Tag Archives: coaching philosophy

Football’s not about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, It’s about the X’s and O’s.

Guest Football Coaching Blog Post

This is a guest blog post on the X’s and O’s of football by Coach Kurt Earl, offensive coordinator at Lincoln Christian School and publisher of Compete4Christ, a football blog. You can follow him on his Twitter Handle, KurtEarl14. If you’re interested in guest posting for Strong Football, email CoachCP at editor[at]strongfootballcoach.com.

Yeah, I know I got the old saying backwards, but in my first few years in coaching, as I began attending clinics, I noticed something. Many of the coaches sitting in the audience with me said the old saying the way it has always been said: It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s. You know what else I noticed? The guys on the stage never said stuff like that. They said stuff like “You can teach almost anyone to do this” or “See how our system doesn’t require tons of great athletes?”

I was a young coach, but I didn’t need the wisdom of experience to put two and two together. Lack of talent is not an excuse for poor play. I think this is particularly true in regards to offense because offensive systems have the ability to control the defense through formations, shifts, motions and play calls. I dare say that the offensive coordinator has more impact on the outcome of a game than any other person in all of sports.

From that perspective I have spent hundreds of hours over the past 8 years constructing an offensive system that is about the X’s and O’s, not the Jimmy’s and Joe’s. What follows are some of the lessons I have learned in the process. I don’t have the perfect offense and I make a lot of mistakes in terms of calling plays, but as our offensive has evolved I have learned some things that are worth sharing.

Football X’s and O’s Lesson #1: Being Multiple is a Good Way to be Average

Perhaps at the college or pro levels a coach can choose to be multiple, actually install that offense and execute it with success, but at the high school level being multiple means not being much of anything. The best offenses we have faced have an identity and they cram it down your throat. My offense is a spread option offense. We line up in the same formation 95% of the time, we run various reads and options from the gun and we dare you to stop us. That attitude has been successful for us and it is the same type of attitude the best offenses we face seem to have as well.

Football X’s and O’s Lesson #2: Every Good Offense is a System

As I have attempted to counter the ways defenses have played us, I have come to realize that great offenses have answers. One of the slogans for our offense is “We got answers”. We have found that the best plays are the counter punches to the defensive adjustments. I don’t waste too much time borrowing and gathering plays from other coaches. Instead, I attempt to understand why their plays work and then discern how that concept can be applied within the framework of my offensive system.

Football X’s and O’s Lesson #3: Develop a system with a few top priority positions

As you attempt to put lessons #1 and #2 into practice, attempt to do so in such a way that very few positions require an excellent Jimmy or Joe. Obviously, you want to have a great team when all 11 guys are studs, but odds are pretty good that most years you’re going to have less than 5 great high school players on your team and a true college talent is going to be even rarer than that. In our system, offensive linemen usually double team rather than work in a one-on-one situation. Our receivers are asked to understand concepts more than they are asked to be fast. The vast majority of the throws we ask our QB to make require accuracy more than arm strength. The point is this: whenever I create a new “answer” I ask myself, “Can we coach kids to do this or does it require too much raw talent?”

Football X’s and O’s Lesson #4: Become an expert at coaching the top priority positions.

Duh! But I think there are three keys to becoming really good at coaching the positions that really matter within your system.

  1. Identify the actual skills needed by your critical positions. One of our critical positions is QB. We are a shotgun, spread option team. Our QB needs to be able to count to two (as in 0, 1 or 2 safeties high), needs to be able to execute zone reads, options and get his feet set after a play-action fake and make a short accurate throw. We don’t waste too much time working on anything else.
  2. Never allow traditional or popular thoughts about how to play your critical positions impact your assessment of what skills your priority positions need to develop. For instances, the Manning QB Camps aren’t the best for our QBs to go to QB camp. They play QB differently than we do. We don’t need to be like them.
  3. Become obsessed with learning how to coach those skills. Attend clinic sessions, compare video of great players at that position, be willing to experiment with new drills, etc…

I believe that when you, as the offensive coordinator, begin to put all of these ideas into practice you have the ability to impact that outcome of the game more than anyone else in the stadium. Throughout your career there will be fluctuations in the amount of raw talent on your team, but you can always put your players, within the framework of your offensive system, in a position where they have an opportunity to be successful. Ultimately, it’s up to you. Are you going to be a coach that wastes seasons waiting for the Jimmy’s and Joe’s to show up, or are you going to focus on the X’s and O’s and maximize the potential of the players you have?

