Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

http://ad.doubleclick.net/clk;276390040;103714799;h  The National Football League is promoting a “share your story” with an opportunity to win a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII and they are engaging various celebrities to reflect on childhood memories.  When I saw a promotional picture of young kids in uniform of my era, it really stirred memories.  Nothing but good memories.  So I went into my archives and found this piece.  After I left the Washington Redskins in 2005 and prior to joining Drexel University’s Sport Management Program, I began writing about my life and how football has been absolutely intrinsic.

I haven’t posted on here in quite some time.  I now am out of coaching and working in the representation of NFL athletes.  It is rewarding work as I help prepare young men for the riggers of the combine, draft, and their transition into professional football.  We have been successful in this initial season with three players selected in the top 95 and two other free agents making their respective squads with one working his way into a starting position.

Here is the beginning of the seven chapters or so that I have written.  Don’t know if I’ll ever really write it all down.  We use to joke as coaches about writing a book but no one would ever believe the realities of the experiences.  If some feed back is positive perhaps I’ll post more but this is my base truth.  This is why I could never dream of really doing anything but being on a football field.  When I worked with Mike Hollway at Marietta College in the early 1980’s he spoke of, “not being singular in purpose” and that is why I’ve ventured into some of the avenues I have but at the end of the day we all have a definition and “coach” is what I will always inherently be.  Hope you enjoy this snippet.

PART I:  It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do…

Chapter 1                                            FULTON PARK

My dad pulled our white ‘64 Ford Falcon on the grass next to small boulders that were evenly spaced parallel to the street, used as a barrier to keep vehicles off the outfield of the baseball diamond in Fulton Park.  I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car as my legs stuck to the red vinyl seats.  It was a typically hot, muggy, late summer New England day in Waterbury, Connecticut and football season was approaching.

From across the street I could see my hero’s emerging from the shadows of the pine trees.  I could hear the clattering of the steel tipped nylon cleats as they came off the grass having walked up the hill from Wilby High School and crossed the street to reach the practice field.  Groups of two, three, five all wearing black mostly high top leather Riddell football shoes with white laces, practice football pants that were once white and now had a worn beige look to them, and white cotton tee shirts, no dryfit  back then.  In their hands that beautiful white MacGregor helmet with the protruding ear area, only single and double bar white nylon face masks, and a single green stripe down the middle with their practice jersey’s jammed inside and used to carry their floppy hockey like shoulder pads.

Pulling up and parking behind us was a convertible Cadillac.  The long, heavy driver’s side door swings open and out steps a round imposing figure.  It’s Fred O’Brien the head coach and my dad’s best friend.  Fred and my dad could pass as brothers.  Both are bald, my dad was 5-11 and probably around 225 at that time and Fred was 5-10 and I’d say 250 pounds. They are young, strong, and confident and are having the time of their lives coaching football.  My dad handled the offense and Fred the defense.  They trusted each other and the passion they had for what they were doing was evident.  They had mapped out practice the night before between playing hands of pinochle with my mom Hilda and Fred’s wife Barbara.

The entire squad has now arrived and is gathered under the shade of the trees that border the intersecting streets and are located in the deepest of straight away centerfield of the baseball diamond.  The infield is skinned and dry and has the look of a miniature patch of desert.  Behind the beaten and battered backstop is a hill with a path that gradually climbs from the third base line up and around the plate and declines as it wraps around to the first base line.  There are tennis courts behind the path on the first base side.  It is an idyllic setting in my mind for this is where the Wilby Wildcats hold their practices in the outfield, an open green space that is the most important patch of grass that I will ever know.

Coach O’Brien and my dad Coach Jim Kelly, simultaneously blow their whistles hanging from shoestrings around their necks.  They too have on football pants, white socks, black Riddell ripple soled shoes, gray tee shirts, and green caps and have the look of excitement and anticipation on their faces as the pea rattles in its chamber.  The team dons their helmets and begins to jog from centerfield toward the left field pole onto the path that inclines up and around the backstop, down the slope toward the right field pole and into precise exercise lines in what is normally right field but is now anointed as a practice football field.  The captains stand with their backs to where the second baseman would be located and the rest of the team is in eight rows of about six to a row.  The captains lead a variety of stretches and calisthenics that were typical of the times.  Neck roles, bridges, push-ups, sit-ups, up/downs, windmill toe touches, trunk twisters, forward and backward arm rotations would lead into wind sprints by each line of a 20 yard burst, to bear crawls of 50 to 100 yards, and who could forget the infamous duck walk for the same distance.  Forget water at the end of these drills.  Water was for the weak.  Sissie’s needed water.  Take a salt tablet and move on to the next set of drills.

I was taught to stay out of the way but I would push the limits as far as I could.  I would take off and run with the team around the field being passed by young men two and three times my size.  I’m six years old and the pounding sound on the dry ground, the dust in my face, that distinct odor of a pubescent football player’s sweat, and the sense of team sends a jolt through me as nothing else did.  This is where I belong.  I would mimic the exercises as best I could at the back of the line.  While the players conditioned, I would bounce over to the rusty two-man sled and stand on the back like my dad would be doing in a matter of moments exhorting on two young men to drive with their legs, keep their pad level down, head up, and push that thing around until you thought you were going to drop but you didn’t dare.

