Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Taking the Bull By The Horns.....

                  Throughout this season, we have watched two local universities with immense talent (South Carolina & Clemson) struggle to defend the option; not just against Navy and Ga Tech, but against Wofford and the Citadel as well. In discussing the struggles with some other coaches on the high school level and the college level, two things have stood out to me: a lack of imagination in defending the offense and a lack of enthusiasm among defenders facing cut blocks for four quarters. A friend on the college level told me that he has several players who circle the game against GT as the game in which they are most likely to be injured. They go in thinking that this game could cost them a pro career. To which I argue, Don't they cut in the NFL also? Wouldn't a player be better off learning to play the cut block properly? The other issue is one of strategy or alignment and the risk of thinking outside the box.

           In an earlier post, I mentioned a certain front that we used called BULL. We started off using BULL vs Double Wing Power teams but, over time, we have adjusted the defense to combat various run-oriented offenses. After watching GA Tech / Clemson and USC / Navy, the other assistants on my staff wanted to speculate as to whether BULL would be effective vs these attacks. So I thought that I would address this question in this blog post. Please respond if you have thoughts; any feedback is welcome.

         I will start off describing BULL vs a Double TE / Double WB set because that is how we first designed it. We are a 3-3 BASE defense, but often we can get into our BULL front without changing personnel. Other times, I will substitute an extra LB and pull a CB. For the sake of this article, we will treat this as playing with 3 DL, 4 LBs, 2 SS/ OLBs, and 2 DBs.

Up front we will play with a 0 tech NG and two 3 tech:
  • The NG has a 3 way go depending on the skill set of the Center. The best case is for the NG to drive the Center straight back.
  • The 3 techniques are told to penetrate B gap. Against tight split teams, they must put their hat in the crack between the OG and OT. They will get into the hip pocket if the OG pulls.
The key to the entire front is what we call our Bull LBers. They play in a ghost 6 or a 7 tech if they have a TE. The way we coach these positions is what makes the BULL front so effective:
  • Against a TE, the Bull LB will line up in a 7 tech tilted toward the TE, 3 point stance with his inside foot back and his eyes on the TE. (His butt will point at the inside LB). At the first movement by the TE, the Bull LB will fire out into the v of the neck of the TE; think of this an an anti-down block. After a hard collision with the TE, the Bull LBer will almost bounce back inside and find the ball. We call this a Ricochet technique.
  • Against formations with no TE, the Bull LB will align in a ghost 6 technique, usuallly in a 2 point stance with his inside foot up. Depending on the opponent's offense, we may alter his aiming point, but usually it will be the hip of the nearest back. On flow away, he gets flat down the line of scrimmage and chases. (Note: Do not be afraid to use a smaller, quicker player at BULL LB. He will make a ton of plays running this down from the backside.)
  • An important key here is that in most of our BULL calls, the Bull LBers secure C gap and then are free to the ball, with no contain or force responsibilities.
  • I cannot stress enough the importance of coaching the Bull LB to attack out into the TE. This technique is hard for opponents to see on film and TEs are simply not prepared for this.
  • Vs Option, the Bull LBers are QB players.
The Inside LBs are the positions that make the whole thing fit together. Their key may change according to the type of offense, but their technique does not.
  • The LBs align in a loose 30 tech over the opponent's B gap at a depth of no closer than 4 to 5 yds (very important). Their key is usually the back furthest away. For instance, vs Double Wing, the LBs key the opposite WB.
  • If the key comes to the LB, he is blitzing from depth, at the snap, not before. If he comes from depth, the OT will often block down on the 3 tech and the ILB should fit right off the OT's butt. If he cheats too soon, he could get washed down as well.
  • If the key goes away, he has eyes on the FB right now, looking for Dive, Trap, or Counter coming back at him.

The 7 positions described so far are playing the run all of the way. We tell them that if it turns into pass, your keys will turn your technique into a great pass rush. The 4 remaining players will play a few different ways.

The OLB/SS will usually align at LB depth
  • 3 x 3 outside against a closed set (No WRs)
  • 4 x 4 inside #1 against an open set (1 WR)
Two or more WRs usually causes us to check the coverage. The DBs align as follows:
  • On the Hash 12 yards deep vs a closed set
  • Splitting the EMOL and the WR 12 yds deep vs an open set

We start off teaching against a closed set with WB motion. The OLBS and the DBs are both looking at the opposite WB and reading overall motion or flow. The 4 spoke secondary will roll towards motion or flow. We call this 3 Roll coverage.
  • If flow/motion comes toward, the OLB is attacking the line of scrimmage now, keeping his outside arm & leg free for contain, but still squeezing the running lane.
  • If flow/motion goes away, the OLB checks for reverse then bails out to deep 1/3.
  • If flow/motion comes toward, the DB is rolling over to cover the outside deep 1/3
  • If flow/motion goes away, the DB is rolling into the middle deep 1/3

If we are presented with an open set to one side, the defense simply treats that alignment as its key and disregards motion or flow. They are automatically rolling toward the split receiver.

