Nike Coach of the Year Clinic: Day 3

Tag: Allentown coaches clinic

10Mar 2011
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Nike Coach of the Year Clinic: Day 3

Paul Johnson is kind of ornery.

Saturday morning there were a couple presentations about youth football to start the day.  I’ve never coached youth football, so I went to get breakfast instead.

But later in the morning, we attended the talk from Paul Johnson.  As you might expect, Johnson talked about the Run-n-shoot.

Not really.

Johnson was very forthcoming about his triple option offense.  In fact, one of his first slides was a breakdown of the blocking rules and footwork for all eleven offensive players.  I may or may not have copied it down, since Georgia Tech is pretty good at running the ball.

And that was essentially the gist of his presentation.  He would go position-by-position and explain what each player’s duty was on each play.  He stressed that his rules do not change, no matter what defense a team runs.  The quarterback has three reads on the triple option – the dive read, the option read, and the run support read.  His assumption is that one of those defenders will make a mistake and, therefore, his team will be coached well enough to make the right play.

I thoroughly enjoyed Johnson’s presentation, largely because he doesn’t have time for idiots.  There was one coach in particular who asked several questions, most of which were useless.  Johnson was a little bit curt with the coach a couple times.  I didn’t laugh out loud, but I was giggling on the inside.  The guy asked him, “In an ideal world, would you rather run to the 1-tech side or the 3-tech side?”  Johnson responded with snide intonation: “It doesn’t really matter.  We can beat them either way.”  The main point of his talk was, “I don’t give a f*** what the defense does.  I’m going to run the same play over and over again and beat you with it,” and people just didn’t get it.  He’s not going to give you tips on how to beat the option.  He’s not going to admit weakness.  He just.  Doesn’t.  Care.

The same guy asked him about the pitch relationship between the quarterback and the A-back (a.k.a. the wing player who goes in motion behind the fullback) asking, “How far do you want the A-back to be from the quarterback for the pitch?”

Johnson just said, “Stuff like that sounds good.  If I could say four yards, it would sound really scientific.  But I don’t know.  We tell our A-backs, ‘When the quarterback turns upfield, you turn upfield.'”  When you’re going full speed, it’s impossible to tell four yards from three yards or five yards.  It’s just a natural instinct that players feel once they’ve had enough repetitions.  I think it’s lunacy when coaches try to turn football into a science, because athletes are moving too quickly to judge distances accurately.  You give them some basic principles, rep them over and over again, and then send them out and hope they do what they practiced.  Mike Leach and Paul Johnson have very uncomplicated offenses.  Iowa and Penn State have very uncomplicated defenses.  They get good at the few things they run, and then they just let their kids go out and play.

Even though Doug Marrone, Syracuse’s head coach, was scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon, we booked it after Johnson finished.  Marrone was going to talk about offensive line stuff, which both Danny Hope and Kirk Ferentz had discussed.  So we didn’t really see the point.

It was a good weekend.

8Mar 2011
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Nike Coach of the Year Clinic: Day 2

Tom Williams, Yale’s head football coach

Friday morning we woke up and ate donuts at the clinic.  If you didn’t know before, it’s tough to be healthy when you’re a football coach.  It was beer and pizza on Thursday, donuts on Friday.

The first session I attended was that of Sean Connors, the quarterbacks coach at Diablo Valley College in California.  Connors talked about the pistol offense and, more specifically, the option route.  DVC is a junior college with an explosive offense, and the offense is predicated on the option route.  If I remember correctly, he said that they run some form of the option route on 52% of their plays.

If you’re wondering, the option route is a play where the slot receiver on either side makes a read at the beginning of his route, deciding whether to run an in route or an out route.  The slot receiver tries to get open at six yards (no matter which side he chooses).  The outside receiver on the slot’s side must get an outside release and create a deep threat downfield, which hopefully takes the cornerback and/or safety out of the equation.  The deep route is obviously a lower percentage pass, but it often comes open because safeties jump the 6-yard route.  On the opposite side, the slot receiver and wideout run a “high-low stretch” in which one stays short and the other goes long.  It’s not a difficult concept, but it seems like it could be effective with the right personnel.  As a junior college, DVC doesn’t get many players who stick around very long, so Connors said that his players can learn it pretty quickly.  I’d say it’s working, because I think they averaged 41.3 points per game last year.

