Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fewer Barriers

Last week came the announcement from the Buffalo Bills that they were going to hire Kathryn Smith as the first full-time Assistant Coach in the NFL. As a Special Teams Quality Control Coach, she won’t be spending that much time in an “on the field” capacity, rather she’ll contribute her personnel evaluation skills, her film breakdown skills and other analytical skills. I applaud this hire, as she’s put in her time and worked her way up the ladder. Although her apparent lack of playing experience (none that I heard of anyway) will likely limit her to behind-the-scenes opportunities, I don’t have a problem with that either – I talked recently about the “talent pyramid” and how players can fall outside of it for any number of reasons. Well, the same thing applies to coaches. In any case, I wish her well and that her position is a lasting one that truly opens the doors for others.

Speaking of others, I’m once again going to say that someone in the NFL or college ranks needs to give Lori Locust a look. As a former player and one who has successfully coached men for more than a few seasons, she can flat out coach and her upside isn’t limited by a lack of playing experience. She’s “been and done”. You need a Defensive Quality Control person, with a specialty in the DL and can also help out on ST? She’s your answer. Contact me for her info (legit inquiries only).

On a slightly different note in the women’s game, I recently saw a Twitter video from a team with the caption, “You play like you practice”. This is a true statement, I think…..the problem was, what they took pride in (“We play low!”) was also potentially very dangerous. The video showed players in three-point stances coming out of it under a makeshift chute, made of bags. My issue with the video is that each and every player they showed was ducking their head downwards to get “low” under the chute. If they truly play like they practice, then on their second step their heads are going to be at a very dangerous angle when making contact. I mentioned to the team via Tweet that they might want to be careful about that, but as of yet hadn’t received a response.

Playing low is very desirable, but that doesn’t come from your head ducking, it comes from bending at the knees and sinking your hips. It’s tough to do, too, which is why it needs to be repped into the hundreds and thousands of times. Your eyes should always stay up, looking at your target. That is true in both tackling and blocking.

I also saw recently a high school team working with a new product, called the ShadowMan tackling dummy. I think this is a legit product – I loved it. You may have seen the Dartmouth demonstration last year with their robotic tackling dummy (or now a retail product from Rogers Athletics). This is similar to that, but a lot less expensive (I hope). This is a tackling dummy tied with some sort of leash to an actual player. The player runs forward, getting conditioning work in for sure, and then the tackler comes in and tackles the dummy. They’re now able to practice full speed tackling against a moving opponent, without being in pads. I think that is fantastic. The only issue I had with the video is that again, the players came in with their heads down.

I know that USAFootball is all in on getting the head out of tackling and I agree. What amazes me is that this is a “thing” all of a sudden. One of my mentors, Bill Williams, has been teaching this style of tackling since at least 1992 (I say that because that is the first year he exposed me to it – I really have no idea how long he’s been teaching it). He’s done camps and clinics all across the country. I think his problem is that he only marketed his tackling methods as “effective tackling” rather than “safe tackling” as everyone is doing now.

I’ve seen other people mirror what Bill teaches, but none of them are as good. You can find out more about Bill at

There were a couple of interesting games this past weekend in the NFL, if you didn’t hear.  :-) The AFC title game was darn good, with twists and turns coming down to the last second. 

I must say that I’m definitely a fan of the NFL XP distance – it’s really put an element of doubt into the outcome and force coaches to be much more strategic in their thinking. I certainly wasn’t a fan of New England’s OL play….I wonder how much they miss retired OL coach Dante Scarnecchia about now**? I vividly remember two examples: One was of their LT, Vollmer and his first steps not gaining near enough depth against a speed rusher, and him having to turn out of square way too soon. On the other side, the NE RT was having a ton of trouble with Von Miller (who wouldn’t?), but their solution was to bring in a backup as an extra OL. OK, great – I figured they were going to double Miller. Oh no, instead they had the backup, who was fresh off the bench and cold (figuratively and literally) block Miller one-on-one. Hey, New England….if your “starting” RT couldn’t do it, what made you think a backup could? Not a fan at all…..and it showed up in the final score. If the Patriots could have kept Brady upright and mobile just a little more there may have been a real different outcome. Just sayin’……

On the NFC side, well, if you turn the ball over 7 times, you’re not going to win, period. I think Carolina was going to win anyways (although I was rooting for Arizona), but when you make mistakes against a team as good as Carolina is that 30 point margin is going to show in a hurry. On the bright side, maybe now I can find a good deal on a Kangol hat…..

