Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

We lost a great coach

Posted by admin November - 13 - 2012 - Tuesday

I attended the funeral of a great coach this morning. His name was “Billy” O’Brien. He was my high school coach. I knew when I played for him back in the 60’s (Yes…. we wore face masks!!!) that he was making an impact in my life. I respected him and watched how he operated. I knew even back then that I wanted to coach one day. Coach O’Brien was a great role model. It didn’t hurt that in 2 1/2 seasons of Varsity ball that I played for him that I did not play in a losing game! I was promoted to the Varsity half way through my Soph. year. We went 5-0-1. Then my Junior year we were 9-0-1 and my senior year was a perfect 10-0 season! What a boost to my self image to be one of the “stars” on a great football team! It’s what any self-conscious 17 year old teenage boy needed.

It wasn’t until I became a head coach myself almost 20 years later that I truly realized what an impact Coach O’Brien’s philosophy and style of coaching had on me. I found myself doing a lot of the same things— the same way that he did them. They became the hallmarks of success for my coaching career. Those timeless “little things” that help you be successful and stay successful for a long time.

Some of these things you already know. The rest you can find in my book if you’d like to buy a copy. (Check the home page of this website.) But the main thing that I learned from Coach O’Brien was: be prepared! He and his staff were meticulous in their preparation. I now spend hours scouting our opponents and planning our practices so we are focusing on the things that are going to help us be successful on Friday night.

The second thing I learned was to be flexible but also be persistent. We ran the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Sweep my senior year for him. It was one of only 4 running plays that we had. In 1966, we were throwing the ball about 25-30 times a game! That was unheard of back in the mid 60’s. He was simply way ahead of his time. How did this happen? It was because Coach O’Brien was a “student of the game.” He studied it. He broke it down. He understood it better than most every coach we competed against. He fit his system to his players. For example, we had a lot of tough, country boys on our team. Most of them played defense. He knew the importance of “getting after it” on D.

Finally, I learned from him that you can correct a player if you want him to get better but… you better find something to praise him about before he leaves for home that evening. He made you want to play for him. Not because he was easy or made it fun. You knew that he knew what he was doing and he was going to make sure that he showed you how to maximize your talent. There was a mutual respect thing going on that made you want to please him just like you want to please your Dad.

His style has led my teams to a lot of wins. On the week-end that he died, our team won it’s state semi-final game and this week-end we play for the Virginia Independent School Div. II state championship! What a fitting tribute to my coaching mentor to win this game for him. “Thanks Coach O’Brien”— for all you did for me. As the 2nd verse of the team fight song that our players chant says: “Mama, Mama can’t you see. What Coach O’Brien has done for me. Put a football in my hand. Turned a boy into a man!” THAT says it all!

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