Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Humbled

This will probably be a quick post….really not a whole lot going on right now. My choice of title comes from a couple of followers I picked up over time on my Twitter feed (@kmring). There is at least one NCAA D-I OL coach among my followers (Brent Myers from Weber State, who has helped me a lot over the years, whether he knows it or not, and is an extremely nice guy), and now LeCharles Bentley, who runs OL Performance World who I’ve talked about a lot on here just followed me. So *now* I’m nervous! And humbled, and honored……I mean, I’m just a guy plugging away trying to get better and help those around me. I’m no expert and don’t have all the answers. Over time (25 years), I’ve learned plenty of what not to do, and have been around some pretty good coaches who have been free with their time – LeCharles figures to be the next at his coaches’ clinic in May, which I’m extremely excited about.

I know that sometimes I talk about things that others don’t agree with, and that most of the time, when I talk about the women’s game or the semi-pro game, it just doesn’t jive with “best practices” at the high school, collegiate or pro levels, mostly due to practice limitations. Technique is technique (although LeCharles has pointed out some differences in the women’s game which are very valid, and I didn’t realize), and scheme is scheme. But what we can get done in one or two practices a week is the wild card. Now that I’ve garnered another high-powered follower, just that alone will help keep me on my toes. Hopefully I don’t step on my….tongue….too often!

***

One thing that did happen last week was the NFL changing the chop block rule. Now, maybe I’m just dense but I always thought that all chop blocks were illegal. I know now that that wasn’t the case and that some were OK. It is just that I never taught any of the legal techniques, being as how I thought they were illegal. Heck, I hardly ever even cut anyway. In the women’s game, it has to be done on first movement, and in the men’s game, well, they just generally don’t do it for a variety of reasons. So I never put that much effort into teaching or drilling it.

However, it is good to know that some techniques are still good to go. There was a SB Nation article that outlined things pretty well. You can see it here. So don’t despair OL of the world – most of what you do is still OK!

***

Speaking of the women’s game, some of the teams will open up their seasons this weekend. In the WFA, in the West, I think it’ll come down to Seattle and Central Cal in the Pacific, and Dallas and Kansas City in the Midwest. I think in this case it’ll be a repeat of 2013, with Dallas beating Central Cal. I just don’t see any “surprise” teams improving enough to beat those four.

In the East, no doubt it’ll be Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and DC in some form or fashion. I’m not discounting Chicago at all, but as I’ve done in the past with Boston, I figure that until the champ is knocked off, they’re still the champ, so DC it is until proven otherwise. I’d love to see Cleveland have a “next step” type of season, and who knows, maybe Pittsburgh can ride their IWFL championship and vault into the Top 4 in the East. I like what they do, but they’re going to have to prove that they can beat Boston, DC, et al before I can say they’re one of the elite.

In the IWFL, for me it is Utah. Period. There’s really no one else in the conversation, and it’s sort of sad that anyone can say that at this point of the season.

I’d like to wish all of the former Surge players well this year. As far as I can tell, there are some on the NC Stars, the Carson Bobcats and the Central Cal War Angels. Best of skill to you all, and have fun!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

More Lessons & Wisdom

Recently I came across an article from a blog written by an Assistant Basketball Coach. It offered 37 tips for assistant coaches, and many of them were really valuable. The entire article is here (it also includes a link to the blog itself), and I copied the most relevant tips to our semi-pro level below, then added my comments in italics.

1. Ultimately, your job is to make your head coach look good. Being a head coach is much more about being a CEO than an Xs and Os strategist. Yes, the head coach will get most of the credit, but they will also get all of the blame. Their job is to win, have a detailed vision and to be the leader. Your job is to help them execute their vision. It’s not your show, it’s the head coach’s show.
As an assistant myself, sometimes this is hard to remember. This equally applies if it is a coordinator-to-head coach relationship, or an assistant-to-coordinator relationship.

