Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Available Resources and Clinic Thoughts

Note: If some of this sounds like a rant, I don’t really intend it to be. Just thinking out loud…sort of like real bloggers do. :-)

This past weekend I attended the Glazier Clinic in Las Vegas. As always, I really enjoy the chance to sit down and absorb new ideas, or to reinforce the things that I already do. Some of my players have been with me so long (up to 10 years) that they’ve GOT to be bored with some of the drills that I do! So I’m always looking for new ways to teach the same fundamentals, which really haven’t changed.

The thing that struck me this year was how insular we as semi-pro and women's coaches are. You just don't see non-high school or youth coaches there. Why is that? We can't possibly think we know everything, can we? Is it he cost? You can get a staff pass for $300, to go to as many clinics as you want. So a staff of 6 could go to both the Las Vegas and Los Angeles clinics for only $50 a coach. Plus you get access to online clinics as well. We as a group have got to invest in bettering our own skills. I think the difference is that high school guys realize they have to get better in order to survive and I don't think that realization has come to the other levels yet. But if you go up against teams like the Chicago Force or Boston Militia and get beat, don't think it was only due to them having better players than you!

There is more technology out there than you can imagine. Coaches can look up almost anything they need. I would like to definitely recommend X’s and O’s Labs ( Those guys do a great job of getting information and research out to coaches. For only $35 a year (a steal, believe me!) you get the Insider’s access. Although it isn’t a complete system like some sites offer, you get much more variety (although there is an in-depth five part study of Nevada’s Pistol offense) and in all phases of the game. Plus, they seem to be really nice guys.

Almost every coach at the clinic I listened to had a CD or DVD for sale, ranging between $10 and $20. I normally pick up some books from Coaches’ Choice, and this trip was no exception. I also picked up Bill Cubit’s (OC at Illinois) DVD of his Triangle Passing Game because he went over so much information there was no way I could take all the notes necessary. 

Coach Dewayne Alexander from Tennessee Tech also had some great stuff. His Rocket Sweep based offense really piqued my interest. I can get you his contact info if you want it.

I also heard Coach Robbie Owens speak, from Grand Junction, CO. He’s got an entire system, called the No Huddle Power Pistol. He’s an outstanding speaker and has things well organized. I really enjoyed listening to him and have followed him on Twitter. He’s got his own website now,

Here’s the thing, speaking strictly from a women’s team coach perspective: Membership to the website (which does include a lot of info) costs $499.00 for a single coach. If I was still coaching at Fountain Valley High in Orange County, I’d probably be hitting up the head coach and booster club right about now for a membership and not think twice about the cost. Heck, back in the 90’s, their booster club had a $70,000 a year budget, over and above what the school district provided. Women’s and men's teams now are extremely lucky if they have a TOTAL team budget of $70,000.

Coach Owens markets to high school and small college teams. There is a demand for what he does, and he does it well. I wish him much success in his endeavors. But as women’s coaches, that’s not for us. It’s almost completely out of the budget unless it is out of our own pocket.

Now, I’m not against coaches making money – heck, I try and do it too (please see my “What I Do” post from September). But because I realize the finances involved with men's and women’s teams, I try to keep the costs down however possible. 

I dunno, maybe I’m just jealous. Enough of the capitalistic rant though – these coaches are outstanding, and their material is good.

Another realization I had this weekend, and maybe some of you have had it too over the years, is that my playbook is getting out of hand. I use Fast Draw ( to do my playbooks. It costs $75 per year and I think it is well worth it. It allows multiple teams and seasons, so you can see what you’ve run over the years and how you’ve changed things up. I think you get a two week free trial, so check it out.

Right now, my playbooks span three different teams (two men’s, one women’s) and six different seasons. I started out with a set of terminology that I picked up from Dan Tovar in 2007. That got mixed in with a lot of Surge terminology, and then further modified by the men’s teams, so going back and forth from men’s teams to women’s teams kept me on my mental toes. It is time to do an off-season cleanse!

