Thursday, August 28, 2014

Steve Spurrier and His Influence...on ME...

With all the stuff out about Steve Spurrier here recently, and how folks are finally seeing just what a good coach he his, despite his witty wisecracks, and penchant for running up the score, I thought I'd share just what an influence the Head Ball Coach has been on my coaching style.  I'm in the middle of season, so this won't be a post with a bunch of "bells and whistles" like many of my others.  Nope, this will just be a "quickie" so to speak (lol).

Spurrier, was the first head coach I idolized.  So much so, I still wear a visor on game day to this very day.  So much so, I once named a favorite trick play "Spurrier", because much like who he was named after, it was a thorn in our opponent's sides.  I grew up, and am still to this day a die-hard University of By-God Florida Gator fan, and when I was coming into my own with football, Steve Spurrier was just getting going at UF.  I watched many a Saturday where the ol' HBC (by the way, for you guys that say it's "Ol' Ball Coach, it's not.  It is, has and always will be the HEAD BALL COACH!!!) would turn a football game into a 7 on 7 version of a track meet.  I was always in awe of just how open his receivers would be.  I was also in awe at how he took meager quarterbacks and made them look like world beaters, and in some cases even Heisman Trophy contenders.  No doubt, the HBC was my guy, and if I ever became a coach I wanted to be just like him.

Link: Good article from Coach Hoover on Spurrier's offense with link to playbook.

Early Coaching Influences
Spurrier's knack for rubbing people the wrong way was probably the first talent I developed as a coach, however, I was long before classified as an "asshole" before I even started coaching.  Hey, it is what it is.  I get my point across and you know where you stand with me.  The HBC is no different.  He tells it like it is, even if that means rubbing somebody the wrong way.  At least you know where you stand with him.  I always loved the "You can't spell Citrus without UT" comment.  That is one of my all-time favorite "Spurrier-sim".  Anyhow, my first coaching gig was a youth league deal where I lived.  Folks there knew I had played/coached in college and were in need of coaches, so I took the deal.  It worked out with my work schedule, and though I had just finished up coaching 17-22 year-olds, I thought "What the heck?", how hard can it be right?!  Well, I was in for a big learning session that year, but my lack of words to folks who weren't getting the job done wasn't every a problem.  I mean, I feel, if you're given a task, whether it be volunteering or whatever, do it the best you can do it, and don't screw it up.  If you do, I'm going to tell you about it, because I want you to feel uncomfortable about what you just did, so you don't do it the next time.  That flew about like a lead brick in my new HC gig, but like I said, folks knew where they stood with me and they knew what I wanted and expected out of them.  Much the same is with Spurrier.  He tells it like it is, and if that doesn't sit well, you can pack it up and move on, or buckle down and do your job (just ask Ron Zook).  That's what I really like about the man, is that it's either black or white, there is no gray.  You either do your job right, or you don't.  When you do your job, you get praised, when you don't, you're told about it in a manner that makes you feel pretty uncomfortable.  I'm cool with that, and once most people get over the initial shock of "Did he really just say that?", they are cool with it too.

Another item I took from Spurrier's playbook, was not only making some folks uncomfortable, but making opposing defenses uncomfortable, and doing so in what was considered an unconventional method.  When I got into this youth league I watched some film of the previous year, and the craziest thing out there was some single-wing!  Most teams were I, or split backs running isolation, power, sweep etc.  Well, not this guy!  I came in and we installed our version of the "Fun-n-Gun" offense.  We ran out of the "I", but the lead draw was our base play.  Just like the HBC, that was our playaction on every pass play.  Now don't get me wrong, we ran some dive, trap, toss sweep and a nifty counter toss-sweep (also from Spurrier), but the lead draw was our staple.  The more and more we played the more I recognized that nobody was spreading the field much.  Well, in my second year there, we started to open it up a bit more.  We played a lot of 11 personnel and went into the shotgun.  I remember folks saying "You can't throw the ball that much here and win.", or "That won't work here.".  Well it did, to the tune of a 1-9 team going to 5-3 the next two seasons.