2. Understand and teach the game inside and out. Know how to attack opponent weaknesses, win with the players you’ve got, teach fundamentals and research and teach the best drills to prepare your position group.
A lot of assistants are pretty good at all but the last one on this list…..at our level, you have to have drills that keep your players engaged. If you do all the same things all the time, they get stale. Now, there are a set of “everyday” drills that I’ve done for years, but they only take up 5-6 minutes of our Indy time – the rest is spent doing other things.

3. Traits head coaches are looking for in assistant coaches: loyal, hard-working, reliable and trust-worthy. 
I touched on this in my blog here, at least the loyalty part. Reliability will get you a long ways at our level. I can’t tell you how many coaches I’ve worked with that just wouldn’t show sometimes, or show up late. Meanwhile, the practice plans you worked on are now out the door and you have to adjust on the fly. Efficiency in practice then suffers, not to mention that the players now think punctuality isn’t something that is important.

4. Not everyone on the staff will get along—there will always be jealousy, personal differences, age differences but in order to win you must be able to put that aside to work with each other!

5. Coaching is a family—build your network. Outside of your head-to-head competitions, consider other coaches as your co-workers, not enemies. Build a strong network. You will rely on them heavily throughout career.
Both of these sort of go together and should be obvious, but they’re not always.

6. Best way to move up from where you are today into a new position? Be the best at your current position! Treat your role and current school as your dream job, and work like it’s where you’ve always dreamed to be.
I talked about this in my blog here. It was one of my best-reviewed posts.

7. Assistant coaches on your staff (or your opponents) can be in the position to hire you one day—you are building a track record with not just your head coach, but assistant coaches and opponents. Keep it professional and courteous.
Great advice. As longtime NFL assistant coach Bill Muir says, “You write your resume every day when you come to work.”

9. Your players will mirror you. You want them to do it right and pay attention to detail—you must take the lead and see that you take the little details serious, too. Do what you say you will do. Follow through!
So true. Comes back to #3 – reliability also.

10. It’s never “I," “me" or “mine," instead use “we," “us," and “our."
I told the offense this year, “If something goes wrong, it’s on me. If something goes right, it’s on you.”

16. Think ahead, anticipate what’s next. What will your head coach need today/this week?
Don’t be one of “those guys” who has to be told to do everything. Take some initiative!

18. When evaluating players it’s critical you rule out players who will be a waste of time in terms of leading you on a wild goose hunt. ……. If you know problems will arise down the road, it’s best to find other players who have less off-field issues. The risk isn’t often worth the reward.
Boy does this ever ring true at the semi-pro level as well! Coach Christensen, when I saw him a few weeks ago, said, “Don’t become a whore to talent.” It is so easy to do, too….someone is a lot better than the person you have in a particular spot, and you want him to play for you. So you let your team standards start to slip in order to keep Mr. All-Star around. In the long run, it won’t be worth it. Coach Mike Sherman said it even more succinctly back in 1996 when he told me, “Don’t recruit a**h***s.”

21. How can you separate yourself—what value can you add to a staff? What can you become indispensable at? Scouting, recruiting, relationships with prep coaches, developing players, leadership?
This is a great self-evaluation question every coach should ask themselves.

24. Be organized—organization brings direction to chaos! A prepared player never flinches, nor do prepared coaches!
This is huge. Have a plan.

27. If you lack experience or talent, you can overcome your weaknesses by being hardest worker who brings relentless energy—in the same way that you teach your players that “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard."
Pretty self-explanatory! When I started out, I quickly realized how much I didn’t know, so threw myself into getting better. Now, I’m accused of being a “grinder”, but really being organized and working hard is just the way I was taught.

35. What would a scouting report on your own team/unit look like? Be brutally honest with yourself on which weaknesses your players need to improve on. Build on what they are really good at, show them how to get better!
That’s what the title of this blog site is all about – “You’re either coaching it, or allowing it to happen.” If your guys are doing something on film incorrectly, then you either taught them to do that, or you’re allowing them to continue doing it.


