Thursday, September 8, 2016

Looking Back at 300 - Part 3 Riding High

Entering the 1996 season with Fountain Valley, I finally felt like I had a clue as to what I was doing. I had my practice routines down, my drills were crisp, I knew what adjustments to make within our offense and my guys started knowing what I was going to say before I said it. In February, I had a definite game-changing experience: listening to Coach Mike Sherman (Texas A&M OL coach) present at a coaches’ clinic. He was SO organized, so meticulous and so thorough that I just felt like I had to know more. I went up to him after the presentation and let him know how much I enjoyed it. He simply said, “Well, why don’t you come out and visit this spring?” Fortunately, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Fountain Valley had a very accomplished Booster Club. That spring, my assistant OL coach went to Nebraska, our QB coach went to Colorado, our DC went to Washington and I ended up going to A&M.

When I walked into Coach Sherman’s office a few weeks later, he “assigned” me a GA, Jason, and told me he’d meet me for lunch. Jason took me down to the film room and asked me what games I’d like to see. I picked out a few, settled in and started taking notes. I then met with Coach for lunch, and we went over everything I saw that morning, and answered all my questions. Then we went into the OL position group meeting, and then out to practice. I was pretty much “in the huddle” for everything, and ghosted alongside Coach Sherman the entire time. After practice, I was invited to dinner with the entire staff. Head Coach RC Slocum was extremely gracious with his time. The next morning, I had breakfast, and then reported back to Jason, and the sequence repeated itself that way for five days.

For those who wonder why I’m still a very passionate fan of Texas A&M, that’s the reason. I fell in love with the place when I was there, and have been fortunate enough to make two more visits back for game days. It’s on my list to go to again, for sure. But more than that, the time spent with Coach Sherman really changed my way of coaching, especially in terms of organization. Those habits have stayed with me ever since, and I can’t thank Coach enough for taking the time he did with me.

Moving into the fall, I knew I had probably the best offensive line in Orange County, which was saying something considering the competition. The left tackle I talked about in 1994 was now a senior and ended up being 2nd Team All State. I got a transfer right tackle in, who ended up being All County. My guards and center were solid enough that they too, received scholarships.

We beat the hell out of arch-rival Huntington Beach Edison, 35-12 and capped off the year by winning the Sunset League championship, beating Anaheim Esperanza High 29-22. Unfortunately, we ran into La Puente Bishop Amat in the playoffs, and their Notre Dame-bound receiver/returner Joey Geatherall. They ended up winning 32-26 as Geatherall returned both a punt and a kick for TD’s.

Going into 1997, I had to start over with my OL. I only had one returning guy who had a lot of playing time, and that was at left guard. They were all smaller, as well (with the exception of the LG). With that, I learned about another key part of playbook construction from Offensive Coordinator Hank Cochrane (who taught me so much over the years): Have a system in place so that even if your personnel changes, your plays don’t need to – just emphasize a different part of the playbook.

Our players in 1996 were set up for power. We ran a ton of I-Backs, straight ahead inside zone, Iso’s and Counters. Our passes were mostly straight dropbacks and play action. In 1997, the playcalls became more of the outside zone, speed option variety, and a lot of the pass plays were sprint-outs, which suited our changing player traits on the OL, as well as at QB and RB.

We managed another last-minute victory against Edison, winning 19-17. In the playoffs, we again experienced the downside of playing in the Southern Section. We faced mighty Long Beach Poly in the first round, and it wasn’t pretty. They probably had five or six guys faster than our fastest guy, and their four DL collectively outweighed my five OL by 100 pounds. The final was 40-9.

In 1998, my youngest son, Travis, was born and we moved the family back to San Diego in September. I became a “game night” coach for Fountain Valley that year, driving up for the games only – I couldn’t quite let myself give it up! The guys who were there were still “my guys”, at least in my mind. My assistant, Scott Wilford, took over for me and was an extremely capable coach in his own right. He ended up coaching at Saddleback College, so he obviously knew his stuff.