**On Monday it was reported that New England OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo has been fired. I never like to see anyone lose their job, but football is very much a results-orientated business. At all levels, of course, but obviously with all the money at stake in the NFL, that talent pyramid is very narrow indeed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

End of an Era

Just before last week’s blog post came out, the San Diego Surge announced that it was going to take a year off to regroup and get back to a competitive state. For the Surge, that means either Elite 8 or Final Four status – levels that we reached every year since 2011. In five seasons, the Surge made three national championship appearances (2011, 2012, 2014) and winning one (2012). In 2015 we made the Final Four, and only in 2013 did we end up at the Elite 8 level. That’s a pretty good run, and I’d put only Boston’s two national titles up over our record in that same time period.

In my opinion, women’s football is way too costly of a sport to do at a recreational level, so I applaud the Surge ownership for being willing to take a step back.

So, in the spirit of nostalgia, I thought I’d count down my Top Six Favorite Surge games:

2013 Season Opener: We played the Pacific Warriors on the road in Week One. We were breaking in a new, inexperienced QB along with a lot of rookie WR. But we had a very solid OL and an outstanding WR/RB. It was my year as the offensive coordinator, and we learned quickly that we weren’t going to be able to run our typical Surge offense. So we settled on a Fly Sweep-based attack that played to our strengths. Calling plays in that offense required a lot of patience…you had to be able to accept consistent 4-6 yard gains. That may not be a problem for some people, but we were used to a lot more lightning-strike types of plays. But we did have our fun that game: First play was a play-action pass for a nice gain, we hit them with a hook-n-lateral for a key first down, and then scored the clenching TD on a “fake WR screen and go” the play after they jumped on a WR screen that was nullified by a penalty. Final score 28-14 Surge.

2011 American Conference Championship: 2011 was the first year of the Surge, breaking away from the SoCal Scorpions. We were pretty loaded with talent, but we weren’t sure exactly how much. The season was rife with blow-out wins so we weren’t really tested. The Dallas Diamonds came into town full of optimism – they were very talented and had a great legacy themselves. In addition to winning a few national titles in the early-to-mid 2000’s (the Scorpions put an end to that in 2007), they went and won another one in 2008. The Diamonds were itching for redemption and completely believed they could pull it off. Unfortunately for them, they had absolutely no answer for our overall team speed. We probably had the four or five fastest people on the field. I honestly forget the exact final score, but I want to say it was in the 41-14 range.

2011 National Championship: This game was far from my favorite, but it was valuable. Going up against the Boston Militia was an eye-opening experience. Remember that we were coming off a big win against a team that we thought was pretty good. Our confidence was high. Boston was big, fast and athletic and on top of that, extremely well-coached. They basically ran a version of the “walkaround” defense where maybe only one or two players have their hand in the dirt and the others just sort of wander around presnap, never giving you a good read on who was coming and who wasn’t. The final score was 34-19 for the Militia. The reason the game was so valuable to us is that it gave us a laser-like focus going into 2012. We decided as a staff that if all else was equal, we were going to implement a play, or drill or scheme that would help us beat Boston – that was the only thing that mattered to us.

2014 National Championship: Again, we faced Boston. The reason this makes it into my Top Six is solely because it was a National Championship. How many players or coaches can say they’ve even been in one, let alone three in four years? We were OK on offense, except for one thing: fumbles, early and often. We definitely had depth issues though, and ran out of gas on defense. Although we put up 35 points, it wasn’t nearly enough. Final score Boston, 64-35.

2012 American Conference Championship: This game was, to us, simply a repeat of the previous year’s American Conference Championship versus Dallas. To Dallas though, it was something much, much bigger. They were flying high once again, having averaged well over 60 points a game. Their head coach did a remarkable job of hyping his team and players. And they definitely had some horses on offense. But in 2012 we were absolutely stacked – 48 players, no one playing both ways (well, one exception for this game), and just real, real good up front on both sides of the ball. Yes, they scored more than anyone else did on us up to that point, but it was only 20 points…..we scored more on them then they’d given up all year – 48. And yes, we enjoyed that victory very much.

