Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“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!

Wall “Flowers!”

Posted by admin December - 29 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I hope everyone had a great Christmas holiday. We did!

A coaching friend posted something on Facebook the other day that realllllllllly struck me! I’ve always been a fan of axioms and slogans. When I find a good one, I make a poster and stick it on the wall. I used to do this a lot in our locker room when I was the HC. Somebody told me that, “Coach J… those posters are kinda like Wall Flowers. They brighten up my day!” Smart kid.

The slogan that this coaching friend posted was unique and creative. Plus, I’d never seen it before. If you are an advocate of promoting positive thinking…. which produces positive attitudes, then you are going to enjoy this one. If you are not a fan, then I want to strongly encourage you to think about becoming one. People ask me all the time: “How did you turn around your program, Coach?” My response? “It started (and ends) with the mind set of the people in our program.” Positive thinking produces positive results. It’s why I like this slogan so much. Check it out:

“If you FAIL, never give up! Why? Because “fail” stands for: “FIRST ATTEMPT AT LEARNING!!!”

The “end” is not the END. It means: “EFFORT NEVER DIES!!!

If you get “no” as an answer, remember that “NO” means: “NEXT OPPORTUNITY”…. to succeed!

Good stuff, huh???!!!

Happpppppppppy New Year!!!

My New Book!

Posted by admin December - 21 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I am very excited to announce that my new book is now available through Kindle eBooks. If you prefer a paperback, Amazon will be releasing it in paperback form in a few days. Here is the link to Kindle: http://coachlewj.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/The-Best-Is-Still-Yet-To-Come-eBook-small.jpg

The title of the book is The Best Is (STILL) Yet To Come. In it you will meet the players, coaches and support staff who helped me achieve such great success during my 22-year head coaching coach at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. It is full of stories that take you “behind the scenes” to learn what went into producing such an outstanding record. From the struggles that I experienced early in my career to the ride through a 32-straight regular season winning streak later in my career, I guide you through the highs and the lows. Most importantly, I share how perseverance propelled us to unprecedented heights of success. Heart-breaking and heart-warming in it scope, The Best Is (YET) To Come will leave you with an understanding of how God opens doors if you continue to trust in Him.

I hope you will consider purchasing a copy. The profits will go toward setting up a scholarship for a deserving Western Branch football player who wants to play college ball but his college does not offer any money.

Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas!!!

No “Pay”… No Play!

Posted by admin December - 17 - 2020 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

I really can’t believe that I am writing about this subject today. However, if you are looking for answers as to how to “turn around” your program or… “get it over the hump” then this is something you need to look at. It will fall under the umbrella of DISCIPLINE. More specifically, who gets to play on Friday night?! This all came about because of a discussion I had recently with a guy close to a struggling football program who told me that the HC lets guys skip practice for various (“good”) reasons during the week but still let’s them play on game night! My reaction? “Whaaaaaaaat? Really??!!! You’ve got to be kidding??!!!”

Unfortunately, kids (people in general) will try to get away with as much as you let them— particularly adolescents. It’s why it’s said that “teenagers are always pushing the boundary limits.” Most people are not self-motivated. In fact, most people are LAZY!!! It’s why we have coaches and personal trainers! I bet you can count on one hand the players whom you have coached who did not need to be pushed. Those are special kids indeed! I also bet that they are extremely successful now that they are adults, too. My point being: if you let kids “skip” practice and still let them play/start on Friday night, you are doing that player a disservice and you are setting yourself up for a lot of problems in your program.

Team guidelines must be in place to deal with a subject such as this. Players, parents, (assistant) coaches, trainers and administrators need to be clear on what your policy is as far as missing practice and still being allowed to play. Once you establish your guideline, you need to publicize it so there are no questions. Finally (and here is where the rubber meets the road)… you must be committed to following through on that policy! Even if it’s your starting QB! If not, you are wasting your time.

