AFCA 2013 Notes: Gary Barnett on Managing your Players and Protecting your Program

Gary Barnett’s name hasn’t been used a lot on ESPN of late, but the veteran college coach has been around a long time, and had some useful advice for coaches at the Nashville AFCA Convention last year, especially when it came to making sure you’re protecting yourself (legally) as a coach. This is a subject that is not given enough attention in my opinion, since in today’s legalistic environment, a coach that has not adequately protected himself can easily find himself in the middle of a legal battle that basically comes down to hearsay.

Don’t make that mistake. Take Barnett’s advice, create a player handbook and require every kid on the team to sign it, showing that they understand the expectations you have set for them, and that you have taught them the proper way to handle themselves on and off the football field.


Gary Barnett

Former HC Colorado, Northwestern


A. Find out problems before you have the answers

– Don’t go into a new situation with problems from your last job. This will be a new situation with new kids. The only way you can know is by working in the day-to-day operations and by observation.

– “I realized I didn’t know the players at Northwestern. I just knew their names. I made sure by the time spring ball started at Colorado, I knew the kids, their parents, their expectations, by meeting with them and their families one on one.”

B. Mission Statement

– Created by you and your staff. Put it in a place where everyone can see it, use it to make tough decisions. Put it on 1st page of the handbook.

C. Schedule

– Started posting schedule in the locker room, with the first game on the bottom, moving up to the bowl game, used a theme of ‘climbing the ladder’ also talked about ‘building for November’ and that the games at the beginning were the foundation, etc. Covered every game on the schedule with masking tape except for the opponent they were playing that week. Created a visual representation of blocking everything else out and only focusing on that specific opponent that week.

D. Handbook

– Everything is spelled out for the year: Meetings, schedules, responsibilities.

E. Develop Leadership From Day One

– Two assistant coaches are assigned to every class (Frosh – Senior), meet periodically to discuss issues with the players.

– “Whoever controls the locker room controls the team.”

– Met with each new senior class before spring ball started, asked: “Who did you most look up to? When I ask this question next year about you, what will they say about you?” Always find ways to create accountability in your program.


F. Sunday

– If you don’t give the players Sunday off, then they don’t really ever have a day off, because on Mondays they’re going to class. Some of the kids feel very strongly about their faith and want the chance to go to church, or just want some time to spend with family or recharge. Good for the coaches too, because it gives you time to let off some steam after a loss, refocus after a win.

G. Include Everyone

– Anybody who touches your players’ lives should be considered part of your staff. The more people feel like a part of your team, the more they will make decisions based on what is best for the team. Used to ask EVERYBODY on Thursday, “What do we have to do to win this game?” Included trainers, managers, video guys, academic people.

– Several times in coaches meetings, the staff would say things, either about each other or about the players, how much they cared about them, how they really felt about them. He felt that it was important the players hear this, so there were many times when he would have the coaches re-enact a part of a coaches meeting so the players could hear the way the staff talked about them, showed them they really cared about them.



A. “What did you hear me say?”

– Ended every player meeting this way. You can fix a lot of problems before they start. Can use the same approach with assistant coaches.

B. When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear

– Put accountability in players’ hands.

C. Student Handbook

– EVERYTHING you can think of that players have to deal with. Moral and criminal issues covered. At Colorado, went over it everyday, and marked down when they talked about it. This ended up helping them with the legal issues they had with certain allegations coming from a female kicker, they had everything written down, what they talked about and when they talked about it. (CYA – Cover your ass)

D. 90/10

– Great teams spend 90% of their time chasing dreams, 10% of their time on internal issues. Average teams spend 50% of their time chasing dreams, 50% on internal problems. Bad teams spend 10% of their time chasing dreams, 90% of their time dealing with internal issues.

E. Here to be changed, not change the University

– If that’s not what you want, then leave. Parents have entrusted us to help their kids through the tough times. You’re here to become a better person.

F. Offseason Competitive Workouts

– Dirty Dozen Workouts. Six competitive teams. Make sure there were at least three relays out each six periods. Have the ability to trade players, coaches keep score. Overtime (once every 4-6 weeks), make sure it is unannounced, want to make the players used to having to play an unexpected OT period every once in a while, used to being shocked.

– During conditioning and sprints, post the names of the guys that force the team to run extra sprints in the locker room. Peer pressure is very powerful.

G. Fess Up and Fix it

– Used the example of the Blue Angels. They’re only there for two years, sometimes less than that. They need to be able to own up to mistakes and miscommunications quickly without any BS. They must have a lot of trust in each other. Same with football team.



A. 3rd and 5 Situations

– Believe it’s the most important  down in football. You’ll have a couple of games where the opponent is equal to you. During those games it’s important to have a couple of 3rd and 5 plays that you’ve practiced all season long, but you haven’t shown all season.

B. PAT/FG Practice

– Rapid fire speed, two FG teams running, one after the other. Yells out seconds left on the clock, between 0:05 and 0:01 seconds left on the clock. Lost a game because there was five seconds left on the clock and the holder was not ready for the quick snap, got a bad hold, missed the kick. Decided afterward that they would never lose a game again because we don’t know the mechanics of quick snapping and holding with the clock ticking down.

C. Safety Chart

– Keep a chart in your pocket about situations where it may be better to take a safety than to punt out of your own end zone. See too many games where teams are unaware of situations where it can be prudent to take a safety. (Ex: a minute left, up by seven, inside your ten, may want to think about taking a safety and kicking off from the 40 and flipping the field)

D. Work it in, Don’t Put it in

– Doesn’t believe you can put in a play in one week. If you really want to be good at it, it takes about two weeks to get the players comfortable with it. Should ‘work it into’ the script gradually until you know the players can execute it at a high level.

E. Punt Game – Fake Punt Consequences

– Did a study when he was at Northwestern, and over a four year period, only 13% of all fake punts led to a score. Keep in mind that the expected returns from a fake punt may not be as great as the risk you are taking.

F. Halftime Philosophy

– “Where are we right now? Don’t revisit the past.” “What do I have to do right now to win the game?”


A. Do what you have to do to win your conference

– Not a ‘system’ guy, adapt to what your conference opponents are running and what is hardest for them to defend against.

B. 50/50 – Run/Pass

– Balance is crucial

C. Screens

D. Shotgun Option

– The option game from the gun has allowed offenses to create a very complicated running game where once there was none.

E. Up Tempo

– Big fan of the no-huddle attack that Oklahoma ran with Sam Bradford

F. Help Your Defense

– Spread teams have difficulty defending physical football teams. Make teams change their practices. Create opportunities to practice physicality.

G. Playactions

H. Be Physical

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