2012 National Championship: This was a no-brainer, and really for any fan of women’s football, this should at least be in their own Top 3 (even for a Chicago fan) because it was just that good of a game. Playing in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field was an event in itself. That year, in addition to being the OL coach, I was also the ST Coordinator. We ran back the opening kickoff for a TD, then scored twice more to take a 20-0 lead. However, the Force was very, very good as well. They stormed back to take a 26-20 lead. Eventually they pushed their lead out to 9, 36-27 with about 3:00 minutes left in the game. We converted a 4th and 12 by about 6”, and then the next play was about a 60-yard TD catch and run. With the extra point, we were down 36-34. Chicago got the ball, and our defense stiffened and we were helped by a dropped pass on 3rd down. Chicago had to punt and once again special teams came up huge – we returned it for a TD. We missed the 2 point conversion, so were up 40-36 with about 1:30 left. Yet again, ST came to the fore, as we pinned the Force on their own five yard line. As it would turn out, we needed every yard we could get, as Chicago started methodically marching down the field, completing four straight passes to get down to about our 20 with :17 on the clock. They tried one more, and we picked it off to seal the victory. What a game.

But beyond the scores, and other games, the best part of this whole thing is, as always, the relationships you develop. That’s what I’ll miss and be looking forward to when the Surge comes back. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

National Championship & Other Thoughts

Monday night was a great college football game. For whatever reason, I enjoy college ball so much more than the NFL version. Normally I root for teams that I either feel an allegiance to (SDSU, Texas A&M) or to coaches who have helped me out over the years (changes as jobs change). I don’t particularly like either Nick Saban or Lane Kiffin, but I certainly respect Coach Saban’s process, not to mention his results. So last night, I went purely SEC rooting.
Last week I picked Alabama in a close one, mostly due to their Big Game experience and Coach Saban. I was glad to see that special teams played a huge part in the outcome, with one of the best-executed onside kicks I’ve seen, and a nice kickoff return for a score. 

Special teams matter! I thought that overall, Clemson outplayed Alabama…I mean, the things that Deshaun Watson did to that formidable Tide front seven….and the even worse abuse of ‘Bama’s offensive line (their poor RT must be having nightmares still). But in the end, the Tide can smile because fortunately for them, football is a whole team game.

Looking at the NFL playoffs, again you saw an instance of where special teams matter (Minnesota/Seattle). I have no idea how much the laces affected the kick, I don’t know how much the wind did, and I don’t know if the kicker simply shanked it. In any case, I’m not sure there’s another example in all of sports where you go from almost certain joy to deepest despair in such a short amount of time as you do when a kicker misses a chip shot field goal. I mean, on a Hail Mary type of pass you have hope that it’ll work, but I’m not sure you really “expect” it to, you know? On a 25-yard field goal, you pretty much expect it to go.

And don’t let anyone tell you that character doesn’t matter in football either. We probably all saw the Bengals absolute implosion Saturday night. Right now, I’m thinking that players who show a history of undisciplined behavior aren’t the ones you want to lean on when the pressure builds – they don’t know how to handle it. I see that all the time at my level of coaching. Guys that have a ton of talent but can’t control themselves on or off the field, and wonder why they never got a shot at a higher level of play.

I try and tell young guys that the “talent pyramid” gets narrower and narrower the higher you go, and there’s not room for everyone. Guys fall outside the pyramid for all sorts of different reasons. Your job as a player is to make sure that the only reason you fall outside is lack of talent. You can improve your technique, you can have a perfect attitude, you can be the best student of the game (or have the best grades in school) ever….but at some point, you’re probably not fast enough, not big enough or just not athletic enough – all genetic things out of your control. If you let yourself fall outside the pyramid for things you can control, then it’s on you, and you alone. Deal with it, learn from it and move on.

Finally, my men’s team, the San Diego Nighthawks, picked up a new coach that might just change everything for us this year. Our new Passing Game Coordinator is former Texas A&M, former Viking and former Panther WR/QB Jason Carter. Coach Carter was most recently the head coach at La Jolla High.