I used to have opposing coaches come up and say "How do you get that kid to shotgun snap at such a young age?".  To which I'd just chuckle and say "You gotta rep it coach.".  So many of these guys were stuck in their ways that thinking outside the box just didn't happen.  I'm glad I had a guy like Spurrier, who's whole career as a football coach has been defined as thinking outside of convention.  Another thing we did was to run the read option early on, which nobody was doing, and barely anyone was doing even in college football.  I had installed a zone blocking scheme for our OL when I came in, and one day when we ran our lead play out of the gun, my QB said "that end is crashing real hard coach, why don't you ever let me keep it?".  I asked him, if he thought he could read that end, and make a decision and he quickly replied with a "Yes!".  So we ran the zone read before zone read was en-vogue!  I also ran jet sweep before Wes-Elrod made his living writing books and opening up (mostly because I actually coached against Wes in college and had seen it, and liked what I saw and what the jet sweep did to defenses).  Again, all this leads me back to my Spurrier roots, because it was things that nobody else around was doing, and it was things that made opposing defensive coordinators, very, very uncomfortable.

You see, what I relished about Spurrier, and what went along with the situation I was in, was that he and I seem to be at our best when somebody says "you can't do that", or "that won't work here".  I've been getting it all my life, and so has Spurrier.  See, he was a skinny QB, that not many folks really cared about recruiting, yet turned out to be a Heisman trophy winner.  I was the same way, a short squatty offensive lineman, who nobody thought would amount to much, that ended up playing small college football and getting a large portion of my degree payed for.  An offensive lineman who at 5'9" tall, and a whopping 245 pounds started next to a 6'2" 265 pound center, and a 6'5" 315 pound offensive tackle.  The guy's job that I took, was 6'4" and 260 pounds.  That's the stuff I like.  Back me into a corner and tell me I can't.  Tell me it won't work.  I get a lot of that from my dad, but it was honed and sharpened by watching the HBC throw the pigskin around on Saturday afternoons in Gainesville.  Don't tell Spurrier something won't work, he'll make damn sure it does, and then he'll tell you about it!

So when I entered this youth league and wanted to throw the ball all over the place with three and four receiver sets, and run zone read option, folks thought I was an idiot and made their same old statement, "Can't do that here".  The guy that hand signaled in every play to his QB on wristbands, and could go no huddle if he wanted to at any time, was also told "That won't work here coach".  Yep, none of that would've worked had I done what many coaches do, and simply listen to the critics.  What I learned from Spurrier is, they don't matter.  You know what does matter, the guy you look at in the mirror everyday.  That guy matters, and he matters the most.

One thing from my early years I must reflect upon because it's actually quite comical is the trick play I referenced above, aptly named after my favorite football coach, "Spurrier".  What it boiled down do is shown below.  Yep, just the old halfback pass, however I added the element of option to it.  The halfback, if everyone dropped off in coverage, could simply turn it into sweep.  However if the corner bit on the sweep, he would toss it to the wide open Z receiver.  If the defense over pursued to the sweep, he could then turn and toss it back to the QB who had run what many would call a bubble route, however we just made sure he was deeper than the RB.  The QB now had the option, had everyone left him alone to turn the ball up and run it.  Now, if the corner had stayed home for the reverse, he had another option, and that was to hit the X receiver on the Sally route, for  a touchdown.  Seems like a lot for youth league right?  Nah, just gotta rep it!  We would run this on air 10 time and live 10 times everyday.  As the season progressed, we could do it less and less to where these kids could do it in their sleep.  I once ran this in a game, six times.  Let that sink in...six times!  I remember their coach yelling "They're running that play again, that trick play, don't get beat deep".  Every time it worked for a first down, or a touchdown.  The opposing coach was so embarrassed, he wouldn't shake my hand after the game.  Hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

