Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“Sustainability” in Your Program

Posted by admin February - 13 - 2018 - Tuesday

I’ve been invited to speak to a group of business leaders this week. The topic the CEO wants me to speak on is “sustainability of success.” He’s a huge football fan and was a strong supporter of our program while I was the head coach of our local high school. With his invitation, he asked that I discuss with his leadership team about “HOW to sustain success over a long period of time.”

He stated that it fascinated him that our team was able to post winning/championship-level records year after year. “Some schools can do it for a couple of years and then they fade away again. Coach J, you did it for 15 straight years! That’s phenomenal! What was your secret? That’s what I’d like you to share with my leaders.” OK. Those of you reading this will now get a preview of what I’m going to share. Here goes:

When Vince Lombardi first took over the Green Bay Packers in the early 60’s it was his first head coaching job. He was confident that he could turn them into instant winners. After one season of futility (I’m not sure that they even had a winning record!), he met with the team on the first day of practice for their second season and began his talk this way: Lombardi held up a ball in front of the assembled team and emphatically stated, “Men, this is a football!!!!”

What he was implying was that the Packers had to “get back to the fundamentals” if they ever wanted to compete for championships. That thought never left my mind the entire time I was a head coach. You may know that Lombardi and the Packers’ offense was famous for their Green Bay Sweep. Lombardi once spoke at a coaches clinic where he spent 8 hours just talking about that one play! His point? You’ve got to get good at 1 thing… and then, stay good at that one thing.

What is the ONE THING that your company (football team) is known for? Be sure to periodically go back and be sure that you are focusing on that fundamental. So the first key to sustaining success is the saying: “Be sure to remember that… The MAIN THING is to keep the MAIN THING, the main thing!!!”

So, the first leg on the “Stool of Sustained Success” is: FUNDAMENTALS

We struggled the first 4-5 years that I was the HC at our local high school. The program had not had a winning record in 7 or 8 years… so I was dealing with trying to change the culture. One major revelation that the Lord brought to my attention after a 4th year of frustration was: I was too nice!

In trying to incorporate an atmosphere of Christ’s love (I was a young Christian at that point… having only been walking with the Lord for a few years), I was failing to establish any discipline in our program. As I said, I was too nice. I found Scripture where it talks about the importance of discipline. It was essential that I create higher expectations of our players and coaches. I developed a Player Policy Sheet and laid out expectations for our coaching staff. I explained that I have high expectations for myself… it is important that I hold the players and coaches to that same high standard.

The second leg of the “Stool of Sustained Success” is: DISCIPLINE

I learned over the years that in order to grow, you have to (occasionally) change. In fact, that’s one of the core values of the church that my wife and I attend! But, if you try something new and it doesn’t work, you can’t be embarrassed to admit you were wrong and go back to “Plan A.” I did that twice during my career. Two times that I tried to change our Wing T offense proved to be a study in futility. I admitted that I was wrong and we went back to the basics. *There’s that fundamental thing again!” It’s important to stay focused and constantly be evaluating yourself, your staff, your players and your program in general. If you see something wrong, it’s your job to fix it— even if that means making a tough decision! The hardest thing I had to do as a head coach was to fire an assistant. It didn’t happen often (only 3-4 times in 32 years) cuz I took a lot of time in “vetting” coaches before I hired them.

Finally, I learned that “preparation comes before performance.” I don’t remember where I read it but the following statement has stuck with me throughout my career. It’s called “The 5 P’s of Success.” It says: “PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
Hard work is important; but, smart work is even more important. Smart work includes preparing your team to deal with any situation or circumstance that might come up during a season. It’s how I came to realize that “little things” can make a BIG difference. That is the mark of a well-coached team. We don’t make mistakes that “shoot ourselves in the foot.” The first coach I worked for was famous for saying “What you emphasize, you achieve!” Emphasize “little things.” I love eating at Chick Fil A. Have you ever noticed that when you thank one of their workers, their response is always, “My pleasure.” I like that! It’s just a little thing but it sets the CFA “culture” apart (and above) other fast food chains.

The third and final leg of the “Stool of Sustained Success” is: PROPER PREPARATION

I’ll close with this. A building/team/organization is only as strong as its foundation. Lay a strong foundation and you can build on it with confidence that the structure will stand— even if weight comes to bear on it. The foundation of our program was: UNITY PRIDE TOTAL EFFORT
We built everything we did on those traits. They served us well. After those first 5 years of creating a new (winning) culture, our regular-season record was 133- 27. An 83% winning percentage. We accomplished that because we had a strong foundation; we stuck to the fundamentals and we prepared properly. All of this was wrapped around an environment of discipline. It kept us unified… even through the tough times! It will work for you too.

One Response to ““Sustainability” in Your Program”

  1. Tracy Jackson says:

    Coach,
    I wanted to express how much I respect and value your insights to this pursuit of ours. Even at age 60 and 28 yrs as a head coach I am inspired by the reminders of what is really important. Thank you.

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