Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for October, 2018


Posted by admin October - 30 - 2018 - Tuesday Comments Off on POST-SEASON’S “TO DO” LIST

For a lot of you out there, your regular season is coming to a close. For those of you going on to the play-offs: Good luck and God bless you!

Whether your season has just ended or you’ll be wrapping up things in a week or so, there are a couple of things that need to go on your “to do” list that you might need to consider adding. The one I want to mention today is in my book, 101 Little Things, but it’s worth highlighting here. Why? Cuz it literally changed the program that I headed up for 22 years. It can change things for you too. That single event was our Senior Post-season (gloves off; no holds barred!) Evaluation Meeting.

Within 2 weeks of our season ending, I would call in the Seniors. At one point, I even took them out for pizza. I had 1 question for them and I prefaced it by saying this, “You guys are done. Your football career at WBHS is over. So anything you share with me tonight will have no effect on your playing time next year. You’ll be gone! Sooooooo… be as honest and forthright as you can. OK? Here’s my question: What do I need to do to be a better leader for this football team? What can I improve upon?” I gave them a piece of paper and a pen and let them write things down for 2-3 minutes… then we began.

You’d be amazed at how insightful these guys can be. Yes, I got some silly suggestions. I got some answers that were impossible to implement. But, if you have established a good relationship with your players and… you are willing to receive some constructive criticism, you might get a gem that’s a “program changer!” Here are a couple that our seniors shared with me at different times during my career:

Early on, when I first instituted this meeting, I was still searching for answers. It took 5 years to “turn around” our program. It had fallen to mediocrity and it took some changes on my part to get us over the hump. At one of our first meetings one of the seniors kinda gulped and shyly said, “Coach J… don’t get me wrong but, you’re too nice!” What?! I sat there dumbfounded. “Please explain,” I said. He had a little more confidence now and stated, “You’re just too nice. You need to be tougher on us. We’re football players. You can’t let us get away with some of the stuff you overlook.” It hit me like a ton of bricks! Why? Cuz he was right! I wasn’t showing tough love; I was extending soft love. We needed more discipline. I needed to hold kids to a higher standard. That off-season I began reading about many different successful coaches programs and how they conducted them. It changed everything for our program. I did not become a martinet but I did demand more from the players (and coaches) than I had before. It paid dividends starting that next year.

Later on, at another meeting, I learned why I always had that nagging sense that our players were not putting out in practice as much as I wanted them to. No matter how hard I pushed, it always seemed like our team was hitting on 7 cylinders instead of 8. I got my solution from a senior. He told me that I needed to move Conditioning period to somewhere on the practice schedule other than at the end. I asked why? “Cuz, guys are holding back during practice because they know you’re going to run us hard at the END!” BOOM! Another lightning bolt hit home. I saw exactly what he was talking about. The next year I revamped the practice to look something like this: 1- Team Flex. 2- Kicking Game. 3- Conditioning! 4- 5 minute Water and Rest Break! The results were dramatic from day 1! Till I retired, that’s how practices started.

Oh, I always communicated to the team WHY we were doing it this way. It is so very important to explain things to your players. Tell them what you’re going to do and WHY you’re doing it. It’s good to be up front with them. It builds trust and respect.


Posted by admin October - 22 - 2018 - Monday Comments Off on CREATING A CULTURE

A lot of what I’m going to share with you came from our pastor’s, Michael Brueseke, talk yesterday. It was powerful and very informative!

Here’s the first KEY statement: “A leader creates culture.”

and the second: “It’s the leader’s values that he uses to create that culture.”

I met with a young coach yesterday and presented these 2 statements to him. He wanted to know how he can continue to challenge his players to want to strive for championships… when they seem happy with just a winning season. No matter where your program is right now, I suppose this is a question that every HC wants answered. Perhaps I can shed a light on this critically important issue.

After I presented the young coach with my 2 KEY statements, I let them “marinate” in his head for a full minute. Then I asked him, “So… what are YOUR values that you possess and enforce that create your program’s culture???” He could not respond! I told him to think about it for awhile and then send me his list.

I will use one of my core values to illustrate this point. My core value is/was: HUSTLE. I have always felt that a player (or team of players) who out-hustle the opponent has a greater chance of success. It breeds enthusiasm and an esprit de corps that tight-knit groups (think U.S. Marines!) possess.

OK… so I value hustle. So what? It’s the next step that is key. Because you are talking about laying foundation blocks on the “building of success” here! It requires persistence and, in turn, repetition.

PERSISTENCE: It’s like being a parent… raising a child. If you want to establish a behavior in your child, you have to take a “never give up” attitude. Kids aren’t going to learn to be respectful or hustle unless you constantly stick to your guns about reminding them to say “please” and “thank you.” It took years of sticking to our guns (my wife and I) but we have two of the most respectful young adults (our children are grown) you’d ever want to meet.

REPETITION: You have to constantly reinforce your value. If when I called our players up at the end of practice to surround me… and there were a few stragglers who simply walked or jogged over… they ALL got sent back where they started from and we repeated the action. I’d blow the whistle again and this time ALL of them better come running! It occasionally required that I’d have to repeat this “do over” routine but they got the message.

“NEVER give up! NEVER give in!” The second part of that adage is just as important as the first! It’s with this attitude that you can successfully build a winning culture. I’m convinced of it!!! How do I know? It took 5 years for me when I first became a HC to refine and define what my core values were. Once I did, I was totally committed to seeing those values built into our players’ character. It led to 10 championships and an 80% winning record over the next 25 years!

