Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for February, 2018

Hotbed of HS Football

Posted by admin February - 27 - 2018 - Tuesday Comments Off on Hotbed of HS Football

I had the good fortune to have spent the weekend in Durant, OK at a Glazier Football Coaches Clinic. There were HS coaches from OK, TX, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri that I met. Very friendly and eager to learn. When my 8:30 am session on Saturday morning is nearly full, I know that these guys are serious about being a “student of the game!”

The DC’s from Jenks, OK and Allen, TX (the 6A State Champs in both states!) spent some time with me. The thing that I found most impressive about them was their humility. Both guys have experienced a lot of success and they know how fortunate they are to be at such top-tier programs. But, neither one of them sat there and talked about “me.” They complimented their head coach. They talked about the program as a whole. The only time I heard “me” or “I” was in the context of how blessed I am!!!

The Glazier folks had Cory Cain, the DC at Allen, TX HS, and I go head to head in a “Chalk War” segment on Saturday. It was my Wing T offense vs. his Even-front defense. I got the chalk first. I told him (and the audience) that we wouldn’t stand a chance against his team… so I was going to pull out every trick in the U. of Delaware playbook to try and confuse him! Rather than acting arrogant, he took it in good spirits and we had fun bantering back and forth as I tried to exploit his defensive adjustments and he was aligning his folks to stop us. We had a chance to chat afterwards and I found him to be quite engaging. A coach came up to us, shook both our hands and thanked us for a great session. What I appreciated the most was what the coach said as he left… “2 humble guys just having fun trying to out-coach each other.”

The lesson here? You can be proud that you are a high school coach but… stay humble! In my mind, there’s a difference between being cocky and confident. Someone who is “cocky” is trying to convince himself as much as he’s trying to convince others as to how important he is. A confident person, though, is like a black belt in karate. He knows he’s good! Why? Cuz he has successful experience to back it up. He doesn’t have to walk around proclaiming to everyone how good he is.

The last person I want to talk to is a Know-it-all! Give me someone with a “teachable spirit” who is open to learning and I will pour my knowledge and experience into him. Otherwise, don’t “walk around in my head with your dirty feet!” (A wise saying I heard a pastor once share!)

“17 Inches”

Posted by admin February - 20 - 2018 - Tuesday Comments Off on “17 Inches”

17 inches. Do you know what “sports item” is 17 inches wide?

I came across a Facebook post by a friend who coaches baseball. The post was about a baseball coach who spoke at a major clinic in his area years ago. He was an elderly man — retired by then — who struggled to get out on stage after his name was announced because he had a regulation baseball home plate hanging from a chain around his neck. They’re not light!!!

He spoke for a while about his coaching experience and was visibly struggling to stay upright with this heavy piece of rubber hanging in front of him. Some in the audience apparently thought it was a bit humorous and began to snicker at the old coach’s plight. He finally posed the question to his audience: “I guess you folks are wondering why I’ve got this home plate hanging around my neck, huh?!” Wellllllll… duh!!!

The old coach started explaining that a home plate is 17 inches wide…. whether it’s Little League or MLB… it’s 17 inches wide! If a pitcher can’t muster up the control needed to get the ball over the plate to get a strike, the umpire does not help him out by calling it a strike if it’s an inch or two off the plate. They don’t “widen” the plate for another pitcher with control problems. They just find another player who CAN get it over the plate! The old coach pointed out, “So it is with life. OR… it used to be!”

His point was that as a culture we have lost our standards. In life, a strike is not a strike anymore. We keep cutting corners; giving kids too much freedom and then tell them it’s OK. We don’t widen the strike zone in baseball and we don’t widen the plate to accommodate those who have “control problems.” We find players who can get it over the plate and go with them.

I have never seen an organization, a team… (especially) a military unit that was successful that lacked discipline. We need to set boundaries on what is acceptable behavior and then… we need to ENFORCE them.

I am convinced that young people actually want boundaries. They may complain at first but when they see that there’s structure in the team, it actually promotes a sense of trust. There is comfort in having guard rails on each side of a high rise bridge. We have the “8th Engineering Wonder of the World” here in our backyard— the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. When you’re out in the middle of the bay on that lonely stretch of road, it’s nice to know that they “remembered” to put guard rails up! Our players feel the same way about the discipline that we promote in our program.

Don’t be afraid to have high expectations for yourself, your staff and/or your players. Most of the kids you have on your team are competitive in nature. They understand the importance of having structure. Demand it of yourself and demand it of your players. This doesn’t mean that you come off as a martinet. I have an ex-Marine Drill Sergeant in our Bible study group. He commented this morning about how even a Paris Island Drill Sergeant needs to have a mix of toughness with compassion. Yep! A Marine Drill Sgt. said that!!! And it’s true. As a coach, you need to find that right mix too… if you want your program to be successful.

“Sustainability” in Your Program

Posted by admin February - 13 - 2018 - Tuesday 1 COMMENT

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.

3 Legs of the Stool

Posted by admin February - 5 - 2018 - Monday Comments Off on 3 Legs of the Stool

I’ll say with all the love in my heart that I can muster: I am unabashedly, undeniably a believer in Jesus Christ! I hope that doesn’t turn you off so much that you leave without reading the rest of this post… cuz I have something important to say. Please stick with me.

I once heard a coach who was part of FCA share a “picture story” about how important all 3 phases of our lives (and the lives of our players) are to being able to face the “storms of life” which we will undoubtedly face in our lives. He used a 3-legged stool and a cinder block to make his point!

He talked about how we in the “sports culture” of our country are really focused on our PHYSICAL fitness. We lift weights. We run. We eat healthy. All to build strong bodies so we can succeed in life. He took one of the legs of the stool and screwed it into the bottom of the stool. It had PHYSICAL lettered down it. He then tried to place the cinder block on top of the 1-legged stool. “When the pressures of life come to bear, you can’t ‘hold up’ with just a strong body— no matter how physically fit you are. You need more.”

There is a segment of our culture that thinks if we get everyone “smart” and highly educated, we’re going to be better off. They press for higher education and higher standards in school. They include MENTAL HEALTH in this category too. If we are healthy mentally, we can overcome anything. Really? Substitute out the PHYSICAL leg of the stool, screw in the one with MENTAL on it and see what happens when you place the “stress of life” on the stool. Heck, screw the PHYSICAL leg back in so you have 2 legs now and see if that stool will stand when the pressure/load comes to bear. Ain’t happenin’!!!

We need that 3rd leg. I submit that the “3rd leg” is our SPIRITUAL life. The part that, I’m afraid, too many people ignore. Religion, in particular Christianity, is being relegated to the “outfield bullpen.” Too many people are being sold the bill of goods that our spiritual health is just not that important. I disagree!

Those of you who’ve read or heard reports on the Eagles leading up to the Super Bowl last night know that a LOT of their players talked about their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ… and how important that has been to their team unity. They’ve learned to be unselfish and have bonded like a lot of teams never do. I think it showed last night during the game both on the field and on the sideline. Even Head Coach Doug Pederson professed his faith in Jesus in his first post-game interview. That got me real excited!

It showed me that when we have all 3 legs of the “stool of life” firmly attached, we can withstand an incredible amount of pressure and come through the storm with peace in our heart and joy in our soul.