Posts Tagged ‘football coach mike kelly’

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.

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.

OPPORTUNITY WAITS ON PREPARATION – LUCK IS THE RESIDUE OF DESIGN AND PREPARATION…

As the National Football League, the NCAA, and high schools all across North America are currently into pre-season training camp or are preparing to start in Canada, I’ve been asked by many as to what really is the evaluative process when determining your team? 

Each position obviously warrants differing physical skill sets and at another time perhaps I’ll post the attributes we evaluate when working in pro personnel or designing our recruiting process at the collegiate level but for now, let’s stay within the confines of what a coaching staff must consider once the players are selected to attend camp and the process of who is your starter, back-up, and travel squad and for good measure the factors of whom to place on the “reserve list” in the Canadian Football League.

“A winner knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others – a loser wants to be considered an expert by others before he has ever learned enough to know how little he knows.”  We want young men to come in with open minds and a willingness to learn new techniques and schematics.  If we perceive the player, and this particularly happens at the professional level with a new staff, feels he is more knowledgable and technique refined than what is being presented to him, the chances are he won’t be with the club very much longer.

Our coaching staff anticipates competition at each position when the freshman or rookies arrive; consequently, we feel that it is important for the player to understand how we will evaluate them to determine their placement on the squad.

We use the following criteria during the evaluative process:

1. Knowledge of assignments (concentration, listening habits)

2. Hustle, hard work, performance in practice and scrimmage or pre-season game opportunities

3. Hitting, mental toughness, aggressiveness

4. Team attitude

5. Talent

That order may surprise some and we have been dealt a hand at times over three decades of having to keep a veteran that did not place team over self and ultimately it is disruptive but if you hold true to this criteria you will put together a cohesive group that will believe in one and other.  This is how we defined each standard:

KNOWLEDGE OF ASSIGNMENTS: A player that makes mental mistakes in practice is telling us that he is not ready to play in a game when his teammates are relying on him to perform up to his capabilities.

HUSTLE: Everyone will be expected to hustle throughout the practice sessions.  Your teammates will be giving 100% and they will expect the same from you.  Hustle has nothing to do with talent.  Everyone can give the effort that is required to be successful regardless of ability.

HITTING AND MENTAL TOUGHNESS: The coaching staff and your teammates will discover during spring, summer, and fall practice sessions who plays with these characteristics.  It won’t take long to discover people who will hit and be able to take hits.

TEAM ATTITUDE: The player that puts team before self is more valuable for the success of our program than a selfish player.  Everyone can be a team player.  (This is very difficult at the professional level when players have blog sites, radio shows, or are writing a weekly column in the newspaper.  That type of exposure should be terminated or the player must be released if that type of activity is more important to them.  Twitter and Facebook accounts are also difficult to control and at the collegiate level should be monitored or prohibited.  Nothing disrupts a team more than an individual that projects themselves above the team on social media.)

TALENT: If the above four characteristics are equal, then the player who has the most physical talent will be given the preference.  However, talent will not enter into our evaluation until we look closely at the first four qualities.  In the extremely rare case of all things being equal, at the high school or collegiate level, the preference would go to the young man closest to graduation, at the professional level you must be sure the younger player is truly capable of replacing the veteran and test the value of the veteran in the trade market to improve your team where it is deemed weakest.  Obviously, if the player is handicapped with an injury it will be difficult for the coaching staff to evaluate the player.

We will provide an opportunity for our first year men to earn a position and play a role on the team, particularly on special teams.  We will continue to dress and play as many players as allowed by roster limitations in the NCAA and the professional ranks.  At the Division II and III levels of the NCAA you can dress at home as many as you would like and we traditionally would go to camp with upwards of 115 players understanding that natural attrition would pare that down to 90-95 with a travel squad of 50.  At the professional level you are limited to 53 players in total.  The CFL allows for 42 to be “active”, seven on the “practice roster”, and four on “reserve”.  Injury, depth, protecting a young developing player that you do not want an opponent to pluck off your practice roster, and salary factor into your thought process for the reserve list keeping an eye on one offensive lineman, a receiver, a defensive back, and a pressure player from the front defensive seven.

At the amateur ranks it is the desire of our coaching staff to play as many young men as possible but obviously we can’t play everyone.  Our concern is to be as fair as possible in making our evaluation of each individual team member.  The men who start and represent our community, institution, or pro club on the field will be, in our judgement, the squad members who best exemplify the five basic qualities mentioned.

We strive for openness and fairness and if a player does not feel that, they can have a conference with the Head Coach.  The players ultimately determine their own fate.  We feel it is important that the player understands the selection procedure before the season starts and that their role on the squad is determined by their actions.