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.

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Gary Barnett

Former HC Colorado, Northwestern

MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY

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.” » Read more

AFCA 2013 Notes: Bill O’Brien on “The Blueprint” and his Keys to Success

As of New Year’s Day, Bill O’Brien is the new head coach of the Houston Texans. There were probably several reasons for this, but it’s clear that a big motivation to leave Happy Valley was all of the political games that O’Brien was tired of playing.

Apparently fed up with all the “Paterno people,” O’Brien returns to the NFL, and takes over a Houston team that most assumed would be hosting a playoff game this weekend, and not hiring a new head coach.

Given all of the unprecedented drama of the past couple of years at Penn State, it’s probably fair to say that O’Brien did about as well as could be expected, since he had to field a Big Ten team with about half the scholarships of the rest of his opponents. Still, no matter what your feelings are about him taking another job before the Nittany Lion football team emerged from sanctions, there’s no doubt that at least in some small way, he has helped clean up the image of Penn State Football.

Read on to learn what he had to say at last year’s AFCA Convention in Nashville, fresh off an impressive season, and after winning Coach of the Year. » Read more

AFCA 2013 Notes: David Shaw on Chemistry, Leadership, and Hiring new Coaches

With the Rose Bowl game today, and all the rumors surrounding the coaching carousel, David Shaw’s name inevitably came up. Shaw has stated over and over again that he’s happy at Stanford, but schools would be crazy not to at least give his agent a call. Shaw has not only sustained the success started by his predecessor Jim Harbaugh, but he has elevated the program to new heights with his second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance.

If you want an idea of how he operates, take a look at my notes from last January’s AFCA Convention in Nashville. I was, quite literally, front and center for his presentation, and I came away very impressed with who he is and the way he does things at Stanford.

Six Questions to ask when analyzing opponent empty Formations

Spread formations are all the rage these days, especially in the NFL and college football, and of course, the ultimate spread formation is still lining up with a QB in the gun and five eligible receivers split out wide.

If you’re in charge of breaking down the offense of your next opponent, it can be tough enough to get all of their different plays and formations and different wrinkles tagged in a way that lets you create an effective tendency report. What happens when you face a team that runs empty formations, or even several different types of empty formations?

Spread_option_uf_vs_ut

Hopefully the questions below will help you with some of these issues, and will get you thinking about ways to break down and analyze opponents in the future. » Read more

Bill Parcells on the 11 Quarterback Commandments

Bill Parcells has long been recognized as a football rehabilitation expert of sorts, bringing the Giants, Patriots, Jets, and then Cowboys back to playoff respectability, including winning two Super Bowls during his time as the Giants head coach. It’s not surprising then, that he picked up a few grains of knowledge along the way.

BILL PARCELLS 011

After leaving the Cowboys, Parcells did what every coach with an adversarial relationship with the media does upon retirement: he got a plush job as an analyst for ESPN. In one of his more memorable segments, Parcells outlined 11 things he told his quarterbacks to focus on, or what he calls his “Quarterback Commandments.”

Check out the list with a paraphrased list of what he has to say.

(You can see the video after the jump). » Read more

Wrecking Ball: Breaking down Eric Decker’s Four TD Performance against the Chiefs

This just in: The Denver Broncos are pretty good.

On the first chilly December afternoon of 2013, millions of television viewers saw Eric Decker score 4 touchdowns against a Kansas City defense that early in the year had been one of the league’s best. With the future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning under center, this has become normal to see on the Denver stat sheet.

(Getty Images)

Once again, just as in Indianapolis, Manning has three excellent receivers to choose from. With Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker playing outside, and Wes Welker lining up in the slot, it’s not hard to see why this Bronco offense has already broken several long-standing franchise records. Any of the skill position players on this offense are good enough to have the kind of day that Decker had against the Chiefs, today just happened to be his day.

Let’s find out why, by breaking down all four of his touchdowns, and look at why Manning decided to call his number so many times. » Read more

Sunday NFL Scouting Report: Bill Belichick and a Copycat League

For all the hype about about coaches being “cutting-edge” and “innovative”, the reality is that most coaches in the NFL are remarkably results-oriented, simply finding what has work recently and emulating it as best they can. Conversely, if a strategy or game-management decision doesn’t pan out on Sunday in front of 50 million television viewers, a head coach or coordinator may be less inclined to go against the grain.

It’s no surprise then, that one of the few head coaches who regularly makes controversial decisions, from game management to player personnel, decided to do something that made football fans everywhere scratch their heads. With his unusual choice to kick the ball away in overtime and take the wind, Bill Belichick may have started a new NFL trend.

You're welcome, internet.

The NFL, it has been widely noted, is a copycat league, and football coaches in general are notorious for drawing up what they saw on TV the week before and trying to use it in their own gameplan. That said, every once in a while there seems to be a trend in play calling or game strategy. Take for example:

» Read more

Kyle Shanahan on RG3, Mobile QBs and Developing Pocket Presence

It looks like the style of play that made Robert Griffin III so famous, and was partially responsible for popularizing the pistol offense in the NFL, may be holding him back.

After yesterday’s Raiders-Cowboys game, I wrote about how mobility and natural athletic ability at the quarterback position can be less of a help than a hindrance when it comes to pocket presence and avoiding the pass rush.

