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Archive for January, 2021

Studies in Effective Leadership: U.S. Grant

Posted by admin January - 25 - 2021 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

Since I was a boy, I have loved reading biographies…. particularly of famous people. In my youth, it was guys like Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson. These days I am still reading about successful men— who have proven themselves to be outstanding leaders. This post will begin a series of blogs about some of those men, and women, who proved themselves to be effective leaders. Hopefully, it will cause you to evaluate your own leadership skill level and… to study in more detail what made these leaders so great!

Recently, I came across an article about U.S. Grant. It was a study in his leadership style during his military career. There is a tremendous correlation between a military leader and a football coach. What I will share with you has a direct effect on how you conduct your program. The question poses by the author was: “What made U.S. Grant such a great general?

If you don’t know much about American Civil War history, let me give you a quick synopsis. For the first 2 years of the war (1861-83), the South and its commanding general, Robert E. Lee, had run circles around any commanding general that President Lincoln threw up against the Confederate forces. Out-manned and out-witted, the Northern army appeared to be hopelessly overmatched in leadership and battle strategy by Lee and his staff of officers. Fortunately for the North, Lee took a calculated risk and then blundered in the Battle of Gettysburg and lost to Union General George Meade. Even then, with the Confederate army in full retreat, Meade refused to “finish the job” and let Lee and his army escape back into Virginia. Lincoln had had enough. Meade was the 6th commander that he had fired since the war started just two years earlier. Enter one Ulysses S. Grant onto the scene. Lincoln put Grant in charge of the Union army and told him to crush Lee. Over the next year and one half, that is exactly what Grant did. The leadership skills Grant exhibited saved the union. His ability to wage war put an end to the Southern effort to form their own nation. We have a lot to be thankful for. Let’s look at those characteristics which Grant exhibited:

1- Grant had tremendous knowledge of tactics, strategy, troops (personnel) and deployment of those troops. A coach must be a “Student of the Game” if he is to be successful. Just because he watches ESPN doesn’t give him the expertise he needs in developing strategy and tactics necessary to be a winning football team. Grant graduated from West Point. He was properly trained in war-fighting. More importantly, he applied that training on the battlefield. As a coach…. do you know how to attack defenses with the offense you run? Do you know which blitzes to use in different situations? Do you know which positions are most important and get your best athletes aligned there? Do you know which defensive alignment best suits your personnel? This is all extremely important for a Head Coach.

2- Grant was unflappable. He did not bend to public opinion. He did not let the mystique that Robert E. Lee had created intimidate him. During a battle, Grant remained aloof (not in a bad way— rather, he stayed unemotional so he could be clear-headed and make calculated moves) and focused. How do you react when things take a turn for the worse during a game? How do you react after a bad call by an official? How do you react when your team goes up by 3 touchdowns?!

3- Grant knew his prime objective. In war, it’s simply to defeat the enemy army. Grant took a “whatever it takes to win” attitude. He not only kept his prime objective in the front of his mind but he also knew HOW to achieve it. He knew how to utilize the resources he had available to overwhelm his opponent. Grant simply smashed the South’s ability to wage war. Do you know the best way to achieve success as a coach? What do you know about Psychology and Sociology? What do you know about Principles of Learning? What do you know about Principles of Motivation? What do you know about principles of organization? All of these are critical to a leader’s success.

4- Finally, Grant kept pressing. He was relentless. Grant took the battle to Lee’s army until he overwhelmed them. That was something that the 6 previous Commanders of the Army of the Potomac had failed to do. Grant took a “Never give up… never give in” attitude! Not every battle he fought against Lee was a resounding success. Grant lost a lot of men during his time as commanding general of the Union forces. But he would not let up. He pressed and he squeezed Lee’s army until he finally forced them to give up the fight. It was not easy. It took almost 2 years to complete the victory but Grant was unwavering in his commitment to his plan. You need to portray the same persistent attitude. In my case, it took 5 years to “turn around” the program I was leading. I would not give up. In the 6th year, we went 7-3 and THAT was the worst regular-season record we had over the next 15 years! As Philippians 3:14 says, “Press on…”

“Be Realllllllly Good at ‘Something!'”

Posted by admin January - 22 - 2021 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

As I was writing my memoirs for my latest book, The Best Is (STILL) Yet To Come, it became apparent to me that a lot of my coaching philosophy came from my high school coach when I played. He, and our assistant coaches, had a tremendous impact on me… personally and professionally. I was honored to have been invited to speak at our Head Coach’s retirement banquet. I closed with this: “My dad was a great man and I loved him a lot.” I then turned and faced my coaches. “But you guys were my heroes!”

One of the things that my high school coach imparted to me was my overall philosophy of Offense and Defense. Our high school Defensive Coordinator taught me that defense is primarily putting the 11 toughest guys on the field and then turning them loose! My teams were always very aggressive on defense. We were not a “bend but don’t break” defense. I wanted a DC who was aggressive and liked to attack offenses. In that sense, we wanted to put pressure on the opposing offense. Oftentimes this led to the opponent’s offense cracking under the pressure.