Next came “bull in the ring” where a single player would be in the center of a circle of players keeping his feet moving and head on a swivel, as the coach would then call out the number of a another player making up the circle to sprint out toward the player in the middle and deliver a blow, forcing the “bull” in the middle to quickly react to this immediate threat in a hitters position and deliver a blow himself or get knocked on his ass.  If the ‘bull” remained on his feet another player would be called from the circle in rapid succession, one right after another until an alternate “bull’ was chosen.  Once these two young coaches were satisfied that toughness was being instilled, onto the “Oklahoma Drill” they went.  A ball carrier, quarterback to hand off, an offensive lineman to open the hole against an interior defender, and then an end to block a defensive back.  All are aligned in a row bordered by blocking dummies to appoint a confined running lane.  These drills were exciting, violent, team building, and man producing.  I loved it.

The scrimmage phase of practice demonstrated the importance of paying attention to detail.  If a running back was too anxious to get to the exchange in a draw scheme, my dad would hold the back of his pants and then let him go when the timing was proper to teach patience.  If the steps of an end to arc release with the proper removal of surface area from the defender attempting to disrupt the release was proving difficult, time would be taken to demonstrate and teach the footwork, perhaps even staying at the end of practice and mapping out the steps in the dry dirt of the infield so that the player could visualize the exact arc needed.  Nothing was left to chance.  Specifics were to be taught.  Repetition was the key.  You didn’t have to do a lot, just do the things you do have correctly and never, ever quit.

It has been very rare over my career when running an offense, have we broken the huddle or aligned on the line of scrimmage in the same configuration we executed the play from when not using a quick snap count.  The early teachings of the true Tubby Raymond Delaware Wing-T had a tremendous effect on my way of thinking in terms of creating flank advantages, coverage declaration, personnel mismatches, flow deception, and series recognition.  I was taught, “if we shift one and they move two, we win…and it we shift two and they move four, we win even more”!

When I first entered the Canadian Football League in 1992 viewing six men in motion, two moving laterally and four attacking the line of scrimmage, it unleashed a flood of new opportunity to assist the quarterback in pre-snap reads and enhanced releases by the receivers and running backs.  When I entered the XFL, they allowed for one in lateral motion with another in horizontal motion. It was no mistake that in the 2001 XFL Championship Play-offs, three of the four remaining teams had offensive coordinators that at one time had been OC’s in the CFL (Joe PaoPao in San Francisco, Jim Barker in Los Angeles, and me in Orlando).  We knew how to attack the line of scrimmage and create advantages before crossing it with quarterbacks that were tuned in to defensive reactions.

United States high schools, NCAA/NAIA, and the National Football League only allow singular lateral pre-snap motion but so much can be told prior to the snap by using all your skilled players in the shifting of formation and motion.  Motion will assist a spread offense in a variety of ways.  See how these suggestions can enhance your concepts.

Here are some advantages to think about when motion is employed by the slot(s) and backs:

  1. Gives the quarterback a pre-snap read determining man or zone concepts
  2. Improves releases
  3. May cause the defense to show blitz early
  4. Improves the “hot” and dump read
  5. Assists in creating advantageous blocking angles
  6. Removes defenders from the point of attack

Extended motion by the slots and backfield allows a change in formation and should answer these questions:

  1. Does it cause man coverage problems?
  2. Does it assist in flooding a zone?
  3. Will it make the offensive play more successful?
  4. Will it improve the performance of the executing player?
  5. Will it make the job easier?

We will also use our wide outs in motion simply by shifting the slot onto the LOS and stepping the WR off and then executing movement.  The slots and wide outs must think:

  1. Can I take the strong safety away from the point of attack?  (POA)
  2. Can I enlarge the hole at the POA to make blocking easier for myself and my teammates?
  3. Can I release more easily on pass routes or blocking down field on either an outside or inside release?
  4. Can I make them show blitz early?
  5. Can I force the coverage shell to declare early for recognition of the middle of the field open (MOFO) or middle of the field closed (MOFC)?  This is important for “sight adjusting” our routes and declaring how many men will be in the box.

Running backs must be cognizant of:

  1. Does the outside linebacker follow me?
  2. Does my movement change the defensive front?
  3. Can I achieve a better “hot” or dump read?
  4. Is the FS assigned to me creating cover 0?

Provide a motion “name” for each position.  A “named” movement will speak specifically to the player you desire to change the strength of formation, balance the formation, create three receivers to a side, or simply to enhance the release or create a diversion.

