Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Christmas Wish

My intent is to keep this short…dunno how that’ll work! First of all, for everyone who celebrates Christmas, I hope you had an awesome one!

Here are my football-coaching related wishes for you and the sport:

For both players and coaches (especially at the men’s level), I hope you treat the game as your personal “big time”. I had the pleasure of sitting down with 3-4 other high school coaches to talk with Bob Cope ( about 18 years ago. He talked a lot about the business of the profession, and the one thing that stuck with me is this, “The Big Time is wherever you’re at right now.” I hear a lot of players (almost always men and some coaches) say things like, “It’s only semi-pro.” That drives me crazy. Why do it if you’re not going to put 100% into it? Heck, I coached my son’s 9-year old winter baseball team one year. I brought a football coaches’ perspective to the practice. I had a plan, I assigned areas of responsibility for my coaches, I made sure the practices were upbeat, organized and fun. One of the parents said something about “a lot of effort for a Little League team” and my reply was, “Do they deserve any less than my best just because they’re 9?” It’s the same thing at whatever level you’re at – semi-pro, women’s, high school or youth. Those athletes who are busting their butt for you (or the coaches if you’re a player) deserve your best. I hope you bring it each and every practice.

For coaches, may you not run boring offenses. If you do, please win. Especially at the women’s level when we are trying to attract fans, there’s nothing worse than running a boring offense and losing. Winning cures everything, so if you can be dominant with boring, OK. Otherwise, remember that we’re in the entertainment business.

Along those lines, please don’t underestimate what your players are capable of doing and learning. Stretch their limits and you’ll be amazed.

Finally, may you never stop learning. I’ve been going to coaching clinics each year since 1991. But what impressed me was seeing Herb Meyer, who holds the San Diego Section record for wins, sitting in the front row and taking notes until the day he retired. Coach John Konecki of the Chicago Force (also two-time Team USA coach and Illinois high school state champion) and I bounce ideas off each other, despite the very real possibility that we’ll be opponents in 2014. Nick Saban recently invited Lane Kiffin down to Tuscaloosa to evaluate the Alabama offense.

There’s always either something new to learn, or a new and better way of getting something done, or teaching it to your players. When it comes to helping your program, it doesn’t matter where those ideas come from.

That’s it – it’s time to settle down for the Bowl Season, which is my favorite time of the year, where teams pull out all of the stops. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in 2014.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how it is “all in the feet” and the critical nature of having fundamentally sound footwork. That post applies to all levels of football – you see poor footwork all over the place. This post is going to reference pretty much only the women’s game, because one glaring weakness I see in it is the use (or lack thereof) of their hands, especially when it comes to pass pro and pass rush.

If you watch much film of different teams in the women’s game, one thing becomes apparent – most of them can’t pass block very well. Part of that (footwork plays a huge role as well) is that there is a decided lack of “punch” by the OL. You see DL all the time getting into the bodies of OL and then getting past or simply bull rushing them backwards into the QB. But what I find interesting is that the DL don’t use their hands very well either, as a rule. You see a ton of swim moves being attempted, you see a boatload of spin moves, but rarely do you see a fully-committed rip move – let alone a good lean and rip. I can’t remember ever seeing a DL go in to swat down the hands of an OL, at least in a game.

So why isn’t hand fighting being stressed in the women’s game? I don’t know – I can’t speak for other coaches. Maybe they think the women’s upper body strength isn’t where it should be to do that well. Possibly they talk about it early on and then just don’t reinforce it. I see an awful lot of female OL wearing forearm pads. Maybe if you’re on a double wing or Wing-T team and you’re teaching the Crowther Progression I can see that. Otherwise, forearm pads on OL went out in the 70’s for good reason – if the DL is getting that close to you, their chances of beating you in pass pro went up a ton! Think about it: pass rush moves only work close in. Try swimming someone from 2 feet away, or ripping, or spinning (although we see that all the time). They don’t work if you as the OL have them locked out.

As with anything else, the punch and pass pro in general have to be practiced. You can’t just tell an OL to “hit someone” in pass pro and expect it to turn out well for your QB. As one of my mentors, former Colorado, USC and Detroit Lions OL coach Mike Barry said, “Pass pro is not a natural act. When you are kids growing up, you don’t say to each other, ‘Hey let’s go out in the backyard and practice our pass pro.’”
The virtue of patience must be instilled in your OL in order to be effective pass protectors. I tell mine, “You have to be patient, but not passive.”  Some players look at the two qualities as being the same, so I try to explain that by being patient they can put the DL in the position they want them, and *then* dominate them. In this case patience is both mental and physical – when you’re drilling the punch, you can’t allow the OL to get their heads forward, otherwise your body ends up being too close to the DL.

Hand fighting in the run game is also underutilized, I think. It seems like female players are afraid to hold, to grab cloth in an otherwise legal manner. The only team I’ve ever seen that had a legitimate fear of holding was the Sacramento Sirens, and after playing them at their place, I can understand why – their referees were refugees from the 1970’s, when no type of hand use or extended arms was allowed. Those guys were ridiculous. Anyway, I think that grabbing cloth should be encouraged, HOWEVER if you teach it, you also have to drill the heck out of the feet. Most holding penalties are due to lazy feet, not lazy hands. Please note that I never tolerate what I call “lazy” holding – when a player just basically bear hugs a defender, or otherwise gets her hands outside the defender’s framework.

When you’re drilling the punch, whether it be in the run game or in pass pro, let me pass along a tip I picked up from Bill Williams of the FCPGA 23 years ago: When a scout player is holding a shield, have them hold it so that the handles face away from her, and towards the blocker. This accomplishes two things: 1) How often have you seen a drill devolve into two people standing chest to chest with the shield up over their heads? Keeping the shield handles away from the scout forces them to cradle it on the bottom, with the top nestled up under their chin. It keeps the shield close to the defender’s body, where it should be. It lessens the opportunity of a scout player to become a “backyard all-star” by easily shedding the blocker with an unrealistic target. 2) The handles of the shield now become the target for the blocker. They are tighter than the edges of the shield (which many people use as landmarks when they teach grabbing cloth), and give the blocker something to hold onto. Using them as a target will get your players out of being used to punching too wide and may eliminate some holding calls.