Here was the policy that I used for 25 years and it worked out well. First off, we had a clear-cut understanding of what an excused vs. an UN-excused absence from practice “looked” like. If a starter had an unexcused absence, he did not start. In fact, he missed the entire first half. Then, if the backup was doing fine, the starter might not play in the 2nd half either! If a player had 2 unexcused absences, he was benched. In both instances, he would have to win his starting position back… along with some extra conditioning for what he missed during practice.

An excused absence came with a doctor’s note. Missing practice simply because he didn’t “feel well” was not excused. If the Trainer deemed a player was not eligible for practice, that injured player still dressed out (THAT is important!) and was at practice the entire time. If the Trainer gave him exercises to do, those had to be accomplished also. If a player could not practice (at least) by Thursday— one day of “active” practice after attending ALL practices— then he did not play on Friday. Again, all of this was subject to the Trainer and/or Team Doctor’s orders. It amazed me how many “miraculous Thursday healings!” we had over the years!!! But, I always told our Team Doctor that he made the medical-related decisions… not me!

Every Head Coach should have a “Player Policy Sheet” or Guidelines of some sort that are written out, distributed to players and parents… reviewed with those groups; signed, returned to the HC and kept in a safe place during the season. Due process is a big deal in this day and time. You need to be able to “CYA” if and when the time comes. Having clear-cut policies in place helps you avoid unpleasant discussions/confrontations that might come up.

Finally… a word of caution: BE CONSISTENT! If you’re going to make a “rule” or formulate a policy, you better be ready to back it up! Overlook an infraction just one time— particularly if it involves a starter or your “star” player— and it will come back to bite you in the butt! Be consistent! Stick to your guns! Create discipline by expecting players and coaches to adhere to your policies. It’s a KEY to success in any organization!

Memories??!!!

Posted by admin December - 11 - 2020 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

My book is with my publisher/editor now and I’m awaiting final clearance to be able to start marketing it. I hope it’s before Christmas!

As I composed my memoirs, two things kinda jumped out at me: 1- how good MY memory is and 2- how BAD most other peoples’ memory is! I talked with dozens of former players over the months I was compiling information and it became quite clear to me that most of them had NO idea what I was talking about when I brought up a game or an incident they were involved in during their high school career. For me…. these things were etched in my mind. It made me start to wonder. I think I have an answer.

My generation growing up… our parents took lots of photos AND they made photo albums to store those memories in. I looked back at them quite often. My parents would sit down with me and we would talk about those things that we did and places we went. I won’t say that I have a “photographic memory” but I do have very clear images of past experiences in my head.

The other thing that helped me recall stories I wanted to tell was that I kept a Journal— still do today! I recorded things that, at the moment, I felt were important. I was able to go back through those journals when I needed to clear up a detail about a game. Writing it down is a big aid to remembering things!

So, for you coaches out there. What am I saying? Take notes. Keep a journal. Write stuff down. A summary of the season, now that it’s over, is a great way to record your thoughts and feelings about what happened during the season. You never know when you might decide one day to write your memoirs! At any rate, being able to look back with clarity is important. Knowing where you came from will help propel you on to greater heights in the future.

What Now?

Posted by admin December - 2 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Those of you who were able to play football this fall are more than likely done with your season. If you are still playing, then it means that you are in the playoffs. If so, good luck! I want to talk to those whose season has ended. Even more specifically, to those whose season did not go as well as you’d hoped it would. The question is: what do you do now? My answer? You get feedback! And you get it from a number of sources.

I was reading an article about my Virginia Tech Hokies’ defense this morning. They have the unpleasant task of taking on Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers’ offense this weekend. What I found interesting were the quotes from the Clemson Offensive Coordinator. They were not your typical coach speak— lauding the Hokies on how great they’ve been playing; what an outstanding job their new DC has been doing. Nope! He was honest and, wellllllllllll…. blunt! In a nutshell, he said that Tech’s defense has been “all over the place. That they still haven’t found their identity.” In my mind, that’s the kind of feedback that Coach Fuente and his staff needs… IF they are going to improve! Self-evaluation is fine. Unfortunately, self-evaluation often doesn’t give you an objective picture of how you’ve been doing. That has to come from someone else! Who? Anyone who has seen you play and has a level of expertise in knowing something about how football teams are supposed to perform.

