Always Be Advertising

Want to move up in the football business?

Let Nick Saban explain how he made his decision to hire a new assistant coach.

Saban was talking the other day about how found his new assistant offensive line coach Brent Key.

What stood out to me was that Saban interviewed the guy three years ago, but didn’t hire him because he didn’t feel like it would’ve been a great fit for the staff. Still, he was very impressed with Key and kept his name on a list for the next time a position was available.

The end result?

Saban didn’t hire him until THREE YEARS after the first interview!

In other words, Key made such an impression on Saban that the next time he was looking for an offensive line coach, one of the first names to pop into his head was Brent Key.

That’s what advertising is all about, folks.

Executives at Coca-Cola aren’t expecting you to bolt out the door and buy a Coke the moment you see an ad on TV.

Nope, they want to make such an impression on you that the next time you’re thirsty, the first name you think of is “Coke.”


In the old days if you were just breaking into the business, you had to hope that the head coach knew enough people who might need someone like you.

Now, thanks to the internet, it’s easier than every to get your name out there.

You’re really only limited by your imagination, but here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • Start a blog and talk about what you know
  • Write a book on a football topic and self-publish it.
  • Contribute valuable information to a message board regularly and become a trusted name
  • Start a Twitter account and post video clips of you breaking down a play
  • Start a podcast and talk about football-related topics


The next time someone is looking to hire a new coach, you want your name to be the first one that pops into their head.

There are plenty of ways to do it, but if you’re looking to stand out, get online and get your name out there.

Speaking of advertising…

I’ve got a newsletter coming out soon, where each month I break down an offense against a defense in college or the NFL, “Every Play Revealed” style.

How did Wade Phillips put the clamps on Cam Newton and the Panthers offense?

Find out when the first issue of the Every Play Revealed newsletter comes out on April 1st.

(The anticipation is killing me)

– Alex Kirby

The “Aim small, miss small” approach to watching film

I used to hear it over and over again when I first started out in coaching.

“Aim small, miss small!”

I was working closely with the quarterbacks, and every day during drills I’d hear our offensive coordinator say it loud and clear.

It’s short, to the point, and most importantly, it was good advice. But why does it work?

By narrowing your vision toward an extremely specific goal, it means you can focus everything on getting the football to exactly where you want it to go. You’re free of distractions, and you can stand in the pocket, see your receiver come open, and deliver the football right to his numbers on the front of his jersey.

So what’s the point?

Approach film study the same way.

A big mistake I see a lot of guys make when first starting out is trying to watch everything on the field all at once.

That’s absolutely the dumbest thing you can do, because if you try to watch everybody, you’ll end up watching nobody.

You’ve got 22 guys on the field on each play, then you’ve got all the different pass routes, blocking schemes, coverages, formations, defensive alignments, etc. Depending on how deep you wanna go with it, there are literally HUNDREDS of different variables to keep track of on each play.

You really think you’re gonna be able to watch a brand new team with their own unique scheme and get the point of what they’re trying to do?

Try this instead:

The next time you want to study a scheme and understand it, focus on the “movement” guys on the field. You know, the guys who have to do most of the adjustment and flip sides depending on the formations and motions that an offense will use.

These are usually the outside linebackers and the safeties, especially the teams who love to put a safety down low to add an extra body against the run.

I recommend this for few reasons:

  • The core of the defense usually won’t move around that much, and won’t give you much to go off of, since the Mike linebacker sits in the box in about the same place no matter what the formation is, and the same for most of the D-Line.
  • Pay attention to the alignments of specific players and you’ll be forced to focus on the little things going on during each play.
  • Track the alignments of the edge defenders and the strong safety, and how they work with one another, and you’ll get a great handle on how the secondary is designed to work with the front.

Football is a player’s game first. People tend to forget that. Once you’ve got an idea of how a defense likes to move their players around, you’ve got a window into how the coach thinks.

Now instead of just having an explanation for what a guy has done in the past, you’ve got a way to anticipate what he’ll do in the future.

This is one of the strategies I use to put together my Every Play Revealed series.

In the past, I’ve broken down every single play of the Super Bowl and the National Championship Game, and
on the first day of April, I’m debuting a monthly newsletter that follows the same format.

Each month, I’ll be breaking down one team’s offense taking on another team’s defense, and I’m starting with the Denver’s defense taking on Carolina’s offense in the Super Bowl.

I’ll have more information available in the next few days, so stay tuned.

– Alex Kirby

Want To Get Better? Start Looking For Shortcuts

I remember when I was to be a whole lot smarter than I am now. I already had a good idea of what the opponent defense had in store for us that Friday night, and (this is how good I was) I didn’t even have to watch more than five minutes of film to be able to do it.

I already knew everything I needed to know having already completed my football education after playing hours and hours of Madden football during my teenage years (and leading the Raiders to seven Super Bowls)

Only, that’s not how it really works, and I wasted a lot of time thinking I already had it all figured it out.

As much as I loved football (and I did, I really, really did), I absolutely hated sitting down for extended periods of time and putting in the effort necessary to really learn about the game.

