Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bye Week Musings

Playing and competing at a high level can be tricky on the adult level. In the professional ranks or collegiately, lines are clear: you are there to win. Everyone is on the same page. Winning, through every legal means possible, is the goal. If you’re not on board with that, there’s the door. I don’t think there is any question about that in any NFL or NCAA player’s mind.

At the adult level (semi-pro men’s, pro women’s), in my coaches’ mind, there is no difference. We (the San Diego Surge) play for a national championship – that is our goal. On the men’s level, my So Cal Bears aim to go as far as we can. It isn’t quite as cut and dried as at the women’s level, as politics often get in the way, but the ultimate goal for the Bears is to go 15 or 16 and 0.

In order to consistently play at that high of a level, it takes true competitors and team players to make it. There is no other way, no other way to be. True competitors understand that on a 40 person team, there are only 22 starting slots (11 more if you want to add in ST). They understand that this isn’t youth or recreational ball. They understand that competition in the most basic form, necessarily means that not everyone “wins” a starting spot, or as much playing time as they may like. “Winning” for some players means that they have a role to play on the team, and when their time is called they need to perform to the very best of their ability. Their contributions are no less than those of starters. Football isn’t basketball, where one player can often dominate a game all by themselves. Each and every player on a football team is important to the overall success of that team.

There are teams out there (both male and female) that do treat this as a version of rec ball, whether they want to admit it or not. Unfortunately for those teams, sometimes teams that take things a bit more seriously appear on the schedule. We all wish it wasn’t that way. No one enjoys those types of games.

There are other teams who are out there truly trying to better themselves – two women’s teams come immediately to mind: the Pacific Warriors and the Central Cal War Angels. The Warriors, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, are considerably better than they’ve been in the past. Huge upgrades on overall athleticism. The War Angels slowly built themselves up year after year. In 2013, they beat us pretty well in the playoffs. We managed to return the favor last year, and now we’re looking at the beginnings of a true rivalry. From what I’ve seen on film so far, they’ve added some definite athletes on defense. The two games against them should be great ones.

And that, my friends, is my point….competition, whether it is internal, striving for a starting role, or external against another team, helps mold and define character. It is a good thing.

Coaches, if your center cannot shotgun snap with any reasonable consistency, why do you make her do it? As I said last week, if you’re developing an offense based around certain assumptions, and those assumptions prove to be invalid, you need to change! I just watched a future opponent have 4 out of 10 snaps go completely over the QB’s head, and the ones that didn’t had longer hang times then their punts. There can be no development when a key piece of a play (the snap) starts badly. Please put your QB under center, and just block down like you would for a FG. Have everything timed off a three step plant and throw. Your QB is athletic, so give her a chance! You can coach up the rest of your OL in the offseason, but for now, give yourselves a chance. Eliminating the self-inflicted negative plays would be huge.

Some of you may know that almost all big-time colleges across the country host summer camps for high school football players. These have evolved into highly competitive affairs, with many of the top players from around the country attending the bigger ones (Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, USC, etc.). The latest twist to this comes from Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s new coach. He has invited a maximum of two coaches from every college in the country to attend and coach at the Michigan camp. Now, some people have dismissed this as trolling, and it may well be only that. But I don’t think so….and the reason I bring it up here is that that is exactly what we want to do with our RS Football Camp in November. Yes, we (Surge Head Coach Mike Suggett and I) host it, but at our first one last year we had coaches (besides ours) from Utah, Texas and an outside kicking coach attend and teach.

We want diversity of thought, we want the players to compete against each other, even if it is someone doing a drill better than someone else. We want the coaches to engage in earnest discussions about best practices. That type of thing is what will make everyone better. So yeah, if you think you’re a solid coach, we’d love you to come out to San Diego this November. Drop me a line. We’re trying to do what Jim Harbaugh is doing – maybe we’re more sincere about it though!

Speaking of the Harbaugh family, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wrote an article last week titled, “Why Football Matters”. The link is here. You should read it. Yes, you.