We throw the ball quite a bit on the Surge. With the exception of last year when we had drastically different personnel, we normally throw between 275-300 times a year. Our average number of sacks allowed each year is 6. In 2010, when we were still the SoCal Scorpions, we gave up 4. We don’t have a large offensive line. They are mobile and have good footwork, but I think what sets them apart on pass pro is the use of their hands in the punch. The hands are crucial folks. Right now, from what I see across the country it is one of the biggest improvements I can see that is neglected in the women’s game.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Favorite Offense

Every once in awhile I’m asked what my favorite offense is. My license plates read “WC OFNSE”, so that could be a clue but in reality, the answer is simple: the one that works for that team, that season.
I’ve worked for 11 different offensive coordinators, and have been one myself five different seasons. In that time, as a coordinator I’ve employed the following offenses: Wishbone, Power I, West Coast, Shotgun Spread and Fly.

I’ve got to say that right now, if the personnel is right, I really like the possibilities with the shotgun spread. You can do almost any variant you want out of it – you can have a varied passing game, you can run option, you can run any type of perimeter run game and you can have a power-based run game.

The key is recognizing and adjusting to what your players can do. Let me invoke one of Homer Smith’s quotes, which has stuck with me for years: “It’s not what you know, it’s what your players know.”

My first venture into the world of coordinating was with a men’s semi-pro team. I’d just finished a five-year stint at Fountain Valley High, under the watchful eyes of Hank Cochrane, who continues to be one of my heroes, although he would slap me silly for saying that. I figured that these players were grown-ass men and could handle a “high school” offense. Boy was I wrong…. At FVHS, we used four different pass protection concepts, with two variants in two of them, for a total of six protections. I simplified that down to one for these guys, and they still couldn’t comprehend it (a half slide protection). In Week One, we gave up eight sacks. I’d gone entire seasons at FV without giving up eight sacks! In Week Two, we beat up on a horribly overmatched team. Then we had a bye week, and our QB disappeared – just left. No one knew where he was. Anyway, the combination of an offensive line that apparently had very little experience in pass pro and having to break in a new QB pretty much eliminated a standard drop-back passing game.

So – what to do in a bye week? I had a speedy receiver that had played QB in Jenks, Oklahoma. He’d had experience in running the Wishbone. So I talked with him, found out what he was comfortable with, then set about figuring out ways to get the OL on the same page. Long story short, out of an eight team league, we ended up being the #2 scoring offense.

The following year, same team, completely different personnel.  That was the Power I team. I had a tailback that played at Alabama, and a huge offensive line. My QB had a little mobility and a strong arm for play action passes. At the end of the year, we were again the #2 scoring team, and beat the #1 team 35-14.

Each year of my coaching career, my outlook and preferences have changed. I’d evolved into a shotgun spread guy ever since about 2010. Last year, I went into the season thinking that was what we were going to run. However, when a combination of inexperienced receivers and quarterbacks raised its head, we were forced to adjust once again. This time, looking at our OL (extremely mobile, but a bit undersized) and our running backs (nice blend of speed and power) and what the receivers could do (they could block their asses off!) we settled on running the Fly offense, out of shotgun. I visited with Mark McElroy from Saddleback College (and who coincidentally followed me at my first coaching gig, at San Clemente High) and got his concepts down for the run game. We kept as much of our current terminology as possible, including the entire passing game, to keep the transition down. So then, all it became was a different play call mix, not a whole new offense.

The results were mixed – we averaged right around 40 points a game on offense, but we went 9-2, which was our worst finish in a couple of years. My feeling is that we were too dependent on the outside run game, and when we weren’t physically able to block defenders at the point of attack, we suffered. So if it was scheme or ability, either way we didn’t get the results we wanted.

This season, we have an experienced QB coming back. My vision would be to keep what we ran last year, but instead of running the Fly motion 80% of the time, run it about 25% of the time, and then re-incorporate the rest of the shotgun spread run and pass game we had before. But again, as a coaching staff we have to look at what we can and can’t do, and be willing to adjust from there.

In closing, as a coordinator you can’t be so tied to your preferred plays or system that you lose sight of the fact that it is still about the team’s success. Remember, it’s not what you know, but what your players know.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Specials Revisited

Obviously, this last week in college football the game of the week (or year) was the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. The improbably ending will be talked about for awhile. By fans, the “wow” factor will be the topic, but on coaching staffs around the country I think (or would hope) that a slightly different conversation takes place.

Previous to that game, the only other time I can remember a failed field goal being returned for a touchdown was when Antonio Cromartie did it for the Chargers against the Vikings in 2009 or so. Because it didn’t end the game the way the Iron Bowl return did (I think the Chargers won by 21), that play went mostly into the “oh cool” category and was forgotten relatively quickly. But the Iron Bowl play – that one will not be soon forgotten. Why? Because it potentially cost Alabama a couple of million dollars and potentially earned Auburn the same amount. Once you start talking about consequences and rewards of that nature, if a similar situation came up, the head coach/athletic director/general manager/team owner (in other words, every boss the ST coach has) is going to want to know how you prepared for it, or how you allowed that to happen.

So….what’s the solution? Well first, I think you have to look at the cause.  After the Iron Bowl, Auburn’s head coach, Gus Malzahn, said “We knew we’d only have to block about four guys.” What did he mean? Look at the makeup of a typical field goal team: You have four definite offensive linemen. Good blockers, poor in-space tacklers. You have a holder and a kicker – neither of which are renowned for their tackling skills. That’s six players you’re really not worried about. The long snapper could possibly be a linebacker or tight end type – depending on which determines his tackling ability, but he’s probably better than the other six. Then you have two tight ends and two wing backs, who are probably receiver types – good athletes, but probably still not true defensive players.

I think the solution is obvious, but there are some qualifications. The solution would be to populate the field goal team with defensive players who would have a better chance of covering a kick. The question is, for how many field goals? If you’re going to do that, do you do it all the time in order to save practice time? If so, how much are you giving up in protection? If you only do it for a few kicks (maybe in the NFL, any kick over 57-58 yards?), how much time do you devote to practicing it, versus the payoff? I think you’d get different answers on that – but I bet you Nick Saban will certainly consider it, and probably a bunch of NFL special teams coaches will as well.