One of the early highlights that year was playing at Bloomington High School. They were coached by noted Double Wing guru Don Markham, and had been held under 30 points only two or three times in the 90’s. We added to that by beating them 35-26. Against Edison, we beat them for the fourth straight time, 42-28. “My” 4-1 record against them is something I’m still rather proud of – that’s just how much the rivalry means.

Unfortunately, by now you probably know how the season ends….by facing Santa Ana Mater Dei and a QB you may have heard of – Matt Leinart. We ended up losing 30-14, and that also ended up being Coach George Berg’s final game, as he retired soon thereafter. I was pretty sure after that season that it wouldn’t serve anyone to keep making the drive, but Coach Berg’s decision made it easy – my time at Fountain Valley was over.

It is safe to say that my time as a Baron was the most important period in my coaching development. I can’t even begin to list the things that Coaches Berg, Cochrane, O’Connell and Puga taught me. I will always be a fan of FV. Blue Pride!

Next Week: A different level.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Look Back at 300 - Part 2 Learning to Swim

This is the second in a series of a look back at my first 300 games as a coach. You can read Part 1 here.

Last week I talked about my nerve-wracking initial days at Fountain Valley High (1994), from being thrown into a deep playbook with entirely new concepts, to actually being held accountable for knowing the same, was a new experience. Now, as always having been the self-aware type, as I mentioned last week, I knew I was the weak link as the Assistant OL Coach. The guy I reported directly to was Jim O’Connell, the OL Coach and DC. I like Jim – I like him a lot, “now”. Back then he scared the crap outta me. He’s a great coach, is an unbelievable technician, but he probably looked at me and thought, “I’m trusting my OL to this guy?” Fortunately, our relationship changed dramatically one day when we were talking about the offense and what I did or didn’t know about it. I flat out told him that he intimidated me, for whatever reason, or whoever’s fault, that’s just the way it was. He was truly taken aback I think, and that’s when our dialogue got a whole lot better.

Well, it turned out to be a good thing that I spoke up and opened the lines of communication, because towards the end of the summer session that year, Coach Berg pulled me aside. He said, “OK, you’re The Guy.” I asked him what he was talking about, and he said that Coach O’Connell had just taken the DC job at a brand new school in South Orange County, Aliso Viejo High. The Grand Plan of having me learn the offense and the realities of competing in one of the most competitive divisions of high school football in the country evaporated. As Coach Berg said, I was The Guy now.

I had a senior-heavy crew who were technically sound, if a bit undersized. However, they knew they knew more about the playbook than I did. Winning their trust was a season-long effort. Two games I vividly remember: Week 4, we were playing Anaheim Servite High. They are an all-boys Catholic school, and an extremely well-regarded program. They’d been in our league in the past, but had fallen down a little and got bumped down to Division V this year. They weren’t happy about it. We were the first former Sunset League team they played. Their Coach, the recently retired Larry Toner, ran an unusual flex defense that featured full-man slants, loops and twists. They held us to -27 yards rushing in a 21-7 victory. After the game Coach Toner sarcastically said, “I guess they’re right. We *don’t* belong in the Sunset League.” That comment really stung, and caused me to seriously re-evaluate my place in the coaching community. I got the chance to meet Coach Toner several times over the years I was at Fountain Valley, usually during a film exchange or something, and I love the guy. I’d gladly work for him, but that one hurt. Fortunately, we were able to bounce back the next week, beating up on Orange County #5 Huntington Beach Marina 35-0, and I felt a little better about myself.

One other thing – I learned what a rivalry truly was. Sure, there were “rivalry games” at both San Clemente (Dana Hills High) and at La Quinta (Fountain Valley Los Amigos High), but *nothing* like Fountain Valley vs Huntington Beach Edison! I can remember walking onto the campus at 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning after a game and seeing dozens of volunteers already at work putting up banners that would eventually almost completely blanket the school. There were times in the past that they played this game at Anaheim Stadium, and drew crowds of 30,000. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t very good in ’04, and Edison was. They beat us “a whole lot to not very much.”

