Head Coach – Unity, Direction & KISS

Posted: December 2, 2013 in PS Football Concepts


Unity and Direction
How does this work? How does a Head Coach form a single Unit both on and off the field in a consistent upward direction?
Number one is to have strong ideas of how to manage a football team in all the aspects required – on and off the field. Recruiting of Coaches and Players. Dealing with Families, Alumni, Fans and Media. Specific core concepts in on field strategies for all 3 phases of the game – Offense, Defense, Special Teams. The stronger the idea, the stronger the plan and thus, the Unity and Direction.
Many think that it’s all about talent. I used to be one of those. Certainly talent plays a big part, but in today’s game where there are so many great talents spread across the board, coaching and strategies have never been so important. Possibly, at the beginning stages of the game over 100 years ago, when the talent and skill level was at a very low level. Then too, coaching strategies had huge effects on winning and losing. Certainly we haven’t seen such influence from Coaching Strategy – again, both on and off the field – in many, many years. There have always been great Head Coaches as organization and an eye for talent were the key ingredients and some simply do it better than others. Today you need more.
Assistant Coaches
There was a time when there were basically no assistant coaches. Coordinators on both Offense and Defense are still a relatively recent development.Today, the Assistants can make or break a team. See the SEC. Most unknowing fans just assumed the SEC’s recent success was all about talent. Certainly, the talent is there, but it’s no coincidence that thru the last decade, SEC assistents made more money than any other conference. With that came better schemes and maxing out talent on the field. THIS is why the SEC has risen to the top.
Other conferences are finally catching up. Great assistants are spreading like wildfire. The Head Coach that has an eye for talented coaches, not just players, and the ability to delegate will be the best Head Coach. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer were perfect examples. Jim Tressel was an example of a great coach, in many aspects, but left a little bit to be desired when it came to his assistants. Some of his assistants were very good. Others not so much. Tressel’s eye for player talent was 2nd to none, but without a strong direction and unity on what he was doing with his assistants on Offense, the talent often went unrealized to the degree so many expected.  
It all starts with the Offensive and Defensive Coordinator. How much autonomy will they have? How many coaches for each side of the ball and how will they share the responsibility. The same holds true for Special Teams – the root of the game known as Foot Ball, before all the Run Spread,Pass Spread and eventual Power Spread. 
After the coaching staff is hopefully in place, the hard part starts. How to keep the staff manageable, unified and heading in one direction, regardless of injuries, defections, recruiting blunders, discord among philosophies, and all the other surprises that will happen along the way. Some 20 coaches, 100 players, tons of Alum and even more fans. And what about the Modern Media with all the blogging included? Just ignore it? Not always so easy. In today’s game there is A LOAD TO CONSIDER for the Head guy and it starts with his Coaching Staff.
State of the Program
So what’s next in the distinction between Head Coaches. While this isn’t really a way to judge a Head Coach’s abilities, one must always consider the state of the program in which a new staff is entering.
A great comparison is Bo Pellini and Urban Meyer. While some may argue that OSU was turned upside down by scandal before Meyer got there, the truth is that Tressel left this program near the top of the heap. One transitional year of mediocrity doesn’t change all of what the “Sweater Vest” created. Great recruiting, handling of responsibilities off the field and the motivational teaching on the field that led to so many victories.
Bill Callahan, on the other hand, left Nebraska a mess – especially on the Defensive side of the ball, but the overall unity and direction of the program as well. Pellini has done a great job so far, coming in with a solid idea of what he wants to do in recruitment and dealing with his players on and off the field.
He also was careful not to transition to quickly on the field as well. He let Callahan’s OC hang around for time before letting his own hand picked RBs coach, Tim Beck, take over the offense. Considering where Nebraska was heading, combined with the move to the underrated talent levels of the Big 10, Pellini has done an excellent job.
So why are people talking like he could get fired?
One word – KISS.
Keep It Simple Stupid. A coach that can keep all of THE ABOVE simple is truly a Master. Sometimes being TOO smart backfires in this business.
After his big splash at Nebraska, Pellini hasn’t been able to continue upwards in terms of wins and big bowl games. Blaming injuries or spoiled expectations doesn’t really cut it for an Athletic Director. What does help is the backing of the players. The success of a player carries off the field and they will let you know when they feel that their experience has been heightened because of the efforts of the Head Coach and his staff.  So far Pellini’s players have been very supportive. He’s really put the program back in the right direction. So what’s the problem ON the field?