Shifting over to the men’s game……The past two Thursday nights I had the chance to start installing my “new, rebuilt from the ground up” offense with the Bears in the form of two chalk talks. I wanted to get a little bit of a head start on practices which begin May 21. We’ll only get 9 practices before our first game. The normal schedule that I’ve gotten used to is 16 practices, but hey, gotta play the hand you’re dealt.

Anyway, coming out of those talks I’m highly encouraged. When I first presented it to two of my players, the comments were “never gonna work because the guys won’t put in the effort to learn it” and “it is a NASA offense”. So I spent a lot of time thinking about how to communicate the concepts and terminology to the group as a whole, and I think it paid off: I saw an awful lot of guys nodding their heads in agreement as they “got it”. I even heard a couple of comments along the lines of “that’s simple”.

I read once that the art of coaching can be defined as “making that which is difficult appear to be easy”. I don’t know if I’m quite there or not, because it is a completely different thing to have guys nodding in agreement in a classroom and then having them perform correctly on the field. So we’ll see.


Home game this week for the Surge against Arizona. In all honesty, it looks like the Assassins are struggling a bit again, but our focus has to be on us and our execution. Both Nick Saban and John Wooden refer to their own versions of the “process” and in games like this, that’s where we have to be as well. How perfectly can we execute? I’ll let you know next week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Happens in Vegas.....

I mentioned the possibility last week of the distractions in going to Las Vegas to play a game. Well, turns out that that can be a very real thing! Look, by now many of you may have seen the final score of 54-12 and are thinking that I’m full of it. But we looked sloppy from the start through halftime. With 7:00 left in the first quarter, we’d run exactly one offensive play (which was an interception) and led 7-0 thanks to a punt return. We turned over the opening kickoff and then gave them a punt back as well. Just silly mistakes that aren’t normally part of our game, and certainly can’t be if we make it very deep into the playoffs.

The Sun Devils, as the Showgirlz did before them, played with a ton of heart. They certainly have some athletes and players who could be good. Their QB in particular took hit after hit and kept coming back until she couldn’t any longer. 

The thing that kills them, like so many other teams, is that their pass protection just doesn’t hold up. I don’t know whether it is scheme or technique (most likely a combination of the two) that is lacking. But I know this: pass protection is a learned skill, and people who aren’t necessarily good athletes can learn it and be great at it. Remember that generally speaking, on any team that is two-platoon, the offensive linemen are the worst athletes on the team. That has nothing to do with how good of football players they are, but in terms of pure athletic ability, the defensive linemen should be better athletes.

Here is what I wrote back in September of 2013 regarding how I work in developing technique and scheme (full blog here):
“…..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.”

The Sun Devils have some potential up front. Their LT has a nice frame and long arms and they otherwise have some size – certainly more than my OL has. But they need tools. There is help available in the offseason – we have our camp in November or I’m always up for a road trip. What many coaches forget in the development of their passing game is that if their QB can’t get comfortable in the pocket, then nothing else matters. Until she gains some confidence back there, they’re going to struggle with better teams.

I rarely highlight individual players in such a team sport as football, but this week I’m going to make an exception. As some people have noticed, Jessica Springer is on our roster. There are a lot of you who weren’t around back in the mid-2000’s when she was playing for the Dallas Diamonds. I first saw her in 2004. I remember seeing her on film, as the Diamonds were our last game that year, and thinking, “OK, she’s pretty good. Fast and strong.” I had no idea……I found out as soon as she busted through our line and our safety had an angle on her (Deuce Reyes, who was a Team USA member recently), and Jessica simply ran past her. She was by far the fastest player on the field, and the strongest I’m sure. At the time, she was 5’9” and about 220 and a nationally-ranked powerlifter.

Fast forward to 2015. She’s down to about 200 pounds. She’s still the strongest player on our team (one of our DL is close in the bench but I think Jessica has her by about 20 pounds) and she’s still really fast. I’m not sure that she’s the fastest on our team, because we have some pretty fast players, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if she were. 

Anyway, here was her line against Las Vegas: 4 carries, 151 yards, 4 TDs.