The second game I remember also gave me a life-long coaching lesson. It was Week 10, and we were sitting at 4-5, not going to the playoffs (but hey, after three consecutive years of 2-8, this was a bit of improvement). We were playing Anaheim Esperanza High who was coached by twin Orange County coaching legends – HC Gary Meek and DC Bill Pendleton. Coach Pendleton ran a form of the Bears’ 46 defense. As with Servite’s flex, this was the first time I’d seen the 46. I had a sophomore starting at LT. He would turn out to be a very talented player, but not as a sophomore. We gave up, I don’t know…maybe 8 sacks in the first half. It was ugly. We go in at half down by a bunch and I get my guys together and just started lighting into them – ripping them up one side and down the other. When I was done, my senior center, Bryan Erickson, looked up and said, “OK Coach – you’ve told us what is wrong. Now tell us how to fix it.” Quite honestly, I was taken aback by his calm, direct nature. And he was 100%, absolutely correct. All I was doing was yelling – I wasn’t coaching. I’ve lost contact with Bryan, but I thank him every so often for reminding me what is important.

Going into 1995, I started feeling a bit more comfortable in what I was doing. No longer were the concepts completely foreign, and I actually started “thinking” in the terminology. I had a full off-season with my guys in the weight room (yes, I once again took an active role in that), a full spring practice season, and a full summer camp experience. It’s amazing what can happen in a true year-around program. The seniors who were brought up under Coach O’Connell were gone and the guys who became leaders started believing in me. We formed a pretty tight bond.

Three games of note that year: Week 1 and Week 11 were against the same opponent – Los Angeles Loyola High School. We lost both of them. They ran the most vanilla 3-4 defense I’ve ever seen. Their roster wasn’t filled with future collegiate players, unless you count Ivy League guys – they were just solid high school players. But they made zero mistakes and missed few, if any, tackles. The game to remember though, was the Edison game. Edison has won five out of the last six meetings, and we were tired of it. We went out to a big 21-0 lead, and watched it waste away, eventually trailing 22-21. With 2:43 left, we started our drive. My right tackle, Travis Ault, gave up consecutive sacks. I had pressure to “get him out of there” but I knew he could do it. On 4th and 24, we completed a “12-9 Deep Lock” for 25 yards. With only 19 seconds left, we hit one last completion in the end zone for the win. You can read the recap from the Loa Angeles Times here. It was a feeling unlike any other I’ve had playing or coaching football (to that point in time). Playing in front of 13,000 frenzied fans was a new, exciting thing. I wanted more!

Next week: Riding High

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Looking Back at 300 - Part 1

This last week was my 300th game as a coach. This journey started back in 1991 as an Assistant Offensive Line Coach for the San Clemente High School Tritons. I was very enthusiastic – my only problem then is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Fortunately, by the end of that season I realized how much I didn’t know, and made some “course adjustments” that allowed me to keep going.

The first game that year was against the El Toro High School Chargers. I don’t remember much about the game itself, but we lost 28-7. That came to be a recurring theme that year, as we only beat San Diego Crawford High, and Garden Grove Santiago High in going 2-8. I did enjoy being the assistant coach for the powerlifting team though….we had some great kids there and I enjoyed hanging out with them in the weight room. For a lot of reasons though, the football program just wasn’t very good then. I’m happy to say they’re doing well now and every time I pass the school on my way north to Orange County or LA I always give it a glance and think about where it all started.

In 1992, my mentor at San Clemente, Offensive Coordinator Steve Castle, got hired as the Head Coach at Westminster La Quinta High School. He brought me along as the Offensive and Defensive Line Coach, and put me in charge of the strength program. The best thing that came out of that was the weight room itself. When we got there it was a dump. A friend of a friend happened to be the Strength Coach for the LA Rams, and he was getting rid of a bunch of equipment. We got benches, weights, leg presses, etc., all for $250. I went in there and cleaned the place up and just like at San Clemente, it became a place for the linemen to hang out. The skinny guys would work out right after school, while the linemen went home and did homework, then they came back and we worked out at night. The Powerlifting team ended up being pretty good – with usually only four guys competing, we took home medals in more than one meet. 

