Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reflections-2014 Season

Pretty much how I feel about this season...

Well, the playoffs have escaped us, and what started out as the makings of a good season...
...have spiraled to an out-of-control whirlwind ride that has myself and the coaching staff wondering, basically "What the hell just happened?".  It was one of those seasons, high hopes, fair amount of returners coming back, some good looking, fresh new faces, and then BAM!, the injury bug hit.  Couple that with suspensions, and some crazy off the field stuff, and what looked bright and sunny, immediately clouded over and rained...then poured.  Anyhow, the beautiful thing about the game of football is that it's a teacher, sometimes a cold-blooded teacher, but nonetheless an educator.  Seasons like this are good to reflect on once the agony of defeat and dismay have evaporated into the cool fall air.  I'd like to share with you several things I've learned, and plan to either discontinue doing, or build upon for the future.  Hopefully posts like this will keep you from making a similar mistake, or maybe you can find something that I did that will help your team.  If anything, this post may help me from drinking an entire bottle of Jack Daniels, as you all know, writing is how I relax.

Get Rid of Cancers Early
I'll start with a negative here.  We had some this season, and boy did they inflict some mental damage, early, and often.  Our head man gave them way too many chances in my opinion, but hey, when you're just a passenger aboard the ship, you don't always have a hand in it's course.  We had two guys who really, for lack of a better word were horses-asses.  The kids, no doubt were our best athletes, and worst citizens.  They were a constant black mark on the program from the spring practices on.  It was actually a relief once they were finally removed from the team, but damage from guys like that cuts deep, and can easily divide a team that may have had shaky leadership from the jump.  I really saw us get separated by this issue, and I hope in the future that the head coach takes this into account, as I'm sure these guys will return next season as both were underclassmen.  I think had we removed these guys early in the season, some of things we faced as a team would've been a bit easier to handle.  Hostilities would've remained low and focus would've been more crisp.  Again, just my opinion, but if you have a bad attitude, quite frankly you cannot play for me.  I just don't have time for bad attitudes.  Maybe it's a short-coming in my ability to coach, but I'm getting old enough now, quite frankly, I don't give a rats ass.  Show up, work to get better and love every minute you're in that uniform, and you'll play for me.  I'll find a place for you.

Potential is the Worst Word a Football Coach can use
We've all done it.  We've all said it.  "Man that guy's got the potential to be a real star".  Thoughts like these, kill a coach, and blind him in his ability to fairly evaluate a player.  Potential will also keep a coach hanging on to a player who isn't "fitting the bill" because the player should be able to perform better than he really is.  Case in point, I had a safety, that if I ranked them on potential, was hands down number one.  Best athlete of all the safeties, and probably second or third best in the entire secondary.  Kid wouldn't do it.  He just couldn't grasp some of the things he was asked to do at DB, and then when it came down to "nut-cutting time" he just went in a shell.  Now, we worked with him (he's just a sophomore) and he came around, but never did he live up to his "hype".  I think eventually he will be a real player, but had we played him just based on "potential", things might have been real bad in the back end of our defense.

The face of "potential"

My MLB from the start of the season, had tremendous "potential" (see there's that word again), but could not handle being the "center of attention" in the defense.  This young man would've been better as an OLB or DE where he wasn't the "man in the middle".  However, based on potential and things I was seeing in practice he started four games before finally quitting due to frustration.  I blame myself on that one, because later on the kid simply said he didn't like making the calls and the strength calls because it put him as the center of attention.  This is the type of kid that only wears gray shirts so he doesn't stand out in a crowd.  Don't get me wrong, he'll rip your damn head off in LB drills, or in a team session.  When asked to bark out checks or signals, he quickly got frustrated and went into a shell, began to play worse, and then got frustrated.  The worse he played, the more frustrated he got.  That one's on me for not nailing down the problem from the get-go, and not evaluating the young man on his game day performance.  Great kid, and more than likely will be back next season (he too was a sophomore), but, we lost an entire season that he could have been developing and getting better.  Had I stepped back and realized the young man's struggle as well as talking to him before he quit, I could have addressed the problem and made some adjustments.  Lesson learned.

