Tag Archives: Football Coaching

The Best Decision I Hated

After high school baseball practice my first spring as a Rule 10 coach in 2000, I dropped off a book to newly promoted head football coach Paul Lane and assistant football coach Matt Brenzikofer as they talked outside Coach Lane’s classroom. The book was COMPLETE CONDITIONING FOR FOOTBALL by Mike Arthur and Brian Bailey. I’d bought the book several years earlier both for personal enjoyment/education and to help a high school kid I knew to get in football shape and to convince him to play the game. 

Out of the blue a few weeks later, Coach Lane and Coach Brenz stop me after baseball practice. I thought he was just going to hand back my book with that “go away, kid” dismissal one would expect from Nick Saban or Jim Harbaugh. As I mentally prepared to take the book back, say as few words as possible, and slink out the door trying to save a little face, Coach asked if I wanted to be a freshman coach and strength & conditioning coordinator.

I froze.

He asked me if I knew what was in the copy of my book he waved in front of me and if I knew how to implement any of it. I nodded yes. He said that I was the guy then. I told him I didn’t know anything about coaching football. He smiled and said something along the lines that I would surprise myself what I knew and how I could teach the game of football.

After a little wrangling at work to rearrange my schedule to a 6:30 AM to 2:45 PM work day, followed by an eat-your-lunch-while-driving-back-for 3:30 practice trip from MHK to CC, I took the job.

Being a Rule 10 baseball and football coach was one of the top 5 greatest decisions I ever made.

After a summer of winging it through a successful inaugural summer conditioning program, August rolled around and time for football. I was assistant freshman coach to Eric Burks and I am very grateful and very lucky to have started coaching football with him. What little football knowledge I had was on the offensive side of the ball, mainly blocking and running the ball. That was what I had my heart set on coaching for the freshman. Coach Burks had spent several years as varsity defensive coordinator and was now down at the freshman level. On our first meeting to plan the freshman program, he asked me what I wanted to coach.

I said “offense” before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. He looked at me. He smiled. He said that he thought he’d like to do offense because it would be invigorating to change sides of the ball. To his credit, he still gave me the choice. Me! The newbie idiot who knew only enough football to fill Coach Burks’s left pocket.

I thought about it.

I remembered the lessons my parents taught me about starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone. I thought about Coach Burks. He was very excited about being able to dust off his offensive football coaching skills. I admit it now, I was scared. I didn’t know defensive fronts from storm fronts. I didn’t know the first, the second, or the last thing about secondary coverage schemes. Blitzes might have just as well have been spritzes. I was clueless. I was scared to fail.

Even though it went completely against my heart. Even though I knew it would knock me completely out of my comfort zone. Even though I knew I could completely look like a fool in front of my adopted hometown, I made the decision to be the freshman defensive coach.

Turns out, it was the best decision I’ve ever hated in my life.

I hit the books. I knew I couldn’t fall flat on my face. I couldn’t risk being the sore thumb which stood out on the stellar coaching staff Coach Lane put together. I didn’t want to embarrass my family or let down the high standards of the CCCHS community. Most of all, I did not want to let Coach Lane down. I knew he took a giant risk hiring me. I also assumed he took quite a bit of crap from the above high-standard, CCCHS community about hiring a nobody with no experience.

I studied defense. I read articles. I watched film. I asked questions. I tried to soak up everything I could from the other members of the staff. Slowly but surely, I fell head over heels for defensive football. And you know what else I discovered? That part of being a defensive coach is…studying the different offenses! Kaboom!

The strategy. The fundamental techniques. The intensity. The contact. The physicality. The schemes.

It was like a door to a new world was opened. I crawled through the dark, wardrobe door and found a football utopia. Defense. I learned the defensive fronts and gaps. I learned the linebacker techniques and schemes. I even learned about three-deep zones, squats & halves, bracket, zone over, zone blitz, and man coverages. I was like a kid in the candy store.

Defense.

I found my football groove.

