Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Championship Week

This is it….what we’ve worked for since February. We’re headed to Chicago tomorrow to play against the Boston Militia on Saturday. Even after 24 years of coaching, in over 275 games, the realization that win or lose, this is it, always strikes me as odd. I guess it is because these types of games come around rather infrequently. Either you’re not even good enough to make the playoffs, or you make it to the championship game. Any other scenario and that last game comes as sort of a shock. You could see it on the faces of the teams we beat during this playoff run, the realization that it is over for them. It’s a tough feeling, especially when the result isn’t obvious until the very end.

The preparation coming into the game is tough as well. The evaluation process is much more complicated. Unless you are absolutely certain that your athletes are markedly better across the board, then you have to find an edge. If you don’t you find yourself in danger of being outcoached. I believe that we fell into that trap in 2011 when we played Boston. However, I also like to think that we learned from that and it carried us through the 2012 win, and that we’ve maintained that lack of assumption.

Unfortunately, I also believe that arrogance (for lack of a better word) may have affected at least one of our playoff opponents – there’s no other way to look at how they aligned against us and didn’t adjust to what we were doing. I can only pray that others who watch the championship game won’t say the same of us this year. I can assure you that we’re giving this game our very best as a coaching staff.

Of course, things may happen during the game that make everyone watching (including us) think, “WTF?” So be it. It comes with the territory of scrutiny in a big game.

So many things come into play when trying to decide how to approach a game like this. You have no common opponents and Boston is one of the few staffs where I don’t know a single coach on it. So trying to evaluate their athletes versus yours is tricky, as is trying to get an idea of what the coaching staff’s personality is. We know they’ve played some quality teams, Chicago and DC in particular. DC has excellent personnel but a completely different offensive style and personality from us. Chicago is more similar, but the minor points between our respective players are more difficult to pinpoint. So will what we want to do in certain situations work? What changes, if any, do we need to make to increase our chances? What do we have to look out for? Is there anything we just have to scrap completely?

I think those items are what makes football the greatest game imaginable for a coach. So many variables – not only the physical, but also the mental – of both players and coaches. Neither team has been in a particularly close game at the end. Although we’ve had close scores at the end of the first half (even trailing against Seattle), we’ve come out and dominated the second half. Although we know the final scores of Boston’s games, and know that they were in at least one track meet against DC, we don’t know their mindsets in all of those games, whether they’ve ever felt any pressure. We hope we’ll find out how they react to it on Saturday.

I hope to meet any of you that happen to be in Chicago this weekend – please come up and say hi. I’ll be taking a short vacation after the game, so there will not be a blog next Wednesday. Depending on how much there is to think about after Saturday, it may come out on Thursday or Friday, but no promises. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Road to the Championship

We are privileged to be going back to the National Championship game for the third time in four years, something no other WFA team has done. Our opponent will be the Boston Militia, a team that beat us for the 2011 title, 34-19. They are extremely athletic and very well coached. We’re looking forward to the challenge and expect another great game.

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we’re going to the championship again. I know it will at some point, but right now it just feels as though we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. The Seattle game jolted me a bit, and quite honestly felt a bit like an escape (as much as a two-TD win can), but this week it seemed like we were just back to being us.

We put together probably one of our best games of the season this past Saturday against the Kansas City Titans. I expected to win, but not quite in this fashion: 59-14, if you hadn’t heard already. They were the #3 scoring offense in the country, averaging around 48 points per game; and the #2 scoring defense in the country, giving up only around 5 points per game.

Our defense was outstanding, and I really have to give a shout out to my offensive line. Left tackle Katrina Walter, left guard Kim Henry, center Jen White, right guard Eboni Chambers, right tackle Jessica Cable and super subs Christina Carrillo and Tye Williamson really did a great job. They didn’t give up a sack (only two all year) and we ran for over 300 yards – not bad for a team widely perceived as a finesse offense. I can’t tell you how proud I am of them.

I was able to give a clinic to some youth OL coaches this past week. What a blast that was! I never know when speaking to youth coaches how much will be relevant, but I did point out that coaching women and coaching youth had one very distinct similarity: you get raw rookies who have never put on pads before each year. With the youth leagues, your challenge is to get every player in a minimum amount of plays. With us, we don’t have to play anyone more than they deserve or what the needs of the team dictate, but we also have to get them ready to perform on a possible national stage against some very experienced athletes.

So when I saw the coaches nodding their heads, taking a ton of notes and even laughing at my jokes, it truly was a rush like no other. Teaching is a blast – and really, that’s what we all are, teachers in “3D”. Not only concepts or facts, but also actions, body control, mental & physical toughness. And you have to remember the mental parts while someone else may be beating on you. It’s not an easy thing we do.