This works especially well against teams that use the unbalanced principlie with the TE & SE on the same side.

           We will also run a coverage which we call 2 Safe. In this coverage, the 4 spoke secondary plays a predetermined responsibility without regard for motion or flow.
The OLBs are Flat / Contain / Pitch players and the DBs are Deep 1/2 safeties. In this coverage, the deep safeties are told to simply be safe and prevent the long pass.

      The next question we face is what to do vs a spread formation (split receivers to each side). Against a 2 RB set, we will simply check to 2 SAFE coverage.

When faced with a 1 RB look, we will usually just check to what we call Dallas .  In Dallas coverage, the DBs lock up man on the widest WRs and the OLBs will man up the inside receivers. I will then bump one of my LBs to FS depth and tell him to play "playground" ball. ("Playground" means look at the QB and try to intercept the pass. Don't overthink it.) While this means we are in some dangerous man coverage, keep in mind that we are not playing this against a true spread passing team. Also remember that I still have a 5 man rush coming very hard against an OL and a QB that play in a predominantly-running offense.

I realize that he who has the chalk last wins and I realize that there are some weak points in this front. When we play this, we are careful to emphasize that the opponent will get us sometimes; we just cannot let them get for big play touchdowns. This front may give up some first downs and some moderate gains, but it also will put huge amounts of pressure on the line of scrimmage and it will create negative plays. As long as we don't give up the quick big-play score, we will eventually catch that TFL or QB sack and we will be able to stop the drives.

            Would this work against some of the DI run-oriented attacks? I would like to think so, especially with creative placement of your talent. For instance, for those of you that follow the SEC, imagine Melvin Ingram and Jadaveon Clowney playing the BULL LB techniques and tell me that wouldn't have given Navy some headaches....Tackling and Pursuit ultimately win games but the BULL front has been good to us. I would be interested in heaing your take on this , as well as some things other coaches do against these types of run-oriented offenses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Can We Learn From "Big-Time" Coaches?

         I wanted to post some food for thought and also get some other points of view. If you have read this blog, you have seen the Coaching Knowledge Project that I have put together, consisting of my notes from reading about various high profile football coaches. After my recent Urban Meyer post, I received a comment which I actually very much agree with....
          This is the comment: With all that said, what about the comments he made to Muschamp? "This program is broken". WTH does that mean? What it means is, he didn't follow what he has written here. 32 arrests in his time at UF?! I may be a bitter Gator fan, but there is no greater hypocrosy than what you have written here (not attacking you, I'm talking about Meyer, this is a GOOD blog post). Look at his player goals, and tell me if they acheived that with 32 arrests during his tenure. The program was broken b/c Meyer broke it...just keep that in mind to all that read this...
      I believe this comment has several very good points. There are some strong accountability questions with Urban Meyer and the current state of the Florida Gators Football Program. But the sad thing is, I don't think that Meyer is neccessarily unique among the profession. I have been lucky enough to coach young men that were highly-recruited, allowing me some limited access to meeting some of the greats of college coaching, as well as some up and comers. When you spend time around coaches or you hear some of the inside stories or even read some of the books about these men, you realize that, almost to a man, they are very flawed individuals.
       For one, the top coaches are almost always borderline (or sometimes not so borderline) egomaniacs. Sometimes these anecdotes have a "cute" feel to them, like Holtz insisting on his soft drinks in the cart at practice or Sean Payton and his chewing gum. You laugh, but do you really stop to think about this? What other profession would this fly in? But I also have knowledge of a DI Head Coach (not anymore) who stopped practice and ordered his assistant coaches to sprint across two practice fields, touch a fence, and come back, all while the players sat and watched, simply because the team was practicing badly. Are you kidding me? The most disturbing point of this is that all of the assistants complied. What that tells me is that many of the assistants in DI jobs are willing to do almost anything to keep their job.
          And I don't think this is anything new. The point that I am getting to is that, on the way up the ladder, I think that many of these high-profile coaches have had to make compromises that have damaged their integrity, their character, and their self-awareness. For instance, how could Todd Graham not realize that texting his resignation was absolutely the wrong way to do things. And yet, he appears oblivious. And I have heard good things about Graham before.
       Unfortunately, the men who have had the greatest success in our profession are not balanced men. They have had to sacrifice some of who they are off the field and at home in order to reach their ambitions. The worst thing seems to be that when they reach the pinnacle, they appear to have some disconnect from the rest of the world. I'm not just talking about the "outlaw" coaches; I'm talking about Bowden and Walsh and even Paterno (for years the bastion of integrity in the coaching profession).
        Are these coaches bad people? No. Should they be drawn & quartered and thrown away? No. Do they have knowledge to offer that is of value to those of us trying to become better coaches? Yes, of course. These men have been outstanding or else we would not be discussing them. I will use Urban Meyer as my example. When I look at some of his thoughts and ideas and philosophies, I am studying someone who took three programs (Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida) from downturns to extreme heights in a very brief amount of time. I am also studying a coach who has helped many of the young men who played for him attain outstanding athletic and personal growth. I believe that he cares about his players deeply. But I also believe that he let the program at Florida get away from him and, instead of determining to right the ship, he took a sabbatical.
      I don't know these men personally. We all have flaws and issues, with our ego and other things. And we have the luxury of living outside the spotlight, so our flaws are not necessarily on display. What I am asking is, "Can we gain any knowledge of value from thse men, even though we may question their integrity or values?
       As a young coach, I worked as a GA for an underfunded I-AA program that at times was run like a club team. I also worked for a high school state championship program that is still the most professional organization that I ever spent time with. The funny thing is, I learned a huge amount from both situations. You learn how things should be done and you learn what not to do. I believe that this is how we should study the "Big Time" football coaches, looking at the good and the bad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Coaching Knowledge Project #6 Urban Meyer