But even with all her accomplishments on the field, over the years and now, I wouldn’t have highlighted her here except for one thing: She would never do it herself. Her typical response when asked how she did in a game? “I was OK.” She leads purely by example, being usually the first one finished in each and every sprint or drill.   She’s not a “freak of nature” but rather a “freak of hard work”. She is confident, for sure – please don’t mistake that – but it is a quiet confidence, borne of having “been there and done that” for a lot of years. To top it off, she is a genuinely nice person – one that you enjoy being around. She’s a great teammate.

We are blessed to have her this year. Unlike some other people who said, “Oh, with her, the Surge is guaranteed to win it all”, I still don’t believe that. Football is way too much of a team sport to make such a generalized statement. But I can say that we are better than we were, both because of Jessica’s ability and more importantly, her attitude.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Week One Developments

Well, that was interesting! We hosted the Pacific Warriors this week, and came away with a 73-31 victory. Those 31 points are the most the Surge have given up in a regular season game. So, while a lot of people look at the final margin and say, “Wow – what a blowout!” I found it interesting that both head coaches had about the same reaction: “Man, we have a lot of work to do.”

I want to congratulate the Warriors on several fronts: They’ve definitely found some athletes….numbers 43, 44 and 47 are all players for sure. They came up with a nice little play package on offense and executed it well. They played a very clean game, and given how well the players from both teams know each other, there was very little chirping that I saw. Their coaches seem to be very nice guys, and I think they’ll do a good job.

As is well-known, I’ve been hoping for more competitive teams here in the west for quite some time. It appears that the Warriors are on the right track for sure. The rematch in a few weeks could be a really good game.

Our next game is a business trip to Las Vegas. The newly reincarnated Sin City Sun Devils (rising from the folded Las Vegas Showgirlz) visited the more established of the two Arizona teams and came away with a 31-20 victory. Our rivalry with Las Vegas teams extends all the way back to 2006. I remember that the Silver State Legacy gave us a pretty good game in 2011 as an expansion team/spin-off from the Showgirlz, and of course the Showgirlz themselves gave us some tense moments throughout the series. So hopefully we won’t get too distracted by the bright lights of the Strip (which is always a danger) and go out and improve on what we learned from last week.

Outside of the first game, there were a couple of other items of note last week. First, there was an article posted about the Boston Renegades’ financial struggles in their new incarnation after their billionaire (yes, with a “b”) former owner opted not to continue the old Boston Militia team. The article took the position of eliciting sympathy for these players who were now left out in the cold, so to speak. It talked about having to take busses on three or four hour trips, and of having cramped hotel rooms. It talked about the players having to pay out $500 to play.

Well, sorry, but I have a hard time feeling too badly for them. Make no mistake, I totally respect them as football players and as a team. We’ve only lost 4 games since 2011, and two of them were against the Militia, both in national championship games. But an article that cries “poor them” after years of being flown to away games (and in some cases by charter jet) and presumably not having players paying to play leaves me with little compassion for them now. They should look at all the money they saved over the last few years and consider their time to be a bargain.  That $500 they have to pay now is less than every other team I know of – sometimes half of what others have to pay.  Again, I respect them as players and coaches – they do a great job on the field. But welcome to the real world, Renegades.

Second, and of more immediate impact to not only us, but the WFA as a whole, is the Utah Falconz’ decision to leave the WFA. I don’t pretend to know all of the behind-closed-door dealings that led up to their departure. All I know is this: A competitive team, which there are far too few of in the West, with a full 45-man roster and complete coaching staff and solid ownership has decided that the WFA isn’t the best place for them. That is sad.

It is sad for us, or anyone else that might have had to face the Falconz in the playoffs, because it means that a lesser team will take their place and fail to prepare their opponent for future games against the East as well as the Falconz would (assuming the opponent would have won, of course). 

It is sad for the WFA, because it is the exact league that a team like the Falconz belong in. Given the league they are going to, I expect the Falconz to now be in their version of the national championship.  It is sad for women’s football as a whole, because fractures like this only magnify to potential nation-wide sponsors that there isn’t a dominant women’s league to get behind.

