Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for April, 2016

“Bird Dog!”

Posted by admin April - 25 - 2016 - Monday Comments Off on “Bird Dog!”

I had the best time this morning! I was up at 5:30am and hit the road about 6am to drive to a local high school that conducts a weekly skills session from 6:45- 8am every Monday. Their HC is a young guy whom I’ve “connected” with. He is committed to making things in his program better. They have struggled on offense recently and he asked me if I would work as a “consultant” for him, his staff and players… to help them install the Delaware Wing T offense for his program. How could I say no to someone who wants to get better and… wants to do it by running the best high school offense that’s ever been created!!!

Coach gave me an opportunity to talk with the staff and kids before we started. I knew that they had already begun introducing the offense to the players. It was important that they not go “too far” before I had a chance to do my “consulting” and see what they’d been teaching. I was pleasantly surprised at how “spot on” their teaching had been! (“Good job, Coach Wilson and staff!!!”)

What I want to share today is the “process” that I used to 1) introduce the play (we worked almost exclusively on Buck Sweep today!) and 2) the steps we took to be sure that every little detail was covered before we left the field. It meant a LOT of talking and “teaching on the run!” but… I LOVED it! It’s the part of the whole coaching experience that I came to enjoy the most in the latter part of my career. As Nick Saban calls it: “It’s all about the PROCESS!”

Every time a play was run it was started with a “Bird Dog” drill. If you are not familiar with the term, think of a huntin’ dawg (as we call them down South!) who is taught (though for a lot of them it’s inbred) to POINT whenever he spots a bird. The dog freezes and stays in that position until commanded by the hunter to retrieve, sit… whatever. We utilize the same concept when practicing a play for the first time or two or three or four or five! Yep! We bird dog everything for the first week or so. Why? Because the “first step is the most important step.” By having the center snap the ball and all 11 offensive players take their first step and FREEZE… the coaches can critique each player before anything else proceeds. I made several corrections the first time. The other 10 stayed in their “bird dog” position until, like the hunting dog, they were told to return to their original stance and position. We’d then take that first step again and freeze! and… Once more! Now phase two!

We step out with the proper step/angle/direction/distance and freeze. If everything looks good and every coach gives a “thumbs up” I command: “Ready… 2!” They then take their 2nd step and FREEZE! Check angle; check false steps… check all of the little things. (Remember: Pay attention to DETAILS!) If all 11 look good, I say: “Ready… 3!” step and freeze. By this point, if you have a defense lined up (with heavy bags and/or shields), your interior linemen will be poised to execute their block. We did NOT go to that today cuz THAT’S Phase 3! I just wanted to be sure that everyone had the correct steps and knew where they were going. So, we had NO defense today. Then, “Ready… 4!” At that point, I began to speed up the count: “Ready…5! 6! 7! 8-9-10.” and the play was over as the RB cut up into the “Tunnel.” Reset and let’s do it again… and again… and again. Then we brought out a second unit and went through the whole sequence with them.

We then flipped the formation and ran the buck sweep to the other side. Now what had been the “away side” was now the “play side.” New rules; new steps; new angles. So we “bird dogged” to that side 3 times with the 1st unit; then brought on the seconds again.

Finally, we ran Wing Buck Sweep to the SE side. More teaching; more coaching; more “bird dog” and (I just made this up! Ready??) more “Bird Walking!!” (sorry!!! But I kinda like it!)

We had a few minutes left so we got to introduce Fullback Trap. We got a few reps of bird dog and “bird walking” and we ran out of time. When I come back, we’ll review buck sweep and trap but spend the majority of our time on all of the aspects of Waggle.

I mentioned earlier that we will eventually get to blocking bags. There are a number of “Shoulder Skill” drills that can be performed in Individual period to teach them HOW to block. We do teach “shoulder” blocks on all INTERIOR blocks. We promote safety above all and the more we can keep the head and face out of initial contact the better. Right now, my objective is 1) make sure each player knows his rules for each play we install and 2) evaluate their steps and angles for each block.

We called the players up and I closed with something I heard an announcer say on my Contemporary Christian music station yesterday: “The only place that Success comes before Work is… in the dictionary! These kids showed me this morning that they are willing and eager to put in the work in the off-season that’s necessary to produce success on the field next fall. It’s exciting to see young men working hard and getting better.

