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The difference between good and bad football coaches

Posted by John T. Reed on

What is the difference between good and bad football coaches?

John Madden asked Vince Lombardi that question years ago. Vince said the good coaches know exactly what they want.

I watched the Spring practices of De La Salle High School years ago. They have the highest winning percentage in the history of the sport. They are about 12 miles from my house. The head coach watched his players and corrected them and made them do it over again until they got it right. He would see and correct any body part being a mere few inches way from the correct position. Talk about knowing exactly what you want.
Coaching Youth Football book
Apologies to Vince, but exactly what they want needs to be correct. 

A common problem among bad coaches is deciding football is all about “blocking and tackling” or “which team hits hardest” or “fundamentals” or some other narrow part of the sport. Albert Einstein said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

In the first game of our 2004 season at a freshman high school team, we faced a predominantly black team whose coach was the former head varsity coach of the school. He believed the hardest hitting team won. I coach the importance of blocking the right guy more than blocking the right way. I teach hitting but do not emphasize it.

As the game began, our kids were stunned by how hard they were being hit. They were mostly rookie football players and our coaching was their only experience with football.

I feared they would be intimidated and curl into a teamwide fetal position.

What happened? They fell back on their training—a phrase you often hear from soldiers describing their first combat. Whom am I supposed to block? They also got pissed.

So they stuck to their knitting blocking the right guy. And the other team stuck to their belief in hitting, probably hitting the wrong guy more often than we blocked the wrong guy. And by the way, our guys occasionally found they could both block the right guy and knock the crap out of him in the process, the way he had hit them earlier.

The other team hit much harder than we did.

Huah! We won the game. .

Back in the day, teams who played the perennial champion Cleveland Browns under Paul Brown and Notre Dame under Rockne often commented that they felt like they had the day off after the game. Why? They had not been hit hard like in other games. Rather, members of their teams always seemed to momentarily step between the ball carrier and the would-be tackler. No hit, but no tackle either.

What is football really “all about?” Each player must know his assignment on every play and carry it out with 100% effort. The coach must also have a scheme that the players can learn and execute, he must insist on correct execution. Do it right or do it over. And he must pick the best payers for each position.

Fitness is not as big as many emphasize. Nor hitting hard. Know your job and do your job.

Bad coaches do too many drills, yell too much, fail to make sure the blockers know their assignments as well as the ball handlers.

Who does the right tackle block on the off-tackle play to his side? It depends on the alignment of the defensive line and linebackers. Each bad guy must be accounted for at the point of attack. Probably a smart lineman needs to make a line call about the blocking assignments to make sure each guy is blocking the right guy.

I have had bad youth coaches tell me they they teach linemen to block the guy nearest them!? Or that they use OIL blocking. On Inside Linebacker.

I use OIL too—for one lineman on one play. Using that rule for all players on every play is insane.

Before each game, I diagrammed each of our plays against each of the defensive alignments of our next opponent. We knew those alignments from our video of their previous game.

Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football book
Each week all season long, I discovered that some of the assignment rules we used were wrong for that game. Also, some plays did not work at all against that particular team because of their alignment.

Those bad coaches saying block the nearest guy or use the OIL rule must never have diagrammed their own plays against typical defensive alignments in their league. If they had they would see they made no sense. Each position has a different rule for each play and for each defense. They have to. We had our offense all wear wrist coaches that were marked with their position. Every time we sent in a play, it had a number. They then looked at their wrist coach for the blocking rule for that play against that opponent’s various defensive alignments. They had done that all during pre-season. We also ran a warp-speed no huddle so they were not only blocking the right guy, they were doing it really fast.

Plays fail because some offensive guy did not block his man and defenses fail because one guy did not take care of his area of responsibility. I do not mean they tried to block the guy and failed. Almost always they blocked the wrong guy or they did not try to block anyone. The defender went the wrong way or to the wrong gap. Being in the right place trying to do the right thing and failing is almost never the reason for a play failure.


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