Found my groove by being shoved out of my comfort zone.

Found my groove by doing the job I was given instead of doing everyone else’s job.

Found my groove through discipline and knowledge.

I found my football groove seventeen years ago through the best decision I ever hated making.

Do the work. Do your job. Every man, every play.

Even for the coaches.

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COACH LANE’S OVERALL PHILOSOPHIES (circa 2000)

Every year about this time, I go to my space in the basement, pull out the tubs and boxes of old football coaching materials, and make an attempt to cull things that no longer justify the space they take up in the house.  

It’s a painful journey at times, like Dante descending into a deeper circle of Hell, but it’s mostly a joyous experience. Almost every piece of paper, from notebooks to scouting reports to journal articles to coaching books, comes with a memory. Some good, some bad.

Yesterday, I sent three full trash bags to their final resting place at the landfill. There is plenty more for another year, but those remaining things have earned a reprieve. Someday it will be condensed to one shelf of books and one Rubbermaid tub, but today is not that day.

There are also things I will never part with. Yesterday, I ran across one of those pieces. It was Page 3 from Coach Paul Lane’s Tiger Football Player Handbook in his first year as Head Football Coach at Clay Center Community High School.

The year was 2000. The kids were ready for a change. The football community was ready f0r a change. Everyone was looking to have fun and enjoy high school football again.

I was lucky enough to be a part of it. And you know what?

It was more than just fun and a return to enjoying the game. IT WAS A BLAST!

Here is Page 3 from that Coach Lane’s first CCCHS Tiger Football Handbook. It had a profound effect on hundreds of young men and one fish-out-of-football-water assistant coach in the year 2000 who was struggling to learn “channeled intensity”.

ENJOY!

COACH LANE’S OVERALL PHILOSOPHIES

There is a fine line between being an “average” football team or being League Champions. To become one of the best, we must be a team of passion, toughness, and togetherness.

THE THREE PILLARS OF A PLAYOFF TEAM ARE:

100% COMMITMENT
FROM 100% OF THE TEAM
100% OF THE TIME

ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND

  • School is a prerequisite to your participation in this sport.
  • Strive to excel in all classes.
  • Good habits are developed by repetition and a desire to get better.
  • The is NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HARD WORK.
  • A solid work ethic is of the utmost importance — on and off the football field.
  • You play on Friday night like you practice during the week.
  • You are expected to give 100% at all times.
  • You EARN THE RIGHT to represent your team under the lights on Friday nights.
  • DISCIPLINE WILL GUIDE YOU THROUGH ADVERSITY.
  • We must do the little things well by focusing on fundamentals.
  • We must be the most physical team on the field.
  • We must stay focused with “channeled intensity”.
  • We must give maximum effort on every down.
  • We must be in great physical condition to ward off mental mistakes when tired.
  • WE MUST BE A FOURTH QUARTER TEAM.
  • When a teammate makes a mistake, be the first one to help him get over it.
  • WORRY ONLY ABOUT THAT WHICH YOU CAN CONTROL.
  • Win the turnover battle and respond aggressively to ANY turnover.
  • Be unselfish in your play.
  • Accentuate the positive — don’t be negative.
  • Don’t get too high over any victory, and don’t get too low over any loss.
  • REPRESENT YOUR SCHOOL WITH PRIDE AT ALL TIMES.
  • BE DIGNIFIED IN EVERYTHING YOU DO.
  • GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE ALL THOSE WHO HELP YOU SUCCEED.
  • NEVER LET THE TEAM OR TEAMMATE DOWN.
  • NEVER WALK AWAY FROM A JOB UNDONE!
  • IT DOESN’T TAKE TALENT TO HUSTLE.

 

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Crash Course

Bowl Week. It brings a smile to virtually every football fan’s face.  Four, or more, games a day. Teams and bowl games one has rarely heard of before. A football dream (at least to me).

But Bowl Week is more than just non-stop, sports television excitement. It is a chance for a coach to get a crash course in football. During the course of 10-14 days, a coach can watch and study virtually every offensive scheme out there pitted against virtually every defensive scheme in play.