Later Influences
As time has gone on, and Spurrier's career left the University of Florida, I've kept my eye on him.  I was a bit shocked he didn't turn the NFL on its ear, but the NFL has been a killing ground of innovative coaches.  Say what you want, but even the Chip Kelly's of the world aren't doing EXACTLY what they did when they were in the collegiate game.  They have to modify it some.  Spurrier wasn't going to do that, he was going to do it his way, even if that meant sinking with the ship.  His time in the NFL was rocky, and many folks criticized him, but in reality it was good for him.  See, Spurrier, at UF, was borderline larger than life.  Hell, who am I kidding, in the State of Florida, he's a god.  I think every man needs humbling now and then, and Steve was no different.  I went through the exact same thing, from getting a high school head coaching job, and then getting let go, all of which helped humble me as a coach, because quite frankly before getting the job I was touted as a very good football coach.  So was Spurrier, and many thought the NFL was in for a ride when he came on scene.  However, even one who may be labeled as the best college football coach ever, Nick Saban, couldn't win in the NFL.  It's quite simply, a different game.  I learned this lesson as well, and with tail tucked between my legs, left the high school game, and went back to coaching junior high ball for a humbling two year stint.

Spurrier sat out of coaching for a while too, and once the South Carolina job opened up, he jumped at the chance.  A challenge.  Win, where winning wasn't traditional.  Not to say that Lou Holtz hadn't helped Spurrier a bit, but let's be honest, Holtz's influence has long since vanished from South Carolina.  When Spurrier stepped back in the ring, you could easily tell he wasn't the same snippy coach.  No, he seemed on a mission, and that's exactly what he's been on.  The more and more he's been successful, the wittier he's gotten, until now, he's back to the old Spurrier.  I have faced just such a thing myself, and watching him go through it has shown that being humbled is not a bad thing.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Being humbled really has helped me as a coach.  I've learned not everyone needs to be told exactly what you're thinking all the time.  Choose your words and pick your battles.  What I've also learned is to be adaptive.  Adapt to what you have, make it fit your players, work through kinks etc.  Spurrier has done this too.  His offenses at South Carolina, though they still have some of the old flair to them of the "Fun-n'-Gun", they aren't the same offense.  Spurrier has learned to adapt, use the running QB, go no huddle, and yes, by gosh, run the ball when you have to.  Yep, I'd say he's come a long way from the pass-happy Fun-n-Gun.  Many say he's an innovator, and no doubt he's changed the game, but he's also proved, that he'll do whatever it takes to win.

One of the biggest contributions I got from the HBC, was that he not only does it his way, he does it the right way.  You rarely hear of any of his teams getting busted for violations.  Now, I know, he's like every other coach, and has players that end up having brushes with the law, but to be honest, everywhere Spurrier has been he's run a clean program.  Bobby Bowden, Urban Meyer, Jimmy Johnson and the lot cannot attest to having the same track record.  Sure, they've won more championships, but at what cost?  Spurrier is the benchmark of what a clean program should look like.

You won't see this heading anywhere near a Spurrier run program!
What I've really picked up from Spurrier though is the fact that football doesn't need to consume your life.  For me, when football season rolled around, everyone knew, I was going to disappear.  When I was the head coach, it was football 24-7.  So much so, that when I got canned, I looked around and realized "Where the hell did the last six years of my life go?".  Sure, we had won games, been successful and then slowly slid downhill after that to the point of me getting let go, but what had I missed?  In the process I had missed my great grandmother's 98th birthday, two cousins weddings, several family members being born, and being an avid hunter, just about every deer season the past 14 years has been pretty uneventful!  I remember when it was all over, just feeling so damn lost because football wasn't in my life.  I think we all would feel that, and even the HBC would admit to being that way too, however, he could've been just as content playing golf somewhere.  Spurrier took time off from the game and it rejuvenated him, as it did me.  I went and helped a friend coach a struggling junior high team, and to be honest that may have been the best two years of my coaching career.  Not in terms of wins or losses, but in terms of what I learned.  It's a game, have fun with it.  Have fun with the kids, that's what they are out there for, why not have fun with them?  I did just this for two seasons, and then the call came for me to come back to the high school ranks as a defensive coordinator.  Two years off, and I was rejuvenated and ready to work.  Ready to get back to the grind.  Well, three games into last season, giving up over 400 yards of total offense per game and sitting at 0-3, I realized I had become the same man I was before my firing.  Three hours of sleep, no patience, being snippy and actually dreading going to practice had become the norm again.  Thank God I have a head coach that had the intestinal fortitude to see this, and say "stop it".  Let's go super simple, learn our assignments and get the kids playing faster.  Well, we did just that.  I went to bed at ten every night.  Scheme was super simple, no more crazy hours worked.  As the year went on, I began to have more and more fun with it. We turned things around, and although we weren't good on defense, we made the playoffs for the first time since 07'.

