The Moment I Actually Learned to Coach
I would like to send this question out to all of the coaches currently in college and professional football. I believe this would be a great read. I recently read an article where Mike Leach talked about risks, and it made me think of this instance. The moment I really learned to coach for the first time, was in an away game down 35 points at less than halfway through the first quarter. I am not writing this article to tell a story of how I was apart of a greatly constructed comeback, because that is not the case at all. At the time I was greatly wrapped up on a corner from an obstructed mentality and the fear of failure. Something I believe that we as coaches face on a daily basis.
I’ve always believed that you will succeed if you have an unobstructed mentality, as opposed to having some Barney Fife-type frightened reaction to adversity. Don’t let fear of failure cause you to hesitate. Mike Leach
It was a humid night in Lagrange Georgia. We were the “homecoming patsy” for the team we were playing. It was a grand affair. Now to give you a preface, we were an oddity in our division, because we threw it more than 12 times a game, and we were known for using 4 receivers, and most coaches we faced, never even looked at our rushing stats even though we were right there among the top, because we were dubbed a spread team. We were treated as leper, by opposing coaches, and often times joked about because we were throwing the ball and only three things could happen and 2 of those are bad. To say all of this what happened really has nothing to do with whether we threw it or not, used a tight end or not etc, it was really about being comfortably uncomfortable, and feeling alright about it.
Every great thing that happened in my life is the result of taking a risk. Ask yourself, “Why not me? Mike Leach
We had elected to receive the opening kickoff as usual, and because I wanted to get an opening drive started to see how they would defend us. Contrary we would not run an offensive play until we were 35 points down. That is right we fumbled 5 straight kickoffs. Right before the 6th kickoff to open the game, I had a first year senior basketball player that I had really recruited to play football for me, come to me and say, “coach if you don’t call time out and chew us out, this is gonna get out of hand.” Now this is not at all how anyone envisions how a game will start for you, but on this night in the year 2007 it surely did. I took the players advice and benched the kid for fumbling (actually made him sit on the bench), and we received the kickoff and secured it safely. Finally an opening possession.
I always scripted the first 12 plays of a game in my earlier days. I mixed in everything I wanted to do in them, to get a feel for the opponents game plan. Well at this point it was of no use. We had lost at least 5 possessions in the game already, so I had to start trying to buy them back. This would be the night that I came out of my shell, and learned to be myself, and not a logical mathematical equation. This game made me be who I always wanted to be.
Now we were facing an old field general of a coach who was a wing t/double wing guru. I knew that he was going to do everything possible to sustain the lead we had gifted to him. Their right tackle was committed to Troy State, and they loved running 26 power to his side all night long. I knew this would put a tremendous amount of pressure on my defense to get stops, in order to try to win back those possessions. It also made us have to be perfect on offense, because in those days we were a no huddle team, but not at a fast tempo.
We drove the field on the first possession converting 2 4th downs, and put up 7 points. We got the ball back after a short drive, and we drove down the field and scored again on a play we still run now called curl. The game was now 35-14 ate the end of the first quarter, and we had some confidence. I was getting feed back from my players, and they were extremely engaged. My quarterback was a first year quarterback (who had previously played guard and MLB), but had a great mind for the game, and was tough as nails. Many times Mark threw touchdown passes that he never saw caught, because he was hammered on his release. But his offensive lineman loved his toughness, and would fight extra hard for him. One the opening drive of the second quarter we drove down to the 5 yard line, and I took a time out on the upcoming 4th down. Mark immediately came to me and said lets run trojan. Trojan was a play that looked a lot like our stretch play, but instead we pulled the center, and kicked out the emol, the RB would take his stretch path and cut up right off kick out block. It is almost like something power read is now, just from the running back. It was something they haven’t seen on tape, and Mark was confident that they would bite on stretch. Sure enough they did and it was 35-21. The second quarter ended and we were down 14 at half. I knew going in the pressure was on them, because they were heavily one dimensional and they wanted to hang on, their opening drive of the second half would be the most important of the game, and the offense better be ready to score when we made a stop.
They held the ball and threatened us on the first drive, but we stalled them when my DC made an awesome half time adjustment. He moved our 4 tech to stand up DE to smash the kick out blocks. We made a fumble recovery on our own 40, and rolled out on offense. Here I was calling 6, stick , cross, shallow, 66 hitch and all the plays I always wanted to run in a game. Along with inside zone, stretch, and trap. This game was fun, and I was as engaged in the offense, as my players were. We stalled out on the 20 with a holding penalty and were faced with a huge 4th down. I called on my kicker, (the only kicker I ever coached that I trusted). David knew how to kick with pressure, and he kicked the same no matter what the situation was. He split the uprights and it was 35-24. It was not the end result I wanted but we were chipping.
The defense made another stop when our DE caused a fumble, and we drove down and scored making it 35-31. As the 4th quarter started it was a grudge match, both teams had dug in. We went back and forth and finally with about 4 minutes to go we started a drive on our own 20 yard line. We obviously had to score a TD to win, and we had to get it. We moved the ball right down the field and got on the 20 yard line. On first down, I called a run play, and we got to the 14 yard line. The next play was roll right double comebacks. Mark threw a ball right over the front pylon, and Bron did the best tip toe act you could ask for to go up 38-35. They still had a little over a minute to go and 2 timeouts. They immediately hit us with a wing back counter, that went for probably 30 yards. On first down they tried a pass and it was intercepted by a senior corner we had, and we rolled out victory formation to end the game.
Did I feel like someone put a horse shoe in my pocket after the first time out absolutely. But what really hit me is between the 3rd and 4th the ref on our sideline says, “yall running some of that Texas Tech stuff huh.” I just grinned. I grinned because we were comfortable enough with what we were to embrace it. That whole night, I never looked at my play sheet either, I got lost in the game, and my players did to. We executed, listened, communicated, and achieved results. I forgot about percentages, and what outsiders joked about. The players and coaches were focused on what it would take to win the game. We broke the single game passing record that night with 525 yards, and rushed for another 150. As a coach I let everything go for one game, and focused on the situation at hand, and what a relief it was.
When it comes to taking chances and sizing up risk, there are certainly some wrong decisions that get made, but they happen less often than you’d think. What affects an outcome more than anything else is effort and attitude. Mike Leach
Now had we lost that game someone could have blamed the fumbles, throwing a forward pass, formations, philosophy, execution, lack of coaching, etc. The media, our fans, and whomever wanted to comment could have posed an argument. That game taught me a lesson to calculate all of that and instead of being “chicken little,” take a risk and if the sky does fall so be it. You cannot make a basket if you do not shoot. Who cares about them, sometimes when we think we are holding on really we are forcing ourselves to let go, of what we are trying so hard to keep.
Even a decade down the road, I can say the struggle to do this is so strong. I am sure that every coach has problems with this. We have some much outside forces and subliminal influences that it makes it hard to complete that mind clearing relief. Being comfortable among your peers as being an oddity, or not one of the “guys,” can be very intimidating, but standing on a field with your players and being clear about what you are is assuring.