Wild Card Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v Washington Redskins

In an interview with ESPN’s John Keim today, Washington QB coach Kyle Shanahan alluded to this same topic when discussing the troubles RG3 has faced this season returning from his ACL injury, and becoming more comfortable in the pocket:

“A lot of people who have no mobility have been working on that feel since they were 5 years old,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s the way you’ve got to play. When you’re as good an athlete as Robert, you’re not forced to do that at a young age so you run around and make plays and you can always do that.”

He added:

“For guys like that all of a sudden to learn to play in the pocket it’s not who you are.”

Shanahan raises a good point, since likely almost no one in Griffin’s playing career, from Pop Warner, to High School, to his time at Baylor has discouraged him from running around and making plays. Why would they? It’s what he does best. However, since Griffin’s athleticism alone is no longer enough to be successful at QB, the Shanahan’s are trying to get him to develop some semblance of pocket presence. In other words, learn to stay in the pocket and deliver the throw, avoid the rush by using quick feet, and hitting the checkdown. A QB who forces the scramble can be just as poisonous to an offense as a QB who forces a throw into double coverage.

Keim goes on to talk about all the problems the Washington offense has experienced this season, and suggesting several reasons, including last season’s knee injury, as to why the man who famously wears Superman socks seems to have lost his cape.

Clearly, there is no one single factor that explains why the offense that was the pride of the nation’s capital in 2012 has taken so many steps back, so it is not all on the shoulders of Griffin. Once again, however, to quote Steve Young, “Nothing is singular in football,” a statement that Keim would seem to agree with, since he notes that Griffin “also has to deal at times with throwing the ball with defenders driving his blockers into him.”

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The pressure is on in the District of Columbia for both Shanahans to find some kind of magic bullet, or at the very least a band aid until Griffin and this offense can find rhythm again.
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Three New Ways to Break Down an Opponent Offense

Bill Belichick got his start in the NFL by breaking down film for Ted Marchibroda’s Baltimore Colts, and through the years he perfected his approach to the game by intense and nearly religious film study.

Coaches are always looking for that extra edge that will give them an advantage over their competition, that hidden piece of information that will allow them to get inside the head of their opponent. Obviously I can’t promise you anything like that, but I can give you a few (hopefully) new ways to look at opponent offenses.

Even if you use one or all of these, hopefully this discussion will get you thinking about new ways to look at offenses.

1. Defensive Line Techniques at the point of attack

With so much of the offense being called from the sideline or at the line of scrimmage these days, it’s obvious that offensive coaches are going to try to get themselves into the best possible call on every down. If you’re facing an opponent who doesn’t do a lot of audibling at the line, or who doesn’t have a “lookover” style of offense, then this information won’t be that useful to you. This style of offense is very popular throughout all levels of college football, but it has also been leaking down to the high school game for several years.

Against a team that is constantly changing the play, it is important to know what fronts they like for what play, so that by taking inventory of your own group of looks on defense, you can better predict what the offense will try to run against you.

There are a couple of ways to do it, but my personal preference is to list the techniques of the d-line, starting from the direction of the point of attack, and moving toward the center.

For example:

def-front-breakdown1

Once you begin to chart what plays an offense likes to run against what fronts, you’ll be able better anticipate what’s coming at your defense.

2. Leverage

If you’re facing a team that employs a lot of smoke, bubble, and hitch screens on the edge of their run concepts, it’s always a good idea to chart the number of times they run them, even if the QB doesn’t decide to throw it.

One of the more recent trends that may or may not have made it down to your level of play is for the offense to align in a 3×1 set and have the receivers make the call on who is going to run the route and who will be blocking, depending on what kind of leverage they get.

Check out the graphic below for an example:

Hitch Screen vs Bubble Screen

Create a column in whatever scouting program you use and chart what the leverage used by the defenders is when the offense runs their different screens, and when the QB decides to throw them. To simplify, the only man you usually need to chart is the linebacker, since the other defenders will usually play off of how he aligns. This of course is not always true, so you need to identify and name the different ways the defense lines up, then chart them when the corresponding alignment shows up on the video.

3. Watch Your Own Game Film

Depending on the league or conference you’re coaching in, you may find that opponents like to steal, err, borrow pages out of other teams playbooks if they’ve been successful. A good self scout is important for defensive coaches too, and often times that extra hour or so spent charting and breaking down your last game is time well spent, since your weak points are not always visible during the postgame grading sessions. It doesn’t have to be a play or formation that gashes you over and over again, but a scheme that can consistently pick up 5-6 yards is something you need to be aware of, especially if opponents have been running it against you in successive weeks.

Your next opponent is watching your game films, and you can bet they’re taking notes on what works against you and what doesn’t. If you’re a college coach, it’s likely that you’ve got all of your opponent’s games from the season, and that they have yours.

Go back through your last 3-4 games and see how many times opponents have run a play on first and ten in the open field, then go through all the different scenarios, and you may see some tendencies you didn’t know existed. Those guys on the other coaching staff have probably noticed and tried to incorporate some new wrinkles into their game plans that attack those weaknesses that you may not have even known existed.
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Matt McGloin vs Terrell Pryor: Avoiding Sacks with a “Pocket Passer”

While simultaneously watching the Raiders-Cowboys game and recovering from a post-Thanksgiving food coma, I was reminded of the importance of decision-making ability at the quarterback position when it comes to minimizing sacks and other negative plays.

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Here you have young Matt McGloin going against a determined Cowboy defense, and consistently getting rid of the football on time, and helped by offensive coordinator Greg Olson calling a lot of misdirection runs, screens, and boot passes (McGloin was not sacked at all, while Tony Romo was sacked twice for a loss of 17 yards). » Read more

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