I hope to see a lot of you in Chicago over the championship weekend. I’m sure the Force will do a great job as a host – I know how they feel, haven fallen short last year then having to host the game a short time later. While it is a business trip first and foremost, I believe that you always have enough time to stop and say hi to someone you may only get to see on Facebook or this weekend. So don’t be afraid to say hi!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quick Thoughts and Updates

This has been a really busy week, with our preparations for the big game against Kansas City. They have a ton of weapons on offense – fortunately for us they look an awful lot like us, so it’s not like we have to prepare against completely foreign plays. But usually preparing against great athletes is tougher than preparing against different plays. Of course, we have some people of our own, and that’s what will make this game such a great one!

Many of you have been asking for camp updates. Please be assured that everything is still a go for November 15-16, with informal events that Friday night as well. Please understand that right now our focus is solely on advancing to and winning the National Championship. Once our season ends, then our focus will go 100% to finishing up the camp details. We were able to do a lot of the groundwork already, and at the latest, when the season ends August 2 we’ll still be three and a half months out.

I get a chance tomorrow to help out a friend of mine by teaching, and that’s always a good thing. He’s the president of a youth league and coached my son, Travis, when he played. He’s also been a big supporter of the Surge. So when he was appointed as president, I wanted to do what I could to help out. So he’s got five or so OL coaches coming out tomorrow and I’ll go over some thoughts with them and hopefully give them some value. It’s always a little nerve-wracking to present yourself as a kind of an expert – at least it is for me – but I never like to pass up an opportunity to become a better communicator and teacher, so we’ll give it a go.

I did want to give you some sort of “nuggets of knowledge” this week, so I’m borrowing this from the website If you haven’t been there before, you owe it to yourself to check it out every once in awhile at least. They have great articles and videos, plus have absolutely the latest info on who is coaching where, from the NFL to D-I college, to the collegiate lower levels, all the way down to high school.

So from there, please find 17 Bullet Points of Lane Kiffin’s Coaching Philosophy. Now, I’m not much of a Kiffin fan. However, I’m also smart enough to see that he’s pretty right on with these points, and if it makes you better, you shouldn’t really care who the info came from. Here you go:

The 17 bullet points of Lane Kiffin's coaching philosophy
It doesn't have quite the impact of Martin Luther's 95 theses, but former USC head coach and current Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin laid out 17 bullet points of his coaching philosophy on Wednesday night at the Angelo Football Clinic.
Other than his father, the two coaches that most influenced Kiffin are his former and current boss - Pete Carroll and Nick Saban. They are very different in almost every way, Kiffin said, but they both have an answer for everything. He recalled a time at Saban's house following USC's disappointing 2012 season when he asked Saban 32 questions about how Saban runs his program. Over the next three hours, Saban thoroughly answered every question in typical Saban fashion.
Without further ado..
1. Be a team guy.
2. Be a good listener.
3. Take corrective criticism.
4. Discussion is good. Arguing is a waste of time. Discussion helps the team improve. Arguing exists only to prove who is right. 
5. Be totally organized in the meeting room. "If the players show up and I don't have the film ready, that tells them that I don't respect them and don't respect their time.
6. Don't waste time on the field.
7. Be on the details. Stress the little things.
8. Be accountable to your fellow position coaches.
9. If your head coach gets on a player and you hadn't explained it to him, take up for your player. He'll respect you for it. Kiffin was big on this, and all player-related issues. For example, if a wide receiver does not make the proper sight adjustment and the head coach and coordinator jump on him for it, his wide receiver coach may be tempted to join them in hopes of looking good in front of the head coach. Terrible idea. "You just lost him for the day," Kiffin said. Instead, "say, 'that's my fault, coach, we'll haven't been over that yet but we will after practice'," said Kiffin. 
10. Stay positive. It can be a long season, so stay upbeat. 
11. Don't get in their face. Be demanding, but in the right way. Kiffin said he used to mother(blank) players after mistakes, but doesn't anymore. "He didn't want to drop that pass, he wasn't trying to drop that pass, so why would I (blank) him for it?"
12. Be respectful to the down-the-line players. Carroll taught him this one by always playing catch with a reserve players during breaks in practice. When he and Steve Sarkisian asked why, Carroll told them small acts like that can swing the whole locker room in the coaching staff's favor. The starters buy in by default since they're the ones that suck up all the playing time, but winning the down the line players over pushes the whole team forward.
13. Do not put players on the board to draw up plays. The ones that aren't good at it, Kiffin said, know they aren't good at it and, when they inevitably draw up 10 players instead of 11, get humiliated by the rest of the room.
14. Be honest with the players. Don't BS them. "Don't build a player up into something he's not."
15. Never tell a player he's going to play and then not play him. What happens here is two-fold, Kiffin said. If you tell a safety he'll play in the third series, then fall behind 14-0 and fail to play him, A) that player knows you don't really trust him and B) he's probably told his parents he's going to play, and now you've got an issue on your hands with him. 
16. Take it one year at a time. Sign on and don't look back. Whether you're at a place you like or a place you don't, make the best out of it and learn something from it.
17. Have a passion for coaching. Don't punch a clock. Carroll taught him this one. He created an atmosphere of "want to" versus "have to"; players and coaches were excited to show up for work at six in the morning. You're going to be there anyway, so why not make it fun?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Playoff Recap & OL Follow Up