LQ’s only problem was a lack of participation in football. The kids we had were tough and willing, but there were too few of them. The baseball and basketball programs were both well-established and those coaches discouraged their players from playing anything else, so we were in a bind. In ’92 we went 2-8, with the highlight being in Week 1. QB Jason Gondringer threw a last-second TD against “big brother” Westminster High to pull out a 12-9 victory.

In 1993, a cross-country move cost LQ Coach Castle, and Coach Fred Valko came in. Steve was a spread guy – sort of on the leading edge of the time, and Coach Valko was more of an old-school power offense guy, so we lost some continuity. The constant was me, and I still wasn’t very good. In ’93 I only had to handle the OL, which was a good thing. That year we went 2-8 again and I started to think that was the norm…..

In February of 1994 I was at a coaching clinic (a habit started immediately after my first year) and was working at a booth for one of my biggest mentors (still to this day), Bill Williams of the Football Coaches Professional Growth Association (FCPGA). It was there that my coaching fortunes changed forever. Coach George Berg from nearby Fountain Valley High walked by and struck up a conversation with me. He ended up asking me to come by for an interview. Initially it sounded like I was going to be the JV OL coach, and honestly, I wasn’t interested in that (I was still somewhat in the “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” phase). Eventually though, I was told that I would also be the assistant varsity OL coach and would take over the following year as the current OL coach moved over to defense full-time. Now, mind you….La Quinta was Division IX at the time and was 2-8. Fountain Valley was Division I and coming off a 12-1 season. This was going to be a huge jump.

Fountain Valley was only about 1.5 miles away from La Quinta, but it might as well have been in a different state. Just in pure demographics from a football standpoint: LQ had 1200 students; FV had 2400-2500. LQ’s student population was 60% Vietnamese – the largest Vietnamese population in a high school outside of Saigon. FV’s population was 60% Caucasian. The Booster Club budget at LQ was right about $1,200 for the year. At FV, it was a staggering $75,000. I don’t think that LQ fielded a Freshman team – I think it was only Varsity and JV. Fountain Valley had two Freshman teams. It truly was a have vs a have-not situation.

Anyway, the big change for me was the accountability factor. In my previous schools, both the coaches I worked for didn’t demand a lot of the assistant coaches’ time. In a lot of cases, that may not have been a bad thing – looking back at it, whatever I was assigned to do those first couple of years, they probably would have had to re-do anyway. Within a couple of days of my hiring at FV, I was immersed in the playbook, and quite frankly, was drowning. I remember the QB Coach, Willy Puga (now a former HC himself), put me up “on the board” and asked me to walk him through our various pass protections versus different fronts. It wasn’t pretty, and it was emphasized rather strongly to me that I had to get this down.  FV had a large staff, and every one of them knew their stuff. I was easily the weakest coach there. It was definitely a sink-or-swim situation for me!

(Next week: Learning to Swim!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Women's Recap & Off-season news

The two main women’s leagues wrapped up their season last weekend. As expected, the Utah Falconz dispatched the Minnesota Vixen 49-6 to win the IWFL league championship. I really do hope Utah and the WFA can work out whatever differences they have to get the Falconz in with the rest of the best teams in the country. If not, go ahead and pencil in the Falconz as 2017 league champs as well. And maybe 2018, 2019 and 2020.

OK, speaking of the WFA, fans were treated to another great National Championship game there. In a repeat of last year’s finale, the DC Divas came from behind to beat the Dallas Elite, 28-26. Dallas went up early 12-0 and at that time it looked like déjà vu of the regular season’s Week 2, where Dallas beat DC by 21. However, it is tough to beat a good team twice in the same year. When I was talking with one of my former players just before the game, I said I had no idea who would win. And it turned out to be a great game. I cannot congratulate the Divas enough – coming back after being down early is always a tremendous accomplishment, and I’m happy for my friends in the organization.

