Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Play-calling

Posted by admin August - 2 - 2016 - Tuesday

I’ve always enjoyed reading. When I was young, I loved the Hardy Boys Mysteries and biographies of famous men. As an adult, I find great wisdom and practical advice in the Bible. A good mystery is always entertaining too! It always amazes me the little “nuggets” you can pick up when you read. I was reading a novel recently about World War II when the lead character, an American soldier embroiled in the Battle of the Bulge, commented about how the German Panzer (tank) commanders were using Stonewall Jackson’s strategy against the Americans! I checked out the quote the author attributed to Gen. Jackson… and it was confirmed. Here it is:
“Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy whenever possible.”

I made the connection to play-calling in a football game and how important it is, whether on Offense or Defense, to use this philosophy to put your opponent in a bad way!!! What was Jackson saying that a Coordinator/play-called can use? “Do the UN-expected!” You want to keep your opponent out of sorts as much as possible. It’s, for instance, why I like the Delaware Wing T offense so much as the ultimate high school offensive attack. By its very nature, the Wing T with its shifts, motions, unbalanced formations, misdirection plays and deception is a perfect example of Gen. Jackson’s tactical plan. I can’t tell you how many times over a 28 year coaching career of running the Delaware Wing T that I had opposing coaches exclaim, “We HATE to defend that stinkin’ Wing T offense you run!” Your ability to seemingly “pull a play out of your hat” and have it be successful drives opposing coaches crazy! Little do they know the planning and strategy that went into having that “right play” ready at the opportune time. IF… you have Stonewall’s quote in the forefront of your mind, you’ll pull off those surprises against your opponent!

This “mystify, mislead and surprise” strategy can be exhibited very simply by saying… for an offensive play-caller: “You call a pass play when the defense expects a run! and… you call a run play when they’re expecting a pass!”

Let me assure you that this is not an attempt to encourage you to be reckless in your play-calling. Being tagged as a “river boat gambler” or a “pirate” (like some famous players and coaches!) is NOT what I’m suggesting. I’m simply pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with crossing up your opponent once in a while to keep him off balance. I have a long-time coaching friend who has always said (and done!), “We get 3rd and long— 12 yards or more— we’re going to run fullback trap! And we’re going to get the first down!” Unexpected? Yes! Reckless? Not at all! It simply is calling a play that the defense does not think would be called in that situation.

Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson is recognized as one of the greatest commanders in the history of warfare. His tactics and strategies are world-famous. One of the strategies he employed which “mystified” the Union generals during the American Civil War was how quickly he could move his army. “Tempo” has become one of the “hot things” that offenses have incorporated. I’ve discussed this topic in the past on this blog so I won’t go into detail now. I WILL say that not huddling or running a Sugar huddle a la Auburn and Gus Malzahn can be that surprise element that keeps a drive alive or gives you a “cheap” score.

One of the coaches I gained a lot from was Bobby Bowden when he was so successful at Florida State. He always had a trickeration play in his game plan and wanted to call his “trick” before his opponent called theirs! I adopted this strategy a few years back and it produced some very positive results— in games AND on the practice field! We would introduce the “Trick of the Week” on Monday. It was always met with great enthusiasm by the players. They were excited to see what Coach J. had “cooked up” for us that week!!! Anything that raises the “fun quotient” in practice means that that practice is more spirited and focused. Whenever we practiced our “trick” the players worked extra hard to perfect their assignment. By Friday night we were ready to spring it on our opponent. There were games where I ended up not even calling it. If that was the case, we just saved it for the next week. This was the situation in our state championship game last fall. In the state semi’s we got off to a quick lead and did not need to call our “trick of the week.” So, going into the finals we had 2 tricks ready! My attitude going into that championship game (since I was retiring regardless of the outcome) was “Let it ALL hang out! Don’t leave anything uncalled on the play sheet. We were going out in a blaze of glory!”

With 2 “tricks” on my Ready List, I decided midway through the 2nd quarter to spring the first one. Our qb hit our “stacked” flanker with a screen pass. He got one block from the SE and went the distance… 40 yards and TD! We got the ball back quickly and from almost the exact same spot on the field, we called our second “trick” (a Double Pass with motion) and… yep! It hit for a 35 yard TD! We got both 2 point conversions and in a matter of 4 minutes, we broke the game wiiiiiiide open! Why? Cuz I incorporated General Jackson’s strategy: “Mystify, mislead and surprise your opponent!”

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