Boy, what a weekend! That was really a good game we had against Seattle. They were well-prepared and ready to go. We were behind for the first time all year early on, and then again at halftime. We’ve only been down at half two other times since 2011 – last year in the regular season against Las Vegas, and then in the 2011 championship game against Boston. So it was a definite gut-check for us and I was pleased how we responded. For the second week in a row we shut out the other team in the second half and scored multiple TD’s of our own to take control of the game.

It is always good to coach against good guys and good coaches. Scott McCarron (DC) and Mike Talley (HC/OC) are just a couple of really good guys who coach their teams very well. Seattle is a classy organization from top to bottom and I look forward to playing them again. I haven’t been this on edge before a game in awhile (first game of the season against Las Vegas, and the first game against Central Cal both come to mind), and I sorta like the feeling.
So in two weeks we host a very talented Kansas City team. Another team we’ve never played before who looks really, really good on film. Some may say their schedule hasn’t been the toughest, but hey – good is good and talent is talent, and they have it in bunches.

Massey has us beating them by about the same margins they had us beating Seattle and I just don’t see it. We may win, yeah….of course, I think we will. But I’m under no illusions that it’ll be anything other than a dogfight from start to finish.

As a follow up to last week’s “Thoughts and Rants” post, I thought I’d elaborate on the whole “taking your OL seriously” theme. Many coaches have said, “But I do – they’re a priority” OK, maybe they are, in your mind, I get that. But what I’m talking about is what comes out on film and on the field.

Generally speaking an experienced OL coach can tell within a couple of pass plays at most how an opposing OL is being coached. Usually it starts and stops at the tackle’s footwork on her pass sets. If it is good, then more digging is warranted. If that footwork is poor, then you usually know all you need to about how they’re coached. Sure you’ll keep looking to see what the scheme is, but if they show poor footwork then half of your DL’s battle is done.

One of the reasons I still like scouting in person even though all of the film is posted is that I can watch pregame drills. I watch my counterparts when we play too, whenever I get the chance. Sometimes, I even get drill ideas from them. Heck, last year I saw the OL coach for the Sting do a more efficient version of a drill I already did, so I modified mine. But usually, the drills done in pre-game only confirm what I’ve already seen on film.

You might wonder why their tackle gets beat around the edge so quickly, and you watch them drill and it becomes apparent. You wonder why the guard and center lose their balance so often, you watch them drill their punches and you think, “Oh – THAT’S why.”

So basically, as a coach, people need to do an honest self-evaluation based off of what really happens in a game, not based off their perceptions. Simply saying “well, she missed the block” isn’t enough. “Why” did she miss it? Was it her step(s), her balance, her eyes or her hands? Then you can note that you need to come up with drills to fix that specific problem. If you don’t know the reason, then ask an outside person. If you don’t know how to create a drill to mirror that situation, ask around.

As a shameless plug, that’ll be a big part of the camp we’re doing – for all positions – offering solutions for problems that you’re having. But knowing and admitting that you have a problem to fix is the first step. If you want to sit back and just say, “Well, they’re just better than we are” then OK – you’re right and nothing will change.

I’ll never forget my first three years as a coach. My first year, I simply relied on what I knew as a player – which wasn’t much as it turned out. Fortunately after that season I knew that I didn’t know anything. I started going to clinics then, but was not only overwhelmed with info but was on teams that were understaffed with coaches who didn’t know much more than I did. Only after arriving at Fountain Valley High in ’94 was I surrounded by coaches who were better than me, and they pulled me up to their level in a hurry. Finally I had a place to get answers for the problems I was having.