Bowl Week is an excellent opportunity to expand the knowledge base. I don’t quite invest the time, or experience the temporary thumb paralysis from rewinding and rewinding the video with the remote control, as I used to when I was actively coaching, but I still love to watch these college football matchups in order to learn more about the game.

Most of us have heard the old adage, “If you aren’t getting better, you’re falling behind.”. A big chunk of that getting better occurs in the offseason—even for the coach. The players get better by training, by playing other sports, and working toward being better each and every day. Coaches need to do get better in the offseason also. No, take that back. Coaches don’t need to get better in the offseason, coaches must get better in the offseason. After taking a few weeks off at the end of their team’s season, a coach needs to start the process of self-improvement. Bowl Week gives us that opportunity.

I can watch the fast-break, spread offenses, flexbone veer offenses, two-back sets, one-back sets, empty sets and full-house sets all run in unique ways. I can learn how teams use motion to give the QB a coverage read. I can study what these QBs are reading and learn to recognize calls and route combinations. A good defensive coach learns to watch offenses, identify what they are doing and why, and then incorporate that knowledge into your own defensive scheme.

One of my favorite things is to study blocking schemes of all the offensive philosophies and schemes. Two of our most successful specialized blocking schemes were the reverse blocking and the screen blocking. Both came directly from watching college bowl games. The reverse blocking scheme was taken from Glen Mason’s Minnesota Golden Gophers team in the 2003 Sun Bowl and the screen blocking, if I remember right, was from a mid-2000’s Jim Tressel Ohio State bowl game.

Bowl Week. Watch your favorite teams play as a fan, but watch as many of the other games with the eye of a coach.

Always get better.

Your players need it.

Your players deserve it.

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Over. Done With. Gone.

Logically, our high school football season would end either when we lost our playoff game or we failed to make the playoffs. Makes sense, right?

Game over, mope around a couple of days, check in equipment, and say those awful goodbyes to senior young men who will never play organized football again. Over. Done with. Gone.

But that’s never the way it happened. Never.

Sure, we’d do all the stuff listed above. Plus, we’d have the requisite end-of-the-season banquet where I’d have to fake-smile my way through the whole ordeal because all I could think about were my failures as a coach that season (Although the player-produced highlight videos were always cool, no matter how few highlights we may have actually produced on the field that year.).

Even then, the season was never really over for me until the last game, the 4A state championship, was played. Somebody in 4A was still playing AND it wasn’t me. That was tough to let go. People still playing when I was not ready to be done. 

Until the point of the finality of nobody else playing, I was mired in the reality of our failure. I slept poorly, I worked poorly, and if you take a vote, I was probably a pretty crappy person to be around. The majority of my waking thoughts dwelt on what we did wrong and what we needed to do to get better.

Once the state title was safely in the books, I relaxed. I started to think optimistically about next year. I started to prepare winter, spring, and summer weight workouts with a hopeful smile on my face.

Did I say I relaxed? Well, apparently, when I relaxed at the end of the season, so did my immune system. About every year, come late November, I would get a God-awful, upper respiratory infection which made my life miserable right up to Christmas. I spent a month every postseason hacking and coughing my way through life. So much for optimism?

Coaching is a weird thing. It gets in your head and worms its way into the marrow of your bones. There are bad things I really don’t miss in the least of which I could rant for hours upon. But the good things and great memories far outweighed the bad and I miss those things dearly. These good things are the things which keep people coaching sports year after year.

Not money, not glory, not the fancy headsets, but the pure joy of competing and coaching young people.

But…as the great Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Putting football things on the shelf.

The pain of letting a season go. The pain of telling those seniors goodbye.

The bumps from slipping back into a normal family life.

Is everyone finally done playing?

Game over. Back to life.

Over. Done with. Gone.

photo (2)

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How In The World…?

Another DAVID AND GOLIATH post on one of my favorite football coaching memories.