I hope at least a few of these pointers are helpful. I know that sometimes you may think, “Man – that’s a lot of work for a volunteer job”, but we’re definitely not in it for the money, so you can only be in it because you love coaching. No other reason. So just remember where the Big Time is……

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Lightbulb Moment

I love “Lightbulb Moments” – whether it is because one of my players suddenly “sees the light” or I do, they’re (pardon the pun) quite illuminating. I had one the other night. I found myself with some spare time – my significant other was in the midst of watching/catching up on her TV shows, so I started looking through my COOL Clinic DVD’s. I’ve talked about the COOL Clinic before, but I’ll say it again – if you are at all involved with the offensive line, you are cheating yourself and your players if you aren’t taking advantage of this knowledge.

Anyway, ever since I saw Dave Christensen a couple of weeks ago talk about how A&M ran the inside zone, I saw that how defenses played the Aggies really opened up the run game, and that their inside zone really tended to stretch a defense. Coach also talked about complementing it with the outside zone, but the technical aspects of the outside zone were out of the parameters of his talk so he didn’t really get into it. My experience with the outside zone since the early 2000’s is limited. I guess the last time I actually installed it was 2013, but then we got away from it in favor of the Fly Sweep, and that has remained the trend since then. I think a lot of that has to do with the feeling that I had that my implementation of the outside zone was stale – I felt like all the other run plays I install (inside zone, counter, fly, toss, trap) have evolved over time into pretty effective plays, but by and large, my thinking on the outside zone was stuck in the 1990’s.

So when I looked at my DVD’s the other night, I saw one that had two presentations – Mark Staten from Michigan State and Rick Trickett from Florida State, both talking on the outside zone. All righty – let’s see what they have to say! 

Coach Staten’s presentation was phenomenal – mostly because his scheme and technique is so closely related to what we’re doing on the inside zone that I think adapting it would be a no-brainer. Basically, the angle of your first two steps is a little different, and then you’d like different hand placement depending on if you had help or not, but other than that, from a schematic standpoint, it fits in extremely well. He’s very heavy on “pin n’ pull” concepts as are we.

Next up was Coach Trickett’s talk. Coach may have the deepest Southern accent I’ve ever heard…..only Bob Cope is (was, RIP) in the same league. His style of the outside zone at first glance was very different – almost all straight zone, very little of the pin ‘n pull of Michigan State.  But the simplicity of the play was what drew me to liking his stuff a lot. However, in deciding what to go with, ultimately I wanted to change the OL thinking less and merely alter the path of the RB slightly.

Speaking of the path of the RB, that brings me back to Coach Christensen’s talk a couple weeks ago. He’s got the RB lined up on the inside leg of that tackle, even with the QB. Even on the inside zone, he’s got the RB coming across flat, with the QB taking a slight step backwards to clear, and then the RB plants and cuts it upfield into the B gap (initially – can always change based on the read). The reason for that is if the back is slightly behind the QB, on the inside zone he tends to run more downhill. Well, most people would say that’s a good thing – after all, that was one of the big selling points on the Pistol formation, getting the RB downhill. Well, that is great, but remember that that downhill path affects the LB’s too. They see that RB trajectory and they’ll start flowing downhill in a hurry, causing congestion where you want to run.

On the other hand, having the RB come across flat, now the defense doesn’t know whether it is inside zone, or outside zone. If it is outside, and they don’t react appropriately, they’re going to be outflanked quickly. If they react to the path thinking it is outside, and it turns out to be inside, then the OL has them going sideways, and for a defender that is a great way to get your ass kicked! So now the defense is left guessing – which is exactly what we want. Regular readers of this blog have heard me say again and again, “Make the defense play with doubt.” It was true when Homer Smith first said it sometime in the early 80’s, and it is just as true now.


Suffice to say, my thinking on the outside zone has been rejuvenated and I’m looking forward to see the results of this particular Lightbulb Moment.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Early Highlights

We had our second tryout for 2016 this past weekend, and I gotta say, this may have been the most fun that I’ve had at a tryout ever. First of all, we had a great turnout – around 55 guys, which didn’t include some guys that came out on the first one. So I’m thinking we’ve got 65-70 players that have shown up to at least one of the tryouts. Next, they worked their butts off! There was no standing around, the coaches were flying around encouraging the players, and to their credit, the players responded extremely well.