The second presentation I attended was Tom Williams, the head coach of Yale.  Williams is not exactly what you might expect from an Ivy League head coach.  He’s loud and boisterous and a little rough around the edges, but he was very entertaining.  I could see why players would want to play for him.  He grew up in Forth Worth, TX, and played for both Jack Elway and Bill Walsh at Stanford.  He ended up playing a little special teams in the NFL, but ended up coaching shortly thereafter.

Before Williams really started talking about himself, he gave us a history lesson on Yale football.  He said that Yale was the first college football team to reach 800 wins.  And then the conversation detoured into territory that’s close to my heart.  He put up a chart of the teams with the most wins in college football.  It went like this:

1. Michigan – 883
2. Yale – 865

He said, “I kinda hoped Rich Rod would stick around a little bit longer.  He’s a good guy, though.  But Brady Hoke is coming back and gonna bring some tough, hard-nosed, I-formation football.”

I don’t know if Williams has some sort of connection to Michigan, but the talk about the Wolverines didn’t stop there.  As the head coach and assistant special teams coach, he talked about how he teaches players to avoid blocks on kickoffs.  And regarding avoiding blocks, he said, “Bo Schembechler used to say ‘The issue is the ball.’  Too many guys spend too much time figuring out how to get past blockers.  ‘The issue is the ball.'”  He repeated that theme several more times.  Williams had several interesting drills and techniques to share, but I don’t imagine too many of you are interested in reading about his kickoff drills.

He did, however, reveal the results of an interesting study.  When he was an assistant coach with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, he went back and studied film of all their games.  What he wanted to find out was, How important is tackling form?  He found a couple of interesting statistics:

  • 76% of encounters that involve a tackler making body-to-body contact (in other words, not “arm tackling” but actually having a collision between both torsos) result in tackles
  • 70% of encounters that fail to make body-to-body contact (in other words, “arm tackles”) result in missed tackles
Williams had a lot of energy and had film of himself sprinting downfield with his charges on kickoff practice.  I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation.
Later, I attended the session by Mike McQueary, the wide receivers coach (and former quarterback) for Penn State.  He was five or ten minutes late because he went to the wrong Holiday Inn first.  Oops.  He shared some insights and film on running screens and draws, but nothing that groundbreaking.  I attended the Penn State coaches clinic in 2009 and saw some of the same information about wide receivers that he shared during the second half of his session, so I went to eat lunch instead.
The same afternoon I went to the session of Todd Bradford, who is the new defensive coordinator at Maryland under Randy Edsall.  Bradford came from Southern Mississippi this offseason, but he has quite a resume for a little known coordinator.  He spent time at Eastern Michigan (where his defense broke a bunch of team records) and Wisconsin (where he coached first rounder Jamar Fletcher), among others.  He runs something like a 4-3 Under defense, but it’s extremely complicated.  Whereas Sean Connors, the QB coach at Diablo Valley College, used the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), Bradford’s defense seemed to be extremely complicated.  I think it was partially due to his use of jargon, but several coaches that I talked to were confused by some of his terminology and schemes.  For example, he would use the phrase “Sam” and “Star” almost interchangeably, and it was unclear if it was something like Greg Robinson’s Sam/Spur position. Eventually, I think I determined that the Star referred to the slot corner that would come into the game in passing situations, but I’m not positive.
Anyway, Bradford had a very interesting approach to defense.  He would have his boundary safety (the one to the short side of the field) making adjustment calls literally right up to the snap.  But the boundary safety doesn’t communicate to the corners or linebackers – he talks to the defensive linemen.  Let’s say the 3-tech defensive tackle has B-gap responsibility and the 5-tech defensive end has C-gap control.  If those defensive linemen take their first step and realize that the offensive linemen are trying to reach them (i.e. step outside the defenders to seal the edge), a certain call will tell the 3-tech and the 5-tech to take the gap to the inside so the boundary safety will then have outside contain.
In other words, pre-snap the safety could have A-gap, the DT could have B-gap, and the DE could have C-gap.  But if the safety sees something he doesn’t like, he could make a signal for the DT to take A-gap, the DE to take B-gap, and then for himself to take that outside gap.  But it all hinges on those defensive linemen immediately reading the block in front of them.  
Like I said, it sounds extremely complicated.  Maybe that’s one reason why Southern Mississippi finished with the #13 rushing defense in the country in 2010.
Yes, I know all kinds of people, and I’m not afraid to say it.
The final speaker of the evening was Kirk Ferentz, Iowa’s head coach.  He was both the coach I was most looking forward to seeing . . . and the most disappointing speaker.  Maybe he’s genuinely just a very friendly and engaging guy, but if he’s not a “name dropper” then I don’t know who is.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great quality that he can remember the name of a mother of one of his players back in 1988.  Names are difficult to remember, and it shows that he probably listens to people when they talk.  
But when you’re sitting in front of a few hundred coaches in Podunk, Pennsylvania, and naming little known players and their mothers from Podunk, Iowa, or Podunk, New Hampshire, then it just seems a little forced.  
He did tell an excellent story about some woman’s outstanding recipe for stuffed red bell peppers, so there’s that.
Most of Ferentz’s talk was about the offensive line, which is no surprise, since that’s the position he’s known for developing most.  He talked very little about technique, but showed a lot of film.  Much of the film was looking at drills, but there was a decent amount of game film, too.  Every time a clip of Iowa vs. Michigan would pop up on the screen, my co-workers would look at me consolingly.  We all knew that somebody was about to get crushed, and sure enough, there goes Adam Patterson being pushed from his nose tackle position about eight yards downfield and almost to the sideline.  There goes Jonas Mouton getting swallowed by a guard.  There goes the entire right side of the defense just getting obliterated.  It was sad.
Anyway, it’s pretty amazing to hear him talk about where he finds his offensive linemen, because those kids are often virtual nobodies coming out of high school.  Michigan fans make a big deal about getting 4- and 5-star recruits, but Ferentz turned two walk-ons – from the same high school, no less! – and turned them into Big Ten starters on a solid team.  
Ferentz is also one of those guys who ends his talk about 18 times.  “I just want to finish with a couple things” turns into “Before I finish, I just want to say” turns into “There are a couple things I want to leave you with” turns into “And as a side note” turns into “Two things I’d like to share with you are” turns into me wanting to fall asleep.  I’m not sure if I would have stayed awake for the entire thing, except for the fact that I was wondering if he would mention anything about Michigan.
He didn’t.
When he was finished, everyone – including Ferentz – went to a separate banquet room, sat around, and drank beer.  I sat nowhere near him, but he was there well past midnight.
7Mar 2011
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Nike Coach of the Year Clinic: Day 1

Danny Hope looks like this 100% of the time.

This past weekend I attended the Nike Coach of the Year Clinic in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Several coaches at my school visited, and we all headed up on Thursday afternoon.  Due to some commitments after work, I left later than most of my colleagues.  I missed some talks from a Kutztown coach about the 4-2-5 and a Villanova coach about the Wildcat, but I was going to arrive in time to see Danny Hope, the head Boilermaker.

Since the clinic was held at the Holiday Inn, we checked in and headed down to the room.  While we were waiting for the elevator, I glanced back and a familiar face was walking through the door.  Danny Hope himself came around the corner and said, “How you guys doin’?”  I said, “Good, Coach.  How are you?”  He said, “Good to see you guys” as he sauntered down the hallway, presumably toward his room.

Let me tell you something about Danny Hope – he walks like a cowboy.  I assume he has old joint injuries, because he walks all bowlegged and stuff.  He was an offensive guard at Eastern Kentucky in the ’70’s and ’80’s, and offensive linemen often end up with bad knees from bending down all the time and lifting so much weight.

Shortly afterward Hope was the main speaker on Thursday night, and as I entered the banquet room, I noticed a familiar face sitting about two rows back.  He was wearing a baseball cap and a heavy coat, but I tapped my friend on the shoulder and said, “That’s Matt Millen sitting a couple rows behind us.”  Yep, the guy who drove the Detroit Lions even further into the ground was there, too.

Hope talked mostly about pass blocking fundamentals for offensive linemen.  We watched a lot of film of drills, but here were a few key points.