My Defensive Plan was as Solid as it has Ever Been
I have to toot my own horn here.  I haven't felt this good about my defense in quite some time.  Now I'm not talking about players, I'm talking about scheme.  I've gone back to my roots and am running the 4-3, albeit a bastardized version of the 4-2-5 at times.  I have stolen all my line movements from TCU, fronts and coverages from Michigan State and coupled them with some long-time blitzes I've had and borrowed from many many seasons at the helm of the defense.  What it amounted to, was being the unit on the field that kept us in every game we were in.  The unfortunate fact is that we had zero offense and eventually succumbed to our opponents, but I received numerous compliments on the defensive play.  I really took this off season to package things and couple things together in a manner that made sense to the kids, was easy to teach, and each step further into the defensive teaching built on the last.  Like I said, I'm patting myself on the back here for this one, because my efforts paid off.  I've literally never blitzed or stunted as much as I did this season.  Just a ballpark figure of some games I've already got data on, we blitzed roughly 70 percent of the time, and had at least some sort of defensive movement (stunt, blitz or both) on over 85% of our defensive snaps.  That's just a 3 game sample I took from the beginning, middle and end of our season today on Hudl.  I ran the 4-3 like many coaches run a 3-3.  The idea though was to blitz or stunt with a purpose, and put our players in a position to make a play.  We had a lot of young guys on defense, even though there are several seniors, they were backups last season, so they had very little playing experience.  They struggled reading and making the base reads, so we needed an answer and stunting and blitzing was it.  We also did not live and die by the blitz like many folks think you have to.  We gave up our share of big plays, but I'd be willing to bet we gave up as many big plays in base defense as we did when we blitzed, percentage-wise of course.

My favorite blitz from this season

Schematically we were your typical 4-3 Over front.  I did not run any Under front this season as I did not have that "Sam" backer you need to manhandle a TE, and we rarely saw any 2 back sets.  We played a few front variations and did run a front that had the Sam LB on the LOS, but pretty much when you saw us, we were the good ol' Over front.

One thing I did that really helped keep teaching and confusion down, is what TCU calls "fist".  For me, it meant that in base defense (no blitz called), the Sam LB (my most athletic of the 3, and the best "cover guy" of the 3) went to passing strength, while the Will (usually my best tackler) went to the weak side of the coverage.  The front, and the MLB aligned based on whatever we so chose to do.  I was able to set my front by tight (to the 3 man surface), split (away from the 3 man surface), field, boundary, to (to the offset back) or away (away from the offset back).  This made us very multiple, yet allowed us to keep things simple.  The fist adjustment, used only vs 1 back teams, kept the teaching simple as well, most notably when running Solo coverage.  Since the LB away from pass strength in Solo has the RB man to man, the fist adjustment allowed this to be the same guy every time.  So if we were setting the strength to the offset RB vs. a 1 back gun team, then we would actually have the Will LB and the three technique set to the same side vs. a trips open look.  I know what many are thinking, but if you two gap your ends, there are absolutely no bubbles.  Surprisingly enough, we did not do ANY TGOG?!  I was shocked, but then when I looked back, what made this happen was the ability we had in our secondary.  When we faced teams that were what I call "Spread to Run", we simple adjusted the secondary to play Bronco Coverage.  To remind folks, Bronco is just a Quarters adjustment (some folks call this coverage "Combo") where the corner is MEG (man everywhere he goes) and the safety has the number two receiver vertical or out.  I usually press the corners, but it can also be played from off.  The safeties tighten down from 10 yards deep to about six, depending on the situation.  Anyhow, I'm rambling, what this does is allow you to keep seven in the box.  That makes it tough to run against.  It also keeps those OLB's inside the tackle box against 2x2 and 3x1 looks that usually require the removing of a LB from the box.  This allows you to defend all the offense is doing with seven dedicated run defenders.  Obviously, if you don't have the guys on the outside to match up, this isn't the answer, and TGOG would be a much better answer.