One of the key groups that I sought feedback from at the end of each season was my graduating seniors. They had nothing to lose. Their career was over and they didn’t have to worry about any fallout if they spoke their minds about the program they’d just participated in for the last 2-3 years. Getting them to “open up” was the hard part. I always led with this question: What can I do as the Head Coach of this football program to be a better leader? In this way, you are asking for feedback but you’re asking your (former) players to help you… help you to improve. Take notes and don’t stop to defend yourself. Listen! Get clarification if you need it but let them talk.

Another group would be opposing coaches. Someone whom you respect and maybe won’t play again next year. Question him about what he saw in general. Then ask for specifics: how hard was it to prepare for us? What gave you concerns? Was there something you saw that was a weakness on our part? You want the good, the bad and… yes, even the ugly!

Media people. Or, recruiting service guru’s. They come to your games. They see you play. Question them about what they saw. Let them know that you want them to be forthright with you. You can’t improve if you don’t know what your weaknesses are.

There were former coaches who followed our teams when I coached. I liked to “pick their brain.” It might even be worth asking one of them if they would be a scout for you next year. Ask them to watch your team and get a report from the retired coach on what he’s been observing.

The important part is now the hardest part. I’m not saying that it’s going to necessarily be pleasant to have someone criticize things you’ve been doing. But, the listening is only the starting point. My challenge to you is: are you willing to make the changes that people have shared to improve your team’s performance? I have been in this role as a “scout” for a couple of coaches since I retired. They were all willing to listen. Very few of them had the fortitude to attack the weaknesses I observed and make things better. Several of them are not head coaches anymore.

Growing Means Changing. That’s one of my church’s Core Values. It’s true. If you want things to get better, you must be willing to change. Cuz what you’re doing now doesn’t seem to be working! I hope that things get better for you… I really do!!!

Coaching? OR… Winning?

Posted by admin November - 18 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I feel the need to address a subject that seems to always come up at this time of the year. For those of you who got to actually play this fall, I hope your season was “successful.” I put that in quotes because it is important that you know in your heart what your definition of “successful” really is.

The subject that I alluded to in my first sentence is the issue of a bunch of coaches (prematurely) “retiring” at this time of year… invariably to “spend more time with my family.” At least, that is the reason I read most often when coaches who haven’t seen much success in the win column step down from their head coaching position. They lost a lot of games and so they “retire.” They walk away rather than persevere. Thus, my title: why are you in coaching? What is your purpose? Are you in this profession because you love to COACH? Or, are you in it just because you like to win? It’s a matter of what you value and what your priorities are.

Let’s look at a definition of success that I’ve always adhered to. It says that “success is peace of mind…. in the knowledge that you DID your best, to BECOME the best you are capable of being.” I took that from legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. Most of you probably remember Coach Wooden as leading UCLA to 10 national championships in 12 years, including a record 7 in a row! Though UCLA was successful under Wooden from his first year at the helm, they did not win their first national championship until Wooden’s 14th season! WOW! I wonder how many coaches would have “retired to spend more time with their family” if they had to wait 14 years to grab the brass ring?!!!

On a personal note, it took 12 years before one of the teams that I was the head coach of won a District championship. Heck… our record for my first 5 years was barely above .500. But we persevered. I made sure that I set aside time for my family throughout my career. I didn’t magically have to give up coaching to “spend time” with them. Our son, from an early age, went with me when I scouted. Our daughter was a star Field Hockey player. I rarely missed a game. She was on the Homecoming Court at our school both her Junior and Senior years. I went and sat with my wife during halftime for the presentation of the Court. My assistants could handle the halftime activities for one night. Sooooooo.. “come on man!” You make time for the things (and people) that are important.

You are a role model for your players— whether you like it or not! The values that you establish in your program will be the things that are “caught” not “taught.” Who you are when nobody is looking represents who you really are. Sure it’s frustrating to lose. But as Winston Churchill said during England’s darkest hour during World War II, “Never, never, never give up…. and never give in!”