  1. H/B-back = Ram/right      Lion/left  (the suffix ‘STOP’ will extend him outside of the WR and settle)
  2. A-back = Ray/right        Lil/left     (the suffix ‘STOP’ will extend him outside of the WR and settle)
  3. Y-slot or a TE depending on the personnel group = Rip/right      Liz/left
  4. S-left slot or slot in a TE personnel group = Rose/right      Load/left
  5. Z-right wide out = Lex/left (suffix ‘IT’ extends his motion across the mid-line (past the QB) releasing outside the tackle predetermined by the pattern requirement
  6. X-left wide out = Rex/right (suffix ‘IT’ extends his motion across the mid-line (past the QB) releasing outside the tackle predetermined by the pattern requirement
  7. The suffix ‘RETURN’ begins you in the called direction and brings you back to assist the QB in a pre-snap read and an easier release

Communication and keeping calls as simple as possible is always a challenge.  Over the years, using this type of named approach has proven to be very efficient and as you develop it and cultivate it into your vernacular you will find you can shift formation and use movement to create advantages for your offense.

In the early winter of 1992, I was the Associate Head Football Coach at San Francisco State University.  All of the coaches were required to teach a class in the department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation.  One particular class was geared toward coaching football and several of us took part instructing various aspects of the syllabus.  I shed light on the history of offensive football.  I took the class through the evolution of the single-wing, wing-T, straight-T, wishbone, split-back veer, and run-n-shoot (the Tiger Ellison version and the Mouse Davis ideology).   

Legendary SFSU Head Coach Vic Rowan had been forced into retirement two season’s previously but was still very much an influence on the Daly City campus.  Coach Rowan would come to my class and pull up a seat in the back of the classroom.  He would intently listen each session and as the class concluded would depart without a word.  Coach Rowan provided the first college coaching opportunity to Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Holmgren, NFL coaches Andy Reid and Dirk Koetter to name a few and his presence in my classroom was quite frankly a bit disconcerting.  It was obvious I was being evaluated but for what?

One day after class, Coach Rowan approached me and said, “let’s go get a cup of coffee”.  I had established a great relationship with him as we would discuss football and life in private settings but we didn’t go get coffee on a regular basis.  As we gathered our cups and found a table at an on campus coffee shop, Coach proceeded to tell me that he had been speaking with an old friend that is a general manager in the Canadian Football League.  He advised me that if I received a call from the gentleman to accept his offer.

A week later as I was packing to fly to Colorado with our offensive staff to visit the staffs at the Air Force Academy and Colorado State University. The phone rang, “Hello Mike, this is Cal Murphy with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.  I understand you are flying into Denver tomorrow.   There will be a ticket waiting there for you to transfer a flight to Winnipeg.  I’ll pick you up at the airport.  See you then”.  It proved to be the most influential phone call of my life.

Cal picked me up as he said he would and provided me with a quick tour of the facility on 1465 Maroons Road, grabbed a bite at Finger’s restaurant (best club sandwich I ever had!), and dropped me off at the Viscount Gort Hotel in possession of a three-inch thick playbook with diagrams of twelve men, six in motion, and explanations of coverage I had never seen.  I fell asleep with that playbook on my chest.  My Winnipeg experience had begun.

The next morning I sat with Cal and he explained how he wanted a new staff with fresh ideas.  His plan was to hire coaches without Canadian Football League experience.  He was tired of conformed thinking.  A new jolt of energy and thought was needed.

He walked me down the hallway to a vacant room.  One wall had shelving with neatly enumerated beta cassette tapes from floor to ceiling.  Urban Bowman, the only returning staff member, pulled Bomber game tape from the shelves and placed them on a table and returned to his office across the hall.  I slipped the first beta cassette into the machine, watching for several hours without disturbance.  I stuck my head out the door and no one was around so I returned to the darkened room and proceeded to view more tape.  Six hours passed and finally, Cal came to door and we returned to his office.

I sat on an old, weathered, royal blue couch with stained arm rests while Coach Murphy sat behind a desk that was entirely to big and disproportionate with the room.  Cal asked me  a single question, “what did you see”?  Little did I know that 16 years later I would be removing those same couches and desk to make that office my own.

I must have said the right things as I was hired along with Frank Spazziani (current Boston College head coach), Charlie Carpenter (who I would later hire as my line coach of the Bombers in 2009),  and Ron Calcagni who had been serving as the inside receivers coach at the University of Houston.  Later, Budgie Hamilton would join us from San Francisco State University.  Cal had accomplished exactly what he set out to do, hire a staff with fresh eyes as to how to look at the CFL.

Our learning curve was very sharp and Cal would teach all phases of the game to us with Urban assisting with special teams and defense but I was learning offensive football completely from Cal.  We would clinic all day and into the night.  Beer and peanuts would conclude the evening.  Getting to know each other, he and I played off of our Irish heritage, his mixed with German and mine with Hungarian just seemed to fit.  He reminded me of my father.  Tough, straight forward, no-nonsense but with compassion and caring for people.  He thought I was mentally tough and told me so.  He also recognized how much I wanted to learn the game and he made extra time for me.

