Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The most important lesson I ever learned about winning

Over the years I always felt X's and O's were overrated for winning. (Yeah seems strange coming from me!) That might seem drastic. It's not that they are not important - they are. If you are not sound and well coached, you're season will be disastrous! They keep you from losing. But if you want to win on a grand scale - the biggest games you need more. When you get against the best teams - they will be sound and well coached too! Think about it - how many times have X's and O's themselves allowed you to win a big game. There was usually something else - something bigger that separates the great teams from the next tier down. And this brings me back to perhaps the most important lesson I ever learned in how to win as a coach!

(Don't get me wrong - sometimes the mismatch is just that great but that's really rare.)

When I was a very young I first heard the following quote:

"What you see on the field you created. EVERYTHING! You either taught it, cultured it, or ALLOWED it!" At the time it seemed prolific but you get bombarded with a million quotes in those old clinics. Besides I was there to learn the "magic play!" just as every young coach has gone to a clinic for.

Over the years, I kept hearing this quote over and over again. One day it dawned on me that there was a common thread in all the times I heard this quote - it was the people saying it. They were all the upper echelon of coaching. The mythical figures with the mythical winning numbers. I had heard it from Lombardi (actually read it from him), Bryant, Hayes, and Schembechler. Pretty elite company. made me think this must be important.

(Went to Michigan and met Schembechler - he use the quote directly and talked about the Michigan way!)

Recently, I read a book on Parcels and he talked about "willing" victories. When you think about it - he's talking the same aspect - in this case - not allowing to happen what you don't want to happen.

If I had to pick one piece of advice that shaped my philosophy and allowed me to win in places that hadn't won before or after - this is it. But this way of coaching has its drawbacks - for you're not going to make everyone your friend, you'll never be labeled a "player's coach'" and sometimes to accomplish what you need to be successful you'll have to roll against the tide.

Everyday you are a head coach (or even an assistant for that matter) you are making decisions that will affect the outcome of your team in the short term and long term. You are deciding what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. You are creating a culture by enforcing your "will" on that team. When you run a rep and you see the three tech run up the field and get trapped, you can have three responses: 1) There he goes again - he will never listen (passive acceptance.) 2) verbal reinforcement on what was correct but not emphasis by repeating of rep (active acceptance.) (Do you think he's gonna take the correction seriously if you blow it off by just a verbal correction? NO!) or 3) correction running the play over till he gets it. (active correction!) Now the battle of wills comes in.

Do you think the guy in the game who runs up the field and gets trapped is doing it for the first time? That's like believing that Hillary didn't know she shouldn't delete her emails!!! No. Of course not. I guarantee you that somewhere in practice that player got trapped and it was accepted!

Now I'm old school. I still believe that sometimes practice and discipline is a battle of wills. You may have a battle on your hand forcing your will. You may have to go multiple reps - over and over again. But you never accept it.

The same is true with team discipline.If you think the player who got arrested never did any lesser before the incident - your crazy. It was accepted because of his ability, school rules, or some other reason to look the other way. Do you think the player who rebels against a coach has never tested how far he can go before or has seen somebody else who's bad behavior was accepted.

Now, at times this old school mentality may cause crossroads. At times, what you have to do may cross with administration who wants you to be more accepting. You have a choice here but if you take the low road - you can never complain about performance. I'm not saying your decision is wrong - there are many factors to consider, some bigger then football. (family, job security, relationships with administration, etc.) It's just a decision but as with any decision (or in this case either decision) it's a two edge sword. Either way has his plusses and minuses and as you reap the benefits you must live with the negatives.

The second crossroad comes with the player himself. What many coaches don't realize is they have all the power to force their will on the player - PLAYING TIME. This may mean sitting a great athlete but your program will benefit from it.  (Parcel would let players go in a heartbeat if they didn't buy in! Lombardi, it was written, once let a player go during the very first pre-practice run because he didn't perform it with the "Packer excellence." that he demanded.) Now, I'm not in favor of throwing players off the team - I have one steady rule here: if it only effects the individual - punish him but work with him. If it begins to affect the team (i.e. they start mimicking his actions) you have to let him go.

I know this sounds extreme but most of the situations I've taken over were extreme (In one case they hadn't won a championship in 70 years. The administration told me in the interview "If you come here you must accept the fact you are never going to win big!" (How's that for an accepted behavior.)
We won or tied for two league titles and appeared in two state playoffs, also a first in the school, in the first four years.)

Along with this, before one blames the play, the coach must look at himself to see if he "taught it."  This not only includes the obvious but how did you structure teaching and your verbiage. Did you teach the assistants properly?What do you emphasize? How is practice structured.

This part carries to the non-technical also. you are always teaching an attitude! A way of life!

I once was paid to come and watch spring practice as a consultant at a high school. First thing I noticed was the number of stragglers out late to practice. When asked the head coach said "yeah, we've been fighting this for years." The next day they had early lifting. We (the coaches) stopped picked up breakfast and proceeded to be late. Where do you think the kids learned it from? They learned what is accepted by behavior of other.