After a team stretch (complete with music – as a rather old-school coach, I was indifferent to it, but it did provide a much more collegiate type atmosphere), we went into agility/conditioning stations where there was constant movement, then to a 300-yards shuttle run. After that, we broke into individual groups. The 6 OL who were there went though some of the basic every day types of things we’ll do during the season. At this point I’m just trying to get a baseline of where everyone is at. I haven’t coached any of the six more than for an all-star game back in 2012, and that was only one guy, so most of the time was just observing and correcting where necessary. All of the guys took it well, and rarely did we have to talk about things more than once. I loved their attitude and approach – this is definitely going to be a very good offensive line.

Finally, we moved into a group 7-on-7 period. I’d made up some play cards with just four basic concepts (4 verticals, hitches, shallow cross and smash) out of two formations, doubles and trips – strictly Passing Game 101 stuff. We had enough guys on offense to run four full units, so everyone on the field was moving. We just ran plays down the field, starting at our 10, one unit after another. I’d say that we easily got 50 plays in the 20-minute period.

It was just the up-tempo type of atmosphere that we want to have throughout the season. We’re looking at running 100 plays per practice, and I see now that it will be entirely possible.

***
Because it is March and because this is the men’s game, it is now time for league and team madness to start. Teams are popping up left and right. I have no idea what the fascination is with running a team. I guess if you’ve had bad ownership in the past (been there, done that) there is certainly a desire to move, but to actually do it yourself? No thanks…..big props to the Collins family that runs the Nighthawks. I say the “Collins family” because they truly are all involved in some form or fashion, from the eldest to the youngest, who can be seen hauling whatever they can in equipment off the field – sometimes it is bigger than they are! Tony and his family are really making this season a joy to be a part of so far.

***
Over on the women’s side, it is with some sadness that I see the Las Vegas Showgirlz have folded. Although they never beat us, I would call them rivals just because of the intensity of some of the games. Owner/HC Dion Lee always got them ready to play and he had some very visionary ideas on how to promote the game.

I also saw coverage of the World Women’s Games 3 (or is it the Women’s World Games?) down in New Orleans at the Saints training facility. That was quite an event, and seemed to draw a lot more attention than the first two did. In all honesty, I think this was the first one that gave back as much as the players paid in. Having the Saints (and presumably the NFL in some fashion) step up and get involved is huge. I hope that it continues to go onward and upward.

***

Not a whole lot else going on right now, so I’ll wrap it up. As always, if there is some scheme, play, technique or topic you’d like to see, just let me know! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lessons Learned

As I mentioned last week, I was up at the Los Angeles (really Orange County) Glazier clinic on Saturday. As always, the best part for me was seeing guys that I used to coach with and against when I was in the high school ranks back in the 90’s. 

I was especially happy to see one of my former Fountain Valley players, Todd Gruca, still coaching. He took over for me (not right after I left, of course, but eventually) as the varsity OL coach for the Barons. Now he’s still coaching the freshman team and doing a great job with them. He was a kid that was just a real solid high school OL…..his size wasn’t going to get him to the next level, but his heart carried him further than he probably would have gone. I remember getting ready to play an extremely talented Anaheim Esparanza team that had a couple of D-I type DL on it. Todd’s guy was going to be 6-6, 275 Sean Jarne, who’d committed to Colorado. Todd was 5-10 and maybe 230 if he’d eaten a good lunch that day. I spent the weekend before in game prep trying to figure out who we were going to get those guys blocked with our guys. In the end, we decided to put them out there and let them do their thing. We lost, but it wasn’t because we didn’t have a running game or because Jarne and his guys got any sacks – they got zero on the night. Todd battled his butt off pretty much one-on-one and got the job done. I’ve always been very proud of him.