      Over the last few summers, I have started taking notes on some of the coaching biographies and books that I have read. One problem that I have had over the years is that I read so much and look at so much different info that I don't ever retain the knowledge for future use. I will read about a drill or a philosophy and I will think "Hey, that fits pretty good with my guys. I wanna use that this year." Then I will lay the book or the info to the side and forget all about it.
       Earlier this year, I began to compile & organize these notes & axioms into a single document. Ideally I would like to eventually have a notebook that I could add to each offseason and look at again each pre-season as I reevaluate my program. I thought that as part of this blog and my compilation efforts, I would share some of the things that I've found.
       These are quotes about coaches, quotes from coaches about their influences, and outside observations on coaches and their programs. Some of these are Hall of Fame coaches, some have losing records, and some are career assistants; all have good things to offer.
      Unless you have been living under a rock for the past several years, then you should be familiar with Coach Urban Meyer of Utah, Florida, and now Ohio State. These notes come from the book Urban's Way ,written during his Florida days.


·         He has a conviction that he owes every player a chance to play, to graduate, and to achieve a normal, happy life by sorting out whatever demons haunt him.

·         He talked about total commitment for the 107 days leading up to the SEC Championship Game. I try to break everything into segments. On our bowl preparation, I don’t go beyond 4 or 5 day segments because you lose the players.

·         Tucked inside Meyer’s 129 page document is the Plan To Win. It’s only one page.

·         It drives every player personnel issue, every game plan, and every decision he makes in football.

·         PLAN TO WIN:

-Play Great Defense


-Score in the Red Zone

-Win the Kicking Game

·         CORE VALUES For Players:


Respect Women

No Drugs

No Stealing

No Weapons

·         DO YOUR JOB for coaches

-          Take care of your family and your health

-          Take care of your players (academic, social, spiritual, family)

-          Be an expert at your position and excel as a teacher

-          Recruit every day

-          Be passionate about coaching & football

·         I never got a book like that from a coach. I just kind of put it together myself. I wanted to have a resource when the situation called for it – I didn’t want to have to grab from air.

·         Four to six seconds of relentless effort.

·         If you are a teacher, you teach, and if you don’t teach your players properly, then it’s on you.

·         The Champions Club – It is a circle of trust based on adherence to team rules and putting forth a higher degree of effort in the classroom and on the field.

·         Players have responsibilities / obligations, not entitlements.

·         Selfish people fail

·         We know we cannot save them all, but that is what we must try to do. In the end, that is a coach’s responsibility, and not what people think.

·         Some of you woke up on third base and don’t even realize how you got here because you didn’t hit the triple.