  • Offensive linemen should keep their nose on the defender’s inside number and have a “tit in each hand.”
  • Defensive players shouldn’t threaten the depth of the pocket.  In other words, he doesn’t want interior blockers (mostly centers and guards) to give ground when creating the pocket.  This refers mostly to defensive tackles and blitzing linebackers.
  • Defensive players also shouldn’t threaten the width of the pocket.  That means offensive tackles who hinge back shouldn’t allow defensive ends or outside linebackers to squeeze the pocket from the outside.  The tackle should keep his inside toe pointing toward the line of scrimmage to prevent from getting turned.
  • Tackles should only hinge backward immediately if the first player outside him on the line of scrimmage is “loose.”  In other words, if the man is close enough and fast enough to beat the OT to the inside, then he’s “tight” and the OT should protect the depth of the pocket by not hinging backward.
Millen was being super annoying.  For approximately half of Hope’s hour-long presentation, Millen was talking to someone sitting next to him.  A bunch of coaches were sitting there in the room, taking notes, learning, etc., and Millen was being completely disrespectful to the man on the stage.  At one point I even heard him say in a condescending tone something like, “High school kids aren’t going to be able to understand this stuff,” when Hope was talking about how much weight to load on your back leg.  Not that I’m a fan of Hope or anything, but rude is rude.
In the middle of Hope’s speech, a tall, well dressed guy walked in the door and sat somewhere behind us.  He looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place the face.  Then it dawned on me: Neil O’Donnell.  He didn’t have a beard anymore, but it was Neil O’Donnell nonetheless.

Neil O’Donnell tries to avoid Sean Jones

After Hope’s presentation the attendees retired to a separate room for a “coaches social” with beer and pizza.  Millen stood up and addressed the crowd, introducing surprise guest speaker O’Donnell.  The old quarterback talked a lot about his background.  The main gist of his speech was what he thinks quarterbacks are lacking in today’s game.  His assessment is that college quarterbacks (some of whom he trains) lack the ability to handle pressure.  He said his old coach Bill Parcells used to stand right behind him in practice and scream “NOW!” whenever he thought the timing was right to throw a pass.  And if he didn’t throw it right then, he would get his ass chewed out.  According to him, game day was easy since Parcells wasn’t standing right behind him.  O’Donnell was a little bit awkward and didn’t seem like he knew what he wanted to say, but I wasn’t expecting to see a former NFL quarterback speak, so I didn’t have any expectations.
As for Hope he was very, very serious.  I don’t think I saw him crack a smile the entire evening.  I learned quite a bit about stance, footwork, technique, and practice drills, but he wasn’t a very inspiring speaker.  I do have to give Hope some credit, though.  He was perhaps the most energetic presenter of the entire weekend. He hopped on and off stage several times throughout the evening, and every time he did, he looked like a 70-year-old man.  But when it came time to demonstrating footwork and technique, that guy got down into a good stance, showed good footwork, and really worked his hands.  In his opening comments, he said “Explanation without demonstration is simply conversation.”  He said that demonstration from coaches seems to be disappearing, and he certainly put his words into action.
2Mar 2011
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Clinic time!

I hate this guy.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m going to be attending the Nike Coach of the Year clinic in Pennsylvania from Thursday through Saturday.  There are various high school, college, and professional coaches speaking at the clinic, including Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Purdue’s Danny Hope, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone.

I’m not sure if any readers are planning to go, but feel free to drop me an e-mail if you are.

I plan to have some write-ups about the clinic, but in the meantime, posting might be light.

P.S. I asked the head coach of our program, “If I don’t wear our team gear, can I heckle Danny Hope while we’re there?”  He said he didn’t care.  Yes!

29Jan 2011
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Coaching Clinic: Anybody going?

Sophie Reade will be there.  I hope.

On March 3-5, I’ll be attending a coaching clinic in Allentown, PA.  Among various college and high school coaches, speakers will include:

  • Danny Hope, Purdue
  • Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
  • Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
  • Doug Marrone, Syracuse

If anyone is planning to go, feel free to comment on here or e-mail me.  I don’t really care one way or the other about Ferentz, but I hate Danny Hope.  I’m considering sitting in on Hope’s session and heckling him the entire time.*

I’m sure I’ll relay some of what I learn on this here blog like I did a couple years ago after the Penn State clinic (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

*Not really, though.