Respect or Like?

Posted by admin October - 18 - 2018 - Thursday Comments Off on Respect or Like?

I got into a discussion with another coach the other day. We were talking about how a coach motivates his players. My point was that it’s not a short-term thing. That, for instance, a pregame pep talk is not what I would call motivation cuz the effects are short-lived. Motivation is, I believe, creating a mind-set in one’s players’ minds where there is a long-term effect on their behavior. This is only accomplished when the HC creates a culture that focuses on discipline, accountability and respect.

Discipline: just another term for self control; i.e., the ability to regulate one’s own emotions, thoughts and behavior. This self control must be instilled by others; it doesn’t come naturally. A coach has to demand discipline from his players and coaches. And, he must demand it on a consistent basis. You set standards and then you have to uphold them. When I coached, we had a firm and fast rule that there would be no cursing on the part of coaches and/or players. If a player was overheard using a cuss word, a coach would tell him to “drop and give me 15.” 15 push ups for an Unsportsmanlike penalty. I’ve seen other coaches attempt to instill the same requirement on their team. However, if its ignored and no punishment (control over the bad behavior) is consistently handed out, the cursing continues!

Accountability: This is a “cousin” to discipline. Its relationship is exemplified in my No Cussing example above. Players (and coaches) have to be held accountable for their actions. Where it becomes really effective is when the players “buy in” and they too are now holding their teammates accountable. I heard of a local player who transferred to a different school this past summer. The reason he left the school (a successful program, by the way) was because this player refused to work hard in the off season weight program. The veterans wouldn’t stand for it and gave him a hard time about his laziness. This is accountability.

Respect: The discussion that I led off this post with morphed into HOW does a coach “change the culture.” My main point was that players must respect the coach and the coach must respect his players. And… there is a HUGE difference between respecting and liking!!! An insecure coach is going to try to win over his players by getting them to like him. It probably means that there’s little discipline and accountability in that program. What a coach needs to strive for is respect. That is attained by being trustworthy. What the coach says, he does. You can care about your players (and you should); but caring also entails holding players to a high standard — on and off the field!

I had a group of players approach me during a break between practices one year. I could tell that they had something on their minds and were a bit reluctant to say what they wanted to say. I smiled to get them to relax and jokingly said, “hummmmmm… I can tell by the looks on your faces that this must be serious!” That broke the tension. One of the veterans then said, “Coach J, the guys and I were talking and we have a question for you.” “OK,” I replied, “Fire away.” The player said, “We’re just wondering how you’re able to be so tough on us and be so focused during practice but when we’re off the field, you’re happy and joke around with us.” I was flattered. I knew right then that I was being transparent. Our players saw me for who I am. When it’s time to work, I’m all business. When work time is over, I enjoy relaxing and having fun.” I think that this is the attitude you need to present to kids.

We are role models as coaches. We’re going to have an impact on our players whether we want to or not. It should be a positive impact!

“I’ve Drunk the Koolaid!!!”

Posted by admin October - 10 - 2018 - Wednesday Comments Off on “I’ve Drunk the Koolaid!!!”

The more college football games that I watch, the more I see the influence that Gus Malzahn and his Delaware Wing T roots have on Offensive Coordinators. I watched my Hokies of Virginia Tech get their “backs broken” by Notre Dame the other night when ND broke a 97 yard run vs. the vaunted Bud Foster defense. Guess what the play was? Buck Sweep left!!! The TB took the ball, started left… stuck his foot in the ground and made that 90 degree cut behind the back-side pulling Guard and went 97 yards UN-touched! It was classic Malzahn “Spread Shotgun Wing T!”

Our offense was always built around a powerful running game. I learned this from my former HC, Lou Holtz. You can throw it around all you want but… when it comes to crunch time, you better have an effective ground game or your chances of winning decrease significantly! We also ran most of our Wing T offense out of the base under-center Delaware formations (100/900 and Red/Blue.) It was effective for us because we mixed in some of the Spread Shotgun Wing T. What I’m realizing is that: even in the 3 years since I retired from coaching, the game (even on the high school level) has evolved. All you see anymore is “spread” offenses. I was opposed to this until I visited practice at my local high school where I used to coach.

They’ve been struggling. The HC is a Double Wing/Wing T guy from way back. The offense was just not clicking. Two weeks ago, he turned over the reigns to one of his assistants and the guy installed the “Spread.” Watching practice yesterday, I saw an energy that was missing a month ago. The kids were running around and everyone was having fun playing up-tempo. Four and 5 wide-outs with motion and shifts. I said to myself, “THIS is what kids like to play these days.” It’s what they see on tv; it’s what they play on their football video games.

My title this week is indicative of the feeling I left the practice field with yesterday: “It’s time to convert! It’s time that I start promoting the Spread version of the Wing T.”

When you can still run multiple formations with lots of shifting and motion, you’re utilizing the principles of Delaware Wing T football. When you can still run buck sweep; trap and waggle/bootleg, you’re utilizing Wing T base plays. One of the beauties of Malzahn’s concepts is having both zone/reach blocking and power/down blocking as integral parts of his run game. Defensive linemen today are so well-coached in “beating the zone/reach” block that when O linemen block down, it looks like the D lineman needs to move with him. That plays right into the down blocking scheme!

Then you add play action passes and a “bombs away” attitude with your drop back game (4 verticals), you have an offense that creates all kinds of problems for DC’s!

I’ve been won over! Yes, I have drunk the koolaid. I’m still a Wing T guy but, I’m sold on the effectiveness of the Spread concepts!