Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Best Practices

One of the things I strive for always is learning new and possibly better ways of doing things. Hopefully that has come through loud and clear in this blog. I’m not satisfied with any success I had 10 years ago, or even 2 years ago. Now, I don’t believe in change just to change, and I’ll rarely, if ever, change my thought process in the middle of a season – that just makes you look wishy-washy, in my opinion. Adjustments, yes of course…..heck, those come from week to week and from the first half to the second half, and sometimes each series. But from a technique standpoint or philosophical standpoint, things that your vision and identity for the season are based upon, then no.

That is one of the issues I have with the timing of most coaching clinics, is that for the women’s season, they are right when we’re starting practices and by that time you should be pretty set in what you’re doing. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a shameless plug, so here’s one: Our (Coach Mike Suggett & I) RS Football Camp is on the third weekend in November, and why myself, as an experienced clinician, is available from September to January to clinic your team, coaches or players. The new OL techniques that I’ve been teaching are starting to be noticed – by our defense. They might be worth checking out next offseason….just sayin’!

Anyway, the weekend of our mini-camp, I had the opportunity to talk with some players that have played in other organizations. I always ask them how things were done on their previous teams, how we compare, etc. I don’t do it just to stroke our own egos, and I appreciate when players are honest if there is something being done better somewhere else. Sometimes, if it is an OL that I’m talking to, if I like the idea I can implement it right away. But if the comments refer to another position or side of the ball, then I’ll just take mental notes about maybe what to do or not do in the future.

One thing that I heard a few times with the players I spoke to (and I’ve seen this in the past as well) is that individual position time is often sacrificed for team time. No offense to my “skinny position” coach friends out there, but if that is happening I’ll bet you that it is because the OC has a QB/WR/RB background. Fortunately, our OC, Carrie Suggett, recognizes the value of indy time and I rarely, if ever, need to remind her not to crowd it out. On the Bears, since I’m the OC, that isn’t a problem either.

There are pitfalls to having indy time, for sure. The main one is if your position coaches haven’t developed a comprehensive set of drills they can do to fill the time. Last week, I talked about my development of a drills spreadsheet that allows me to track what I’ve actually been doing in practice. If you missed it, I encourage you to check it out.

Recently, I’ve been made aware of where my next couple of road trips need to be… would be to head on over to Scottsdale AZ to visit LeCharles Bentley’s OL Performance World. His unique facility caters to a single demographic – offensive linemen. In terms of strength & conditioning for OL, along with technique review, I’m not sure that anyone on the planet does it better than him.

Next, some spring I’m going to need to make time to visit Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana. I want to go and see how John Strollo does things. Coach Strollo is speaking at the COOL Clinic this May, and since I’ll be buying the clinic DVD’s after it is over I’ll be very interested in what he has to say and what he’s doing.

I also want to give a shot out to a classy coach – Brent Myers, the Associate HC and OL coach of Weber State University. I’ve been acquainted with Coach for some time, ever since he was at Arizona State back in the early 2000’s. I adopted the skip pull technique after listening to him talk about it. At the time, he was about the only one doing it, and now it is really common. Anyway, I also remembered him talking about a low punch on pass pro that I never went to, but with my diving into the double under technique in the run game, I knew who I wanted to talk to about a question I had using it in pass pro. So I sent Coach an e-mail, and within 48 hours he responded in detail to my question, along with an invitation to call him if I needed any followup. That’s just the latest example of coaches who have helped me out, and why I try to do the same to guys starting out or guys that have questions. But the key is, you gotta ask!

Here’s the thing….if you’re not always on the lookout for finding the “best practices” available to you, you’ll never know about them. Coaches are among the most competitive people on earth – why put yourself at a disadvantage among your peers?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What a Weekend!

Before I start to reflect on another awesome football weekend, let me pass along a coaching tip…..A while ago, I decided to think of every offensive line drill I knew. I named each of them, and just basically put them down on paper. I think this was an outgrowth of reading Bill Walsh’s “must have” book, “Finding the Winning Edge” (on Amazon here…’s selling in hardback for $250??? Maybe I need to sell mine!) and how Coach broke down every position in the book into skills that each position needed. Basically, I thought that I got into a rut of doing the same drills over and over. Doing “everydays” is one thing, especially for the OL, but I (and my players I think) definitely felt like I got into a rut.

So I took that catalog of drills, and put them into a spreadsheet. I broke them down into run and pass pro sections down the left side. Then across the top I put down all of our practice dates. Once I received the upcoming practice plan, I would plan out the Indy time by placing a X in the appropriate cell. Most of my drills are designed to last for 5 minutes, but sometimes I’ll do three drills at the same time in 2 minute circuits. So for 10 minutes I’ll do a three-drill station and then one 4 minute drill.

What happens is that each time I look at the sheet, I get an instant reminder of what we haven’t worked on in awhile and what we’ve spent a lot of time on. Even if you need to spend more time on something you’ve already spent a lot of time on, then maybe you can just use a different drill that emphasizes the same thing. To your players, it is doing something different!