We went to camp at Brandon University in Manitoba with great enthusiasm and desire to get the Bombers back on track after a 9-9 season in 1991.  As a staff we were still far behind in our understanding of the finer points of the game.  Player evaluation was also difficult for the new staff and often Cal would sit back in his chair, peanuts always by his side, listening to position coaches complain about the skill level of a player when Cal would begin to take his index finger and scroll on his own chest.  He was drawing a “maple leaf”, the designation and emblematic symbol for a Canadian player.  The all important “non-import” that will make or break your roster.

We would meet sometimes until 2 or 3:00 in the morning arising at 6:30 to start another grinding day.  It was frustrating for Cal but he remained patient, forever the teacher.  However, you could see it start to take it’s toll on his energy level and repeated mistakes or missteps were no longer being tolerated.

We played our first pre-season game in Regina, Saskatchewan against the arch rival (do people use that term anymore?  It is still fitting for those two franchises!) Roughriders.  A prairie storm blew through with tremendous lightning and hit a transformer blowing out a bank of lights delaying the game.  Cal wanted me on the sidelines next to him so that we could converse face to face.  I was invigorated.  This was the most exciting experience in football I had to this stage of my career.  Everything to me was perfect.

After the game we headed to the airport and sat in the Air Canada lounge laughing, talking about the game, about Cal teasing former Bomber Tyrone Jones and Tyrone taking his rath out on me and I didn’t even know who he was!  We sat in that lounge drinking beer and eating peanuts. I was in pro football and I was learning from man that was held in the highest of esteem.  Life couldn’t be better than this…

As we prepared for our second pre-season game in early July tragedy struck.  Cal had another severe heart attack, a series of which started I believe, in his mid 40’s.  Emergency by-pass surgery was performed and he was flown to London, Ontario.  A heart transplant was required to save his life.

We had to pull together.  Urban was named Interim Head Coach.  Lyle Bauer who the previous year was the starting offensive center and was in his first half year as Assistant General Manager was moved into Acting GM.  Urban would continue to coordinate the special teams but offensively and defensively it was to be handled by committee.  We had our most important resource in Cal, removed.  It was a devastating blow to all of us and the building was so somber.  We adorned our helmets with red heart stickers on the back near the numbers and the coaches wore red heart pins on our game shirt collars.  Somehow drinking a beer and eating peanuts at the end of the day wasn’t the same.

We struggled through the season and in early October were soundly beaten by the Eskimos in Edmonton.  Our starting quarterback and now Canadian Football Hall of Famer, Matt Dunigan, injured his knee and would be out indefinitely.  We were sitting at 6-7 and the previous 9-9 record didn’t look so bad anymore.

When I returned home in Winnipeg the phone rang.  It was Cal calling from his hospital bed in London.  The transplant had gone well and he was recovering nicely but still had a battle in front of him.  He had watched the game on television and had seen enough.  His strength was coming back and so was his sternness.  “You take that offense and straighten it out”! bellowed from the other end of the phone.  “Are you telling me I have the power to do what I think is needed”? I asked.  “What the hell do you think I just said? Take it over”! was the response.

I went in that morning and both Urban and Lyle were already informed as to the conversation.  I immediately took over the quarterbacks along with the receivers.  Danny McManus would now be our starter and I was calling the plays.  We would go on to win our last five regular season games finishing 11-7 and winning the division.  Dunigan returned for the Eastern Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and we won 59-11 and headed to the Grey Cup to face Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders in Toronto.  We lost the Championship Game that next week but Cal was in attendance.  The pain of losing the game was deep but shallower than it could have been because Cal was well on the road to recovery.

We all took only half the play-off money and had our salaries reduced by 8% to aid the club’s bottom line.  The community owned team was floundering financially and everyone had to do their part in order for it to survive.  The coach I demoted was never replaced and for the next four years it was just me and a line coach with Cal stepping in to help with the running-backs during individual period.  I never received another raise and none of the coaches I originally was hired with stayed for the remainder of Cal’s tenure which ended unceremoniously after the 1996 season in which we went 9-9.

Those years in-between were the best of my life.  I was the offensive coordinator and Cal allowed me to grow and provided guidance but never interference.  I did my job and Coach Murphy trusted me to do it.  Cal holding court in the Presidential Suite in Ottawa or in another Air Canada lounge somewhere drinking a beer and eating peanuts, laughing…hard and loud, learning, maturing will forever be with me.  Cal and I flying to Toronto to hide in the baseball press box of the SkyDome watching the Argonauts play the Calgary Stampeders and stealing Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel’s signals before the play-offs began then returning to the hotel lounge to drink a beer and eat peanuts discussing what we saw, eventually helping the bar staff put the chairs up on the tables.

He taught me so much.  Cal let me in on how to handle the operating budget, salary cap, negotiating contracts, evaluating players, building a roster, the importance of a cohesive locker room.   He was set in his beliefs of media access and the limits of players using the club as a platform for their own personal gains.  It was about being a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.  About the importance of the Blue and Gold and never, ever the individual player.  For Cal it was God, Family, and the Blue Bombers.  He kept life simple.  He was tough.  He was intelligent.  He was at times a pain in the ass.  He was kind.  He was caring.  Next to my father, I learned more from him than any other man in my life.