So if you don't like what you're getting - look at everything in your program, from how you dress to how you set up your office. You are always teaching some lesson!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Some football - The quarterback vision line

I will come back later this week with part III of why football is the greatest game but I'd thought I'd break it up with a little football.

Let's talk about the quarterback vision in the mesh and one of the reasons it's hard to run the triple to a three or two technique if you can't get movement. We like most people will combo the three technique, however that allows for a free run at the quarterback or to the Alley by a deep MLBer. (fig 1)

Additionally at times versus studs we not get enough movement to clear the vision of the quarterback to the pitch key. (fig. 2 and fig 3) Coaches don't look at this enough because film gives you an overhead view and always a "Clean" read.

Many times we knock the quarterback for a bad read however without vertical movement he cannot see the key if he sits (Look at a past bowl game - I forgot the year - Georgia Tech played Iowa. The two linemen couldn't be pushed back and as a result the read key just sat in essence becoming a two assignment (dive and QB) player. ) Additionally. without movement, fullback must flatten out - (fig 4) not allowing him the vertical speed he needs to run by a sitter and break the arm tackles.

So its important if to plan on running the triple to a three tech or two tech to evaluate the matchup and be ready to abandon the play if you cannot get vertical movement. You must also be ready to evaluate and abandon during the game.

Also in evaluating results and grading be gentle on the quarterback who can't see his read.

A secondary answer

One thing that we've come up with over the years is to combine the loop scheme with the zone dive. WE simply call it "41 at the 3." The quarterback will run the triple to the widest technique - either the three of the two. We add to his read process the following - "Give unless the read key makes a direct path in front of the fullback. If you lose vision on the read key give."

If the quarterback loses vision of the three technique it means the three technique is playing up and out.  We teach the fullback to run it like the zone read if he gets the ball. which would facilitate an a-gap cut. Since we are singling the three technique we are in essence inviting this. (Fig 5 and 6)

Note: the tackle will loop even with the Guard covered

We haven't done this much but it has served well when we have.

Hope this helps

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why Football is still the greatest game ever Part III

Team Work

Or as Bo Schembechler said:

"the team....the team....the team"

In todays society where everybody is a star and we have all been ESPNized to view highlights as results rather then the team scores, we need football more then ever. It is arguably the greatest example of cooperation and teamwork in a set environment known to mankind.

Where else are game roles structured in such a set play environment. Yes Basketball has its "plays" as does every other sport but those are "flow" type sports where each movement evolves into many movements creating a freedom that is not present in football. If you are assigned to block one man - you block him. There are no options. you have an assignment period.

Along with this comes the teaching of roles within the overall play of the team. In basketball who doesn't get to touch the ball - nobody!!! Same in Soccer! In baseball everybody bats. But in football not everybody gets to run with the ball. You may be in the trenches. You may spend twenty years in the sport, never touch the ball once and never get your name in the paper. Yet, if the lesson is taught right, you learn that your contribution is just as important as those that cross the goalline.

While I was at Clifton I had a freshmen linemen who was very talented. Talented enough that he was getting looks from the big schools. He came into my office one day after lacrosse practice wanting to quit. (He had just picked up a lacrosse stick.) His reasoning "In football I snap the ball and never touch it again, I lift all year long to play 4 months, I never score, nobody knows who I am, and I don't get any chicks! In Lacrosse, I run with the ball, play year around, I can score, my name is in the paper, and the chick dig scorers!" Needless to say I couldn't argue with that non-rational logic. It just further illustrates my points

In today's society where everything is me, me, me and star, star, star. This lesson is vital and rare. Where else is the young man going to learn to be middle management in a corporation. Where else is the civil service worker going to learn to strive to be the best knowing he won't get the same rewards as the higher paying jobs.

Accountability: a life lesson

In today's education the term "accountability" is throw around like a frisbee at a hippie festival. Many use the word but allow for mistakes and blame to transitioned to other causes or excuses accepted. People lose jobs in the real world for not being accountable. Companies lose income and collapse. Learning to be held accountable is a life lesson that is invaluable. (learning self - accepting accountability is even bigger. On a football team everybody has an assignment every day, every practice, every play.  Excuses are not acceptable. There is a black and white line in sports. Either you did what you were suppose to or you didn't The same that will be required of these individuals in life.  Additionally, in football, the "eye in the sky" teaches one to be honest in his assessment of blame.

The individual vs the team

Unlike other sports one single person cannot dominate regardless of `what the stats say. How many times have you seen a player pull rebound down and dribble the length of the court and score - over and over. Or the high school pitcher who dominates, barely using his defense, and then hits the game winning homer. Doesn't happen in football - here's why?

  • The other team can and wants to hit him. They want to punish him for being a star! Thats a foul in basketball
  • The whole other team can converge on him and him alone. He is playing one against 11. If that happened in basketball - he would simply pass it off for an easy score and he defense knows this. In baseball the other players must stay on the bench allowing the pitcher to only play one player. In football he is tied by the structure of the play!
I know people are going to say what about the great quarterback or the running back with the dominate stats? The quarterback must be protected. He is at the mercy of the line.  You can't throw on your back. The running back while he adds to the teams success ratio greatly - he must have blockers. If you don't believe this - look up OJ Simpson's stats in high school. It's why he went to JC!