I think that my use of one word play names (with possible tags) is too limiting, and it may be too telling to the defense when using tempo. I’m going to go back almost full circle and re-incorporate Fountain Valley High’s terminology that came from Homer Smith when he was at UCLA. Still utterly brilliant. So it’ll be a mix of numbers and words and the next time I’m in charge of an offense, especially with multiple teams, it’ll be one unified set of terms. I imagine that this will be the biggest, most complete playbook I’ve ever done. I’m looking forward to the project, which will start August 10th!

Coach Owens also talked about cadence and tempo and how to meld the terms into each other, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’ll sound like, I just have to write it all down. Maybe at some point I can customize it for other teams and get my own little capitalistic enterprise going!

This weekend, the Surge will be in El Centro for our annual weekend mini-camp. I’ll have some thoughts on that for next week. Gotta remember not to tell too many secrets though – the season is drawing near!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


One of the hallmarks of the Pete Carroll legacy at both USC and Seattle is competition. The idea of competing every day is ingrained throughout the entire team and reinforced at each practice in some form or fashion.

I think that there are a couple of interpretations and uses for combatives in the women’s game. One use would be some limited martial arts training – understanding how to break holds and control arms is highly useful.

For instance, when in pass pro, my offensive linemen are trained to use their elbow as a pivot point. When a defender on a pass rush comes in and slaps at their wrists or forearms, we simply rotate around the elbow and repunch. But if the defender understood that the elbow controls the arm, they would attack the elbow instead of the wrist. Once they have control of the elbow, they can move the entire arm pretty much wherever they want and even dislodge the blocker’s balance point. Taken in the extreme, this would be Reggie White’s famous “hump” move, where he would hit the OL’s triceps with a cupped hand and just lift them up over the OL’s head.

To counter those sorts of moves, the OL has to be adept at either “short setting” on her punch (not extending the hands out all the way) or as soon as she feels pressure withdrawing the affected hand and repunching. One of my mentors, Brent Myers (currently at Weber State) taught his OL to set with their hands down low, near the rib cage and concentrate on punching the DL in their rib cage. He feels that it opens the OL up to fewer pass rush moves – it is awfully hard to rip when the hands are held that low, and it is harder for the DL to dip under them as well. Myself, I haven’t quite bought into that strategy, but I’ve always kept it in my back pocket for an occasion where it might be useful.

The point is, you have to drill these kinds of automatic responses, which looks an awful lot like a martial arts lesson. There are coaches out there, namely Mark Miller ( (who I’ve actually taken lessons from), former Steelers All Pro OL Tunch Ilkin ( and others who teach martial arts concepts to teams. Once you understand it as a coach, then you have to instill those abilities in your players via drill.

The other interpretation of combatives would be competitive drills. I’m sure when I say that most coaches immediately think of things like Oklahoma drills or bull in the ring, or some other “toughening” exercise.  What I’m thinking about is a little more out of the box….if you had a relatively light standup bag, for example, you could have two players grab hold of it any way they wanted. The whistle blows and basically, it is whoever ends up with it is the winner. You could have a time limit – or not. You want to see who has a competitive, never-give-up spirit? That’s one way to do it.

You can also do the same thing with a towel taped at both ends and in the middle. Each player grabs an end, and whoever ends up with it wins. I remember seeing a TV spot when the University of Texas was in a bowl game a couple of years ago, and they were touting the training methods of their strength coach. What he had was a sanitized, fancy version of my taped up towel. And the announcers were going crazy about it. I said, “Shoot, I was doing that in 1992.” So think out of the box a little on those types of things.