In the women’s game, is it worth it? So often the OL and DL play on both sides of the ball anyway. Plus, with women, anything over about 35 yards (ball being kicked from the 25) would be considered “ultra long”. Given that condensed space, does it make it easier to cover a kick with your standard field goal team?
In general, I think any team that is a two-platoon team should consider it. Men’s teams at all levels should consider it probably more than women’s teams do. Of course if you have an exceptional female kicker, then your probability rises.

The main point is, if you’re a ST coach and you get into an ultra-long FG situation and you don’t have a plan, and you get “Auburned” you’ll probably be out of a job.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It's All in the Feet

Among the offensive line at the men’s and women’s semi-pro level, there is a perception of an almost universal weakness – they can’t move. A lot of times, that is true – they can’t. Perhaps you may remember one of my earlier posts where I talked about assumptions, and that one of them was that the OL were the worst athletes on the field. That will largely remain true, but too often I see OL that “could” move if they were taught “how” to move.

Now, we’re not talking about “dancing bears” here. We’re talking about efficiency in footwork. Making sure that each step gets a result. When an OL coach watches his players do a rep or run a play, he should be watching from the feet up. After all, the feet will move before the hands ever make contact, so why wouldn’t you watch the feet first, then move your vision up the hands?

Probably the single phrase that my guys and gals get tired of hearing from me is, “Gain ground with your first step!” Even if that step is supposed to be lateral, they’d better be doing more with it than stepping in place or stepping under themselves.

How often have you heard a coach say, “Oh, we can’t run that counter play – the OL will never get there.” Before you throw all those pulling schemes into the trash, make sure you find out *why* the OL isn’t getting there. I can promise you that more likely than not, when they’re pulling, they’re stepping under themselves which makes them get to the point f attack a step late.

Same thing on pass pro – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen tackles get beat quickly because they’re not gaining any depth on their kick slide (and really, *if* they kick slide is an issue too). But since they don’t get any depth, they have to turn out quickly against the defender, and that in turn gives them a soft shoulder to attack. It all snowballs into a sack, and it all starts from not getting depth on the first step.

When we practice pass pro, we do an awful lot of it without our hands – just getting our feet into position. Bobby Knight stresses the same thing in basketball, by playing with “your hands in your belt” – he says that “defense is in the feet” and really, pass pro isn’t too much different than defense in basketball. I find that the focus of simply “hitting someone” is overemphasized, and the skill set it takes to be a truly great pass protector is rarely practiced.

I believe that by spending more time looking at your OL’s feet and continually correcting inefficient steps, not only will you be able to run more varied blocking schemes that keep the defense playing with doubt, but that your pass pro will improve as well. And when that improves, your QB’s confidence will soar and your passing game will become much more dangerous.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Special Teams Shout Out

One thing I don’t mention very much is that I was the Special Teams Coordinator for the San Diego Surge in 2012. For the most part, I feel that it still isn’t my area of expertise so I tend to stay away from it. However, I remain extremely proud of that Surge Teams unit, and did learn a few things from coaching them.

If you saw the 2012 WFA championship game between us and the Chicago Force in Heinz Field, you saw what ESPN would call an “Instant Classic” and deservedly so. The Surge jumped out to a 20-6 lead (fueled by an opening kick-off return for a TD), then watched as the Force climbed back into the game and eventually took a 9-point lead, 36-27 with 3:19 left in the game.

We converted a 4th and 12 (by about 6”) and on the next play hit a 60-yard TD pass to bring us within 2, 36-34. Our defense then coaxed a 3-and-out, forcing a punt. We returned the punt for a TD, putting us up 40-36. (Punt Return for TD)The 2-point conversion failed.

On the ensuing kickoff, with about 1:15 left, we pinned them on the 5 – which is unheard of in the women’s game. And it’s a good thing, because we ended up needing every one of those yards. 3 plays later, the Force was on our 15. Needing a touchdown with 0:17 left on the clock, they tried one more pass and we picked it off.

So yes – game for the ages. But notice the special teams contributions: kick return for a TD, punt return for a TD, then excellent kick-off coverage to make them go 95 for the win.

When you think about how most teams practice special teams (if this doesn’t apply to you, congratulations), you get 10, 15 or 20 minutes each practice, or maybe just once a week to get things done. Usually, from what I’ve seen, it is spent running each team out on the field and getting two or three full-team reps against air.

I don’t think that is the best use of your time! There are certain skills in the Teams just like any other position. If you’re a gunner on punt, you’ve got to find a way to beat what is basically double press coverage down the field. If you’re an edge rusher on either of the kick blocking teams, you have to be able to pick out your block point and get to it quickly. If you’re on the kick off team, you have to be able to identify what the return is doing, beat your first level blocker, then make a quick decision on how to handle the second-level blocker. A player on kick return may not be used to blocking in space, and needs to be drilled on that. The list goes on and on.

What many teams are doing now is a form of a circuit. Each coach has a rotating group of players who move from station to station. The coach assigned to a particular drill or skill gets really good at teaching and drilling that in a hurry, so your time is spent much more efficiently. Plus, when it is a skill that translates over to offense or defense, those position coaches are much more eager to “invest” in those drills because it is a direct payoff to their position or unit.

I tended to not do a circuit, but focused on a particular team and broke up that team into units, i.e., the gunners versus jammers, edge blockers versus personal protector and edge blockers, the front five versus front five, etc. We tried to make everything competitive and fun. A lot of players still think of special teams as a secondary skill, so you want to try to keep these practice sessions upbeat and fun if at all possible.

Generally speaking, unless you’re doing extra point/field goal, then the OL can get extra individual work in during the special teams period. Sometimes though, when I wanted to give tacklers a tougher time, I’d use the OL as the blockers so the tacklers went against the best I have.

So, in a nutshell: Special Teams can win you games and possibly championships. Your staff needs to buy into that, and if they do with creative scheduling and drills, your players will as well. Think about how to drill the skills you need, not just the teams. Then think about the most efficient way to get that done, THEN add a competitive or fun element to it. You’ll have winning units at the end of the year! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Process

Recently on 60 Minutes there was an episode about Nick Saban. Now, I don’t particularly like Nick Saban. I know one coach (who is in the NFL now) who worked for him and absolutely hated it. I know he had an offensive coordinator who couldn’t wait to leave – so much so he voluntarily took a position coach job at another school. There are stories about Saban discouraging the administrative people in his office from making eye contact with him, lest it make him feel like he has to make small talk with them. Heaven forbid…..anyway, suffice to say I’m not a fan. I respect his results, of course – he’s doing something right on the field, but at what cost? There’s gotta be a human cost there somewhere.