And it is sad for the Falconz, because if they are fortunate enough to win the national championship with their new league, they will always have to wonder what they might have done in the WFA. Because for right now, this is still where the best 5-6 teams in the country are. The thing is, I remember not too long ago that the WFA was where the top 12-15 teams in the country were. I hope we can get back to that status again real soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Evolution of Thought

No, don’t worry….this post isn’t nearly as deep as the title suggests, I just couldn’t think of a better one!

Following the topics of my last couple of posts, regarding Old Dogs, Best Practices and April Fools, I’ve come across a really new concept (for me anyway) and then also came to a realization. First, the new concept…..

If you don’t subscribe as an Insider to X’s and O’s Lab ( then you are definitely missing out! $38 a year for what they give you – new stuff every week – is a steal. I’ve got a binder filled with stuff I’ve printed out from them. There’s a recent post regarding an “adjustable 5 man protection”. Given that we (both the Surge and the Bears) are spread teams and really prefer to get 5 receivers out in the pattern, this was of particular interest to me. To be honest, I think this protection would take a bit too much retraining to make it in time for the Surge season, but I really want to look at it for the Bears this fall, and see if I can poke any holes in it. However, it looks solid and relatively easy. Not as easy as the current half-slide we use, for sure, but doable.

The evolution of thought for me in this case, is the possibility that the center may be one-on-one with a NG. I haven’t run that since 1993, when I didn’t know any better. We gave up a lot of sacks in ’93 too, so the fact that I’m even considering this is a quantum leap for me. Of course, there IS help for the center but it just isn’t automatic. This protection, unlike others (such as the half-slide) does require your center to be better than average. Anyway, take a look at it on the website. Subscribe if you haven’t already – you can thank me later.

Now the realization…..with some of the rather big changes in technique I’ve introduced to the Surge OL this season, I realize that I may be guilty of what I cautioned against last week – muddling things up. I think I’m still searching for the best “packaging” of these ideas and improvements, and it has seen me call essentially the same things a bunch of different names which has caused some confusion. My OL, bless their hearts, haven’t said anything, but I can see it in some of my veterans’ faces and I notice a little bit of a lack of confidence where before there was supreme confidence. So that’s gotta get fixed right away! By the time I’ve posted this, it will already have been addressed.

So what are my core tenants? Here they are, to be used in both the run and pass game:
Play with a base & knee bend.
Move your feet before your hands.
Always strike low to high & bring your hips.
Strike with heavy hands & tight elbows.
Try to use your hands independently.
Always keep your feet moving.

That’s it….when you boil everything else down, dress it up with any phrases you want to use, or any little tidbits you pass along, the above is what we need to do every play, and chances are excellent that if we do, then things will work out alright.

Also, as I mentioned last week, this week is game week! Best time of the year, sorta like unwrapping a Christmas present that you really have no idea what it is. We’re playing a team that we’ve been fortunate enough to dominate over the years, but who is a very physical team. A lot of the players know each other; some of their players have played for us, and some of our players have played for them. They are sure that this is “their year” and we are equally sure that it will be a case of status quo. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fools

I guess I need to start this one out by saying that the following opinions are mine and mine alone, and do not reflect those of any other coaches and players of the San Diego Surge, Surge ownership, the WFA, or anyone else at all…..

We’re about 10 days out of our season, and as funny as it is predictable, smack talking from other teams has started. Of course, that sort of thing coming from players is one thing. When it comes from opposing coaches, while I find it personally amusing (especially when based in complete ignorance), sometimes it takes on a more ominous tone. Such is the case here….having an opposing coach tell a player explicitly that her knees are going to be taken out and that she and her teammates “won’t finish the game” is just pathetic. 

I was going to continue this rant for a little while, but I’ve decided against it - I still have a copy saved, but it just wouldn’t accomplish anything. Our play, as always, will speak for itself for better or worse. But for now, please don’t be an April Fool.

