Sometimes as a coach you know a decision is the right one, but worry about the timing. This was my dilemma back in June. I was at a wonderful school (Southside Batesville) with a great administration and players, but had an opportunity to go to a larger school that I had wanted to have an opportunity to coach at for several years and get closer to old friends. The dilemma was a nationwide shutdown and late transition was going to make it very difficult to get in place, get to know the players, get a system in place and also move my family all during a very limited summer due to Covid.
I took the leap of faith after talking with my wife and family and while we are still adjusting (and going 100 miles an hour) it has been a great experience so far. The administration, coaching staff, players and community have embraced the change and we are improving each day as a team.
Here are a few goals I wanted to accomplish as we made the transition
I am a big believer in building relationships with players
Working to get cohesion in the coaching staff and fill the staff with guys that I could trust
Identify talent on the team and adjust our system to fit the ability of the athletes
Work hard to teach fundamentals and situational football
I was blessed to walk into a great group of young men that have quite a bit of talent, although a lot of young or first year starters. This group already had a great work ethic and passion for the game, so one area I’ve had to address was not needed here. While we had issues to clean up, our players understood what hard work looks like.
Goal 1 - Building Relationships
I am a firm believer in making sure each athlete and coach I work with understand that I do care about them and want the best for them. While it is not always sunshine and rainbows, I do believe they need to know you have their best interests in mind.
To accomplish this has been very difficult with all the restrictions, but it is still possible. I have attempted to meet with as many players 1-on-1 and have as many conversations as possible that involved football, but were more geared towards goals and other items. Usually I’d have hosted 3-4 events, but with social distancing I found myself working to do more in smaller groups or 1-on-1. Even at a larger school it is possible to take time to know your players.
On my coaching staff I attempted to do the same. I was fortunate to be able to hire 3 coaches (2 senior high and 1 junior high) that were great hires for our program and fit very much with my philosophy of players first. With the staff I retained I was very fortunate that many of them had the same core beliefs that I did. I did my best to be transparent with them about my goals and philosophy so they would have a clear understanding of my expectations. I also worked with them and listened to all suggestions. While I did not take all the suggestions I did adopt several of them. We are also meeting 7-12 staff at least once a month.
Identifying your players ability level is key at any level of coaching. While I have a style of play I want to use, I came in with the mindset that I would adapt as needed as we built the program together. I spent the first two weeks (which was very difficult because we had only 6 weeks before our first game) doing basic fundamental drills and evaluating. I also watched as much film as I could from the previous season and attempted to evaluate mentality through some conditioning.
I then met with the defensive coaches and we worked towards keeping as much terminology the same for the players and working to simplify due to many new and young players. So far I feel our defense is continuing to improve.
I was taking over our offense as my primary side of the ball. I met with the offensive line coach and we went through terminology we could keep and terminology we’d need to add. After about a week of meetings we began to install our base plays and always paired them with a similar concept or a concept we were keeping from the team last year. It made the learning curve go much quicker for our kids. Although I called plays wrong for about 2 weeks as I learned the terminology!
At any job learning the fundamentals of football is key. But I felt in 2020 with the limitations on how we could practice, how long we could practice and how little we could practice, that the team that focused on basics would have a much better chance to be successful. It is always difficult as a coach to keep it simple. We want to move on before we are good at the basics. I tried my best this season to keep it simple and be great at a few things instead of doing too much.
Situational football is the most under-coached part of the game in my opinion. Coaches understand it, but rarely do players understand the nuances of the game. We are still working on this as a program, but I want our players to always be thinking about the situation of the game before and reps in team offense/defense. Attempting to teach them that plays do change due to down and distance, time management, hash or middle of the field and other scenarios. Like most younger teams we have a long way to go in this aspect, but I feel our players are doing a great job of learning how the game is played and hope it will lead us to success this season.