Fist vs. 3x1

I'm going to delve into my blitz scheme as things go further along with the off season, however I do want to leave you with a "teaser".  We literally taught our MLB 1 blitz, and our OLB's 3 blitzes, and were able to run 17 different blitz calls.  Add this along with our stunts (almost verbatim to what TCU runs), and you've got what looks like a vast playbook, but is really the simple teaching of just a few concepts.  Once packaged together we became quite a force, and as mentioned, really kept our team in several games.  Like I said, I plan on doing some posts on this, because I really took the time this off season to develop and "nail down" my scheme into some simple, easy-to-teach concepts to allow us to play faster than we had been.

There were some holes though.  I just posted something on the Huey board about Quarters coverage, as I'm trying to pair down what we do in the back end of our defense.  We played a "zoned" version of Quarters this past season (basically the corner would come off late on the wheel route to help the OLB who was carrying it through the flat).  Our adjustment to quick game and keeping the OLB's closer to the box was to play TCU's Bronco coverage, which worked pretty darn well.  We used three trips adjustments, Solo, MSU"s "Midpoints" with Quarters to the single receiver side, and Midpoints with Cover Two Man to the single receiver side.  We played only a small amount of Cover 3, and tons of Cover 0.  I really want to get this pressed corner back in Quarters look down pat.  I think it would translate well to what we do elsewhere, such as how much Cover 0 we ran, and we pressed when we played Bronco.  I think it would drastically reduce the amount of teaching time we have to give our corners, and let us focus more on the safeties.  I think once I get the back end of the defense shored up I might have a pretty sound scheme on my hands.  I finally feel like when I'm out there I have all the answers to what I'm seeing and what I might see.  That, my friends, is a darn good feeling as a DC.

Being in the Booth Wasn't as Bad as I Thought it Would be
I called all of our games from the box, and let me tell you, it was actually a joy.  I could see things easy, I could see problems as they were developing, and with such a good handle on my scheme and players, it made things very easy to fix.  Some drawbacks were the young guy I used to signal things in messed up some signals early on, and he didn't really care to be doing what he was doing.  Later, he got used to it, and it worked out quite well.  The lack of having me down on the sideline, at times, was an issue.  I couldn't get in their ears and chew on them when they needed it, and I couldn't reassure as well from up in the box, however I did put several players on the headsets to talk to them about things, and it seemed to work just fine.  Another drawback was not being in the middle of what was going on with player rotation and changes sometimes caused some confusion, but not to the point that I felt it was detrimental.  We had some issues as a staff, but I think those issues would have been there whether I was on the field or in the box.

Being able to see things was the greatest advantage.  I made a comment to one of the other coaches when he asked me if I liked being up there, I told him it was like playing a real live game of NCAA football.  He laughed, but in all honesty, that's what it was.  You could see the personnel grouping change, you had your call sheet right in front of you, and it was quite simple to make your calls.  You also didn't have to worry about some slap dick JV coach that wasn't prepared trying to relay information to you, which is a major issue for us because we have such low coaching numbers.  I get wrapped up in the game, and the emotions that run wild on the sidelines, so being up in the booth, kept me cool, calm and collected.  I really hope to continue this trend of being in the box, although on the road there were times when it royally sucked to be on top of the booth rather than inside of it.  What the heck though, you take the good with the bad right?

All Coaches Have Got to be on the Same Page
When I was a head coach, I never felt this was an issue.  Now that I'm an assistant, no words could ever be spoken truer.  Tough seasons, like this year, really bring out the best and worst in some individuals.  Coaches are no exception.  We had some issues this season, that really didn't lead to our demise, but they darn sure didn't help it either.  If I ever go back to being a head coach (highly unlikely), I plan on making sure that the Indians know who the chief is, and know exactly what he wants done, and how he wants it done.