But it was with interest that I watched the segment. The narrator talked about what Saban calls “The Process” and how he wrote it down 12 years ago. Imagine my surprise when what the narrator started to describe sounded like it came straight from one of Coach John Wooden’s books!

One of the main tenants of Coach Wooden was that it wasn’t so much about what the opposing team was doing, but what your team is or isn’t doing. He felt that as long as you did your job to the best of your ability, as close to perfect as possible, that winning would take care of itself. Coach was famous for his lack of interest in scouting opponents – even when it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is now, he steadfastly didn’t do it, preferring instead to concentrate on doing that which would make his own team better at what they did.

This was the heart of the segment on Coach Saban. His fanatical attention to detail, his upbringing in West Virginia and the lessons taught to him by his father, Nick Sr. But I’m not sure you could find two diametrically opposed personalities in coaching – Wooden and Saban. Now, from what I’ve read, Coach Wooden may have been a bit more prickly then is generally assumed, and the 60 Minutes segment made Coach Saban look almost human, so nothing is always exactly as it seems.

I’ve always attempted to style myself after Coach Wooden. I like to praise in public and chastise in private (unless it is just with the OL – then I don’t mind pointing out errors, because maybe then someone else won’t repeat them, but I hardly ever want the rest of the offense to ever have a reason to disparage the OL – it happens enough from the fans and others not in the know). I like to think that I’m demanding, without being a dick about it. If the same mistake is made multiple times, then sure – voices are going to be raised. But my normal style of coaching is to explain, demonstrate and then break down the technique or idea into parts. If mistakes are made then, I try to lace the correction with some humor.

Where I need to improve, I think, is in my standards. Some of my players may be thinking, “You mean he’s going to be pickier???” But yes – in a sense. I need to be more aware of basic fundamentals at all times. Pointing out when knee bend isn’t achieved, or when pad level could be better. There must still be room for praise – players need it, when it is deserved. Empty praise is quickly seen through, and that praise will mean more when they know they’ve earned it. But gentle, firm correction is essential. Degrading, yelling for no reason, and personal criticism is the last resort of a poor coach, in my opinion.

It is a process, that is for sure. No matter what I think of him, Coach Saban is getting results with his, even if he may have stolen it from one of the greatest coaches of all time. But what am I complaining about – so did I!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Making Plays Look Alike

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about how to run inside and outside zone plays. We were talking about the initial steps of the running back and the aiming points for each. He was concerned about the offensive line steps as well, because he felt that having different steps for inside zone and outside zone might give the defense a quick read on the play.

Personally, I feel that it is more important for the RB’s steps to be the same than it is for the OL. The OL in both cases is still moving towards the play – on the inside  zone they are looking for a little more vertical push, while on the outside zone they are looking for a horizontal stretch, but they still have a lot of bodies going in the same direction. But, you can mask the true intent of the inside zone somewhat by having the RB take his/her initial steps to the same aiming point you have for the outside zone, and then bending back to your inside zone aiming point. However, I digress a little from my main point:

“Make the defense play with doubt.” – Homer Smith

You’ve seen me reference Coach Smith previously in my play call post. His full quote was, “Make the defense play with doubt. A defender plays best when he says, ‘I think I know what is coming and if it does, I’ll nail it and if not, I’ll just play football.’”

I think there are four main areas that you can use to instill doubt into a defense:

11) The same plays out of multiple formations. I referenced this extensively in last week’s post.

22) Running back steps – the initial steps for as many plays as possible should be the same for as long as possible. For my inside zone, outside zone, counter and power, the first two-three running back steps are the same. Every time. Keep the defense guessing and not doing anything except maintaining their gap responsibilities for as long as possible.

33) Receiver routes – I’m a big fan of vertical releases. In general I dislike “Arrow” routes and slants that happen immediately, unless there is a definite coverage reason to do so or the distance to go allows it. An awful lot of defenses and defenders employ a pattern read method – why allow them to get a read on what you’re doing right away? It is akin to a defensive line stunt/twist/loop that happens right away – any halfway decent offensive line sees what is happening and adjusts immediately to what they see. Those work much better if the defensive line gets two or three steps upfield and then runs their twists. It gets the individual OL more committed to their blocks and less able to switch off. Well, the same thing applies to receivers running against DB’s – don’t let them know what your intentions are until you absolutely have to do it!

44)Blocking schemes – If you run a play action pass of off any play that you have an OL pull, you’d better have him/them pull for the play action as well. Keep the RB mesh points the same and ideally the QB would end up in the same place as s/he would on the partnered run play.

If this is something that you want to happen, as an OC it really needs to be hammered home during practice and film work.

Self scouting also comes into play here in a big way. You may have tendencies as a playcaller that you are completely unaware of. The only way to unmask that is to self-scout. Hudl is the easiest way to self-scout I’ve seen yet. I have a standalone program that I bought several years ago – I don’t even know if the company is still in business – but it is rather cumbersome to use, although it does give good data. With Hudl (if you use it) you’re already tagging your plays to get your stats if nothing else, and it also gives you an extensive list of reports including a “What’s Next?” report – where it gives you different situations and then tells you what came right after any of those occurrences.

The big thing to remember about tendencies is that it doesn’t take very much to break them. Doing it early in a game will cause the opposing DC to have some doubt in his game plan. He’s expecting one thing and is fairly sure of it, because after all, he’s done his homework too and then you do something different such as a playaction pass off your favorite run in that situation. It casts doubt in his mind big-time.

Making the defense play with doubt has been a focal point for me for over 10 years now.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's That Time of Year

All across the country, women’s teams are gearing up for the 2014 season. I’m seeing tryout announcements all over the place, and some teams are holding preliminary practices.

There’s also a camp coming up down in Austin, Texas. I understand there’s going to be some pretty good coaches there, and I understand the appeal of playing and learning with other talented players from across the country.

