Posts Tagged ‘mike kelly football coach’;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.


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!

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!

 Want somebody to do something for you?  Do something for them!

I find myself to be more observant of human behavior these days.  Perhaps my experiences of the past two years have provided me with an opportunity to view with greater awareness how people treat each other.   The loss of humanity that I was exposed to through the media has ultimately been the catalyst of a consciousness seeking genuine acts of caring that draw people forward.  As a Head Coach I really believe that when people feel empowered they are more likely to use their energies to create results that exceed expectations.

I experienced one of those genuine acts last week at the home of my friend of nearly two decades.  Bob Sokalski is a Senior Litigation Partner of Hill, Sokalski, Walsh, Trippier LLP.  Bob has been involved in corporate/commercial, contract and product liability litigation for over 30 years.  He is also Counsel  to the Winnipeg Football Club and other sports organizations as well as media organizations and that is how we met in 1992 when I first came to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  Soko and his lovely bride Barb, requested my presence to an outdoor gathering which they invited chefs, waitresses, bartenders, and various other staff members from the Manitoba Club to show their appreciation for the job those people carry out each and everyday.

The Manitoba Club was founded on July 16, 1874 at the St. James Restaurant with 25 members when the city of Winnipeg had a population of less than 2,000.  In 1930, the southwest wing was added with facilities for “ladies” and families. In 1979 women were allowed to enter by the Broadway entrance and by 1991 were granted full membership rights.  This is an exclusive establishment and the membership expect attention to detail.

Creative use of rewards many times will separate leaders from managers.  Leaders are more apt to use “spot strokes” where informal verbal or written praise provide more personal and unlimited resources.  Leaders understand the use of intrinsic rewards that allow people to be creative and enjoy the challenge of the work.  Your people should strive for that sense of accomplishment that accompanies the immediate outcome of individual effort.  It could all be as simple as listening without interruption or other “personal currencies” such as taking a positional coach out to lunch or telling the staff to go home earlier in the evening to visit with their families and get a good night sleep.

I did these things as a Head Coach.  For example, after recruiting season, I’d drop a hand written note of thanks in the assistants mailboxes with a check for $50.00 (hey, it was the late ’90’s and in south Georgia, things were cheap!) and tell the coach to thank his wife for understanding and take her out to dinner on me.  During the season as we became engulfed in the midseason grind, I would return to the office from one of my radio shows and walk through the offices telling people to go home.  There is a “point of diminishing returns” after one has worked for 12 to 14 hours and I’d rather have my coaches fresh, making sound decisions in the morning than spend the morning making corrections from mistakes made the evening before.

Verbal recognition in front of peers for both players and staff alike go a long way.  Spontaneous and unexpected are often more appreciated and meaningful than formal rewards.  They demonstrate heart.  Praise and coaching are significant forms of recognition.  Human beings have basic needs.  We need to be recognized.  We need to be noticed.  We need to be appreciated for our efforts.  THANK YOU!  It’s easy to say and to demonstrate and is the most inexpensive and powerful reward you can provide.  A personal congratulation, a “way to go!” is a powerful non-monetary recognition of achievement.

Some managers make the mistake of thinking employees or subordinates if you will, only respond to money.  “I tip well, so I should receive good service!” or “I’m providing that kid a scholarship so he better appreciate it!”  Individual needs for and appreciation of rewards or recognition extend much further.  Extraordinary achievements do not come easy and will not be exposed in unappreciative environments.

What the Sokalski family provided that night for the employees of the Manitoba Club was far more reaching than a good smokie and cold beer.  They said “THANK YOU” and gave credibility to the dedication and daily demonstration of what and how things need to be done by this group of terrific people.  Soko linked performance and reward by giving of himself and demonstrated the ability to get the best out of himself and others.

I’m humbled that I was part of the evening and grateful that I can take notice of a successful leader acknowledging individual contributions to the success of a group effort. It’s really what coaching and leadership are all about.


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.