I do believe that “some” of the old stand-byes still have merit. The Oklahoma drill for example, is good, IF it is done in the correct way! Too many defensive coaches want to set it up where there is one blocker, one ballcarrier and two defenders. To me, that is fundamentally unsound, because you’re running the ballcarrier into an unblocked defender every time. Who does that by design?  A much better barometer of your defender’s ability to shed blocks and still make a tackle would be to have 3-on-2 – two blockers and a ballcarrier versus two tacklers. Or even better, how one university (I want to say it was Clemson) sets it up: you have an OL and a DL together at the bottom (narrow end) of a V-shaped cone formation. About five yards back, you have a FB/RB and a LB paired up, and then out in the wide side of the V you have a WR and DB paired up. Thus the ballcarrier starts in a confined area, and as s/he gets more yaradage s/he also gets more room to play with. Also, the blockers who are responsible for those areas get a more realistic look at the amount of time they have to hold their blocks. I think that is a great drill.

When I drill my OL as a group, I’ll do what I call “King of the Hill”, and basically it is just that – two OL driving at each other, with one important change: I only put their helmets about 6” from each other. I’m not interested in them looking like a couple of mountain goats butting heads with the attendant risk of injury. I’m more interested in them developing quick hands and keeping their feet moving. Each rep only lasts about 5 seconds, especially if they start turning around each other or go straight up – then I blow it dead immediately. No sense in getting bad form as muscle memory!

So those are my thoughts on combatives in modern football. This weekend I’ll be out in Las Vegas at the Glazier clinic. The plan is to talk next week about some of the things I picked up at the clinic, so who knows what it’ll be?

Thanks again for reading!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thinking Out of the Box

The  discussion a couple of weeks ago here about parity in women’s football garnered quite a bit of attention – I had more than twice as many page views in one day as I had on any other, and that particular blog post has already become the most viewed post on my site. So thanks, I think!

One of the discussions that week was about strategy related to special teams. I see many coaches new to women’s football (and some that aren’t so new) look at special teams solely in the traditional manner, i.e., they punt when they think they’re supposed to punt, they kick off deep when they think they’re supposed to kick off deep and they kick an extra point when they think they’re supposed to.

Now, there are valid reasons for doing all of those actions, but I think that each team should probably reevaluate the rote nature of those playcalls. For example: We played one team twice last year, and were pretty familiar with them. They had a coach new to the women’s game, having come from the collegiate ranks. He did some good things, but his punting decisions weren’t one of them. Why? Because his long snapper had more hang time on her snaps than their punter did! Every one of their punts was either done under extreme pressure or resulted in a snap over the punter’s head. In many of their situations they would have been much better served just trying to go for it on 4th down. I mean, he had to know his long snapper was erratic at best, right?

Even if a long snapper is good, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should punt. Why? Because in the women’s game you’re very lucky if you can get a gross yardage of 20-25 with any consistency. Subtract out the return and very many times the other team ends up with the ball near where your yard to make was. You could’ve gone for it, and even if you came up short been in the same position you find yourself after the return.

Let me point out that going for it on 4th down is not limited to the women’s game at all, nor is it a new concept. Coach Don Markham (  and Coach Myron Miller ( both high school coaches of note in the Inland Empire and Orange County for many years, decided to forego punting and kicking extra points. Coincidentally, both of them ran the Double Wing offense.

Coach Markham once described his practice plans this way: “We do offense for 90 minutes, defense for 30 minutes, and special teams during pregame.”

Coach Miller told me about his philosophy while we were both scouting a common opponent: “I go for two every time, and only punt if I’m backed up inside my 30.”

One coach who has gotten a lot of attention recently is Kevin Kelley of the Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. He runs a no-huddle spread offense, rarely kicks deep, never punts and doesn’t field punts. There is an excellent link here that talks about the math and a video about his philosophy:

For us, we’re in sort of a unique situation – we have relatively talented offenses and defenses, and we have a decent long snapper. For some reason we’ve always been blessed with a good long snapper – for many years I think we had the best in the country in Cilena Mosley. However, we’ve never had a punter quite at that level. We’ve always had decent kickers, but our punting has never been more than the 25 yard gross I mentioned earlier. So choosing not to punt became sort of our thing starting in 2011. For the most part, it worked out well, but the two times it didn’t it was in front of the whole country (relatively speaking): In the 2011 WFA Championship game against Boston, we chose not to punt twice while backed up in our own territory and both times we ended up giving up touchdowns. While those points weren’t the deciding ones, they did contribute to what would have been a very close game appearing to be much more one-sided.