I also feel bad for my friends within the Elite. Back-to-back trips to the championship game in your first two years is a great feat (the Surge did it as well; losing to Boston in ’11, then beating Chicago in ’12) but in final games, it is absolutely gut-wrenching to watch it slip away.

The good news is that the Women’s Game is getting more and more press and exposure each year. A play from the Minnesota/New York playoff game even made the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 recently. Some American players are heading overseas the lend their expertise and leadership, and some coaches are going to, to help out national teams. The 2017 World Games might be interesting next year!

Speaking of the off-season, as you may have thought, there is no RS Football Camp this year. With no player or coach base to start from, there wasn’t much reason to ask everyone to travel here. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities this fall/winter!

Coach Scott McCarron of the Seattle Majestics and I both attended one of LeCharles Bentley’s offensive line coaching seminars (unfortunately not at the same time – that would have been fun) this spring, and I owe him a trip since he came down to the RS Camp last year. We’ve talked briefly about maybe doing something up there this off-season, if for no other reason than to drill his OL in the new system and drills we picked up.

Additionally, I’m available for weekend trips anytime after November 19, until pretty much the 1st of March. Whether you want your OL tuned up, whether you want to install a new offense, meet with your coaches, do a special teams clinic, or anything else you can think of, I’m game. As far as cost, it’s a lot cheaper for me to come to you and coach 30 people, than it is for 6 or 7 of your team to come to me. You could blend the cost into your team fees and barely have it register (about $25 per person for a group of 30, all inclusive, and assuming a plane trip).

Anyone that is interested, I’ll be happy to send my résumé and we can discuss exactly what you’re looking for. Everything is tailored to your team. Anything from just a nudge to get you over that “one last” opponent to getting your team of rookies ready to go, I can help.

What I’m even more excited about is the start of a weekly off-season Big Person camp. It’ll start either late December or right after New Years – I’m flexible on that. The goal is for “any” adult offensive lineman, male or female, to work solely on stance, body movement and biomechanics in a non-contact, learning environment. The cost will be “Free-99”. My main goal, of course, is to get my Nighthawk OL coached up and better than ever in stuff that I just don’t have time to teach during the season. The secondary goal is to get any and all female OL to a great level on the basics. More on that after the Nighthawk season is over.

Finally, the Nighthawks have a big game this weekend against the Riverside County Disciples. You’ll hear all about that next week!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Catching Up & A New Season

Hi All – there really hasn’t been that much to write about lately, so I didn’t want to just talk to hear myself talk, you know? But here are some thoughts on what has happened, what will happen, and what is happening now:

What has happened: The women’s seasons are coming to an end. In the WFA, it will be a repeat of Week 2, in which the Dallas Elite faced the DC Divas. The road to the championship had some surprising moments, at least for me. In their latest game, the Central Cal War Angels went to Dallas and came very close to knocking off the Elite, losing only 34-28. That was a heck of an effort by the War Angels. I didn’t expect it to be that close. I thought that Dallas’ speed would overwhelm Central Cal. So hats off to the War Angels players and staff!

The other, bigger surprise for me was Boston knocking off Chicago in a relatively low-scoring affair. After Boston lost their QB to injury in the last meeting with Chicago, it turned ugly for the Renegades in a hurry. They then squeaked past Cleveland and headed for a rematch with the Force. I figured the game would be in the 35-14 range for Chicago. Instead, the Renegades came out on top 17-13. That was truly a gutsy effort by Boston!

So now – what happens this week in the National Championship? I have no idea. DC turned around on put up 47 points on that same Boston defense the next week. They’re eager to prove their Championship last year was no fluke. Dallas defeated the Divas rather forcefully in DC in Week 2, but the close win against Central Cal concerns me (it is entirely possible that Central Cal was much better than I thought they’d be, but all of their other games tracked as I thought they would, so no surprises). I do believe it will be a great game.

Over in the IWFL, in the pre-season I thought it would come down to the Utah Falconz and the New York Sharks. I was right about the Falconz, and the Sharks almost made it – the Minnesota Vixen came out of seemingly nowhere to have an undefeated season, and defeated the Sharks in the semi-finals.

