want a college scholarship, you need to play _____ (my sport!) year round! In fact, if you want to crack the starting lineup here in my program, you’d better plan on being with me year round!”

Step back and say that again to yourself out loud. Does that sound like a coach who’s more concerned about the welfare of his players or… does it sound like someone who’s trying to make sure that he succeeds?

So, what’s the solution? Until parents stand up and tell these Travel Team coaches and AAU coaches and these personal trainers that they want their child to enjoy sports… so let them play what they want to play— not much is going to change!

If you are a coach fighting this battle in your school, try “name-dropping” the stars I listed at the beginning of this article. Do a little “hallway recruiting.” Speak to those players who you’d like to try football to come out and lift some weights… or throw the ball around with our QB’s. Let them know you are interested in them. Call their parents and discuss what I’ve shared here. Get them involved.

If you are a coach who’s “hogging” all of the athletes in your school… shame on you! Some of the best football players I coached played other sports. As long as the coach of that other sport didn’t attempt to get our football player to “drink the koolaid” and not play football anymore!— I was willing to work with any coach. There just aren’t that many great athletes around that we can’t afford to share! Loyalty to the school has been overtaken by the desire to see “my” program succeed. “The heck with the others.” Baaaaaad attitude!

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