Unfortunately, sometimes reality jumps up and slaps us all in the face. Usually that is in the form of finances. So let’s say you’re a team or a group of players that desperately wants to get better this year – what are the costs involved in doing so?

See below for a group of 6 players to attend a camp, versus the cost for me to come to you:

For 6 players
Air Fare
6 x $400 = $2,400
2 nights, 2 rooms @ $80 each = $320
1 room @ $80 = $160
Camp Cost
6 @ $100 each = $600
On own
2 meals/day @ $15 each = $60
Players coached
Potentially entire team
Total Cost
Cost per player
$137 for 6 – could be much less if more players involved
Generic (lowest common denominator)
Specific to your team/scheme/terminology

Obviously costs can vary, but I tried to compare apples to apples.

My men’s season is over now, and the only two dates the Surge has tied up are December 1 and December 15 for informational meetings. We don’t even have tryouts until January. I would suggest that if you want to put something together, now is the time to get it scheduled. That will give us both plenty of time to work together to establish what exactly you want to accomplish and how we will do it.

I look forward to hearing from you – now back to football talk!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Staying Multiple on Offense

There is a lot of talk, mostly among coaches and commentators, about “staying multiple” on offense. Usually this is in regards to whether or not a particular offense is complex (when coaches are talking about it) or predictable (when commentators are). Sometimes those meanings overlap, but let me give you my opinion on the issue.

For me and many of the coaches I’ve learned from, offensive multiplicity usually doesn’t come from a whole lot of different plays, it comes from different “looks” presented to the defense. Here is how I define a “look” (you may do it differently, and that’s fine): Let’s say you have one play, whether it is run or pass – we’ll call it “Weave”. You run Weave out of six different formations, and from three of those formations you can run it with a motion. To me, that is nine different looks for a defense to digest.

Think about it….if you have (as we normally do) 8 different base formations, left and right, that’s 16 looks (for your #1, base, “go-to” play). From three of those formations, you run a motion, and in four other formations, you run another (again, both left and right). That is 30 different looks, when you combine what the defense sees pre-snap and reacts to post-snap. But it’s only ONE play for you as an offense. Think of the teaching advantage you have over a defense!

Mike Leach, in his book “Swing Your Sword” said, “If you want to screw with a defense, do it with formations, not with plays.” Multiple formations require a defense to align correctly every time or risk exposing a gap or mismatch.

As I said, we normally have 8 base formations. We also have tag words that can change each one into an unbalanced look, a wing look, or change the back alignment. Now, not every play goes well with every formation and certainly not every tag word. But the plays that we run the most, that we rely on the most, are most definitely run out of the most looks. In Week One a couple of years ago, I went into the game being able to give the defense 180 different looks. Considering we ran about 75 plays, that may be considered overkill, but you never know what will come up as the matchup you’re looking for.

The other consideration is practice time. Let’s say you have your inside zone play that is your #1 go-to play. Your game plan calls for that play to be run 20 times a game. So you’ll want to practice, over time, that play out of as many different looks as you can. Then you also have a play-action pass off of that inside zone play. Well, you have to ask yourself, “How many times am I going to call that in a game?” Three times? Four? So maybe you only run that play action out of two or three formations. The point is, even if you are multiple, you still have to be efficient.

One other way to increase looks is by your pass route structure. We have two different types of pass route structure – one is based on alignment, i.e., “the outside receiver does this and the inside receiver does that”. The other method is by position. This concept was brought in to us by Dan Tovar who coached our women’s team in 2007, and I’ve kept it in my offense ever since. I’ll break down one play to serve as an example: on Sizzle, we have the following assignments:
A – cross with Y @ 3-5 yards
Y – cross with A @ 5-7 yards
X – post
Z – 8-10 yard dig
B – get to flat, depending on alignment (could start from backfield, slot or already wide)

So no matter what formation we are in, when we call Sizzle, those assignments stay the same.  Of course, Sizzle works better with some formations than others – probably 4 of them, and then really well when we add in a B motion. But again – the point is that we’ve learned one play and the defense not only has to align against four different looks and a motion, but then react to what appears to them to be 4 entirely different plays.

In summary, “staying multiple” really isn’t as hard as it sounds. Heck, if you’ve learned anything from me in this blog, I hope that it is that *nothing* about offense has to be all that complex. It all happens on the front end, in your planning stages as an offensive staff. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making In-Game Adjustments with the Offensive Line

This week I thought I’d respond to one of the requests for topics that have come in since I started. By the way, in a little over a month we've had almost 700 page views – thank you very much! I’m not sure who picked up the blog, but about 10 days ago all of a sudden I had over 100 views that day alone! It is all very humbling, and I hope that all of you are getting something out of it. OK – back to football.

In my experience, in-game adjustments with the OL (including TE, FB, wing type players) are very subtle. Rarely, if your scheme is sound to begin with, do you have to drastically overhaul what you’re doing in the middle of the game.

Usually, the “adjustment” is really more of a “reminder”. For example, I tell my guys all the time about taking “smart splits” – if you know you've gotta double with someone, then go ahead and shorten that split down a little. Or, if your DE will stay outside you no matter what, then if we’re running off tackle, maybe split out another 6” or so to widen that hole. So the guys will come off after a series and tell me they’re having trouble with one of those types of blocks, and the first thing I’ll ask them is, “have you changed your splits?”

Sometimes the adjustment has to do with a particular player. Maybe a defensive tackle is better than expected and is giving my center or guard a real problem in pass pro. In a case like that, you could slide the protection towards the DT. Or if you’re blocking man, tell the center to set towards the DT. If you’re blocking man against a true NG (never a good idea, by the way), then you can give him some help by having the guard to his snap-hand side come down.
On the perimeter, lots of times the adjustment has to do with the exchange of assignments. A common one would be on a lead play, where initially the tackle blocks a DE and the FB leads up on the LB. Maybe that LB is playing too close to the LOS and is very aggressive, consistently meeting the FB in the backfield. A simple adjustment would be to exchange the assignments – have the tackle gap block the LB and let the FB kick out the DE.

Sometimes on tosses you can do the same thing – switch the slot’s block with the tackle’s block. Maybe the combination of a wide DE and an aggressive slot defender is giving both your players a problem. Maybe the slot isn’t a great blocker, but he can come down and crack the DE “just long enough” to get the play outside. And then your tackle can physically handle that aggressive slot defender.