·         Just to watch Coach Lubick operate, the way he treated everybody – secretaries, everybody!

·         Are you changing people’s lives? Are you really involved?

·         Relationships with players became everything.

·         My job is to get that kid the ball.

·         It’s not a very good job. Of course it’s not. If it was, why would they call you?

·         The fruits of all his note taking over the years was his manual.

·         Just as he had reinvented himself as an athlete, he would do so as a head coach, jettisoning bad habits as he moved from job to job.

·         We’re going to figure out whether we’re going to be coming together or we’re going to be going apart. If at any point and time you want to leave, you’re more than welcome to quit. But I’m not going to quit on you.

·         If you screw up, you run.

·         So disgusted with losing were the players that they welcomed coaches who offered a personal touch, who invited them over to their houses and encouraged them to stay committed to their education.

·         Every player just wants to be helped.

·         Because Meyer paid tribute to his seniors and said he wanted to send them off on a good note, they felt a sense of purpose and responded positively.

·         It was really just going to be a personnel-driven option out of a spread formation designed to get the ball thrown, pitched, or snapped to speedy athletes in space.

·         The first day I thought I was going to die. The second day I was sure I was going to die. And by the end of the week, I was hard as a rock.

·         If done correctly, the player-coach relationship is the most meaningful relationship, second only to the parent-child relationship.

·         At the insistence of their coach, Utah players began to find out the family backgrounds of their teammates, their hometowns, their high schools, their likes and dislikes. If they didn’t have the correct answer, they had to run.

·         Everyone is so tight because you’ve been thru so much together. Those mental barriers are broken down. You found yourself really engaging that stuff and really wanting it, knowing it was going to make you better and pay off.

·         Try to be the most invested team in the country.

·         At the retreat, they openly challenged each other’s theories & philosophies – they would be encouraged to give their opinions & challenge fellow staffers, even when their opinions were different from the boss.

·         The “Do your Job” mantra goes for assistant coaches as well as players.

·         He not only recruits the player, but also the 13 or 14 people around him.

·         How important that relationship is with the kids, how to get involved in their lives and how to develop their trust.

·         Discipline is 90% anticipation, not reaction. Discipline is making sure you talk to them before that party & then have someone there if it happens.

·         The idea behind the offense is to have one more blocker than they have defenders – or “plus ones”

·         Spread Offense

-          One High = equal numbers, you can run the ball & be OK

-          Two High = You’re Plus One. Run the ball, because they can outnumber you in the passing game.

-          No Deep = You cannot run the ball. You are Minus One. There are two answers: Run the option or Throw the ball

·         He let you know that if you didn’t want a part of this, now was the time to leave. “If you want to get off, get off now. But when it’s all said & done, we’re going to get the train back on the track with you or without you.”

·         Mental toughness would be a requirement for all.

·         Even in our off-season workouts a lot more of the stuff was team-oriented instead of individual stuff. If a teammate fell down, you had to have his back. You don’t want to be that weak link.

·         Something was going to happen, somebody was going to make a play but we weren’t going to lose those games.

·         If you love football and you’ve got somebody coming in to help you, then why not accept them?

Gettin My Mind Right....

         I regret that my posts on this blog have been very sporadic over the last several months. Like most of you, I got caught up in juggling the events of the season with my family and my two young children. In addition, one of my closest friends (and a Hall Of Fame-caliber wrestling coach) was killed in a freak accident, leaving behind a two daughters and a son, all under the age of 7.
       We were the same age and our sons are the same age and this has been a struggle for me. Both of us had taught and coached from a young age, sowed wild oats for a good little while, and now had settled down and started families. Over the occasional cold beer, we would talk about things that men should talk about but rarely do. We laughed and cussed and joked and fussed. We talked about the great mistakes that we had made and about the things we were proud of. We talked about coaching, and developing young men, and marriage, and fatherhood, and reconciling the person we had become with the person in our past. Some of these talks are what led me to try this blog, as a method of self-reflection, among other things.
      But Mike is dead now, taken from this earth in the blink of an eye and I don't understand. Dozens of times in our youth we had done stupid, reckless things that could have gotten us killed. But why now? When he was the epitome of a great father to those three children and a role model to an entire generation of young men that had wrestled for him. I don't understand.....
    Mike was one of only a couple of people that I told when I started this. He thought it was a great idea and was very encouraging about the whole endeavor. So for my friend Mike, and for myself, I am going to get back on this horse and try to be much more disciplined and diligent about posting. I am going to get my mind right.....

PS: Thanks for letting me vent a little