I’ve said this before (I think) but one of the things coaches need to guard against is drills that go on forEVER….Nothing kills the energy in an individual period like doing the same thing for 20 minutes. I’ve seen it time and time again. And what happens when the coach realizes it, is that they ask for “5 more minutes” because they didn’t get to something else they needed to cover, or even worse, they didn’t install the play they were supposed to. Now the entire group has to wait, or go into the group period unprepared. So don’t be “that coach”…….

OK, back to the weekend!
Saturday morning, we all met at a Park ‘n Ride for a 6:00 AM departure by bus. We had, by my best estimate, 98% attendance. No one was late. This included several of our out of area players….I know one coach left his house at 2:45 AM, and several players were up by 3:00 or 3:30. It’s going to be tough to beat a team with that level of commitment.

We arrived in El Centro right about 2 hours later, just after 8:00, went straight to the field (El Centro Central High School – awesome hosts!) and finished suiting up for the helmets-only practice. This was our “install” practice, so we did a ton of individual position work, and a lot of group install, such as a lot of our screen game stuff – things that required timing, etc. That first practice went until about 10:15. We gave them a break with hydration and fruit served, until 11:00, when we started our fully padded practice.

The second practice featured a lot of hitting, and by this time, it was pretty hot. I don’t think it ever reached the low 90’s that were forecast, but it was definitely in the high 80’s all day. Oh, and in between sessions, we also had conditioning. After a couple of scrimmage sessions, we were pretty beat. That practice ended about 1:15 or 1:30. We fed them lunch at the field, and started chalk talks in classrooms at 2:00. At 3:00, we were back out on the field for the third practice in shells only.

That third practice was the one where mental toughness became the primary focus. There was some hitting, and some conditioning work. By this time, everyone (coaches included) were tired, both mentally and physically. But you have to find a way to push through, and we did. That practice ended just after 5:00, and we bussed back to our hotel for a quick shower.

At 6:15, we were back on the bus to head out for dinner. I mentioned last week that our QB, Melissa Gallegos and her family really band together to take great care of us. We went to their church (I apologize that I don’t remember the name of it, or I’d give them a plug too – such nice people!) to tables set up in the meeting hall/basketball court. Everything is served buffet style, including salad, vegetables, pasta, chicken and beef….the meat is fantastic. Water, tea and lemonade for beverages, and for dessert some of the best peach cobbler I’ve ever had.

We announced our captains for the year, took team photos and then headed back to the hotel around 7:45. Some of us coaches met by the pool for an informal meeting which included one adult beverage (any more would have been foolhardy!) and then we were done and lights out well before 10:00.

Sunday morning we were all up in time for breakfast and then on the bus back to the field at 7:45 for the 8:00 start. This practice was in shells as well, and although initially we all felt rested by a good night’s sleep, soon the fatigue from Saturday took over and it became a battle. There were some great OL vs DL battles going on, some scrimmaging, some 7-on-7 work and the always-drilled special teams and game situations. The practice ended at 10:30 with an offense vs defense relay race, which the defense won (barely).

Back to the hotel for a shower and lunch, then back on the bus to come home. That’s how we do it! How was YOUR weekend?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ramping Up

I see that an All Star team from Mexico came up and played two games this weekend in the Seattle area. The first game came on Friday night against the Seattle Majestics, a very solid team, whose defense gave us fits for three quarters last year. They’re working in a bunch of new players and so I was very interested in how the game would turn out. The Majestics won 40-8, proving that they are still a solid team. Playing a game this early has to be tough. I’m not sure when Seattle started practicing, but I know that I wouldn’t be eager to play a game already. But really, if the Majestics were looking to be back in the Elite 8 range this year, then this was a result they probably should have expected. It looks like they are well on their way!

To Mexico’s credit, they then turned around and played the Tacoma Trauma on Sunday. After what had to be a very physical game against Seattle to turn around on less than 48 hours rest and play again was awesome. To come out and beat Tacoma 60-8 is even more awesome – for Mexico, anyway. To be honest, that can’t bode well for the Trauma this year. I don’t know the geography or the politics involved in the Seattle area, but I’m thinking three teams is at least one too many up there. It seems to be a similar market to Utah, and three teams was one too many there, while two seem to be shaking out nicely. Of course, it is also entirely possible that Tacoma only just started practicing – again, I don’t know.

Meanwhile, the Surge is marching along, getting ready for our season opener on April 11, just a month away (wow – already?). This weekend, we take off for El Centro, 120 miles east of San Diego, for our annual mini-camp. It’s gonna be hot, and we’re going to be out there with just ourselves. Not too much to distract us. Each year since our owner, Christina Carrillo, started this in 2011, it has been one of the best football experiences I’ve had. It is intense, it is a bonding experience for the team, we grind and we get about two weeks’ worth of work in in two days.

We will leave Saturday morning at 6:00 AM by bus, and go directly to the field in El Centro. We’ll arrive, finish dressing and get out for our first practice. We’ll have three on Saturday, and one on Sunday morning before heading home. Our QB, Melissa Gallegos, has family in the area and they band together to provide food and hydration to us. The dinner on Saturday night is by any standard, epic!