Sugar Huddle

Posted by admin April - 19 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Sugar Huddle

I’ve had any number of requests from my fellow Wing T coaches about our “Sugar Huddle” which we ran so effectively this past season. For those of you who want to “go fast” but… still like to huddle, the Sugar Huddle may be just what you’re looking for!

Let me preface by saying that I think that one of the most overlooked aspects of attacking defenses is the use of “Tempo.” I know that “playing FAST” has become the hot, sexy way to roll on offense. I see nothing wrong with that except… if you only play at one tempo, defenses are going to “catch up” to you. I always use the baseball pitcher analogy. If I have a great fastball pitcher and all he ever throws is “smoke.” Eventually the good hitters are going to sit on his fastball and rock it out of the park. However, if my pitcher still has that great fastball but… mixes in a nasty change up and/or curve, now those hitters have a major problem! It’s the CHANGING OF THE SPEEDS that keeps the batter off balance! The same is true with defenses in football. I have come to realize that you can keep a defense “off balance” by changing up the tempo. Thus, we have 4 different “packages”; i.e., alignments, and each of them moves at a different speed.

Our base package (that we run the majority of the time) is our under center Delaware Wing T formation. This is when we utilize our “sugar huddle.” When we go Spread Shotgun Wing T, we go no huddle— though it is not necessarily a hurry up package! Our Shotgun Wing T is also no huddle but not hurry up. However, when we go to our goal line/short yardage package, our Spinner S’Wing T, we are warp speed. We run on the field, line up and snap it on 1st sound every time. We have caught a bunch of folks unprepared and got an easy score or first down because we’re going so fast. But, the other packages and their slower tempo is like novocaine: they “lull you to sleep!”

Our Sugar Huddle came out of a discussion with a coaching friend in NC. He told me of a team they played that huddled at the regular 5 yard distance from the ball but, when they broke the huddle, they literally SPRINTED to the line!!! Got down fast and snapped it before you could 1) recognize strength and thus 2) get aligned properly on defense! I saw the benefit of this and we started working on it with our kids. My hat goes off to that coach who could get his kids to SPRINT to the line each time because our kids went “passive/aggressive” on me and, like a stubborn mule, refused to buy in! Phase 1: failure!

Then, watching Auburn roll through opponents with their version of the Wing T and playing fast… and faster! I noticed that occasionally (mostly in the red zone) they huddled. But… they were right behind the line! The QB would call the play, send the wide receivers scampering to their spots… then break the linemen. They simply whirled around in their stance and got down. Hummmmm?? I bet I can get our linemen to “move fast” if they only have to take a step or two!!! So Phase 2: Implementing the speed of the Sugar Huddle. They LOVED it!

What I realized as I watched it is: we can go even faster if our SE doesn’t have to huddle. We love to play him “Strong”— which puts him on the same side as the TE and Wing. This “unbalanced” look creates problems for defenses who are simply trying to align to our Wing back! I signal in ALL of our plays (*If you would like a copy of the doc which explains our Signaling System, email me at I’ll be glad to send it to you.) As a play ended and the whistle blew, the SE looked to me to see which side I wanted him to line up on. I pointed and he took off. Now, it required our SE’s to also learn my signaling system cuz they had to get the play on their own. I’m “dating” myself (and any of you young guys… unless you’re a real college football historian.. will not remember this!) but… Army, in the early 60’s ran what became known as “The Lonesome End” formation. Their SE never huddled. I believe he always went to the same side but that thought stuck in my head so that’s what our SE became: The “Lonesome End.”

After I pointed/signaled the side for the SE, I then signaled in the formation and play to the QB. He stepped into the huddle, called the play once… broke the huddle and the line “whirled around,” got down and as soon as the backs got aligned… we were rolling! Interestingly, it was the backs now that I had to “encourage” to move quickly to their spots! A few “reminders” worked wonders.

A lot (but not always) of the time we would snap the ball on 1st Sound and go! However, I shifted and motioned some too! We wanted to continue to “dictate” to the defense— and not let them force us to do something we didn’t want to do. Getting aligned quickly solved that. Then “jumping around with motion or shifts caused more “heartburn” for the defenders!