So the end result was that I didn’t learn nearly as much as I should have, and I knew it. I spent so much time avoiding the necessary work that I put myself at a disadvantage when it came time to reach out for more responsibility. I didn’t have the knowledge or the habits in place that might have allowed me to go even further than I already was.

There’s a great quote from John Wooden that sums up this point nice and succinctly:

“If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?”

In other words, by looking for new and creative ways to avoid doing your job, you’re just giving yourself an extra job, costing yourself extra time, and at the end of the day those items on your to-do list still won’t get done.

The sooner you memorize and internalize this mindset the better. After all, if you were really interested in minimizing the amount of time spent working on repetitive tasks or any other kind work, you’d find a way to get them done swiftly but properly the first time around.

So if all this is true, then why am I telling you to go against everything we just talked about and look for “shortcuts” or other ways to do less work?

Well, the natural inclination of a lot of people is to be lazy and want to do as little as possible, even when they’ve got a huge to-do list staring them in the face. In the same way a lot of people need to touch that bench with the “Wet Paint” sign on it just to be sure, you might never understand how much time you’re wasting by looking for shortcuts until you make it your business to do just that.

Set aside a specific period of time looking for as many shortcuts as possible, because you’ll soon find out that doing so will cost you a lot more time and energy in the long run than putting in time and doing things right the first time.

One of two things can happen when you take this approach.

Either you’ll discover that you’re a lazy person who enjoys putting off work until the last possible moment (in which case you should do the head coach and everyone else a favor and resign immediately), or you’ll have proven to yourself that being lazy actually costs you more stress, energy, and time in the long run.

Hopefully, the next time the word “shortcut” pops into your head, you’ll associate it with the unpleasant experience of stress, wasted time, and getting nothing done.

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Figure It Out

Let me ask you a question:

What do you think holds back more young coaches just entering the business? Is it failure to memorize every detail of the playbook, or is it when the head coach doesn’t feel like he can trust them to get something done on time?

If you’re brand new to coaching and want to find a way to break into the business, guess what? You’re gonna have to figure a lot out on your own.

Want to know how you can help right away, and more importantly, create a position for yourself? Be the guy they call when they need a powerpoint presentation put together at the last minute, or they need 100 copies made of this week’s scouting report, or the projector just went out and they need a new bulb.

I’ve written before about how when you’re starting out, you’ve got to find ways to make yourself useful, and these are some great ways to do it.

A lot of guys don’t believe me when I tell them that one of the most valuable skills you can have these days is to be able to use Microsoft Office well, or whatever program your team uses to draw up schemes for your scouting reports and playbook.

Jon Gruden used to practice drawing circles for hours, so that when it came time to draw up plays on the board, or put together the scouting report, he was the guy the coaches would put in charge of it.

Don’t know how to use a copier? Figure it out.

Don’t know how to change a projector bulb? Figure it out.

Don’t know how to put together an opponent tendency report? Figure it out.

I can’t tell you how many times I saw coaches give other young guys a job, and then watched those same guys go back to the coach 4-5 times to ask more questions about the tiniest, most insignificant details.

Figure. It. Out.

The coach is giving you that job so that he doesn’t have to spend his own time dealing with it. If you make a habit of bothering him about a job he just gave you, you’re not saving him any time at all, and you may as well wear a sign on your back that reads, “I CAN’T BE TRUSTED WITH ANYTHING MORE COMPLICATED THAN THIS.” That’s exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to become known for.

Understand that when you’re starting out, your job is to save time for everyone else. If I can’t trust you with that, how can I trust you to coach a position or call plays?

Put in extra time doing the things others won’t, or at the very least, know how to use Google, YouTube, and other sources of information online to find the answers you need in a hurry, because you’re going to have to get good at a little bit of everything. Believe it or not, that will set you apart from the majority of people in this world.

It’s not about the specific knowledge involved in changing a projector bulb, it’s about developing the ability to think for yourself and realize that once the head coach gives you an assignment, he doesn’t want to hear back from you until it’s finished.

If you become known as the reliable guy, the guy who doesn’t ask 50 million questions and just goes and figures it out for himself, you’ll have a reputation that will serve you well when it’s time to look for references for your next job.

Ultimately it comes down to the same “boring” stuff you hear repeated over and over again. Work hard, put in the time, and do everything you can to be an asset to the organization.

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Come Up With a List of Stupid Questions (And Start Asking Them)

Let me tell you about one of the shortest jobs I ever had.

A while back I was hired to work in a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with boxes, and the company had a very inefficient way of counting inventory and making sure everything was in the right spot. I quickly found out that it wasn’t uncommon for employees to work six days a week to get orders filled, and all because they wasted so much time counting everything by hand. By the third day I was making a habit of asking a stupid question that got on the nerves of my boss.


I was asked not to come back for a fourth day.

Thankfully the coaching business is exactly the opposite. Every offseason coaches spends lots of time and money asking and answering questions on all kinds of topics. Often times however, consciously or unconsciously, we hold back from asking basic, foundational questions about the game out of a fear of looking like an amateur.

Want to be a successful coach? You first have to identify your strengths, but more importantly, your weaknesses.

The quickest way to do that is to ask “stupid” questions. » Read more

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.” » 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