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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.