I was going to resign at the end of the season, but something has kept me going.  I told myself this season, I'm going to do what I did for two years with the junior high program...have fun.  So far I am.  It has been a bit stressful, and I do still grind some, but not like I used to.  I get up and go hunting every Friday morning before the game.  I go out on dates with my wife during game week, and most importantly I don't yell anymore to get my point across, I coach, correct, smile and have fun.  What does this have do with Spurrier?  Well, it's really how he's always done things.  He's never been a grinder, and look at the success he's had.  I figure if he can do it, anyone can, and I'm going to give it a try!  So far, I'm loving it.

Football is a wonderful game, but it's the people involved with it, that make it really special.  I have missed that.  I look back on some of the good teams I coached, and even though I had a relationship with my players, it was more like a business relationship than a coach-player relationship.  I have definitely changed in my approach to how I relate to my players.  I make sure to ask them, how they are doing, what is going on in school and at home.  Where I used to walk out of the locker room and go home at the end of the day without speaking to one player, I try to stop and talk to all of them.  Lastly, something I didn't get from Steven Spurrier, but from another mentor of mine, is always stop and look a player in the eye and shake his hand when asking him how his day went.  That little piece of advice has really helped me bridge the gap from lab rat defensive coordinator to "coach".  Sure I'm still blunt in the way I correct guys, but at the end of the day they know I have their back, and they know our relationship is more than just business.  You know, in many ways, Spurrier is the same way.  This is the guy that has suggested coaches assist in paying players so that they would have a "piece of the pie" of the money that college football rakes in every year.  He cares about the players, even though he may not always show it, or have a funny way of showing it.  Whether you like him or not, there's an awful lot there to respect.  I think even ol' Bobby Bowden would agree to that (dadgummit)!!!

Anyhow, just something I thought I'd share with you.  I didn't really know how big an impact Spurrier had on me, until I began reading the articles about him.  I think he's a remarkable coach, and I hope he still has a lot of years left in his tank.  I think Steve Spurrier is good for college football.  I think college football would agree...


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Man or Zone Blitz, That is the Question...

I actually get this a lot, and to be honest, it is a very fair question.  For most of us who've gotten into coaching in the past 20 years, the zone blitz was the newest and latest and greatest thing when it come "en vogue".  I have run both during my tenure as a defensive coach, and I thought I'd weigh in on the two schemes so that readers might get an idea of what they are looking, especially when trying to adapt higher level schemes to play at the high school level.