My feeling is that he doesn’t have KISS on his side. Simple, unified, direct ideas on how to run his team both offensively and defensively (I don’t know enough to comment on Nebraska’s SpTeams). Beck and Pellini both come from the Bill Snyder line of coaching. Both Snyder and his mentor, Haden Fry, were very open minded, smart, creative coaches who would try just about anything to win. Snyder and coaches under him were never hung up on only ONE way to play this game and were always willing to experiment. You see this with Miller, Stoops, Mangino and the rest. You also see this with Pellini and Beck. They eventually incorporated full Power Spread ideas into their offense and even started to do the same on Defense.
The only problem is that there is TOO MUCH going on. The Power Spread is extremely powerful – no pun intended. Like a powder keg that can explode in your face if not careful. There is so much that can be done from this offense that a team could literally have a different PS Scheme for almost every down if they chose. This would be disaster though. KISS
Look at Meyer at OSU. Once Miller and Hyde got on a roll and played like a Heisman combo, he just kept it simple. One read option after another, with a few passes and play action misdirection looks mixed in. This is simple brilliance. At times I have gotten upset that the reigns have been too tight on Tom Herman, who has shown a very creative mind in the past. But why mess with a good thing? Could Urban actually be too simplified? Is this what’s actually hurting OSU some on Defense?? Who knows. Certainly he understands the concept of KISS and has shown it throughout his career. Know the scheme you want – keep it unified and direct – and keep it simple.
I wonder if Pellini could really learn from this? The excuse that he doesn’t have a Hyde or Miller is just that – an excuse. There is plenty of talent on Nebraska to make this work. I.E. – Northern Illinois. Beck is a very creative OC. Pellini was once a brilliant DC. These are smart guys, but there’s so much going on. It’s easy to see on offense. Fun to watch. Maybe not so easy to execute. 
For sure, too much complication can lead to many mistakes, which leads to frustration, anger, depression and eventually injuries. Don’t laugh. As much as bad schemes can create great stagnation on a team – lack of direction can be almost as bad. A frustrated team with low morale will actually lead to injuries. There is no way to control injuries, but certainly a team playing with enthusiasm and having fun is headed in the right direction. Positive energy is the best way to avoid injuries and other problems.
A coach that keeps trying different ideas is better than one who stubbornly holds to preconceived notions that no longer serve the sport. For this I give Pellini and his staff a lot of credit. The problem is that there must come a time where it all comes together in a simple, unified way leading in a positive direction. Pellini is a smart guy and will figure this out. I’m sure he knows he needs a solid direction on the field as well as off. 
If he doesn’t get it, then his time is limited at Nebraska. Today’s game is dictated by winning NOW – more than ever before. And loyalty, unfortunately, is at a premium. Good luck, Coach Bo.
It’s Not Easy
Head Coaches like Saban or Meyer come along very rarely. Consistent greatness over an extended period of time is not easy.
Everyone talks about the recruiting, organization, teaching and the motivating. These are the obvious elements of the game that have been around since the beginning and are understood by ALL Head Coaches. Some do it better than others. What really gives guys like Saban and Meyer the edge? Especially in today’s modern complications of Sport+Money.
I can tell you it’s not talent. Talent is everywhere in varying degrees, but no longer can one team just run over another with superior size, strength and speed. In fact, it hasn’t been like this for quite a while. By the late 90s, heading into the new millennium, after so many teams raided Florida and other states for their superior athletes, speed was abundant across the country. Even before this, the size and strength of football players became more consistent from team to team. No longer could Woody Hayes just bust guys up running the same play over and over for a whole game.
Still, the production on the field is what counts (though it really shouldn’t be).  So what is it?
The best Head Coaches have a vision and direction on what they want to see on the field. The unity comes from knowing what works and staying with it and in the end – Keeping it Simple. THIS IS WHAT SEPARATES THE GREATS.
Have strategies that are progressive and cohesive.  Many times coaches spend all their time trying to orchestrate strategies based on their own talent or schemes for different opponents talents from week to week. While this is always part of the equation, too much of this leads to complicated and scattered concepts. Too many schemes from different ideas. Of course, staying “old-school” and thinking you can win on talent alone isn’t going to cut it either. Too Simple. Too Complicated. What is it?
photo 2Find the balance and stick to it. It may shift the following year and years after, but there’s always a constant direction – like a Beacon Light on a dark sea.
Easier said than done.
Lastly, I have not even begun to cover the details of the job, nor could I, for I have never been a Head Coach myself. Just rest assured that there is a lot that goes into the job – now more than ever.
The next time you yell about a terrible scheme or under performing players on the field, it would be best to realize how much goes into each play you see every Saturday. IF your team is winning and/or improving then be happy, because it is not easy. 🙂
  1. […] to say, there is a lot that goes into producing a top football program that also performs on gameday. Schematics are simply one part of this equation. But used as a […]

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