I learned a valuable lesson about succeeding as the underdog early in my football coaching career. I learned this from our offensive coordinator at the time, Coach Dail Smith. He didn’t sit me down and explain this lesson. It didn’t pop into my head like a light bulb of understanding. I learned this valuable lesson from a short pre-game talk at the 50-yard line of Otto Unruh Stadium with the head coach of our most bitter rival, the Marysville Bulldogs.

As the lowest coach on our program’s coaching totem pole, it was my job to remember to get the VHS trade scout tapes from the equipment box and return them to the opposing coach before the game. (Yes, back in the dark ages, the upcoming opposing coaches would meet on Saturday morning and trade game tapes from the night before and the week before. I imagine the HUDL online system is golden compared to VHS trade tapes.)

Well, I ran the Marysville tapes out to midfield to give back to Coach Warner, who I knew a bit from coaching baseball. I handed him the tapes and said hello. He takes the tapes, smiles and asks, “How in the world do you get high school kids to learn all those plays?”

I said, “Huh?”

“Your playbook must be four inches thick. How do you guys do it?”

“What do you mean?”

“When I charted your plays from these past two games,” he said, handing me our two VHS tapes. “I counted 127 different plays. How in the world…?”

I just shrugged my shoulders and bit my lip to keep from breaking out into a fit of laughter. “I don’t know, coach. I guess our kids are awesome or something.” I told him good luck and ran to our sidelines laughing like a hyena all the way.

Now, I know our kids. They are awesome kids. But they aren’t that awesome (or quite that smart). 127 plays? I still laugh about that to this day and it’s still one of my favorite memories—and coaching lessons.

Simple is better, even if it looks like a Chinese fire drill.

Coach Smith designed an offense to look and act like this big 127 separate play chaotic monster. But, in all actuality, it was a very simple, multiple-look offense. An offense which exploited the best things we did while trying to mask the things we didn’t do well.

Again, David using his advantages to compete against Goliath instead of entering into a disadvantageous matchup.

Well, you may be wondering by now how many plays Coach Smith did have in his playbook. First, I don’t think he ever made a real playbook or did so willingly. But he did scratch out the basics.

The numbers?

We had about 6-8 running plays and a handful of passing plays.

We taught the kids their job on these 15 or so plays until they knew what they were supposed to do like clockwork. Then we ran those plays out of 27 different formations we had that year. And every kid could go to those formations in their sleep because we drilled and drilled and drilled those formations in summer camp and two-a-days until they were blue in the face.

So, when our kids learned their jobs on those 15 plays and compound it with all those formations, I am sure our offense looked like this massive, complex gargantuan playbook. Something that made our opponents spend hours of scouting and practice time covering the hundreds of plays.

Using our tools to be the best we could be.

Just like David against Goliath.

Coach Smith was a wily, old fox, wasn’t he?

 

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My Ball!

Football has been on my mind lately. I know what you’re thinking, “Stop the presses! Hays never thinks about sports.” The general consensus has always been, even in the days before I coached the game, that a certain percentage of my total brain function is dedicated to football thought 24/7/365. This is different, though.

My latest football obsession has been triggered by a book (Yes, I said a book.). I’ve been reading (and listening) to Malcolm Gladwell’s book about the misconception of the underdog called DAVID AND GOLIATH: UNDERDOGS, MISFITS, AND THE ART OF BATTLING GIANTS. Gladwell is one of my favorite intellects currently walking this fine planet. Forget the grey-haired, elderly, beer-sipping character from a TV commercial, Malcolm Gladwell may truly be The Most Interesting Man In The World.

Many of the patterns and habit of underdogs—which, by the way, lead to more successes than expected—outlined in the book remind me of the things I learned while coaching. I’ll attempt to touch on some of these learned lessons over the next months on the blog. One of the most important lessons learned was this intricately simplistic, but incredibly effective, definition of the game of football. The “MY BALL!” philosophy of Coach Paul Lane.