Some History
I actually started out my defensive career with zone blitzes.  I worked for a DC that absolutely did not blitz.  This guy almost couldn't stand to blitz.  From him I learned that defensive football ain't all about running guys here and there and everywhere putting your guys in "high risk" situations as he called it.  It was about making the offense uncomfortable in what they were trying to do.  In my opinion, this is exactly what defensive coaches should be trying to attain.  Anyhow, I found some pretty cool zone blitz stuff and presented it to him, and he really liked it.  The idea, back then, was that you could blitz and still have all 11 eyes on the football.  We already ran the four-spoke rotating secondary, so using a sky or "skiff" player (seam-curl-flat) wasn't too big of an issue for us.  We were also in our infancy in pattern reading coverages, so that wasn't too hard to adapt to the three deep, three under zone many zone blitz teams were presenting at the time.  So, we went for it.  Now we were like most, we had our patented NCAA blitz we used a large majority of the time and a few others.  As time went on, and I became a DC, I kept the zone blitz package in the scheme, even adapting it to fit a three man line and so forth.  Then I ran across the 57 page playbook from TCU that many, many people have perused through over the past several seasons.  What I noticed, no zone blitz?  I thought, "How is this possible in today's game?".  The further I delved into the TCU defense, the more and more I liked the ultimate simplicity of the Cover 0 scheme.  See, having cut my teeth on the zone blitz, I was afraid of being "pure man", because as all the clinic speakers say "We don't have the athletes to do that".  Well, I was THAT guy!  I always felt I didn't have the athletes to "man up" with other teams.

I had an epiphany one fall week when we were to face a district rival.  Now this foe, was a team we did not even belong on the field with, however, for some reason, we were a thorn in their side.  We had nothing that season.  TONS of injuries had plagued us, we had JV kids moved up to varsity and quite simply were very, very inexperienced.  Well, I uncorked the man blitzes on the team we were facing.  I did so, mainly because my freshman and sophomore linebackers didn't read so well, but also I wanted to see how we'd take the fight to somebody.  Instead of being reactive, we went proactive.  I wish the story had a happy ending, however it does have a silver lining.  We lost by 16, however, I'm pretty sure it would've been worse had we not done what we did.  The kicker of the whole thing was the score was 22-6.  Our opponent was averaging close to 42 points per game coming into that game.  We held them to their lowest output of the regular season (they went on to be the regional runner-ups that year).  Anyhow, what I liked is how easily the blitzes adjusted to what we were seeing.  This was a spread team that would get into some two back stuff as well. To keep run fits working, zone blitzes need quite a bit of adjustment, especially between who is the hole dropper and who is the skiff player.  We constantly had miscommunication between these two positions.  It could've been poor coaching, but I think it was basically a simpler system was needed.  The man blitz provided that.  Well, I got let go after only dabbling in man blitzes, for a year, and ended up at a junior high coaching seventh and eighth graders.  Anyhow, after my two year sabbatical with the younger guys, I came back and have implemented a man blitz scheme where I'm currently at.  With all this said, I'm going to show you the two schemes as well as the pros and the con's of each, and then give you my heart-of-heart talks on what I feel works best at the high school level.

The Zone Blitz
I'm not going to go to in-depth with zone blitzes, but most know that you are sending four to five players into designated gaps, while generally dropping into a three-by-three zone, or a two-by-four zone (although there are teams that are using less droppers and more rushers and getting away with it).  Again, this is purely a generalization.  The most simplest of the zone blitzes is the timeless NCAA blitz.  It is a deception blitz that slants the DL in one direction, and then brings two rushers in the C and D gaps away from the slant.  The DE (or sometimes OLB) in the direction of the slant will usually drop, and in most cases becomes the weak side "skiff" dropper.  The remaining LB is the hole dropper and to the blitz side a safety rolls down to be the strong side "skiff" dropper.  The remaining DB's rotate into a three deep zone.  Pretty simple stuff.

Benefits of Zone Blitzing

  • The benefits of zone blitzing are that you can generally get 11 hats to the ball if the ball breaks the LOS.  You rarely end up with defenders with their eyes to the back of the ball, not seeing what's going on.  
  • Many zone blitzes are very option sound, and also because a defender cannot be "run off" as they can in man schemes, if the option does break, the damages can be limited.
  • It's match up zone, a lot of folks have been doing this for years, so the scheme fits right along with what they already do.  
  • You can even spot drop it in high school and get away with it for the most part.  So if you are spot drop team, zone blitzing can be an easily added package as well.
  • The possibilities are endless.  Drop both DE's and bring all three LB's.  Roll a safety into the hole while blitzing the MLB from the Over front, you name it, with zone blitzing it can be done, to a degree.
  • Less confident players seem to feel a bit more comfortable with it, in that they don't necessarily feel like they are on an island.  Since the deep zone guys are basically MOD (man only deep) defenders, they don't have the same pressure a a MEG (man everywhere he goes) defender does.  You basically take away half of the routes they will see (or more) and now they are limited to defending deeper breaking routes, which if you are already zone, this is what they see 90 percent of the time anyways.
  • Blitzes are easy to set up.  They can be brought by run strength, pass strength, right or left, and field and boundary.