I was with Coach Murphy nearly everyday for five straight years from February of 1992 to January of 1997.  We went 54-36 in the regular season winning three divisional championships, made the play-offs all five seasons, and appeared in two Grey Cups.  He always said the 14-4, 1993 team may be the best to never win the Championship.

He came to visit me when I became the Head Coach at Valdosta State University in 1997 as he was now with the Saskatchewan Roughriders providing me with more insight and we drank a beer and ate peanuts.

Cal passed away on February 18, 2012 at the age of 79.  He got the most of that replacement heart but it was his soul that was so absolutely wonderful.  I will keep most of my memories, particularly on the personal side for myself, and how he helped my family during difficult times and how he always stood by me and believed in me even when I know some of my actions frustrated him.  Sometimes “Kindly Cal” wasn’t the most likeable but most true leaders aren’t because they are ones willing to make the most difficult decisions for the betterment of the whole and not always of the individual.  Cal had foresight and vision like no other and frankly it scared people because they did not have the capacity to stand by their convictions like Mr. Murphy did.

I love Cal Murphy and for just one more time, I wish I could drink one more beer with him…and eat peanuts…

I conducted a “webinar” for the Glazier Clinics last evening and have gotten such a positive response last evening and this morning that is humbling and gratifying.  Many have asked that I post the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied the presentation.  Thank you to all and glad this will be of some assistance.

1. Be around great people!
  • Seek them out
  • Learn from everyone
  • Need good people
  • Have people who want to be part of the program
  • People who want to make your life better
2. Expect a great deal of yourself
  • No limitations – allows you to expect more from others
3. Expect a great deal of others
  • Raise their level of self expectations
  • Compliment – that you believe they can do more
  • No limitations – on their capacity to achieve
  • Make football important to everyone in your program
4. Give responsibility
  • Let coaches coach
  • Encourage coaches to seek responsibility
  • Expect it to get done – demand it
  • Task sheet – dead lines – write it down – stick to it – no excuses!
  • Everyone must have responsibility for success and failure
  • Those who want to “move up” need greater responsibility
  • Players responsible for behavior, academic success, health and effort
  • Coaches responsible for players, their performance, and discipline
  • Don’t allow it all to roll downhill
5. Priorities – if important, make it so – if not, don’t waste time
  • Too much trivia in football
  • Can be good at that which you emphasize
6. Involvement
  • Get people to support program and players (eliminate jealousy)
  • Those with you are not against you
  • Assign a coach to each department in school
  • Monthly calls to parents/department heads
  • Send monthly newsletter – “State of the Program” to supporters and faculty
  • Be involved in school programs
  • Involvement in community
7. Care – Be genuine
  • Make time for players and staff
  • Make them important to others
8. Team leadership
  • Mini meetings (teach leadership)
  • Seniors – Reps- Captains (assign projects)
  • Develop early – don’t wait until seniors

9. Attitude development

  • Improve everyday (key to building program on solid ground) As a person – student – athlete. Find a way to do this each day – ask how. Evaluate each day
  • Toughness (over potential) Practice everyday.  Breaking point (that point at which you lose focus and stop concentrating on task at hand).  Gradually eliminate a breaking point.  Mark of mental toughness
  • Self discipline (doing what you are supposed to do when you are suppose to do it, how you are suppose to and doing it that way every time).  Do it right!  Don’t expect or accept less.  Will it help you be better?  If so, do it!
  • Great effort – can practice and play as hard as anyone, YOU control this
  • Enthusiasm (applies to coaches and players) don’t leave home without it – plan it – start each day, each meeting, and each practice with it
  • Learn (teach) how to stop losing.  Turnovers – mistakes – lack of effort – penalties – attitude (don’t beat yourself)
  • Never give up / expect more – take nothing for granted – do the little things
  • Don’t accept losing / expect to win – believe in yourself – believe in each other – believe in the system (trust/global picture)
  • Unity – come together as never before.  Be in the locker room with players everyday.  Don’t let players leave unhappy.  Trust in each other – earn trust.  Stress trust and common goals in meetings
  • Consistency (based on belief in what you do – trust in the system) coaches must be consistent if you want players to be consistent – don’t change system (can alter)
  • Goal setting – most important is devising a well thought out plan and then carry it out
  • Humility (credit others) teach it to players – great trait to win friends for your program
10. Repetition
  • Takes a lot of reps to learn
  • Have a plan – keep repeating it – they will improve
11.     “If it is to be, it is up to me”
  • Delegate authority but be prepared

12. Discipline is not personal

  • Focus on the lesson to be learned
  • Listen to the thought, not the tone
13. Commitment – talk to coaches and players individually about it – you will know who is making the     commitment you want
14. Addressing problems – expect them – they will be there everyday – don’t be discouraged – every problem can be solved
15. Allow others to make decisions – help players believe it is their team – they will accept the responsibility
16. Finally, we offer as a resource, ten of Murphy’s Laws.  These laws can be traced back to an earlier proposition known as Dill’s Law of Random Perversity and are food for thought for anyone charged with the responsibility of supervision:
1. If anything can go wrong, it will.
2. Nothing is as easy as it looks.
3. Everything takes longer than you think.