In my town, we are perennial underdogs. We have the collective genetics of a lower middleweight wrestler. We aren’t big, we aren’t particularly fast, we aren’t incredibly naturally talented, but we are who we are. If you were to line our Clay Center boy’s teams up before the game at the 50-yard line against the opponent and take a vote on who’ll win from physical appearance only, we’d lose that vote in a landslide 95 times out of 100.

We are who we are.

Being what and who we naturally are, we have to approach things from a non-conventional direction in order to develop into a successful team. We have to think outside the proverbial box because we don’t have the natural athleticism that fits nicely into that box. I don’t mean to be mean-spirited because I loved coaching this tough-minded, hard-working population of kids. It is just the harsh reality—we have to develop competitive teams, not inherit competitive teams.

Coach Lane’s number one teaching point for the Tiger Defense consisted of only two words, MY BALL!. When the opponent had the ball, our job was to physically take our ball back, either by force or by making the opponent punt the ball back to us in three plays. Our goal was to be selfish by taking our ball back whenever the opponent happened to gain possession of it—and take it from them ASAP.

A beautifully simple, yet effective definition of the game that 99.9% of our teenage boys were able to grasp. They could “get it”. Football went from this apparently confusing game of rules and playbooks, and techniques to something they could wrap their young minds around. It’s all about MY BALL.

  • Get it back when we don’t have it.
  • Take care of it when we have it and move it to our special piece of prime real estate at the opposite end of the field as many times as possible.

With this simple mental framework in place, we could teach our kids their jobs and they could understand why they had to do that job. The team needed them to do their job in order for us to get Coach Lane his ball back.

Easy-peasy.

“MY BALL!” made me rethink the game of football and more importantly, rethink how I studied and taught the game of football. Two simple words, one simple philosophy that helped our underdogs as they worked to become successful. David beats Goliath playing the game David’s way and not Goliath’s way.

Until next time.

WilsonFootball

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The Youth Sports Conundrum

Sometimes I speak my sports mind.

Sometimes I tell people the “truth” on sports as I see it.

Sometimes this gets me in trouble.

Recently, I was asked at our youth baseball association meeting if I was excited as a former high school level coach to see all these local kids playing youth club baseball. I thought for a moment, looked at the floor trying to think of a politically correct way to answer this question.

I couldn’t—so I spoke the sports truth, “Yes…and NO!”

“Yes” because it’s great to see kids playing baseball, but “NO!” because I don’t think you should ever approach youth baseball for the purpose of someday having your dozen or so kids all becoming high school stars.

Eyes widened. Jaws fell open. I quickly tried to elaborate that, as I high school level coach, I’d prefer to see kids enter the high school program armed primarily with a love for the sport and the ability to throw and catch. There will be attrition. Even in the best case scenario, only about half of those dozen kids who play on a youth team will probably still be playing in their later high school days.

Kids will change, their bodies will grow and shift by the time they reach high school. If a kid has that love and passion for the game, I can teach them (or re-teach them) as they enter the high school program and mold them into the players best suited for their skill set. These kids will put the hours of hard work needed to be a solid player. They will use their love of the game to push through tough times and tough situations to get better every day.

That is what I want to see out of a youth sports program. Help kids love the sport, teach them the basic fundamentals of the sport, and give them the basic skills tool set to be successful. All the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place with hard work and repetition.

Youth sports are not a minor league for high schools. The two bottom things on the list of priorities for a youth sports program are the emphasis on winning above development and a philosophy of making future high school stars. Most of the problems that grow out of youth sports are rooted in these two negative prioritizations. The “burnout” problem so often discussed as a major problem with youth sports most often grows out of these two philosophical approaches.

Youth sports exist to teach kids the fundamentals of a sport. Youth sports programs should teach the kids how to play the game, teach kids about the value of teamwork and the value of competition.

Above all else, youth sports need to teach kids to enjoy the sport and the opportunity to play.

Play hard and have fun!

Campbell Infield

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