Drawbacks to Zone Blitzing

  • Dropping a DL into a poor match up.
    • i.e. having a DL have to be the SCF player vs. a speedy slot.
  • Dropping a DL to the field
    • Many times these zone blitzes are field/boundary, so sometimes in certain situations, you end up with a DL as the SCF player having to drop to the field.  That is a long way to go, even for a DE.
  • Match up issues in general.
    • There will be times you end up with a DL on a receiver and a LB on a RB.  This is an adjustment that will have to added to the overall scheme
  • A large amount of schematic adjustments
    • There are certain formations (seems like 11 and 12 personnel cause a lot of these issues) that need to be accounted for as not necessarily fitting to the blitz.  In other words, you have to build in adjustments.  These adjustments add "weight" to your scheme (i.e. more for your players to have to remember).
  • Due to adjustments, the overall scheme is reduced.  What this means is you can only run a few of these to be effective.  Due to not only having to teach the base scheme, you now have to teach the adjustments as well.

Now, I know Manny Diaz has had a ton of success zone blitzing, as has Michigan State and Nebraska to name a few.  However, I'm talking about high school football here.  I zone blitzed for eight seasons, and all the while some of it was good, the more and more folks saw these blitzes, the more they lost their "luster".

Benefits of Man Blitzing

  • Coverage rules are simple and concise.
  • Motion to new formation or change of strength (COS) does not really effect.
  • Match up issues can be handled via switching of blitzers assignments (think TCU's switch call).
  • Can bring as many blitzers as needed vs certain sets.
  • All gaps and all men accounted for without the use of numerous adjustments
  • Man is usually played somewhat tighter than zone, forcing QB's to make near-perfect throws.
Drawbacks to Man Blitzing
  • It is man, one slip up, one misread or poorly timed break on an out-and-up and it can be six points.
  • Not all eyes on the ball, if a big run breaks, it can do some serious damage.
  • In some schemes, rushers must account for the backs and the QB draw, with younger, over-eager players this can often be overlooked, thereby allowing the screen and draw game to hurt the blitz.
  • Pick routes, or "rub routes" can often cause defenders to collide, thereby leaving an offensive player open with nobody back deep to help.
  • Not necessarily an advised scheme to attack the option.  Again, with not all 11 eyes on the football, certain run support players can be "run off" leaving the defense with a soft flank, or weak on the interior.
In My Opinion
I have gravitated toward the man blitz for the simple reason stated above that man is usually played somewhat tighter than zone, and forces high school QB's to make very good throws.  I have played both a three-by-three and two-by-four zone scheme and had QB's make throws on us, however most of the completions we get vs. man, is if a defender slips or utilizes poor technique etc.  Even the colleges and the NFL teams are gravitating to more man to man schemes when they zone blitz, as evidenced by a resurgence in Cover 1.  I mean, let's face it, offenses have evolved and pretty much all of them have at least one hot route, or check down concept built in to them anymore.  The idea here is get the QB to hold the ball longer, or to disguise the look in a way to get the QB or OC to change the play into something you know they're going to run (again, from film study).

In all, I've just seen more payoff with the man blitzes than I have with zone.  I'm not advocating that you switch, I'm just giving a personal account of what my experience has led me to do.  

Here's some older posts on blitzing, and links to good sites with blitz information:

Blitzology, need I say more!
Some 3-5 stuff from Hit'em Hard
RUNCODHIT's blitzes