It is a full day and a half of team building, hard work and fun… kind of weekend! We’ll know an awful lot more about the players we have after this weekend. Whether we have what it takes to contend for another national title or not. It’ll be the best answer we get until April 11!

On the men’s side, team orientations are starting up as well. I just don’t get what it is with the guys….why they just can’t do, for once, what they’re asked to do. The orientation was billed as starting at 3:00. I raced over to that directly from the Surge coaches’ meeting and barely made it by 3:00, only to find one….yes, one…player there. More eventually showed up, of course, but it all seemed to take place on their own time schedule. Maybe that is part of the reason why no men’s team from this area is in line for national championship contention. No matter what level you play at, there are some constants….and in a team-centric sport such as football, one of those constants is self-discipline – doing things that maybe you don’t really want to do, but because you know it is important to the team, you do them anyway.

The ladies of the Surge demonstrate that regularly. Our Los Angeles area players drive down twice a week, Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, to make it to practice. Yeah, on Sunday mornings they’re getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 AM to get down here on time. But guys? Not only “no”, but “hell no” would they ever do that. 

If I could ever find a group of guys who were that dedicated to being part of something bigger than themselves, I can guarantee that we’d have the best team in the area, and maybe the country. They wouldn’t even need to be the most talented…..just be willing to learn and execute. Oh well….I can dream, right? Isn’t that what preseason is for? Every team thinks right now they’re in the national title hunt. They’re not, of course, but it’s OK to think they are. It is the time of dreams.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Old Dogs, etc.

It is so refreshing when you learn new things….if you’re not intimidated by the new info. The amount of new ideas I processed a couple of weeks ago is probably more at any one time since I started coaching at Fountain Valley High back in 1994. As I may have mentioned before, back then whenever I went to clinics I took a ridiculous amount of notes, because I didn’t know anything. As my knowledge base grew, I tended to only jot down new ways of teaching the same techniques – maybe a new buzzword or some other slight tweak. EVERYONE was teaching basically the same thing as far as OL technique was concerned. (That is, unless you were a Wing-T or Double Wing guy – then you were in your own little world.) About the only variant was whether you were a “lead step” guy or a “bucket step” guy.

Now I’ve completely embraced a relatively new technique. According to X and O Labs, the “double under” technique started showing up around 4 years ago, mostly in the NFL. It has now started trickling downhill. I’ll admit I do tend to be an “early adopter” of things. I started teaching a skip pull, I dunno, maybe five years ago, before it was popular. Now I see a lot of guys teaching it at clinics. Back then, I learned it from a coach named Brent Myers, who is the OC at Weber State. He also espoused a double under technique for pass protection. At the time, I thought it made some sense, but it wasn’t enough to make me switch all my teaching. Besides, everyone else was still teaching what I was, and it was working. So why change? The advantages of the skip pull were obvious to me, so I changed that right away.

Anyway, enter Jim McNally. Coach started his coaching career in 1965…..I was 4 years old. He is widely known as the Godfather of the zone run game, implementing it back in 1978. What I didn’t know is that he also brought the kick slide and post step techniques for pass pro into the NFL in 1980. So when he comes out and says that things he basically invented are now obsolete, you sorta have to sit up and listen. And the great thing is that every film clip he used was from the 2014 NFL season. Even though he’s now retired (at age 71), he’s still out there as a consultant for the Bengals and staying not only relevant, but ahead of the curve!

I still had some reservations – would my players be able to execute the technique? It looks like it requires some strength to do it? Here’s the thing….those questions are important. But when I look at our game film, I see that we end up in the finishing position of the double under anyway, no matter how much I coached to keep a flat back, feet behind you and drive. So I figure that if we’re going to end up that way anyway, we might as well mean to, and get the most out of it on the way. Also, now Coach Myers’ double under technique in pass pro all of a sudden makes a lot more sense! No need to teach different hand movements for the run game and pass pro – it’s all consolidated. Right now, we’re getting our butts handed to us by the defense a little in practice, but we’ve only had 4 practices so far. My rookies still play like rookies (no surprise there), but it’s my veterans that are having the hard time, and I understand that as well. They’ll get it, it’ll just take reps!

Back to my first sentence, learning something so totally different from what I was doing is refreshing, especially when I can see that sooner or later, it will probably be the norm. I also know that there are plenty of experienced coaches out there who won’t change. Heck, I’ve run into a few that still insist on man blocking everything – talk about your 1980’s thinking! So I’ve been approaching practice with new excitement. I think that my veteran players, although them having to relearn things is a pain, are also refreshed by not doing the same drills some of them have done for 5-10 years. I would try and liven things up every once in awhile, but when the same basic movements are at the core of what you do, there’s only so much you can change up without straying from those fundamentals, you know?

What I’ll be interested in is how my men’s players react – and how my men’s OL coach will react. I’m excited to be able to teach younger guys who may still have aspirations of playing at a higher level, the techniques that are current and relevant at that level. Maybe if they go in with a working knowledge they’ll stand out a bit more. That’s my hope anyway.

Go out and see how you can refresh yourself!