As far as what I got out of the clinic, there were about 6 or so pages of notes. Some of it was noting validation of what I was already doing, and some were tweaks to what I wanted to do. For example, I’ve got to put in a new pass protection this year because we’re doing a ton of empty set stuff. So a while ago I had an article from the OL coach at Nevada that detailed a five-man protection. Dave Christensen, last years’ OL coach at Texas A&M was also speaking on pass protection, and his out-of-the gate talk was on five-man protection. His concepts mirrored what the Nevada coach said about 95%. So now I feel a whole lot better about putting in that particular protection, you know? I guess it would’ve been one thing had this “rogue coach” from the Mountain West been the only guy doing it, but now to get validation of sorts from an SEC coach doing pretty much the same thing sealed the deal.
It was a great day!

***
I also wanted to touch on a subject that we harp on players about, but not often as coaches ourselves: loyalty. I was reminded of this subject recently in a local coaches’ forum. A rather high-profile program here recently made an out-of-state hire as their HC. A couple of assistants posted their initial reactions after meeting with the HC, and to me, it didn’t seem like they were all that enthused. (NOTE: I did speak with one of those coaches privately, and he assured me that I simply misunderstood him. It was a good conversation, but if I hadn’t taken the time to inquire, my original impression would have stood.)

When you hear of coaches getting hired, whether as assistants or bosses, you often hear of the importance of loyalty within the staff. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t disagreements within the staff, or that assistants have to be “yes men” behind closed doors, but it does mean that you need to present a unified, enthusiastic front to the public. If the new coach is replacing a very popular and successful coach (as in my example above), it becomes even more critical to the overall success of the program that no one is longing for the “good old days” under Coach X.

Loyalty is important in business as well. Business guru Harvey Mackay wrote about several football coaches here (column) titled, “Getting fired can be a good thing” where he details in particular, the loyalty of Gary Kubiak.

Now, I happened to learn this lesson many years ago, after my first year coaching, in 1991. It’s not a story I tell often, because in looking back, my behavior was poor and frankly, inexcusable. So you get it once…..

The head coach I worked for in 1991 wasn’t very good. We went 2-8 in a talent-rich area. I wasn’t a very good position coach either, so on the field I did my part in our failure as well. The HC was also noted as somewhat of a strength and conditioning guru, but in all honesty when I started running the weight room, I got his guys stronger in a hurry. Suffice to say, he just wasn’t a good coach.

After the season, rumors were rampant that he was going to get fired (and he did). The guy who hired me was the OC, and we were old buddies, which is the only reason I got the job. He was one of the front-runners to take over the job and had a faction of parents in his corner. There were other groups of parents who wanted to go in an entirely different direction. It was a mess.

Anyway, my big mistake was in talking to a reporter. I got called out of the blue by a guy from the local paper. I was excited that he would want my opinion, and I was na├»ve in how the whole press thing worked. It was my first time in that situation and I blew it. The reporter asked me for my opinion of the HC, and I gave it. Unfortunately for me, it was published, word for word. It was a tight-knit community, and my quotes quickly made the rounds – quick even by 1991 standards!

Of course, I got a call from the HC. He ripped me up one side and down the other, and there was really nothing I could say – the best I could come up with was “I was misquoted”, but that was weak. My friend the OC and his buddies congratulated me for saying what I did….after all, it was the truth. But the DC, an older guy, took me aside and told me why exactly I screwed up. He explained why loyalty was so important, and with his explanation, I felt like crap. I knew that he (the DC) was right. I apologized to him on the spot.

By that time, the HC was ripping me in public as well, in various forums in Orange County. So I never apologized to him directly. In the end, he was out of the game even as an assistant within two years. Again, he just wasn’t very good. I’ve managed to stick around awhile and that lesson never left me. Even typing it now brings back some of the raw emotion I felt during that time.

The bottom line is this: argue, fight, scratch & claw with each other behind staff doors. But in the end, whatever your position is on the team, you likely have someone you report to, who gives you your marching orders. You either follow those orders, or you resign. Don’t drag the whole program down with you if you don’t agree. The players you coach, and maybe your future in the game, depend on you showing a united front as a program to the public and just as importantly, your opponents. Loyalty is important, maybe the most important trait head coaches look for when hiring.


Lessons learned……