Make sure you check out Coach Earl’s other post on Football Offensive Play Calling and Tempo. Also check out ChiefPigskin.com.

Coaching the Spread Offense

Spread Offense Philosophy

Let me start by saying I typically don’t like the idea of making a general term apply to an offense. Each offense is different. The typcial spread offense that is seen in college and high school football today, by definition, is designed to attack the football field horizontally and vertically by using player leverage and field spacing. That’s basically the one aspect of the spread offense that is applicable for all teams.

So basically, this is my plead for all coaches, calling your offense the spread offense is limiting and lacks seriously detail. You’re creative, tell people that you like to “make defenses defend the width and length of the field with your running game”.

But still, is that enough? Is that an accurate description of your “spread offense”? Perhaps you should describe your spread offense like this… “From the shotgun, we displace defenders by using spread sets and when they’re isolated we attack them with multiple option plays”.

You might say, well, is all this necessary? It is if you’re telling you’re players you’re offensive philosophy from a technical stand point in a meeting. Maybe it’s not the kids (probably shouldn’t be unless you’re really trying to build buzz and can show them previous examples). Maybe you should save it for your coaches meeting, when you’re installing your offense. The main point is, telling people “I coach the spread offense” or, “We run the spread offense” is way too generic.

Coaching the Spread Offense Running Game

If we go back to the most basic theory, that our offense is “designed to attack the football field horizontally and vertically by using player leverage and field spacing”, then our running game should support that foundation. A necessary component of that theory is using the space defenders void when they go to cover a receiver. If teams don’t respect your passing attack or receivers, then they will close down at that spacing, making the spread running game ineffective unless you have vastly surperior talent.

For the spread offense, you have an advantage over the I-formation (“CoachCP… are you feeling okay?!?” – peanut gallery). The advantage is defenses cannot disguise what they are doing as easily on film or from the box view. It’s a lot harder to tell alignment and assignment when you’re coaching 21 or 22 personnel football (which is why I think it often get’s overlooked).

Overall, it’s important to establish then some sort of attack out of the spread that forces the defense to honor the width of the field and the players across the field. If they don’t, you’re offense will struggle. From the running game perspective, you can use quick jailbreak screens or bubble screens as an extension of your running game. Think of it as your I-formation toss sweep play.

In addition, speed and load option can quickly put full flow to one side of the field, making defenders cover a lot of grass to catch up to them.

Once you force defenders to honor your slot receivers, you should force them to respect the box as well. By utilizing the zone read, or trap, or QB inside runs (like the QB Power Play), you suddenly force the defense to be wrong. They can no longer properly defend the box running game. A lot of teams feel that the running game inside is limited. This is simply not the case. You can be creative. Almost anything you run out of the I-formation, can indeed be run out of the spread offense sets as well. You may need to utilize the quarterback or make the quarterback read a defender, but it can be done.

Coaching the Spread Offense Passing Game

The same element about the running game can be said about the passing game. Forcing defenders to respect the box should open up your passing game significantly.

Using coverage beaters on both sides will hamper you though without a strong play action passing game. You need to be able to have receivers cross the formation to force “playside” defenders in the passing game to honor them. That way, the defenses linebackers simply don’t flow directly to the hook/curl. If they do, the drag from the backside will hurt them. Overall, full field passing games are necessary to attacking the full width of the field in the spread offense. Use your quick passing game when you want to attack specific coverages (hitches versus cover 3 or cover 4, and double slants versus cover 2).

In addition, utilizing a strong quick passing game will force the defense to cover receivers right now. Enabling your quarterback to quickly throw those routes will only amplify your running and passing game. The rest of your offense might run zone read, but your QB may have identified the quick bubble being open and simply makes a call in his cadence or with his hands to the slot and #1 receiver.

The play action passing attack is great if you don’t feel you can adequately attack a portion of the field (horizontally or vertically). Play action and good “ride” actions by the QB will ensure that defenders at the linebacker and secondary don’t just jump passing routes. A safety being flat footed for half a second may open up the post route directly behind him.