The moral here is to look for easy fixes, to get you through the game. The easier (simpler) the fix, the easier it will be for your guys to remember it and execute it . Who knows? Maybe the in-game adjustment you make will be the new way to get it done!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Coordinating an Offense - Part 3

The last two weeks I've talked about your terminology and how it can impact your players’ reaction times and efficiency when it comes to running either an up-tempo offense all the time, or just when you are in a hurry-up situation. This week I’d like to touch on the nuts and bolts of actually installing an offense.

I believe that when installing an offense, you have to work backwards from your first game. You generally know when that is, and since you also know when your first practice is, you can create an installation calendar listing each practice. This literal calendar can be an invaluable aid in keeping you organized and on top of the progress your offense makes.
Prior to creating your installation calendar, you and the rest of the offensive staff should have a discussion regarding the philosophical direction of the offense. Make sure you’re all on the same page (including the head coach, if s/he’s not part of the offensive staff) as far as what your expectations are in both personnel and scheme.

I think it is important to note that no matter what your own personal philosophy of offense is, you may need to alter it to suit your players’ abilities. I can remember my first year as an offensive coordinator, in 1999. I’d taken over a men’s semi-pro team and had come straight from the high school ranks. I thought that the West Coast style of offense the high school ran would be fine for a bunch of grown men. I was wrong! Fortunately, it didn't take me very long to realize it, and we were able to make the switch over to an option-based system with drastically simplified line rules.

Once you decide on the direction of the offense, then you need to establish what your “go-to” play will be – what play will you use to set the tone for a game? That should be the first play you install, the first one you run during your very first team session. In past years for me, it has been the inside zone run, the outside zone run, the counter, a four verticals pass and a fly sweep. Each of those, depending on the team, was the “go-to” play for the year. The team knew, and had confidence in, those plays and knew that when the going got tough, they could execute that play and have a better-than-normal chance at success.

After that, after setting the tone, then you need to work the rest of your offense in. I normally group the plays by concept, so that the progression flows for everyone, and they can see, understand and retain the plays better. For example, in the pass game, if you start with your 4 Vertical concept, then install all the variants off of that. One year, my four vertical was called “Roadrunner” and then we had “Coyote” and “Acme” off of that, so those plays were installed right after Roadrunner. I would try to avoid installing more than one concept per practice.
Same thing for your run game – if you start with the inside zone, then install all of your variants of that before going to your counter gap concept plays.

Make sure that when you’re installing your base offense that you run them from all of your formations, unless you specifically decide not to run a particular play from a formation. That’s OK – there may be a perfectly fine reason to not pair a formation with a play. But 90% of the time, you should be able to run your base plays from all your formations.

I use a “ready list” spreadsheet to keep me on track. I start out with a Master – usually one from a previous year, when you have every play, every formation and every variant listed. Then I make a new sheet (tab) and mark it for the first practice – eliminating 95% of the Master. Then for each successive practice, I add to it what will be new for that practice. I normally pass those out to my QB and let them know that they are responsible for knowing assignment and formation for everyone else (maybe not the OL in the run game, but they should know the pass pro basics and the overall concept of the run plays). Obviously, not all the play/formation combinations on a ready list will make it to a team practice script, but the practice scripts are made from the ready list.

I’d be happy to send you a sample of what I’m talking about – just hit me up in the comments, on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or via e-mail.

That should get you started down the right path!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Coordinating an Offense - Part 2

Note: Please remember that this is a blog to start a discussion, not a book on how to completely do something. This topic was getting lengthy!

Last week I talked about formation terminology and a couple of ideas to make it more efficient for you. This week I want to talk about your play call terminology.

The first thing that I believe in is that under no circumstances should you have one set of terminology for your “regular” tempo plays and then another set for your 2-minute drill. With the popularity of no-huddle offenses now, this point may be moot for many of you, but not everyone has jumped on that bandwagon for any number of reasons. Coordinating and practicing a no-huddle offense would take an entirely separate set of posts, so for now I’ll address teams that utilize a more traditional tempo.

“Back in the day” the normal play call terminology was something along the lines of “32 Lead” or “23 Power” for a run play and “612 Z Go” for a pass play. Even numbers to the right, odd numbers to the left.[1] That was the norm, and the way almost everyone did it. That style of terminology still has merit – it is easy to remember and can help inexperienced players. However, it does make things more difficult for you if you either need to audible or run a no-huddle offense in the last two minutes of a half or game. You can’t very well call out “32 Lead” on the line of scrimmage and not expect the defense to know exactly what you’re talking about. So instead you come up with a coded system that is only for your “hurry up” package. This results in two inefficiencies: you limit what you can run in your hurry up package, and you have to set aside practice time to practice under that set of terminology.

The challenge then, is to come up with a system that your players can remember and your opponents cannot decipher. These fall under two groups: A numeric system, or a code word system.

In a numeric system, you use numbers (obviously) almost exclusively. The best one that I’ve run across in my 23 years of coaching was used by Homer Smith, one of the most brilliant coaches in my opinion, who ever lived. It was used at Fountain Valley High when I was there and became second nature to the players after awhile. In a nutshell, a typical play call would be, “Doubles, 11-2” – in this case, it is [Formation], [Play] [Direction]. The number is pronounced as “Eleven two”, not “one twelve”. At FVHS (and UCLA, where Smith coached), the first number, if odd, was a run and if even was a pass. The second number was the direction of the play if a run, or the route combination if a pass. If it was a pass, the first number denoted the pass protection used. A typical pass play may have been “Spread, 4-22” ([Formation], [Protection] [Route combination]).

This system is very flexible, but does take some getting used to. Of course, I can always explain it in detail if asked.

The “in vogue” terminology today uses code words to denote plays. In this system, seemingly random words are used to denote plays and direction. A sample would be, “Doubles North Bob”. In this example, Doubles is the formation, North denotes the direction and Bob is the play. With this particular team, the use of any direction (north, east, south or west) meant the play was to the left. If it were just “Doubles Bob”, then the play was to the right. Other teams use hot (left) and cold (right) and then others may use a single code word to denote left, with nothing meaning by default to the right.