Scouting with Hudl

Posted by admin November - 3 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I have good news for those of you out there who are Wing T coaches! I have been “advising” 2 coaches this fall in states where they’ve been allowed to play football— one in West Virginia and one in Indiana. One team is 8-1 and the other is 11-0!!! They are both running the “old fashioned” base (University of Delaware) version of the Wing T! The team in Indiana is crushing people. I asked their coach as we concluded our weekly meeting, “what are the naysaying chirping about now, Coach?!!” As happens when someone wants to install this great offense, he got a lot of blowback in the Spring when he announced that they were going to install the Delaware Wing T. He’s averaging 50 points a game in the playoffs. He told me that all he hears now (from the naysayers) is crickets! “They have had to eat their words, Lew.” Beautiful!

He did pass along a coaching tip that I want to share with you. I had not thought about this before— it’s a great idea! He was preparing for his next playoff opponent last week. We were talking on Saturday. I asked if he had received any Hudl video on his next opponent. His answer was “no.” But, his next statement was eye-opening. He said, “but I have already started scouting their star running back.” I asked, “how did you accomplish that?” “I looked at his Hudl highlight video,” he replied. “What???” “Yes,” he said. “I can view all of his big runs. That way, I know already what we need to stop when we play them next week.” Ingenious!!! I was reallllllllllly impressed.

Kids are “giving away” a means of scouting them by posting their best plays on their Hudl highlight video! An opposing coach can go online and break down all of his key plays. I suppose that I’m a little “behind the times” compared to some of you. If you’re already doing this… good for you! If this is something new and innovative, I’m not charging you a cent for this invaluable info!!! LOL!!! My goal is to help others be successful. I think that this is a great aid in preparing your defense for a great athlete. In this case, it was their Tailback. It can just as easily be the quarterback or even a receiver. Study the plays that he’s been most successful executing and build your defensive game plan to stop those plays!!! PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!

P.R.I.D.E.

Posted by admin October - 20 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Our new Head Coach is doing a great job of communicating to our players during these crazy times. Our city allows him to work out with the kids twice a week. No contact but they can do drills. A guy here in the area who owns a Training Center for high school athletes came up with a brilliant idea: He started a “league” in the area so the schools can at least play 7 on 7 each Friday. It is outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia High School League. Guys are getting a chance to compete in the “off” season.

Something that our HC passed along to the players a couple of weeks ago showed a lot of wisdom on his part. Not only is he a great X’s and O’s guy but he cares about building character in his players. Thus, when he presented his acronym for PRIDE, I was all over it! I have built my “Character Coach” talks around each of the words that each letter represents. Let me show you…

“P”= PERSEVERANCE. One of my favorite Bible verses is Phil. 3:14. It exhorts us to “press on… towards our goal.” By telling us to press on, God is saying that there is going to be press-ure! We must push through it. Remember the children’s book, The Little Engine That Could. That little engine persevered!

“R”= RESPECT. This is something that we all clamor for. We want respect! I shared the “Golden Rule” with the players. I saw a few eyebrows go up when I said, “if you want people to show you respect, then FIRST show it to them!” That got them thinking. I pointed out that the Golden Rule actually was something that Jesus stated in the Bible.

“I”= INTEGRITY. Oh how this character trait is missing in society today! At one time, to say “a man is only as good as his word” was a truism. Not so much anymore. Challenging young people to be honest and to exhibit honor is a bit of an anathema in our culture today. I still emphasized how much respect a person who shows integrity can earn.

“D”= DETERMINATION. I shared on here a while back about Stephan Curry’s story about The Stone Cutter. Check it out if you don’t know the tale. It is a prime example of what determination can get you. “Never, never, never give up and never give in!” Keep on Hammerin’!!!

“E”= EXCELLENCE. Let everything you do be done with excellence. Don’t settle for average. Strive to be the best you can be. I saw a young man at the fitness center this morning who had this printed on his t shirt: “Proud… but still working hard!” Sooooooo good! If we are striving for excellence, we don’t have time to get puffed up. We appreciate what we have accomplished because we know that we went about achieving our goal the right way. You should feel good about yourself and your accomplishment because you achieved it with hard work and integrity!

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