Why is this reliance on others so important in today's society? Because there are only rare situations where this is taught today. Everything in education has been based on individual success. In the real world - well to use a quote "No man is an island!" No matter how talented he may be! You must rely on others to live! You must rely on others to strive!


Also by shear numbers rolls become more divergent and due to practice time and structure even the 100th player becomes important. (If you practice the way we do with everybody involved to maximize reps!) If its done this way there is a respect through sweat! A bond through work! The player may not be thought of as a great teammate for his talent but he will be thought of a great teammate for his being a gear that helps the machine run.

All these lessons are predicated on how the team is run. Unfortunately, I've seen many teams where the teamwork lesson is put on the back burner for winning with stars.

Finally, just by number of people of the field acting as one there is more teamwork and cooperation needed. The physical aspect creates a need for more subs to play and fill their rolls. There is more teamwork needed in the locker room as by numbers there will be a greater divergence of personalities, races, and ethnic types.

In short, the game represents a microcism of the world they will live in and of the cooperation they will need to survive and succeed in later life. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why Football is still the greatest game - Part II

TheSacrifice is Different

I know. I know.  There are going to be all those other sport fanatics who say they learn sacrifice in their sports or say these lessons should be learned at home but the truth is the level of sacrifice is different then anything else we have today. (Although I will address the changes in this area when I address the problems in the game later.)

You pay more for less

Lets face it football is a hard sport. there is nothing easy about. As Jim Harbaugh said in the HBO special, football is not fun but the rewards are much greater.  In today's world it is a year around commitment. The offseason for most (especially linemen is much heavier conditioning and strength training then most sports. You don't shoot foul shots in the offseason.)  In-season practices can be physical and exhausting. You practice in the elements: extreme heat, rain, even snow. The mere fact of the physical nature of the sport involves a commitment to practice while hurting all season long. (I don't know anybody who feels the same throughout the season after the first day.) 

And for what - 10 games. That's it for 90% of the participants. 10 games. (12 or 14 in college) Compare that with lesser (or different) commitments in other sports where once the season begins you can play everyday if you deem. Baseball plays 162 games in the majors - think about that compared to the player who gets one and only one game per week.

I'll argue with anybody here that the sacrifice one makes just because of this nature.

The roster number factor

Many high school rosters have 80 kids on them today. Many colleges well over 100. when you get down to the bottom 20% talent wise you are talking about kids that are sacrificing everything. Their complete year just for the honor of wearing the jersey. They know that their chances of getting in are slim but they practice, they work in the offseason, they give up their bodies everyday just for the possibilities. (in other sports there might be one or two of these kids.)

The strange thing is that many of the players I have had that fit into this role have gone on to become titans in business and pillars in their communities. When they return or contact me, there is a repetitive message - the lessons learned just to be part of something bigger where significant in all their successes.

Delayed Gratification

In a world beset with the need for instant gratification; where failure is very temporary, where everybody is a star (with the Voice, American Idol, America's Got Talent, etc. am I the only person in the world who can't sing!), football defies common thought. As George Allen once said "After every loss you die for a week!" There is no magical rebirth the next day. you must live with and learn to cope with that loss for a full week. You cannot go right out the next day and redeem yourself. You must learn to rededicate, refocus, and recommit for 6 days before you get a chance at redeeming yourself.

Even after a win, you cannot just carry it through to the next day. (when I was young and played baseball, if I had a good day I couldn't wait for the next. I didn't need anymore practice for the next day. I was ready!) You must start all over at point zero and sacrifice another week of yourself.

In life not everything comes the first time. You must endure OVER TIME! Not everything is instant. Neither is football - you must wait for the rewards. And if you get one reward - you must wait for the next.

Like life there will be downs - even severe downs. And like life, you are not going to wake up the next day and everything will change. If your wife left you - she will probably still be gone. If you lost your job, one will not magically appear the next day. If your company went under it will not suddenly show a profit. Unless you've been in a situation before where you had to dedicate yourself over time and be willing to sacrifice everything again, you will never know if you can do it. Unless you faced loss and had to endure a duration of time where you had to put it all on the line again you will never know if you can do it.

The physical nature

By the nature of the sport the sacrifice is greater as is the threat of injury. But to risk more to sacrifice more brings greater rewards. There is not a player who does not realize he may be injured on the field. Yet, he weighs this sacrifice with the rewards of the game. Later in life he must decide what sacrifice and risk he must take in life.

The presence of "non-skilled" position

These players whole life in the pits is sacrifice. They are rarely known. There practices consist of hitting sleds and dummies. There is very little reward until he actual game and the actual TEAM outcome for these players. They will not see themselves in the box sores. They will not be on Wheaties boxes.

Later Part III
or as Bo Schembechler told me on a visit to Michigan football: "the team...the team...the team!"