Utah rolled through their schedule, surprising me only once, when they beat the Carson Bobcats only 38-0. I thought it would be 49-0. To be fair, I was only one TD off – I didn’t realize Utah doesn’t have a kicker. I said in preseason that you could crown Utah the champion right now, because no one would come within 28 points of them, and I stand by that. Utah has unfinished business, after losing in last years’ league championship to Pittsburgh, who is now in the WFA. Minnesota surprised me by beating the Sharks, but the Sharks aren’t the Falconz, and this game isn’t in Minnesota.

Finally, what is happening: My team, the San Diego Nighthawks got off to a pretty good start this Saturday, hosting the California Cowboys.  The Cowboys are a first-year team, but they have some veteran players. We may as well be a first year team, as all but one of the coaches are new, and about half the team hasn’t played together before. Going into the game, I knew nothing about the Cowboys, except that they beat a Vegas team the previous week 41-0. So that’s always fun, having no idea what your opponent will do. Our first two plays lost a total of 15 yards (including a false start in between). You gotta like that, coming out of the gate and practicing those plays specifically, only to have it blow up in your face. But no one panicked and our 4th snap gained us a 1st down.

Looking back on the film and my call sheet, we stayed really basic, especially by my standards. Used motion only twice, and went unbalanced only once or twice. We killed them with a TE screen that got them out of their stacked box look, and the downfield passing game remained open all night. My starting QB was 11/17, and we got all three in the game. We were able to play everyone in a 38-0 win.

Certainly, there is work to do. I wasn’t happy with our run game, but early on a lot of the credit had to go to their defense, who seemed determined not to give up yards on the ground. Football is all about adjusting, and for the most part I was happy about how we did that.

I did have my customary “week 1” brain fart though…..just before the half I thought we were on 2nd down when we gave up a sack, with about a minute left (scoreboard wasn’t working, so had to rely on the chain crew). So I called timeout. Turns out, that was third down, with 4th now coming up and I’d just stopped the clock for them (they had no timeouts). We punted, and held them, but I was still mad at myself.

Our next game is on the 30th, versus the Riverside County Disciples, a team that has been playing since the spring. They should be pretty good and I coached against their DC last year, so have a little bit better idea of what they’ll likely do. Fortunately for us, they have a pretty tough game this week so won’t have a lot of time to get ready for us.

I’m sure I’ll write something next week, at least about the womens’ championships and some possible off-season activity. See you then!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Coaching Them Up!

This past weekend was a great one – I had the chance to put into practice everything I learned two weeks ago from LeCharles Bentley and his staff. A friend of mine asked me to come out to his high school and coach his players up a bit. It’s a new staff, and the program had run onto hard times, only winning a couple of games each year for the past few seasons.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect – I was told to “oversee” the OL during Indy, 1-on-1’s and team during the Friday afternoon practice, and then I would have them for four hours Saturday morning all to myself. When I got there, there were two other OL coaches there, and one was pretty much running everything. So I decided that since they were going into a competitive period (1-on-1’s) and then team, that I would hang back a little on Friday and just take notes about where they were at in terms of skill development. I didn’t want them to have to think not only “who” to block, but also “how” to do it in competitive drills.

Remember, this is a new staff, so none of the coaches were holdovers and they’d only had 4 practices with them. Given that, they didn’t look like they’d been coached much in previous seasons. One of the OL coaches is a young guy, and very enthusiastic. I’m convinced he’s going to be very, very good. He just has to develop his teaching patterns. Just as offensive linemen need to develop movement patterns to be efficient, coaches need to get their teaching patterns down so they can be efficient as well. This young guy isn’t quite there yet (but he’s way better than I was at the same stage of development). The older OL coach is more of an “attitude guy” – he’s very good at getting the kids to play with a proper attitude and to go out there and kick butt.

The kids themselves were great. They may not be great football players yet, but they are A+ human beings. As I mentioned, their technique was very raw, to the point of it was always a bit more of “how can I survive this play” rather than “how can I dominate this play”. So on Friday, I just took notes and offered some general suggestions to guys when I had the chance.