There are almost limitless ways to use this type of system. One team I know uses cities and states for run or pass. Other teams use team/city combinations (i.e., “Oakland” or “Raiders”) either for plays themselves or play AND direction – Oakland would be a specific play to the left, Raiders would be the same play to the right. Still others may use cars (“Chevy” and “Camaro”, or “Honda” and “Civic”).

As with organizing your formations so that your players can remember them, the same type of care must be put into the plays themselves – even more so, because you will have more plays and variations than you do formations.

Next week, we’ll look at how to actually install an offense.

[1] I once had a head coach I worked for use even numbers to the left and odd numbers to the right, solely because everyone else did it the opposite way. I’ve worked under a lot of systems, but I never got those plays right!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Coordinating an Offense - Part 1

When most people talk about an Offensive Coordinator, they think of the guy who calls the plays. While in many cases that is true, in other cases it is not. Several Head Coaches have assumed the playcalling role, but still have an OC. This post will look at the more unglamorous, yet vitally important roles played by the OC.

Terminology – you could be the best playcaller in the universe, but if your players can’t remember the plays, they aren’t going to work. This is often a function of the terminology employed by the team. The best terminology evokes a visual stimulus by the player that tells him what to do or where to line up. For example, a three wide receiver formation may best be remembered by a term such as “Trips”, “Trey” or “Trio”, rather than a term such as “Purple” or “Jacks”.

In my previous post, I talked about a pre-snap checklist for offensive linemen. When talking about everyone else (and in some cases the OL as well), the thought process could be “Alignment-Assignment-Technique”. Those first two items shouldn’t be thought about too much – the player needs to know immediately where s/he lines up and what their assignment is. All they should really have to think about is which technique they’re going to use to defeat the defensive picture they’re given.

In addition, there should be some sort of logical sequence to where specific players align in formations. No matter if the players are labeled by number or letter (R, X, Y, Z, H, etc.) the movement between formations should be kept to a minimum. For example, let’s say you’ve got a 2x2 formation, we’ll call it Doubles. Your receivers (forget about the RB for the moment) are aligned left to right as X, Z, (ball) Y, B. When you move to a 3x1 set, that alignment should look something like: X, Z, B, (ball) Y. What you would NOT want to do is do something like B, Y, X, (ball) Z. Some of you might be laughing right now because of the “duh” factor, but I wouldn’t be writing about this if I hadn’t seen it in action.

Something else to keep in mind is the shortening of your playcall verbiage however possible. One example would be the elimination of the word “right”. When you call your formations, tell your players early on that unless you specifically say “left” in your call, the formation is assumed to be to the right. Same thing with your plays themselves.

Designing terminology in an efficient manner takes some thought on the coordinator’s part – both in the terms themselves and in the teaching aspect. When I install my offense, I have a specific sequence of formations I go in so that the players can see how they segue from one to another and it makes sense for them. The thought that you put in pre-installation will be paid back times ten in increased response time from your players.

Next week we’ll look at terminology for the plays themselves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pre-Snap Checklist for the Offensive Line

This particular checklist is courtesy of Bob Wylie, a long-time NFL offensive line coach with the Bears and Raiders, among others. ( I've fleshed some of the points out based on my experience.

When your offensive line hears the play call in the huddle (or on the LOS), what is the first thing they think of? (Hopefully not “Oh no – they’re running right behind me!”) What is their thought process about how they’re going to get the job done? Have you drilled their initial steps well enough that they don’t have to think about them?

Here’s their checklist:
Who do I have to block? Whether you block man, zone or by rule, the first thing going through your OL’s mind should be who s/he has. No matter if they think “DE”, “LB”, “inside gap” or “end man on the LOS”, they have to know and process that answer quickly.

What can the defense do to me in this picture? You need to teach your players to understand defenses and defensive looks. A defensive end who is normally outside is suddenly tighter with an OLB outside on the LOS…that should alert the tackle immediately to the possibility of an inside slant by the DE. Does this picture cause an adjustment that was talked about in practice or on the sidelines? Who’s likely to have contain, and who likely doesn't?

How will I get it done? Once the OL knows their assignment and understands what the defense is showing by alignment, then it becomes a matter of execution. Execution comes in two parts – assignment and technique. Assignment in this case doesn't really mean “who do I block” – that’s already been covered. It means more along the lines of “who is going to do this block with me, if anyone?” If I’m a tackle, am I going to do it solo, with the TE or with the guard? If it’s a pass play, do I have help from anyone? If so, from where? My inside or my outside? Is it the guard sliding to me, or is it a RB chipping from the outside? 

Knowing those answers will impact what the correct first step (technique) will be. An incorrect first step will mean you’ll be “playing behind” from the snap (please refer to my last post about assumptions you can make, and the dangers of playing against a better athlete). After that first step and first punch, then drilled responses to defensive action takes over - you're out of the checklist phase.

Homer Smith emphasized the importance of the QB having a mental checklist similar to that of a pilot. While the offensive line doesn't have quite as much to think about as the QB, I strongly believe that the use of a pre-snap checklist each and every play will help curtail “accidents” after the snap.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Foundations of Technique & Scheme

In the course of the Surge and Bears seasons, I see an awful lot of film. Add to that the high school film I watch, then college and NFL games. There’s a wide variety of schemes and techniques floating around, and not all of it good.

Over my 23 years of coaching, I mentioned that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some very, very good coaches. In no particular order, those offensive line and offensive coordinators that I give the most credit to are: Mike Barry, Detroit Lions (retired); Pat Ruel, Seattle Seahawks; Mike Sherman, Miami Dolphins and Brent Myers, UNLV (former). There are many others, but those coaches formed the core of what I teach. 90% of the time, when you hear me say something, chances are it came from one of those coaches.

However, there are three assumptions that I came up with all by myself. Going back to the bad scheme and techniques that I see from time to time, I formed these base assumptions back in 2005, after reflecting on the schemes of a fellow coach in 2003. I believe that if a scheme or technique passes these three tests, that it is truly fundamentally sound:

1.       Assume that the defender across from your OL is a better athlete than s/he is. Let’s face it, offensive linemen are usually the worst athletes on the team. It doesn’t mean that they’re the worst football players, but chances are they’re the worst athletes. So don’t ask them to do something they’re not capable of, especially against someone who is probably faster than they are.