The Sugar Huddle AND the different tempo’s with our other packages kept opposing defenses off balance all season. Even the best-coached teams that we played had trouble with trying to organize as we changed packages. If one wasn’t working, we’d try another. Surprisingly, in one game where we were simply out-manned personnel-wise, we went to our goal line package at midfield; picked up the tempo and started moving the ball effectively for the first time in the game. It was late in the 3rd quarter and we mounted a comeback. Unfortunately, too little — too late! But it showed me that different tempo’s coupled with different packages can be the great equalizer!

The Sugar Huddle gave us an advantage in keeping defenses off balance and thus, tentative. In my mind, that’s how your want to do to a defense: take away their aggressiveness. They had to hurry up (and we caught them unprepared) to align to us the way they wanted. It is a great way to “go fast” yet still have the comfort zone of huddling!

“The UVa Way!”

Posted by admin April - 15 - 2016 - Friday Comments Off on “The UVa Way!”

If you can find, you should go to the Sports section and read Ed Miller’s write up of Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s practice and… practiceS! By “practice” I mean, Ed’s description of yesterday’s events during practice and for “practices” the discussion of HOW Bronco wants things done. WOW!!!

The article opens with a detailed description of the “punishment period” that several players had to endure for getting into a fight during practice. It’s waaaaaay over the top – the amount of punishment – in my opinion, but… these are college athletes— NOT high school and Mendenhall is establishing his expectations with a new team. My main point, though, is the same as Mendenhall’s:
“DISCIPLINE is paramount” on a football team!!!

This group of players did “Up-Downs” for “19 long minutes”— is how Ed describes it. And… Bronco “repeatedly made the players start over if they didn’t perform perfectly. “Hey coaches, every chest that doesn’t touch – add 10,” he said. The final tally was 170 “up-downs.” Miller says, “the price paid for a punch thrown during a brief dust-up between offensive and defensive players.”

Though it “wasn’t much of a punch” said one of the players, Mendenhall saw it as a “teachable moment.” It showed the players how the coaches would handle such things. Mendenhall came from Brigham Young in December and started preaching: 1- accountability, 2-developing “will before skill” and 3- instilling a culture of everything being “earned, not given.”

Mendenhall is a devotee of business management theory. He has a whole library of business management books that he’s read on display in his office. His practices are run efficiently and… fast!!! Real fast. No wasted time. Yet, Bronco practices the adage of “anything not done perfectly has to be done again!” Miller goes on to say that the players seem to be buying into this new environment. One was quoted in the article as saying that the accountability and discipline is just what the UVa football program needed. Mendenhall has certainly turned things “upside down” in Charlottesville this spring. Miller quotes Bronco as saying, “The work capacity is part of our (UVa football) culture. We don’t want anyone on the planet that has a football program to work longer or harder or more, but us, we just happen to do it in a really fast and efficient way in a condensed amount of time.”

I’ve advocated any number of times in my posts on this blog that “there is a HUGE difference between high school and college football.” As high school coaches, we can’t do a lot of things the way college coaches do in running their programs. However, there is a fundamental philosophy that pervades our culture today that needs to be rectified. That CAN be the role of the high school football coach. I can sum it up by using Bronco’s words: “EARNED, not given!” I see too many of our young people living under the influence of this “culture of entitlement” that is so widespread today. This is something that as coaches we can combat. Our “star” players are held to the same standard as the rest of the team. Players earn starting positions– not have them given to them. Discipline and accountability become the hallmarks of our program. We can enforce with “tough love” and not be martinets about it. But, my experience while coaching was if you set high expectations for your players, they will strive to achieve them. You do it in a way that is positive and encouraging— NOT degrading or condemning for your players. One of my favorite pastors has a saying that I love! He says: “We cannot rise to LOW expectations!” Set high and lofty goals for your team and exhort them to achieve them.

We have a responsibility as high school coaches to not only produce wins ON the field but to work at making our players winners OFF the field too.

Electric Light Bulb Wish Tree

Posted by admin April - 12 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Electric Light Bulb Wish Tree

Our daughter-in-law works in the Admissions Department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My wife and I got the grand tour this past weekend. She took us upstairs in the Admissions Building to show us where she works and what she does. We walked into a large room where they give prospective students and their parents a welcome message. When I stepped into the room I was overwhelmed by the sight of their “Wish Tree!” I wish I could post a snapshot of it that I took… unfortunately, I lack the computer skills to do it! So, I’ll have to describe it as best I can.