Saturday morning was different. They were all there either early or right on time. I’d developed a practice plan to take them through everything, that extended (in outline form) to five pages (!). Being that this is the first time I’d gone through this progression as a coach, and not knowing what pitfalls there may be, I wasn’t sure at all of how it might time out.
As it happened, we got through everything in almost exactly four hours. And let me reiterate – these kids are top-notch. I’d give them a water break, and they’d sprint off the field to an area a little ways away where the water was. By the time I got over there, they were saying, “OK guys, let’s go!” They really wanted to work and get better.

Some of the transformations were remarkable. The right tackle was a kid who sort of hopped into his pass set and opened up almost completely by his second step. We took a “before and after” video of him, and the results were staggering. A (soon to be) senior guard was coaching the other kids up before too long – he’s a smart guy, and was taking in everything and was able to repeat it back to me and the other players. They had two freshmen kids, one of which had never played football before, and they ended up being two of the stars of the camp. I could go on and on about how much fun I had coaching these guys, and how much I’m looking forward to watching their continued development over this season.

LeCharles just announced on Monday that the next Coaches Seminar is going to be July 16-17. I would strongly suggest that any OL coach who wants to make his guys better attend. I’ll be back in 2017 for sure. You can register here. You can thank me later.

In the WFA game of note this week, Chicago beat up on Boston 50-something to 18. I was expecting a much closer game, maybe even with Boston winning, I understand that Boston’s outstanding QB, Allison Cahill, went out with a season-ending injury. At the time, I think the game was close, and my guess is that then not only were the Renegades missing a whole bunch of offense, but also probably were a bit emotionally deflated, which is understandable.

With that result, if there is any difference in the Final Four other than DC, Chicago, Central Cal and Dallas, I’ll be shocked. I’m still fairly certain that Dallas will be the finalist from the West, and less certain that DC will be from the East.

On the men’s side, my Nighthawks have landed in a new league, the Southern California Football League (SCFL). This league is a quantum leap up in competition: The California Raiders were undefeated last year, the So Cal Coyotes have won a couple of national championships*, the Inglewood Blackhawks have won some, and the San Diego Thunder had a run on the national scene at late as the late 2000’s. Throw in a virtual All Star team in the Las Vegas Trojans, and there are very few gimmes on our schedule.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier – these are the types of games you sign up for as a coach, the types that for whatever reason we didn’t get often in the women’s game, at least until the playoffs.

*For my female game readers, national championships are a bit different in the men’s game. First of all, there are over 600 men’s teams across the country, so having one national champion is pretty much not going to happen. Second, there are several “national championship” tournaments put on in December/January. Fortunately for us, our league is recognized as one of the most competitive in the country, so our league winner will get an automatic bid to a national tournament.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Blown Away

OK, I am blown away, and I want to tell you about it, but first there was one game last week in the WFA that merits a short discussion, and that was the Pittsburgh/Boston game. I’d picked Pittsburgh to finally break through into the upper sphere of the National Conference by beating Boston. To me, he Renegades seemed a little lackluster lately, and given their daunting upcoming schedule, perhaps ripe to be taken down. Well, I underestimated Boston before and was proven wrong, so why not this time? Boston came out on top, 51-32.

With that win, we’re better able to slot where Pittsburgh stands, and that was of interest because they were IWFL champs last year, and were looking really good so far. For now, there is no grand re-ordering in the WFA universe. It’ll be Dallas and Central Cal in the West (although I’ll give Portland a 20% chance at an upset of Central Cal), and then DC and either Chicago or Boston in the East, dependent on how this week’s Chicago/Boston game turns out. I really have no idea how that will turn out, and it should be a great game.

OK, back to the main topic…..this past weekend I was in Phoenix at LeCharles Bentley’s OLine Performance World ( I’ve talked about him and his training plenty of times before, and had become a fan. Back in January he announced that he was going to hold a free coaches’ clinic in May, and that it was limited to the first 50 to register. So I made sure that I was one of those. Later, I heard that they accepted 80+. Now, I don’t know what goes through people’s minds, but I’m wondering if since it was free, there wasn’t as much value attached to it by some folks. That was their mistake. There were only about 35 coaches there, and it was the perfect size group. I think I was able to at least speak briefly with everyone there at some point, and the instructing coach to student (us other coaches) ratio was great.