Offense, though, was where my heart and mind always focused. I enjoyed the game planning and play-calling on Friday night. With the Delaware Wing T offensive system, I felt like I was always one step ahead of the DC during a game. But…. I digress.

I have heard from 5 or 6 coaches in the last 2 weeks. They are all looking for some “answers” on how to develop an effective offensive attack. Too often I find that offensive-minded coaches see themselves as innovators and “creative geniuses.” “The more offense we have, the better!” is something I hear a lot. My counter is: there is NO correlation between how thick your playbook is and how successful your offense is!!! In fact, in my mind, it’s often exactly the opposite. “Be reallllllllllllly good at a few things!” ha always been my mantra.

This leads to a key point that my high school coach shared with me early in my career. He was also a mentor to me once I got a HC job. I remember him saying that “there are only 3 types of offenses: 1- Power Running Game; 2- Option Running Game or 3- Pass-oriented Game. Lew, you can only get good at 2 of them (due to the limited amount of time you have to work on things in high school) and you can only get realllllllllllly good at 1 thing. Choose carefully which one that is going to be. Because the majority of your practice time will have to be devoted to that 1 thing!” I applied that to our offense for years and we were successful on offense throughout my career!

Now…. that doesn’t mean that you don’t (or can’t) change your focus depending on your personnel. In fact, you need to tailor which of the 3 types of offenses you want to focus on based on your personnel. For example, there were only 2 seasons out of 30 that I was a HC that our focus was: Option Run Game. Our QB dictated that we focus on Option. It was never my favorite! For the other 28 seasons, 3 of them were “Pass 1st-Run 2nd!” Our run game was limited, yet effective, because we spent so much time perfecting our pass game. That leaves 25 years that we were “Power Run” oriented. However, as Coach Tubby Raymond says in his book on the Delaware Wing T, “the run game is dependent upon an effective play-action passing game.” We loved to throw the ball. More importantly, we loved to catch the ball! When we threw, there was a good chance that it was going to go for a big gain. Why? Because we threw (play-action) when people expected us to run! During those 25 years, we had 1000 yard passers in 15 of those seasons.

Choose wisely. Look at your personnel (obviously you start with your QB) and decide where you need to focus your energy and your time. Whichever of the 3 “types” of offensive attacks you choose to make your primary attack, don’t forget to spend time on the “other” one too.

Roll Tide!

Posted by admin January - 12 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I thought that Coach Saban’s emotion-filled remarks after the game last night were quite revealing. Yes, he has some verrrrrrrrrrry talented athletes! But, so did Ohio State. What got my attention was when Coach Saban stated that “these guys ‘bought in‘ to ALL of the principles that our program is built upon.” If you have not read about/studied Saban’s “Process“, you need to do so— soon!

I have a good friend who is a die-hard Bama fan. We talk a lot about the Tide when he calls. One thing that he pointed out, as did the announcers last night during the broadcast, is that Nagee Harris did not “jump ship” to go to the NFL at the end of a disappointing season last year. I believe that except for Tua, no underclassmen bolted. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) That, to me, speaks volumes about the culture that Coach Saban has created in Tuscaloosa. Those guys are 1) committed to success and… 2) committed to that Alabama program. How does that happen?

Obviously, winning solves a LOT of problems. But, there are other winning programs that have guys leave early for the NFL or exit through the Transfer Portal. Not so much for Bama. This culture is something to be studied. I think it shows that Saban builds from the inside>>>out. That means that when they recruit a high school player, they look at his character as much as they look at his athletic talent. You, as a high school coach, should consider doing the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for giving a young guy a second chance. Kids are going to mess up. There were very few times in my 30 years as a head coach that I “banned” a player from my program. If a player quit and then changed his mind, I made the initial decision as to whether we were going to even consider letting him back on the team. If he passed my initial examination, then he had to appear in front of the Team Leaders. He had to explain to them why he quit. They would then talk about it and take a (secret) vote on whether to allow him to return. If the captains/lieutenants hadn’t been selected yet, I put it to the whole team. The player had to apologize to his teammates and ask permission to be reinstated. Remember: I made the initial determination as to whether I wanted him to talk to his teammates. If I felt that his attitude was not contrite nor sincere… or simply, if I did not want a “bad apple” spoiling the whole bunch… he never got to go any further with his appeal. It was stated in the contract with the players that I had the right to dismiss anyone from the team at any time during the year if I felt that his behavior or attitude was detrimental to the team. Sometimes, guys, you’re better off without that superstar! Part of your job is winning your players’ respect. If you look the other way in a situation like this… where a starter or a star is caught breaking a team policy… your players will lose respect for you. Lose their respect, you lose their allegiance. Lose their allegiance, you lose their heart. They stop wanting to play for you. I’ve seen it happen. I know of what I speak!