4. Left unto themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
5. It always costs more than first estimated.
6. It is easier to get involved in something than to get out of it.
7. Every solution breeds new problems.
8. If you’re feeling good, don’t worry – you’ll get over it.
9. It is impossible to make everything fool proof because fools are so ingenious.
10. The more complex the idea or technology, the more simple-minded the opposition.
A special thanks to Coach Bill Snyder from Kansas State who introduced me to many of these principles nearly 20 years ago and they have held true.  Adapt and incorporate these specifics to your program and you will create a positive environment leading to success.  Good Luck!

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”  ~ Theodore Roosevelt

It is the middle of October and already coaches have been released of their duties in both the collegiate and professional ranks.  The leaves are falling from the branches, if you will, as programs under-achieve with “hot seat” lists becoming a norm with the media.  Coordinators with units performing exceedingly well smell the next opportunity begin to waft. Hiring season will soon be upon us.

Once an organization defines what it desires and needs in a candidate for a position setting standards to qualify in terms of experience, it must ensure the interview process is conducted in a productive manner.  A Head Coach will be looking at qualities to blend a staff and provide diversity in thought and culture observing the ability to communicate, evaluate and project talent, and the basic fundamental mechanical knowledge of each position.  A keen eye will be given to your background concerning loyalty and do you exude a level of enthusiasm.

For those pursuing a Head Coach position, you are essentially taking a test that you must pass with an Athletic Director and President of the University or General Manager, President, and Owner of a professional club before those individuals are willing to grant you the title of “leader”.  They are looking for personal traits or characteristics to portray the organization with integrity delving into your trustworthiness, truthfulness, character, and convictions.  The organization has investigated your competence concerning productivity and efficiency and they will be looking to be inspired by your decisiveness with your ability to provide direction.

The “test” has four components.  The first is honesty.  Is this person worthy of our trust?  You are being entrusted with the most valuable commodity; people, and the organization needs to know that you are truthful, principled and ethical.  Subordinates need to know their leader will follow through with agreements and not make false promises.  People eventually see right through deceptions and cover-ups and want their leader to behave in a straightforward manner. Trust given is trust received.  Be free and forthcoming with your interviewer.

Secondly, do you bring added value to the position?  Are you bringing competency?  The higher the rank, the more people demand to see abilities in policy making, vision, strategic planning, and execution.  Can you enlist others to your cause by making people believe you know what you are doing will be an organizational priority.

Next, they want you to provide them with a sense of direction.  What is your concern for the future of the team, university, club, and or organization?  Prepare yourself to articulate a desirable destination toward which you will lead them describing in vivid detail what the end result will be, not hope to be, will be…

And lastly, inspiration.  Leaders are energetic, optimistic, positive, and in general enthusiastic.  Convey that the hard work ahead will be enjoyable!  If you don’t display passion for the endeavor then why should anyone else?  It is absolutely necessary that leaders inspire confidence to achieve the set goal.

Enter the interview with your own questions.  Display your attention to detail and investigation into the existing organization’s situation so that you may garner a better understanding to the circumstances that led to the vacancy you are now interviewing for.  Show your grasp of how to skillfully address these difficulties with problem solving solutions in a systematic approach.  Your ability to field questions under pressure is being evaluated and the better prepared you are to articulate your answers in a concise and informative manner is key.  While all this is happening show an appreciation for the commands of the job and the existing support group.  Be mindful of not condemning past decisions and accompanying results made within the organization, avoiding grandiose assurances lacking substance.

Have confidence in your talents and unique qualities. Go after the job you desire. Do not let circumstances such as working for a team with an inferior win-loss record hinder your pursuit.  Those operating a quality organization will be cognizant of the difficult environment for success you may currently be employed.

Press your blue suit.  Polish your shoes.  Buy a new white shirt.  It’s your time to lead.

My high school coach, Terry Hitchcock in Muncie, Indiana, said to me decades ago, “great players make good coaches”…

We are all busy people.  Coaches perhaps even more so.  We are pulled in so many directions when leading a program.  Staff management, office operations, practice planning, game preparation, media responsibilities, academics, logistics, strength and conditioning, and training staff are all dealt with on an hourly continuum.  Outside influences that directly affect your modus operandi that require your attention such as boosters, board of directors, athletic directors, general managers, and presidents need cultivating.  And through it all, recruiting is your lifeline.

There are so many potential student/athletes to be evaluated and contacted.  The use of today’s social media can be overwhelming to coaches that have been at this for several decades and the reliance on your younger staff to properly portray your objectives within that medium is paramount.  It is important to spend your energies where it will be most productive for the initial qualifying.  Once prospects are identified, the next question is, are they a match for your institution and program?  Will they be good for you and will you be a fit for them?