LeCharles is a dynamic speaker and coach. He can get people fired up at the drop of the hat. His progression in leading students from skepticism to discipleship is masterful. Those who disagree or question aren’t ridiculed, but shown the “why”, the “how to” and the “how to do”. I can now say that I’ve watched his teachings on film, seen it in person, and felt it/done it myself. There is no quicker way to become convinced that something is right than when you do it yourself and have success.

CJ Davis is one of LB’s fulltime coaches. After playing at Pitt, he had a short NFL career with Carolina and Denver. He is a phenomenal teacher and communicator, and was dispensing knowledge, demonstrating and coaching us throughout almost every break. I had him as a demo partner in one drill, and the way he took me through it made me wonder about my own ability as a coach!

Matt Lee is LB’s strength and conditioning coach. His knowledge of training, kinesiology, power development and functional movement is absolute first class.  His presentations (with CJ demonstrating – we felt a lot of what was taught, but I’m glad we weren’t called on to front squat and snatch!) made me into more of a believer in Olympic movements for offensive line development than ever before. All I’d heard before regarding oly lifts is they “develop power”…..OK, great. Not inspiring. But Matt broke it down for us and explained why what he was talking about was so important, and exactly how it would make our players better. I can guarantee you that if I’m ever at a place that has a S&C program again, I’ll be incorporating his teachings.

Also, there were three current NFL players who came down on their own time to help out. Chance Womack (Tennessee), Larry Warford (Detroit) and Patrick Omameh (free agent, played for Chicago last year) are all very capable teachers and super nice guys (I just wouldn’t want to line up against any of them). I have a suspicion of “former/current players” being coaches because so often it seems they rely on their superior athletic talents to get by and don’t develop their communicative skills and don’t have an appreciation for what the average guy has (or, more likely doesn’t have) to work with. But these guys were great at offering suggestions, looking at what we were doing wrong and having the ability to fix it. I was working through some stance issues and Patrick came over and talked me right through it, told me exactly what changes would make me better. I can’t say enough about how helpful they all were.

Finally, there were two CFL guys there. I didn’t catch their full names (Matt and “Big Dog” was all I got), and they served as demonstrators as well. After Patrick helped me on my stance and ensuing pass set, I just remember Matt saying “Wow” – that pretty much made my day.

So, by now you’re thinking, “OK, great – they’re nice guys and great teachers. What did you learn?” Fair enough. I learned movement patterns. I learned how to move with purpose and intent. I learned how to move from the ground up, and I learned how to fight pressure with pressure at any point during a play. I learned that if you start bad, you’ll finish bad. I was taught OL play from an entirely different perspective.

There will be more clinics given by LB. The talk right now is to have one in July. I probably won’t be able to make that one, as our season games will be starting then, but if he sets a certain weekend (second one of May, for example) as a constant, then I’ll make my reservations years in advance. If you can’t tell, I have zero reservation in recommending that anyone remotely involved in OL play should pay attention to what LB has to offer. Make the trip when it is offered. I promise you you’ll thank me after.

What’s got me just as excited is that I’ll get a chance to teach what I’ve learned to a brand new group of young OL next week when I’m in Las Vegas to conduct a high school OL mini-camp. Before this weekend, I had an idea of what the practice plan would look like. No more. In a sense, it is perfect, because the staff has just taken over at the school and wanted to concentrate on just the basics. And I’ve gotta admit that at one point I found myself wanting to push that envelope further. But now I have a much better understanding of the pace and importance of movement, and the learning of those patterns. So I’ve got two practices with the Nighthawks this week….we’re going to be spending our first 10 minute Indy periods from here on out focusing on stance and movement….and then I get to teach the high school kids.

Who’s got it better than me?  :-)