Imagine a big oak tree about 20 feet tall. The trunk, made of metal rods all intertwined together, is about 4 feet in diameter and the spreading “leaves” and metal branches must have been 20-30 feet wide. This was a BIG tree! From a distance, it appeared to have lights strung throughout the “leaves” and branches. However, when I got closer I realized that the lights were not “strung” throughout the branches but the “leaves” themselves were light bulbs!!! There must have been 1000 or more regular light bulbs all clustered together hanging from the branches of this tree. About 1/4 of the bulbs were lit. I asked my daughter-in-law to explain.

When prospective students come into the room they are given a card and a pen. They are asked to write down one of their dreams. Remember… these are high school seniors involved in this. They then go to the tree and attach their card to a string hanging down from a light bulb… that is unlit. They then pull the string to “light up” their wish! It’s left burning. Hopefully the student will matriculate SCAD and when that student achieves that dream/wish they are to return to the Wish Tree and pull the cord once again to extinguish their light bulb. All of this got my “creative juices” flowing! How could this apply to a football team? How could a coach use this as a motivational tool? And… BINGO! It hit me!

Why not get someone in the Industrial Arts Dept. at your school to build something similar? Have each player write down a goal for himself and for the team on a card. Tie it to the string from an unlit bulb and then… pull the cord and light up the bulb! Once all of the players have their “wish card” attached and their bulb lit, the tree remains lit until each player begins to achieve the goal/wish they wrote down.

It’s an idea that you hopefully can work with!

Building and Maintaining a Program

Posted by admin April - 5 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Building and Maintaining a Program

I am reallllllllllllly enjoying mentoring 3 young coaches as they continue their off-season study and preparation. One of them asked the other day, “Coach, how did you maintain such a high level of success over such a long period of time?” My reply? “You haven’t ready my book, have you??!!!” That’s the whole basis for writing 101 Little Things!

I told him that there are many factors involved in this process but I think 3 things that you have to be sure you do everyyear are:

1) You need a strong off-season weight and speed program. As the head coach, I felt like I had to be in the weight room every day it was open. Your presence there sets the tone and sets an example. Believe me, your players notice that you are there every time they work out. If you’re there, then you have the right to speak to a player when he doesn’t show up. It also builds what I call “POSITIVE peer pressure.” The kids begin to nudge the other guys to make the commitment that’s necessary to get the most of your off-season program. There’s a sense of comparaderie that’s built in the weight room that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. Find ways to get all of your players involved.

2) Sophomores need to play Varsity! Now, I know that Virginia is different than some states as far as how many teams they have and how the players (by grade-level) are allocated. In Virginia we have Middle School foootball (grades 6-8); JV (grades 9 and 10) then Varsity (typically 11 and 12). What I discovered early in my head coaching career was that we had too many kids who wanted to be “JV Superstars!”— so they would stay “down” and play JV their Sophomore year just so they could realllllllllllly shine. That was fine for the individual but BAD for our program!
So, the policy I instituted (and fought hard to change attitudes!) was: If you start on the JV as a Freshman, you have accomplished ALL you need on the JV level. You need to be on the Varsity the next 3 years. Everyone— no matter what level, NFL, college or high school— has to go through a rookie season! We encouraged the guys to come out for Varsity as 10th graders; get used to that level of play; fight for some playing time… maybe on special teams; earn your letter and…….. be ready to be a 2 year starter for us! That proved to be much more successful than having a player just start his senior year.
It also means that your Freshmen get to play a LOT on JV which helps on “both ends.” Which is my third key!

3) Make sure you are visiting your Feeder School/s every year! Try to attend a middle school game. Get out to a Pop Warner game or two and make your presence known. Become a familiar face in your community.
Then… in the spring, make an appointment through the middle school administration or A.D. to have a meeting with ALL 8th graders who are interested in playing football next year at your high school. Get each boy’s contact information; hand out a flyer with important upcomming dates and activities and tell them how important they are to the future of your program… because they ARE!!!