Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Who Calls the Plays?

Posted by admin October - 29 - 2013 - Tuesday

I had a discussion with a young head coach the other day. He was talking about his Offensive Coordinator and some of the play calls he’d made recently. I asked him if he was the Defensive Coordinator since he gave his OC the responsibility of calling the Offense. “No,” he said. “The coach I replaced had coordinators call the offense and defense so I just left it that way.” In my opinion… baaaaaaad mistake! Especially on the high school level.

There are 2 things involved here, head coaches, that you need to consider: 1- who is the hardest-working member of your staff? and 2- who is the most knowledgeable member of your staff? If your answer to either question is “me”; i.e., the head coach… then I would encourage you to reconsider who you give the responsibility of calling your offense and/or defense on game night. Two of the most successful coaches in the Tidewater Virginia area where I live “do it all!” They are offensive and defensive coordinators on their state-championship caliber teams. It can and should be done in certain situations. It all goes back to those 2 questions I posed.

Here’s my thinking. We run the Delaware Wing T offense. I have run it for 24 years. I know it pretty well! I came into a new coaching situation 3 years ago where nobody knew about the Wing T offense. I could have tried to teach one of my assistants how to install it in practice and attack defenses in games but… why delegate this to someone else when I was the one who knew the most about the system?

I chose to take the OC job and teach my assistants their positions first and then the system as a whole. What I did do was take the hardest-working coach on my staff and name him our DC. We have studied and learned together– going to clinics; reading material at different coaching sites on the internet and meeting with other high school and college coaches to “talk defense.” He has grown into the job and done a fantastic job. He knows, however, that the ultimate decision is up to me as the head coach. We’ve formed a tremendous working relationship that has developed into a good friendship, too.

I don’t believe you just “hand the reins” over to an assistant without considering that YOU (the HC) should call the plays on one side or the other during games. The last point is this: when it’s over on Friday night and you come out on the short end of the stick… who’s going to catch the flack? It’s you!

I understand the importance of encouraging assistant coaches to invest in your program. Each of my assistants have assigned tasks— both on-the-field and off-the-field responsibilities— that alleviate me from having to do those things. They take their responsibilities seriously because I let them know how important they are to our program’s success and how much I appreciate them performing those tasks. When we “talk” offense, I listen to their input. But, ultimately, what we run is my decision.

If you are the most knowledgeable defensive coach on your staff, then you need to be running the defense. You’ll find out if you have an assistant who is willing and able to learn to be a coordinator. Until that time comes, you call it.

I might add… if you did not answer the question above (who is the hardest-working coach on your staff?) in the first person, then you need to re-think if you are qualified to be a head coach!!! How can you ask your assistants to go the “second mile” when you are not leading the way in your work ethic?? Think about it from an assistant’s perspective! A leader is out front— setting the example for the rest of the people to follow. Get out front head coaches and… lead!!!

One Response to “Who Calls the Plays?”

  1. John Zerbe says:

    Coach Lew,
    I would agree with you 99%…except our team falls in the 1%. I have been the Head Coach for 5 years. The 1st two years I called both the offense and defense. In year 3, I hired a former HC in the area and gave him the offensive coordinator title. Also in year 3 I promoted a coach on staff that had been the longtime defensive coordinator before I arrived here. Why did I give up these roles? I don’t believe it’s one of my strengths. I had a really hard time on Friday nights. I just am not the best play/defensive caller.

    I will say that #1 I am the hardest working coach on staff. I put many hours into both the offensive and defensive game plan. I work alongside those coaches and they know what schemes I want and how we want to defend. I also allow them their gifts of calling the games on Friday’s and giving me input over the weekend. It has worked out really well.

    Although this is not normal, I will say that I do coordinate all of the Special Teams. This is one area we feel has to be a priority. I am fortunate enough to have 2 coaches that I feel comfortable enough with play-calling on Friday night.

    Thanks Coach Lew for a great site. Good luck to you this post-season!
    John Zerbe
    Spencerville High School
    Spencerville, OH

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