We tend to take the same approach on kickoffs, kicking squibs or onsides in some form much more often than most teams do. When your “deep” kicks generally only reach the 25, and you add in a modest 10 yard return, we feel that you might as well trade one less first down that needs to be made for a chance at getting the ball back.

The going for two part is more of an evolving thought process for us. As I mentioned, we have always had good kickers, and currently have an All American in Melissa Strother. So unlike many teams, we can make extra points fairly consistently. The question then becomes, “do we want to”? There is something to be said for being able to get two points on a consistent basis and really putting pressure on another team. My men’s team lost a game last year 24-21 when our opponent went for and got two points each of their three TD’s. We went up 7-0, but then was down 8-7, then 16-7. We came back to 16-15, then missed our final two point try and lost by three. Their success on going for two was instrumental in that victory.

These strategies spill over to our practice time as well. We prioritize according to what we tend to do the most. So we practice kickoff quite a bit. We work the heck out of punt return. We work on onside kick return quite a bit. As the playoffs come, we traditionally then start focusing on the possibility that we’ll need to punt and return more kicks. In the WFA championship game of 2012, we punted a few times, and returned a kick for a TD, so that extra practice leading up to that game came in handy. The point is that special teams should be just like your offense in deciding practice time allocation. Would you practice an offensive play over and over again if you were only going to run it once or twice a game, on average?

Sometimes, your strategies are dictated by your personnel. You may not have a kicker, so will always go for two by default. Maybe you run a Double Wing offense and are never in 4th and long situations, so maybe you’ll feel more comfortable in going for it on 4th down. All I’m saying is to consider these seemingly unorthodox strategies, and have a reason for either doing them or not. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Finding Ways in the Run Game to Get Over Your "Hump"

One of the first things you probably want to do as an offensive coordinator is figure out what run play will be your “go to” for the year. Of course that can change as time goes by and you see what you have and what is truly working, but you generally want to go in with a plan.

Here’s mine:
What can my OL do?
What can’t they do well (at least right now)?
How does my OL match up against the DL we face?
What is the philosophical attitude of the OC (or HC if I’m the OC)?
How does what I come up with fit into the offense as a whole?
Will what I have in mind get us further than we did last year?

For several seasons when I was at Fountain Valley High, our go-to play was the inside zone. We wanted to establish the physical toughness that came from getting that vertical push off the LOS. Generally speaking, we had a pretty good-sized OL for the high school level and that style of play suited us.

One year though, we had a smaller OL (about 20-30 pounds lighter all the way across). Our base philosophy was one of a pro-style, West Coast type of offense. We weren’t going to be a Wing-T or Double Wing team under any circumstances. The Fly Sweep was only run in two places in SoCal at that time (late 90’s), so that wasn’t really an option yet. So for that year, we installed the outside zone first. Our thinking was to use our smaller, quicker OL to generate lateral defensive movement and then come back with the inside zone after the linebackers really started flowing over the top. It worked well for us that year, and we didn’t have to make any changes to our offense – only the order in which plays were installed and the frequency between inside zone and outside calls were reversed.

When I started coaching in the women’s game, the prevailing idea there was a base man-blocked scheme that relied heavily on iso/lead principles. This was fine, as long as our offensive line stacked up physically against opposing defensive lines. Generally speaking, they did – until we got into the playoffs, or until we played in Texas, whichever came first.