That’s what we hope to provide at the camp. That’s also what this blog is about, most of the time at least during the offseason – getting coaches better. But you gotta be willing to get out of your comfort zone a little.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts and Rants

This past week was another bye week for our playoffs before we head up to Seattle, so this will likely be a collection of thoughts that may or may not have anything to do with one another……

Reason #10231 that I prefer coaching the women’s game over the men’s game: We’re travelling up to Seattle this week. Relatively little drama, not a whole lot of worry whether or not we’ll have everyone show up. If we win, we move on. If we win all of our games, then we’re the National Champions. Those games will have spanned the best teams from coast-to-coast – the best from the West against the best from the East. *IF* we were to win, as it stands right now, we would win against a collection of the eight best teams in the country: Austin, Boston, Chicago, DC, Kansas City, Miami, us, Seattle. That’s the way a National Championship should be decided. The men’s game doesn’t do that, not even a little bit. They’re like professional boxing…..too many titles from too many confederations. No one can really say who the best is. I’ll be very confident in saying this: Whoever wins the WFA National Championship will be the best women’s football team in the world, period.

There’s another league that will hold a “World Championship” and will say that their winner is the World Champion…..and they will be, except for say the four teams in our league who make the Final Four. The teams that end up in that league’s championship game are solid teams, no doubt. But they can’t (as shown by history) hold up to the very best teams from our league.


After our last win, I kept hearing from others that we’re “just a bunch of all stars” which is why we won. Yes, we have a whole lot of talented players. But why didn’t anyone worry about all that talent when they were playing for their previous teams? Heck, the teams in Los Angeles historically have had the most talent in the league for years and years. We were 10-4-1 against one of them since 2003, and 7-0 against another since 2011. Based on pure talent, there was no way we should have beaten one of them, especially last year. But we did – twice. But now let some of those players come down to us where they get coached up a bit and all of a sudden everyone says it is unfair, or that is their excuse for losing to us. No one cares about the players who went to other teams; no one calls those teams full of all stars, even if it was in equal amounts, because those teams are done for the year already. I guess sometimes people need to rationalize because it is easier than facing shortcomings.


Kind of in the same vein, there are a ton of teams out there that are pretty good…..until you watch their OL or DL. Until some of these coaches get serious about developing their OL, they’re never going to be truly elite teams. You look at Boston, Chicago and DC – their OL’s are beastly! I think ours is pretty good too, although there are some things I wished we could do better. But I was looking at some film of a prospective opponent against another playoff team, and that “other” team ran a play where their QB rolled out to the left (whether it was designed or not I couldn’t tell), and their LG was not only standing in place, but looking straight downfield, like she was watching the sun set! My players know that the one thing that will torque me in a heartbeat is them being lazy.

We saw that a lot in the All Star game last year. I talked to the OL we had on the American team and was shocked when they talked about either 1) their lack of an OL coach, 2) their lack of individual time given them in practice or 3) what they weren’t being taught. Some were being taught techniques I hadn’t seen since the 80’s and most had no idea of the effort required by an elite team in terms of hustle and second-and-third level blocks.

To their credit, they took to the challenge and gave it their best, but there’s only so much you can fix in one practice while also trying to prepare for a game.

Look, I know a lot of this sounds awfully elitist of me, and although I try not to be that way, sometimes you gotta tell it like it is. We’re all familiar with the quote “It all starts up front” and it is absolutely true. If my OL can neutralize your pass rush and we can release five receivers on every play, we’ve got an advantage. If our DL can get pressure on your QB while only sending four, we’ve got an advantage, especially if you’re keeping in 6 or even 7 to protect. It doesn’t really matter how good the rest of your team is, if they’re playing at a numerical disadvantage you’re in trouble.

So coaches…..before you complain about our all stars, consider how they got to be that way, and start taking your OL seriously. With almost everyone done for the year now, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to bet better in the off-season not only for yourself, but your players. How are you going to improve yourself? Here’s my plan:

1.       I’ve got 135 OL coaching DVD’s to watch this offseason. I’ve mentioned them before ( here and here). It was 126 in those posts, but I’ve now bought the newest ones from this year’s clinic as well. I was talking with John Konecki the other day and he has them all as well. If for no other reason for me to watch them, I want to make sure that I’m not missing a trick for my players that he’s giving his. Competition at the highest levels is a great thing!

2.       I’m going to de-construct my playbook down to the ground and rebuild it. I’ve noticed some weaknesses and contradictions in places and I think I can make things better overall, while adding flexibility.

3.       In addition to the camp we’re doing in November (preliminary info here), I’m hoping to do a free OL clinic for the youth coaches for a local league. How does this qualify as making me better? Because the more you teach, the more you learn. The more diverse your audiences are, the better you get at adapting to them and getting your points across in an understandable way.

4.       I’ll continue to go to every coaches clinic I can, just as I have for the last 23 years. Not only to see the people speaking, but to talk to the other attendees and see what they’re doing.

So….that’s my plan. What’s yours? How are you going to compete better next year?