It is vital that your staff has a complete understanding of what your institution’s prominent selling points are and what your program has to offer, as well as understanding what the prospect provides your campus community.

Every school has a plethora of qualities, attributes, and characteristics that combined with your athletic program will be attractive to the recruited athlete.  A complete understanding of each recruiter by taking campus tours through the admissions office and gathered information from each department head so that they may comfortably address the prospects needs and interests of what you have to offer.

We developed a series of letters coming from the Head Coach, Coordinators, Positional Coaches, Strength Coach, Training Staff, and Athletic Director to supplement the normal materials provided by the Admissions Office.  Some prospects with specific academic interests where sent letters from the appropriate Department Head.  In every letter we supplied a puzzle piece.  With each received letter the puzzle came together. When complete, a picture of the National Championship Trophy was in the recruits hand with the name of our institution underneath it.  This portrayed our goal and kept us in the prospects mind when other programs propaganda arrived.  In this world of electronic media which is vital to maintaining instant access within NCAA/NAIA regulations, a good old-fashioned letter demonstrating the attention to detail the program has to offer is appreciated by not only the student/athlete but also influences the key advisors to the prospect.

In the first letter from the Head Coach, we sent a “check-list” of the aspects we felt are important to evaluating the school and the program.  This is the most important decision these young people have had to make in their lives.  This decision will be identified with them forever.  You are in the midst of extending yourself to the parents or guardians as the one that will take their most valuable commodity, their son or daughter, the single most precious aspect of their life, and prepare their child for a chosen career path and development of self-assurance to enter an independent life.  That is far more pressure than trying to win a game.

The check-list had a rating of 1-5.  1 being “excellent”, 2 “above average”, 3 “average”, 4 “below average”, and 5 “poor”.  We then provided boxes for five official visits so that the prospect could “rate” the qualities we determined as specific characteristic strengths of the school and program.

We started with ACADEMICS listing these categories; quality of prospective major, other academic choices, quality of academic facilities, research opportunities in the area, athletic tutorial program, and graduation rate.  Next where ATHLETICS with these specifics; head coach, position coach, chance to play early, record, style of offense or defense, off-season program, conference advantages, weight room, locker room, training room, dining hall, stadium, equipment (including uniform, shoes, number availability).  We then went on to SOCIAL LIFE; location, campus style, dorms, personality of team mates, and church of my faith.  Lastly we addressed JOB OPPORTUNITIES; job opportunities in the area, athletic alumni in credible jobs, and job placement service.  The idea is that with each visit to an opponent’s campus, the prospect returns to look on our evaluation sheet putting us back into the prospect’s thought process.

When you lose a prospect it’s often easy to blame factors out of your control.  Sometimes that is the case but most often it’s a case of not selling smart.  We went to a seminar that outlined these reasons why coaches miss on a prospect and they’ve held true over the years even to the point that it has a direct correlation to the free agent process at the professional level when salary is not the only deciding factor.  All these missing elements negatively affect your recruiting efforts;

  • The prospect may athletically match the coach’s needs but the prospect doesn’t fit with the academic or social needs of the school.
  • The coach doesn’t adequately understand the needs and interests of the prospect and doesn’t relate sufficiently how the coach’s program and school match those needs and interests.
  • The coach doesn’t really know who is making the decision and upon what criteria.
  • The coach fails to effectively diminish negative points and emphasize positive points.
  • The coach doesn’t communicate effectively, ie; listening, explaining, persuading.
  • The coach doesn’t develop an individualized strategy that takes into account the prospect, the various influence factors, and the competition.
  • The coach fails to adjust the strategy as events and information dictate.
  • The coach relies solely on his or her “personality” to win a prospect.

You have to develop a well thought out recruiting strategy that allows you to take a course of action with the student/athlete that will assist your chances of getting a commitment.  You must use your time and resources wisely avoiding missteps providing the impression that you are organized and competent and respect their needs.  By outlining your plan, you can inform and engage others preparing them to assist you in the process.

When developing your strategy state your objectives involving the key people and define the role they play in the decision.  Identify “influencers” who can ethically sell your program and identify what hurdles might exist.  Have a keen understanding of the decision criteria of the prospect and what is their decision making process and timeline while knowing exactly who is your competition.

The detail of your strategy is important in understanding the above mentioned factors.  Knowledge is power and you must learn this information from the prospect and their inner circle.  Ask yourself these three questions when putting together your strategy; 1. What recruiting contacts will you make in what sequence? 2. What are the aims of each contact? 3.  What resources or alternate paths are required to support your plan?

Recruiting is the single most difficult aspect of your job and the most important.  If a student/athlete is worth going after then spend the time to connect all the aspects in the process cognizant of all your resources.  Believe you, your program, and your institution are the best choice and go get some commitments!

