Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

A “Command” Performance

Posted by admin May - 9 - 2018 - Wednesday

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.

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