Instead, let me talk about Bruce Lee, and this goes back a little to what I was talking about last week, in terms of best practices… of his famous sayings is “Take what is useful and discard the rest.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve applied that, not only to my martial arts training, but also to football and what other coaches teach. Even coaches that aren’t generally very good can teach me things. I remember seeing a drill in pregame from a team that I knew wasn’t very good, and that I knew wasn’t well coached. But this particular drill was a better variant than the one I was using. So OK…lemme steal that! I put it in the very next practice.

The other night, I was watching a pass protection DVD from Dante Scarnecchia, the recently-retired OL coach for the New England Patriots. I’d seen other DVD’s on different subjects from him, and absolutely took what he was teaching and incorporated it into my playbook. To say I was ready to implement whatever I could on this DVD would be an understatement. I mean, the Patriots do a pretty darn good job, right? Well, he started talking about punches in pass pro, and where and how to punch and I just found myself thinking, “No – I don’t want to do that because I no longer agree with it.” I did pick up a couple of drills from him though! A part of me thought, “Wait a minute….here you are a relatively small-time guy, plodding along in the high school/semi-pro/women’s game – who are you to disagree with a NFL guy?” Well, that is what coaching research has come to now.
It used to be, “back in the day”, that you had to physically go and visit coaches at either clinics or their schools. I spent a week with Mike Sherman during the spring of ’96 at Texas A&M that proved invaluable to how I approach coaching even now. I used to go to USC’s practices every spring, and also went up to UCLA and San Diego State. Heck, you never had real access to NFL guys, for the most part. But now, especially for OL guys, you have the C.O.O.L Clinic each year, and access to their complete series of DVDs, back to 1996. The speakers they get are outstanding (that’s where I saw Coach Scarnecchia). I’m sure that for other positions (especially QB) there is a ton of info out there as well. My point is, that there is almost too much!

If you don’t have a fairly firm idea of what you want to get out of your research then you risk being overloaded with ideas and theories. One of the great things about football is that there are hundreds of ways to get things done, but if you are relatively new in the game that can be a curse as well. For me, I can sift through ideas pretty quickly, knowing whether or not they fit into my general philosophy, discarding those that don’t and then seeing if there is anything else that is useful. That is what I did with Coach Scarnecchia’s pass pro presentation. I’d pretty quickly discarded what he was saying (maybe “discarded” is the wrong word, because it did echo what I’d been teaching for quite some time) and listened to the rest only to see if there was something that was useful (there was, a couple of drills). But if you were an inexperienced coach, and listened to Jim McNally talk about pass pro and then listened to Coach Scarnecchia, you’d have two very experienced (30+ years) NFL guys saying two very different things. If you then tried to take what you thought was the best of each, you’d have a horribly muddled mess and I don’t think your pass pro would improve very much.

So yes, you need to do research. Whether you are brand new or a 25-year veteran coach, you owe it to yourself and your players to stay (or get) current. Your main obstacle? You. Your ego. You can’t rely on what you’ve always done because sooner or later either your players will find out that you’ve been lazy or other coaches/teams will pass you by. Find a coach or a system that makes sense to you and start to implement it or what is being taught. Then as you grow, you will naturally start to add and subtract things. Sometimes you’ll review what you’re teaching and realize that you got away from a key tenet that would make you a lot better. That’s happened to me a few times!

I mentioned last week how I do clinics for other teams. In 2010, I went out to the Midwest and installed the zone run game and pass protection scheme and drills for a team, who are still dear friends of mine. I’ve followed them ever since. Anyway, everything got installed, I answered a few followup questions and then didn’t hear anything for a few weeks. Then a player sent me an e-mail saying, “Coach – how can we have had it down cold in just two days, and now everyone is so confused?” The OL coach never quite bought in to what I taught, I don’t think (he’s no longer with the team). He didn’t believe it could be taught as simply as it really is, so started adding layers of rules. Once that started, the players slowed down, because they had to think too much. He got away from the base tenets and performance started to suffer.

Moral of the story? Do your research, get current, find a system or coach you can relate to. Add from there, but review your work from time to time to ensure that your base tenets are still in place.

Guess what? Next week is GAME WEEK!