We had some issues with some assistant coaches, who made adjustments down on the field without letting me know.  This kind of crap really bothers me.  What bothers me even more is the fact that on some occasions, the coaches were telling the kids to do something from the week, or even several weeks before.  One instance comes to mind was we were playing a seven technique when we got a TE from one opponent this year, well our base rule is to play a nine.  I felt a seven would help us defend what our opponent was trying to do when they ran with a TE (they only did this maybe 30 percent of the time).  Anyhow, I noticed several times we were in a nine technique on runs that gutted us, only to find out our DE coach had told the kid to play a nine.  Confronting the coach in meetings yielded the fact I hated to hear, and that was, "Well, a nine technique is what we always line up in against a TE?!".  Yes, but if you'd read the scouting report and game plan you'd have seen our adjustment based on what we were going to face.  Anyhow, I'm beginning to ramble and my blood beginning to boil.  You cannot ask your players to be on the same page if the coaches aren't, and in my opinion, this lack of control on the "upper end" of a football program, leads to bigger issues down the line.  I'm certainly hoping we can get this corrected, as I know I don't plan on dealing with it any more.

Have Fun
I took the mentality this season, that no matter the results, no matter the outcome, I was going to make it a point to have fun.  For the most, part, I stuck true to this axiom.  I had my moments, especially late in the season, but for the most part I did have fun.  The interaction with the kids is what I focused on the most.  I've never done this, so for me this was a big step.  The players have always been super important to me, however I've always been known as a scheme coach, a grinder, a worker bee of sorts.  I've never been one to be labeled "fun" or "loosey-goosey".  This season I made it a point to step back at times, and just let loose, joking with players, or simply just chatting with a young man about something other than football.  I think it made me closer with them, allowed me to bond with some guys I might not otherwise have done had I had my nose stuck against a computer screen all season long.  It really gave me great insight to what our players were experiencing off the field.  This is something I would have never done in the past, as it took away from game prep.  Being looser, and choosing to open up and have some fun with the players, I think has allowed me to become a better coach.  I have a greater understanding of what our guys are thinking, and what some of them are going through once they leave the practice field.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing something that gives you greater insight into your players lives.  After all, the game of football is only a short time in their lives, the lessons learned are what last a lifetime.  Us as coaches, only get a short time to make an impact on these lives, so we need to cherish every moment we get to do that, and I really feel I took a major step forward in this area of my coaching.

You are Only as Good as Your Last Man
I had a coach tell me this one time, and I never knew what he meant.  Well after the injuries we had this season, I know exactly what he meant.  When the race was over, there were only five guys on our defense that were there at the beginning.  One of these was a cancer that was removed from the team, two others were removed for rule violations (can't speak of them here, but guys close to me know what we went through, and it was pretty crazy to say the least).  The rest were not just injuries, but season-ending injuries.  In all, we had a team total of seven season ending injuries, all to starters.  Add that along with eight players (five of which were starters) who were removed from the team or quit, and that spells disaster.  By the end of the season the starting lineups were as follows:

  1. NG, and both DE's finished season, DT did not
  2. MLB only LB to make it through the season
  3. FS only DB to make it through the season
The offense may have been hit worse.  All five of the OL were gone, for one reason or the other by the end of the season.  In our last game we started three guys that played junior varsity at the start of the year.  We ended the season with four wide receivers, and one tailback.  I'm not sure I've EVER been a part of something like this, but it absolutely got to where you dreaded Mondays, because of either getting hit with bad news from the doctor, or bad news from the administration.


I try to find the silver lining in all of this, and what it boils down to is that we actually ended up with a decent secondary, most of which will be back next season.  We ended up using some rotation guys to fill some holes, and I think we also found a guy that's going to be a pretty good DE, once we get him headed in the right direction.  Other than that though, there is no silver lining.  Getting guys ready to play is always a week in and week out issue, however it seemed like we were patching things together EVERY week, especially after about week four or five.  So, when you think you've got it bad, just take your finger and scroll down your depth chart to the bottom.  If you've still got guys ahead of your worst players in every position, you're still doing good.  When those guys are starting, the whiskey can't flow fast enough!!!