His hiring points to a couple of things: First, it ensures that our WR’s and QB’s will get as much detailed coaching as our OL traditionally has. That just wasn’t something that I was able to provide the skinny guys. Right there, we’ve gotten better! 

Second, and most importantly to me, is that I’ll now have a living, breathing example of how exactly to install and implement a true no huddle, up tempo approach. I’ve never been on a staff where anyone else has actually done that. I’ve read books, I’ve gone to lectures, I’ve asked other coaches how to do it, but I think until you actually experience it for yourself, you’re not quite sure of how it’ll all go down. So even if we have Coach temporarily (I hope it’ll be at least a couple of seasons), I plan on learning as much from him as possible.

And that’s part of the key to success…..divest yourself of your ego, coaches, and don’t be afraid to hire people who may be better than you at some phase of the game. I gave up some control I didn’t have to as the OC in order to get better, and make our team better. Whether you do that for a season, or for a weekend mini-camp, the end result is that you and your team will be better for it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year, New Action

I hope everyone had a great holiday season (realizing that some of you may still be in the middle of celebrating yours). After gorging on the buffet that is College Bowl Season (is there really any better time of year?) I’m ready to start getting down to the nitty-gritty of preparing for another season.

I left off in my last post referencing only a “men’s team” that I’m going to because at the time it wasn’t announced by the team itself yet. Now I can say that I’m with the San Diego Nighthawks. Our league is yet to be determined, but I’m confident that it will be a competitive one.

I’m beyond excited to get this thing going….I’ve been interviewing potential offensive assistant coaches, streamlining the playbook, reviewing film from last year and continuing to research ways to improve. One item that I picked up is a game planning system by Coach Keith Grabowski of The Coaches’ Edge ( It is a spreadsheet system that allows you to plan out your practices, ensuring that you go into games with plays that you’ve actually practiced (quite a concept!). You put in your game plan, and it spits out practice scripts, wrist bands and call sheets. So far, I like it a lot. (Hey, if you buy it, or anything else on Coaches Edge, please refer them with my e-mail: I hear we get $10 coupons or something.)

In reviewing the film from last year, I think that some of the players weren’t aware they were being filmed, let alone that anyone was going to look at it! A lot of walking around, or stopping after an initial hit. That’s not going to cut it this year and I think we’ll have enough competition for spots that it will become painfully obvious to those who don’t put forth maximum effort how quickly they can be on the sidelines, resting, next to me.

One of my other new ventures is taking on an individual high school offensive lineman for skill and technique development. It’s my first time in this non-team setting, so I’m very interested how it’ll play out. I met with him and his Dad this past weekend and I basically told them that they would be my guinea pigs – maybe that wasn’t the best angle to take, but I don’t know what else to tell them. I think they were expecting to get “sold” by me and I don’t even have a sales pitch. I just told them, “If you want to get better, I’ll help you get better.”

We’re going for half hour to 45 minute sessions. I think that’ll be plenty long enough – when you’re taking every rep, I think you’ll be pretty tired afterwards, even if my goal isn’t to kill you in a conditioning type of deal.

On Sunday, the Surge is having their tryouts…’s gonna be really strange hearing about what went on, who showed up, etc. and not be a part of it. I will miss them.

I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t think of an obvious frontrunner in the NFL. All three of who I think are the favorites (Carolina, New England and Arizona) looked extremely bad recently when faced with motivated opponents. I’ll tell you who I’m rooting for though: Arizona, followed by Seattle. Why you ask? Because of their coaches of course – that’s how I base all my non-Chargers rooting!

I recently saw the excellent “A Football Life” episode on Bruce Arians. Count me as a fan for sure. If you don’t know much about Coach Arians, I highly recommend it. You may become a fan as well. My Seahawks fandom isn’t because of Pete Carroll – he’s a good coach, and I do like him – but for my long time mentor, Pat Ruel. Pat is a great guy and I hope he can win another Lombardi Trophy.

Who do you have in the college championship? I wasn’t sold on Clemson, but holy moly they looked good! However, I’m going to go with Alabama in a close one, just because of their previous big game experience, and I think that if you give Nick Saban enough time to prepare for you, you’re in trouble.

That’s all for now – have a great week!