After being beat in Dallas in 2005 with an Iso/Lead type of offense, and then again in 2006 with an inside zone based offense, I became the OC in 2007. I’d heard coach Mack Brown say that “if all else is equal, build your team to beat your Week 10 opponent.” Many times at the high school level (and in college too) your main rivalry game is scheduled later in the season. Sometimes, if you go 1-9, but that “1” is against your Week 10 opponent, you’ll still have a job the following year.

So it was my job to figure out who our main rival was and how to beat them. At that time, it was definitely Dallas. We’d won our division twice in a row and lost in the conference championship twice in a row. We had to beat Dallas to get over our “hump”. As a HC or coordinator, one of your jobs is to figure out which team is your personal hump, and how to get past it.

Dallas was built to beat their main rival at the time, Houston. Both teams were big, tough and nasty. They would bludgeon you to death. Without a doubt they had skill as well, but their trademark was Texas toughness.

Dallas had a pair of ILB’s that hit like Mack trucks and were faster than they looked – as long as they were coming downhill. Their DL wasn’t particularly mobile, but were very strong two-gap types of players. My OL was (and still is) relatively undersized but pretty mobile.

My epiphany came while watching LaDanian Tomlinson run wild for the Chargers in 2006. San Diego ran the snot out of the power/counter gap schemes that year. I’d always liked the counter play, but had always looked at it as a third option behind the inside and outside zones. So I thought, “If the counter is good enough for the Chargers to be a #1 play, then it’s good enough for us.”

And that’s what we went into the 2007 season thinking: the one-back counter was going to be our #1 run play and we were going to see what those big Dallas ILB’s could do in space. Our head coach was Dan Tovar (back with us again this year – I’m beyond excited) who was a huge proponent of the passing game. We mixed in his passing game with my run game ideas and ended up beating Dallas in Dallas 34-14, and then again at our place 21-19, knocking them out of the playoffs – we’d cleared our hump!

We went on to beat LA 7-6 on the road, then New York 47-7 in New York, setting up a final showdown against Houston in San Diego, which we managed to win on a double reverse pass (Tovar’s idea) 14-8. Our RB ended up being the league MVP, due to the counter play and swing passes! So for us in 2007, it was all about figuring out how to beat your Week 10 opponent.

Interestingly enough, Dallas is now one of the fastest teams in the league – they’ve completely retooled themselves. Their coaches are sharp – maybe they saw us as their hump, since we’ve returned the favor of beating them in 2011 and 2012 in the conference championships.

Fast forward to last year, 2013. We came in with the idea that the outside zone was going to be our #1 play, along with a heavy play-action pass component based on the personnel we had. Now, this is going to refer back to my very first paragraph, about things changing as time goes by.

Due to relative inexperience at QB and WR, we were completing about 40% of our passes in preseason….on air. We could see that the vertical attack wasn’t going to work well for us. We did have some speed from multiple sources. We had to figure out a way to make the defense “play with doubt” (regular readers will remember hearing that phrase multiple times).

So for us last year, it was the Fly offense, out of the ‘gun. An awful lot of it was trial and error – although I’d attended coaching clinics on that offense, I’d never attempted to install or coach it. But something had to be done – we’d scrimmaged a local team, one that we’d handled easily the previous year, and they beat us 21-7. So we went “all in” on the Fly and the attendant counter plays, and made our play action game all off of the fly motion package.

In Week 2 we faced that local team again, and won 51-0. We rode that horse until the wheels fell off against a talented Fresno team in round 2 of the playoffs, ending our season at 9-2. So now, maybe we have a new “Week 10” opponent – as it happens, we do play Fresno, in Fresno the last week of the season.

My point throughout this article, is that if you want to get better, it may not be by doing what you’ve always done. I can look at more than a few women’s teams across the country and see where they come up short year after year. You’ve got to be willing to adapt to get yourself over whatever your own teams’ hump is. It’s time to figure out what will work in 2014.