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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.

The Logic and Science of Offensive Play Calling and Tempo

Guest Football Coaching Blog Post

This is a guest blog post on offensive tempo and play calling by the 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.

As a man of deep faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ I try to live my life intentionally. I do my best as a husband, teacher and coach to live with a purpose and to make intentional decisions. As the Offensive Coordinator at Lincoln Christian School I have designed our offensive strategies and schemes with the same intentionality.

Lincoln Christian is a small school (averaging about 40 students per grade) and we rarely have more than 35 boys out for football. Of those 35 or fewer boys roughly 6-10 are linemen. Thus, nearly every starter starts both ways and we are always making linemen out of young men who are probably better suited for fullback. Furthermore, our skill players tend to be very skillful and quick, but often lack the sheer strength needed to pound out yardage between the tackles.

A few years ago we realized we were wasting our time trying to develop our young men into your prototypical football players. Like Brad Pitt’s character Billy Beane in the movie Moneyball we embraced the fact that we simply could not compete with the New York Yankees of our district by trying to match them man for man. Also, like Beane we did not and would not have players that fit into the classic molds and systems. As a result we have adopted an offensive strategy intentionally structured around two specific slogans.

Slogan #1: We got science

Slogan #2: We got answers

We Got Science – Biology Behind the Tempo

“We got science” means that we operate in a no huddle, full throttle offense because it does not allow the defense to recover between plays. The lack of recovery between plays forces our opponent to operate in what is commonly referred to as the Lactic Acid Energy System. Defending us is more like running an 800 meter sprint and less like throwing the shot or running a 40 yard dash. Our strength and conditioning program, practice tempo and overall mentality prepare our players to compete in their Lactic Acid Energy System.

As a result, we have the advantage every time we step onto the field. Our intentional effort to operate in a different energy system than our opponent gives us a leg up from the opening kickoff. The vast majority of teams, even those who run a no huddle offense, do not move from play to play fast enough to force their opponent out of the ATP-PT Energy System. The ATP-PT Energy System provides the necessary energy for intense bouts of exercise that last 6-8 seconds. Sounds like a football play, right? The key to “we got science” is to transition quickly from play to play.

We Got Answers – Logic Behind the Play Calling

We do several things to help us transition from one play to another quickly, but the biggest key to our quick transition is “We got answers.” Slogan number two, “we got answers,” means that our offense is a collection of series not a collection of plays. Each series features a base concept. The base concept is then complimented by a number of plays designed to provide answers to the defense’s potential adjustments to the base concept. Using the feedback the other coaches are giving me in the headsets I call THE play that is THE response to THE adjustment the defense is making. This means that I can call plays in a split second. As the play caller I roam the sidelines with a chart that outlines our series and plays. The chart is structured so that I can easily find THE play we need based on the information I have.

“We got answers” makes play calling a systematic, intentional response to the defenses’ attempts to stop our base concepts. We do not have a collection of plays thrown together in a play book. We have 5-8 base concepts that are complimented by dozens of “answers” to potential defensive adjustments. As players grow and mature in the system they begin to understand it and actually anticipate play calls. When we are hitting on all cylinders, I watch everyone nod their heads in agreement with the call as they line up for the next play.
I recognize that everyone is calling plays based on the information the defense is giving them. At the same time, however, I think our offense is unique in that every call I make is a counter punch. We don’t really have a “bread and butter” play. We take what the defense is giving us. We wait for the defense to show their hand and then respond.

Simple, Exciting, Fun

When everyone in the game is on the same page like this it creates an environment in which operating at a fast tempo is simple, exciting and fun. We take great pride in eight play drives that cover less than two minutes of game clock and make defensive linemen feel like they just ran an 800 meter while stopping to push a car every 20 seconds.

I would like to conclude by recognizing that there is more than way to score points in football. One of the greatest things about football is the diversity it allows. No two offenses are exactly alike. Thus, my goal here is not to convince you to run a no huddle, spread offense. Rather, my goal is to encourage you to embrace your circumstances, your players and your opportunities and to adapt an offensive strategy that is intentionally designed to fit your needs. Don’t identify excuses, create answers.

Finally, if you’d like to know more about how competing in athletics can be a tremendous aspect of a person’s walk with Christ take a minute to check out my blog Compete4Christ at www.compete4christ.blogspot.com

Side note, make sure you checkout ChiefPigskin.com for interesting play calling information.

FishDuck.com Guest Post on Split Coverages in Football

I wrote a guest post for FishDuck.com!. Make sure you check it out! It’s on split coverages in football (think quarter-quarter-half, 2 read and traditional cover 4, etc…). Here is a small excerpt….

Split coverages, whether they’re regarded as such, are used by many high school, college, and pro teams. While most teams also have a balanced zone coverage, like cover 3 or cover 2, split coverages are growing more popular. Perhaps TCU is best known for successfully implementing split coverage schemes.

Consistently one of the top defenses in college football, details on the TCU 4-2-5 defense are among the most sought-after topics in the football coaching community today. Whether it’s playbook information, or even a clinic talk, the concept of split coverages is very popular today, whether a team implements a 4-2-5 defense or another scheme.

If you want to read more, check out FishDuck’s blog post Split Coverages in Football.

Also, check out ChiefPigskin.com!.