2.       Assume that the defender across from your OL is the best-coached player in the country. It was this assumption that was actually the basis for everything else. My fellow coach left a playside defensive tackle unblocked on purpose – well before the read option days – and said, “She’ll never make that play.” Well, needless to say, in this particular game, she did, over and over again. As my 5-time All Pro left tackle, Katrina Walter, pointed out to me when I floated an unwise idea, “Hope is not a strategy.” So if your scheme depends on the other player doing something stupid, it’s probably not a good scheme.

3.       Assume that on the snap, your defender is going to do the ONE THING that you don’t want her to. So if you’re running in the B gap, assume that your defender is going to slant exactly the way you don’t want her to. Your first steps had better be able to counteract that threat. Those steps then need to be drilled over and over again.

That’s it…that is how I believe you should build your scheme and technique library, or tool box. If you always keep those three things in mind, chances are you won’t ever get too far astray from fundamental soundness.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekend Quickie

I saw this after last night's game, and it struck a chord with me. First of all, here's the link:

I've always tried to maintain a Tony Dungy-type of demeanor on the sidelines - dealing with issues, trying to look ahead and moving forward. For some reason, I've found it is relatively easy for me to do as long as I'm either "just" the OL coach or "just" the head coach. I can take on a much more managerial demeanor in both those roles.

However, when I'm also the OC, then I have a harder time with it. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's a more emotional involvement with the entire offense. With the Surge, I was able to be up in the booth, and that's actually where I prefer to call plays - it helps with the emotional detachment. The poor coach on the other end of the headset (Hi Carrie!) may not always see it that way, but it really is better. But with the Bears, since I'm also the HC and recently had to take over playcalling, it's tougher because I'm down on the field. I think I still do a good job with the refs, but I'm less tolerant of mistakes from my guys.

So bottom line, I love the way Kingsbury picked his guy up. It's gotta be really tough in that situation to keep your cool, but I think it is a trait worth emulating. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What I Do

This will be my only “advertising”. I wanted to keep these details in one place where you could refer to them if you wanted and not put it in your face each time you read the blog. So, sorry in advance for the length!

I offer a service. In the corporate world, they may call it benchmarking, in the scientific world they may call it peer review. In the coaching ranks, if you and I were part of the same staff, we’d just call it “talking football”. Sometimes, that “talking football” makes a very public story: Also this off-season, much was made of the Green Bay Packers visiting Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M to get his thought processes on the read option play.

Every year there are coaching clinics and player camps throughout the country. Most of the coaching clinics are in the spring, after the women’s teams have already geared up for the season, making implementation of a new or refined scheme or technique tougher. The player camps, with one very notable exception, are geared towards male youth and high school players. There’s no room for a 20- or 30-something female in any of them.

Dion Lee of the Las Vegas Showgirlz runs a camp each fall specifically for female players. I’ve coached at each one of them and enjoy it immensely. I think it’s a great thing. You can find more information about his camp here:

There are only two drawbacks to a camp: generic teaching, and expense. Let’s look at each separately:

Generic teaching: When you have a group of players from all different teams, by necessity you need to coach them generically. If you had a group of players from only one team, then you could coach them specific to their own terminology, scheme and technique.

Expense: Is it more cost effective to send 10 people to one place, or to bring one person in to coach potentially everyone? Even when you factor in expenses and stipend, it is much more cost-effective for me to come to you.

Individual consulting is not cheap by any means. The absolute best in the country is a coach named Bill Williams, who I had the honor of working for for almost 20 years. You can find out more about him here: Of course, Bill costs about $1,000 per day more than I do. His specialty is NFL, collegiate and top high school teams from across the country.

I understand the financial issues most female teams and players face. Basically, a team would pay for my expenses (transportation, a place to sleep and stuff to eat – and I’m not picky about the last two) and we would negotiate a stipend for me, usually between $100-$200. There needs to be a cost because it does take me some time to prepare thoroughly for our time together and there needs to be perceived value and importance by the team and players who attend.

Here are some examples of individual clinics and camps I’ve done:
1        Minnesota Machine – they wanted to install a zone run game and shore up their pass protection. I studied their film and playbook. I came in on a Friday night and met with the coaches, going over the system and getting all of their questions out of the way. Saturday morning, they scheduled a 3-hour chalk talk, which was filmed. Saturday afternoon they had a two-hour practice, in which the offensive line drills were filmed. Sunday morning was another hour chalk talk and a two-hour filmed practice. I left Sunday afternoon.

2         Sacramento Sirens – their offensive line wanted to know more about pass protection and run blocking basics in a non-Wing-T environment. I came in on Friday night, met with the offensive linemen over dinner and watched some film. I had their line blocking call sheet, and reviewed that with them. Saturday we were scheduled for two two-hour segments. It was pouring rain, so the girls just voted on going straight through. We went over almost everything in one five hour practice. I left Sunday morning.

3        Garden Grove High School – I ran a two-day (Friday evening/Saturday morning) offensive line camp for all of their OL, from varsity down to freshmen. Day One was devoted to the zone run game and Day Two was review followed by pass protection fundamentals. Each day went three hours, all on the field. Everything was filmed, and then posted to Hudl, where I went back and made comments for the coaches. In fact, the head coach called me up this weekend asking me to review and comment on their most recent game film. I was happy to oblige.
So that is what I do, when I’m not coaching one of my own teams. You may ask, “Why would you coach up someone either in a camp or in an individual clinic that you may have to face later?” Good question. Here’s why:
1      I love coaching football.

2      Many times in the women’s leagues, there are blowout games. More often than not, we’ve been on the upper end of those. If I can make anyone we play better, then it will force us to be better as well.

3         I like seeing new parts of the country. Honest – it’s a mini-adventure for me.

If you choose to bring me in either from this blog or after maybe working with me at the Las Vegas camp, I can promise you that I will absolutely coach my ass off for you and your players.
To borrow a phrase from Bill Williams, “my only agenda is your agenda.” You decide what part of the game you want covered, you decide what format the clinic takes, you decide based only on what your team needs. Of course, I can make suggestions, but in the end I work for you and will do what you want.

Sorry about the length of this particular post, but it’s a one-time thing. Back to talking football in the next one!