No Matter How Bad it Gets, Keep Working
Steve Spurrier used to always comment "Just keep playing guys", and what he's basically saying is that if you quit, you never know what the outcome could've been.  When you quit, you will know EXACTLY what the outcome will be and it'll be that you lose!  As I've written before, Spurrier is a guy I've idolized my entire coaching career, and his words are so true.  I remember years ago, when he was at Florida, he lost a tough game (I think it may have been the Tennessee game which turned out to be his last game in The Swamp), but when asked what happened in the game, we simply replied "We ran out of time".  What I'm beating around the bush on here is, as a coach, you set the direction of your unit, or team.  When things go bad, and you quit printing scouting reports, or you quit doing EDD's, or whatever it is that bad coaches do in bad seasons, you set a precedent for your players to quit too.  I rolled my sleeves up every weekend and broke down film, did scouting reports etc. only to have a coaching staff  "slough off" when the writing was on the wall, so to speak (It wasn't all of them, but there were a lot of guys on our staff that threw the towel in pretty early). This pains me to no end as a coach, because I know as a player, I'd want my coaches doing everything they could to help us get a win.  What bothers me even more, is how can you let the kids down like that?  I overheard one coach stating the the kids had quit, once they knew we weren't going to be in the playoffs.  I had felt a bit of this too, however I think it's in every athlete's nature to want to compete to win, so I don't buy in to that kind of talk.  What had happened is a majority of the coaching staff had quit once the grim realization had set in that we were not going to the playoffs.  Kids can sense this kinda stuff, and are good at identifying it.  They don't want to be at practice anymore than they have to, so when you, as a coach, show up and aren't doing the same things you were doing in week one of the season, shame on you.  I had one of my LB's ask me "Coach, why are we still doing block destruction drills?".  This was in the second-to-the last week of the season, to which I let him know, because we had so many young guys struggling at getting off blocks when I watched film.  To that young man, what we were doing was pointless, and he even stated as much, saying that since the playoffs weren't attainable, there was no reason to get better.  Well, I had to stop the drill, as to me, there's always room for improvement.  I told the young man, that the contrary was really the case for us.  We were so bad, that the only way to go from where we were was up, but that we couldn't improve if we didn't keep working.  He shrugged it off, but after practice he came back over to me and told me he had thought about our conversation, and he knew I was right.  He also thanked me for never giving up.  He was one of our seniors too, not necessarily a leader, but easily a guy the younger ones looked up to.  The problem was, this type of leadership was only being done by a few coaches.  That is the sad part about all of it.  If you ever get that feeling, you've got to do whatever it takes to push on.  In all reality, it is your duty to do so.  We are all going to have tough seasons, or rough patches we go through, just realize the young men you are coaching are not only looking up to you during the good times, they are watching in the bad times too.

What Does the Future Hold?

Great Scott, where has the time gone?!

I wish I knew!  There is a part of me that desperately wants to stay on here and get things turned around and corrected, but there's also a part of me that knows, our administration is going to put a monkey wrench into our rebuilding plans.  I'm also uncomfortable with some of the guys I coach with, and this is never a good thing.  We have some guys on staff I don't feel I can trust, and others I just plain don't get along with.  Now, I don't let my work suffer for it, nor do I allow differences to bleed over onto the practice or game fields.  However, it's not easy coaching with guys that you feel you have to look over your back to make sure they aren't putting a knife into it.  I'm hoping our head coach is making some staff changes in the off season that will be worth our while, but if not, I may try to get in somewhere else.  I don't have many options, but I could also take some time off, as I haven't taken a season off since I started coaching back in 1997.  But, with that being said, I sure like the way my side of the ball was handled this past season, and I think there are some positives to build on, but a lot of what goes on here has to run through some pretty political filters, so we'll just have to see what happens.

Maybe politics ain't so bad...
Good news for the readers is that I'm back to blogging.  If you read a tweet I made earlier (you can follow me on Twitter @FballIsLifeBlog), I have given up on writing my book on the Flexbone offense.  I've never been one for charging folks for stuff, and I think with what little money coaches make, that money should go to their families instead of other coaches pockets.  Well, you guys are going to get the book for free.  If you are a defensive coach, you're going to have to wait for a while because there are going to be SEVERAL posts dealing with the Flexbone and the triple option coming up.  I'll keep you defensive guys satisfied though as we roll on, and I'll get my blitz post out before spring ball opens up.  

For those of you that have the luxury of making the playoffs, DO NOT take a minute of it for granted.  Savor the moment, relish it, and realize just how special it is.  Good luck in the second season and go get that ring!!!