NFL Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson acknowledged he advised QB Cam Newton prior to selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft not to get any piercings or tattoos, and THE DAILY offers a roundup of reactions to Richardson’s actions (Sports Business Journal Daily, 08/26/11).  SI.com’s Don Banks wrote he is thankful the Panthers did not draft QB Terrelle Pryor, as “tattoos are pretty much the reason Pryor was available for the supplemental draft to begin with” (SI.com, 8/25).  So do we as coaches and leaders of young men have the right to dissuade generational trends in appearance for the privilege of participating in our program?

Player image is an area where team concepts may supersede an individual’s preference in relation to physical appearance.  To be a member of our squad you may have to make some sacrifices in your personal taste to conform to the image that we should project.

What we are confronted with this generation is far different than when I was a student/athlete in the 1970’s.  As a freshman in high school in 1972 my coach in Keokuk, Iowa took a tape scissors to cut my hair that flowed from the back of my helmet, cutting it with my helmet on so that he trimmed off precisely what he wanted (okay, those of you that know me can stop laughing now since I support a clean shaven dome) and in 1975 as a senior in Muncie, Indiana a rule was imposed of no facial hair and my carefully groomed Joe Namath styled fu-man-chu was shaved off much to my chagrin but that was simply hair.  It grows back…sometimes.  As a college player I supported the Kenny Stabler look of a full beard and hair that flopped out of the back of my helmet. Today we are dealing with decisions that young people are making that will remain indelible.

We certainly do not want to take away a players individualism but there is a middle ground that can be reached.  Seasonal enforcement of hair length is not unreasonable.  Flowing locks or dreadlocks that cover the nameplate on the jersey and the numbers on the shoulders is extreme and little is ever mentioned that the proper fit of the helmet is compromised particularly with dreadlocks.  At the high school and collegiate level your personal responsibility as a coach is greater than at the professional level to ensure that those youngsters understand the safety factors involved.  We simply, over the years, have taken an approach of nothing extreme when it came to hair length.  Facial hair and mustaches for todays generation is a more closer stubble type fashion and not as extreme as in the ’70’s.

I spoke with my team as a head collegiate coach about not caring as to whom manufactured your underwear.  I didn’t and still don’t care if Tommy, Calvin, Joe Boxer, or the Fruit of the Loom guys themselves made your underwear!  I don’t want to see it and nobody else should either.  Why in the world would anyone want to glorify prison sex and make no mistake, that is where the trend originated.  Pull up your pants!  I sent a note to all department heads stating that if a football player showed up to class with his underwear exposed, I would appreciate notification of such.  The players responded better than the faculty as I received memo’s with concern of our infringement of students rights.  The faculty missed the point or were not capable of understanding representing a group or program relating to image projection.

On campus you are a student who happens to play football and must be a responsible member of the campus community.  As a professional you are representing a multi-million to billion dollar enterprise along with the league and the metropolitan area and often an entire state or province.  The leaders of those organizations have every right to impose attire and grooming standards as you are representing a franchise or institution.  Our college team travelled in team sweat suits which gave us uniformity and didn’t single out kids that couldn’t afford true dress clothes.  In the XFL and CFL we travelled by commercial airlines and always felt that with that type of exposure a suit or at the very least, today’s standard of business casual was appropriate and although in the NFL we travelled by charter, those men dressed as true professionals on a business trip which is exactly what it is.

Amateur or professional, eyes are always on members of the program and everyone involved must strive to be a genuine, class, quality, and successful person.  They all can’t be choir boys but an understanding of the group dynamics will serve all.  Quality and class personal traits and playing to your full potential will result in success.  We have found at all levels, characteristics of successful people include:

1.  Positive mental attitude (optimism)    2.  Honesty    3. Courage   4.  Generosity   5.  Kindliness   6.  Desire   7.  Initiative   8.  Organizing ability   9.  Concentration   10.  Learn from adversity   11.  Quality appearance     12.  Respect for others   13.  Knowledge   14.  Commitment   15. Faith   16.  Love   17.  Integrity                     18.  Unselfishness   19.  Poise   20.  Loyalty   21.  Pride   22.  Decision making   23.  Adaptability                   24.  Thoroughness

These qualities must be taught and cultivated.  People with tattoos and piercings certainly can possess all of these but first perceptions are difficult to overcome.  I hired a coach that had an ear stud.  One of the absolute best coaches I have ever had the privilege to work with.  Upon his hiring some boosters voiced concern to the Athletic Director that I was hiring “hippies” and I was called to the AD’s office and asked to convey to the coach to stop wearing the jewelry.  It was ridiculous.  I spoke with the coach and he continued to wear the ear stud for about another year and then discontinued at his own discretion.  I hired that same coach again nine years later after he had spent time in the SEC, Big East, and Big 12 so having a hole in his earlobe didn’t make him an outlaw but the fact remains that people are judgemental on first impression and it is important for your people to portray a collective appearance that you feel provides the representation you desire for your club and community.

Jerry Richardson was not out of line asking Cam Newton, his first over-all pick that he is investing $50 million in to represent his franchise, to avoid tattoos and piercings .  You are not out of line to ask your players that you may be investing simply time and effort into, to conform to the image that you want to project.