Coaching The Spread Offense’s Forgotten Tight End and Unbalanced Sets

I think the least understood aspect of the spread is the idea of gaps. This is prominent in 21 personnel attacks (we go overload sets, tight end over, unbalanced, ect…). I believe this is lost sometimes for spread coaches. The theory of the extra gap that a tight end can present is excellent as well. Some teams simply don’t use a tight end because they can’t find the prototype. Your tight end doesn’t have to be 6’4″+, or over 220lbs even. He can be a regular athlete, who can block decently well for his size. If you’re tackles are road graders, they can make a huge difference in helping him block on the edge. So even if it’s a slightly above average sized athlete, you can still use him well and have a lot of aspects of the spread. Presenting that extra gap changes run fits entirely for a defense as well. Using him on the backside or the 3rd receiver in trips can change the entire dynamics for a defense, but all your blocking schemes can stay the same.

In addition to the tight end in general, using unbalanced sets can work. A lot of times, defense will have problems finding a good answer early in a game for an unbalanced set in the spread. With the element of the zone read and other option plays, even by showing it on film or using it once or twice a game will force defenses to spend signifcant time defending the running game and still ensuring they respect the passing game in practices. If they don’t do that, then you can take advantage of a poorly aligned defense quickly.

Conclusions on the Spread Offense

I hope you enjoyed this post, designed to detail the basic theories of the spread and how to be successful with it. A good spread offense will typically be able to force the defense to defend the full length of the field and the players across it. You can do this and be focused on the rushing attack or the passing attack. However, you must use both to keep defenses honest and to maximize efficiencies. Mike Leach may disagree, but even his team will run versus 5 in the box.

Make sure you check out ChiefPigskin’s videos!

Coaching Philosophy: You Need One

I’ve talked to numerous coaches, and so many seem lost. I think the big problem with many coaches is they lack direction. They lack an ultimate purpose that drives all their teaching on the football field. Every coach, despite how silly and childish it sounds, needs a coaching philosophy.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about X’s and O’s, or what offense or defense you want to run when you’re in charge. Oh no. I may be only 23 years old, but I recognize the need for a coaching philosophy. When I get away from it, I find myself not satisfied with the teaching I’ve done with the players on the field.

Step One: What is your philosophy on life?

So how do you build your own philosophy? I think the first step is to recognize what drives you in life. Be honest with yourself. As a man (or woman), you should recognize what your philosophy is throughout life. Examine your life. What code have you lived by? Correction: What code have you lived by when you have been most satisfied with life. Seriously, be honest. It’s perfectly fine to be selfish. Some people want to beat the competition, or enjoy the moment. That is fine. Just adhere to that.

Step Two: Coaching Philosophy

Now, second step, look at what you want to be as a coach and examine how satisfied with your coaching career so far. Are you satisfied? If not, you probably haven’t adhered to your life philosophy in coaching. I bet you they are very similar when you are completely satisfied, or at least they are founded upon similar principles.

My Life Philosophy

For me, I can tell you my life philosophy. A successful man is built on a foundation of integrity, gentlemanly behavior, a strong mind, responsible citizenry, and leadership by example or oratory. A man that is firm in these principles will experience life to the fullest, while at the same time being triumphant in all that he does. That’s my philosophy. Believe it or not, I can probably nearly quote that on command.

My Coaching Philosophy

But what about my coaching philosophy? I honestly feel that I want to help every athlete and coach around me grow as a person, a student, and as a team. I will do this by being consistent and fair while demanding hard work, discipline, and fun. This philosophy isn’t built just upon players. Notice how I say athlete and coach. I want to help my fellow coaches grow, not only as people and as teammates, but as students. The relationships I build with players and fellow coaches mean a great deal to me, so both are included. In addition, I feel everyone, especially myself, is a student. I try to soak in everything. I’m terrible at judging, however, I’ve done my best to try to understand people’s perspectives and respect their opinions. So I am constantly a student, learning from every coach I have come across, even if their experience is limited or they are an “old timer” so to speak. You can learn something from everyone.

Concluding Remarks on Coaching Philosophies

That is my life and coaching philosophy. I challenge you to find your own. Don’t create it, don’t memorize it. Find it. It is within you. Just be honest about it, especially with youself. It really coach be anything. Once you establish it, you will find you will be much more successful, and much more satisfied with your coaching career and your life.