There may be fifty things you have to do to be a great head football coach. Heck, there might be one hundred things. Who really knows the magic number? But we have picked out ten for now and we’ll focus on them. This is a compilation of concepts and ideas that have come from our own experiences of over thirty years of coaching and competing and also from other coaches.
1. Be the best you can be.
Never stop improving and learning. There are many ways to improve and learn such as books, videos, clinics, and talking to other coaches. Don’t limit yourself to just football material. Study military strategy, philosophies, and history. Study the Bible for wisdom and insight. Study anything that can improve you as a coach and person. And speaking of clinics, are you one of those guys that just shows up at the Friday session, the one that gets you out of school? Or are you still there on Sunday morning when everyone is tired and most have gone home? Think about it.
2. Be yourself but be willing to change.
Adjust your philosophy of the game according to the circumstances and situation. As Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock”. As new technologies and innovations emerge, be willing to embrace those that fit your style or benefit the program. Be willing to adjust to the personnel you have or the kind of community you are in. But stand like a rock on your core principles.
3. Be a master of your schemes
It’s your offense and defense. We teach best that which we KNOW, and know well. This goes with number one when we say “Never stop learning”. This is the most strategic game on the face of the earth. If you are not spending significant time strategizing then you are missing out. You must know ALL of the “If, Then’s” of your offense and your defense. “If they do this, then we will do that.” Spend time trouble shooting. You MUST have a strategic answer to the defenses and offenses that give you fits. Culture is important, we don’t deny that, but strategy is what will separate you when other factors are even.
4. Get the most out of your assistant coaches
Rule number one, in our opinion, is to get the absolute best assistant coaches you can. Outstanding assistants are critical to any program. Once you have your staff in place there are some key factors to getting the most out of these guys. Make sure they have the resources to do their job and keep improving. Give them the needed facilities, equipment, and access to learning materials such as books and videos. Don’t micro-manage. Delegate responsibilities to the assistants and give them a sense of ownership in the program. As much as possible, let them run their segment of the program. Let them know your expectations and then hold them accountable to those expectations. Once you’ve done all of this, let your coaches coach!
5. Be fair and compassionate
Don’t minimize the trials of others. Kids come from all kinds of backgrounds and homes. Sometimes we adults say, “Wait until you get in the REAL world.” Hey, are students living in a fake world? Their world is real and they’re under just as much pressure and stress as we are. I remember the time when I was a young head wrestling coach. Christmas break was coming and I let my athletes know that over that two week period there WOULD be practice and the only excuse for missing was illness. Inability to attend all practices would result in dismissal from the team. After practice a nervous little freshman approached coach and explained to him that his parents were divorced. His dad lived out of state and this was the only time all year he saw his dad. The story was indeed true and I realized I had to be more flexible and compassionate.
Make decisions with careful thought. Get input from mentors, the A.D., your assistant coaches, and your players. It’s interesting how the Native Americans held their tribal meetings. The head chief would sit with the other tribal leaders in a circle and make his opening statement on strategies or philosophies. The other leaders were then given an opportunity to stand and give their opinions and thoughts with no interruption. When everyone had a chance to speak, the head chief would make his decision. But he listened.
7. Be a role model
Someone is looking up to each of us right now. You are a very significant role model for the athletes you coach. Set an example that is desirable for your players to follow. What kind of lifestyle do they see? How do you handle problems in practice? What is your sideline demeanor like? Do you have self discipline? Do you avoid crass jokes, crude language, and humor? These are all examples of being a role model.
8. Look sharp, be sharp
A bit old fashioned on this one but when I was a kid that was one of my dad’s sayings. He came from humble beginnings but as an adult really believed in looking his best when out and about in the community. We are in a casual period now in our society and we have a tendency to dress down. But remember, you as a coach, and especially the head coach, are always on display. Dress professionally and especially when speaking before parents, clubs, clinics, or other community functions. What exactly does dress professionally mean? It simply means wear clothes similar in style to others in the office or work space. The clothes may match your personality but don’t overdo it. There are times when a suit and tie might be in order, but not necessarily. At the least, professionally means being well groomed, slacks and collared shirt that are well pressed, nice shoes, belt, and shirt tucked in. A nice polo coaching shirt always looks good. What NOT to wear in professional settings? Sweats, and t-shirt. It reflects on the program.
Keep your athletic director informed of needs, progress, or difficulties. He or she is there to help you, so take advantage of their service. Let your assistant coaches and players know exactly what you expect of them. As mentioned previously, give your coaches a job description and hold them accountable. There was a story of a young coach who got his first job and assignment as a football coach. The head coach was a veteran football coach and knew what his expectations were. He assumed the young coach knew also. While the young coach was waiting for some direction and advice from the head coach, the head coach was looking for initiative and energy. The result was a disappointed head coach and a frustrated beginner. The fault probably was with both. The head coach needed to provide more direction and the young coach should have been more aggressive in learning the environment of the program. Poor communication all around.
10. Be an encourager
There is a time for constructive criticism, for really getting after your players and coaches. But there is also a time for encouragement. A coach can offer encouragement through a word, thumbs up, smile, or nod of the head. It goes back to the concept of positive reinforcement. We all thrive under a positive, encouraging, family environment.
Well, there you have some of our thoughts on key things you have to do to be a great head football coach or any coach for that matter. Is that a tough list to follow all the time? Yeah, and we all probably fail at times but it’s something to shoot for. Give us your suggestions and tell us what you think.
Here’s a guy we believe is on the right track. Jason Aubry is the head football coach at Joliet West High School in Joliet, Il. He has been there the last ten years working to turn around what was a toxic program in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Aubry has stayed the course and now, Joliet West has a healthy program that has qualified for the IHSA State Playoffs in 2 of the last 3 years.
Written by Coach L. Albaugh
Coach Albaugh coached high school football in Illinois for 28 years. During that time he coached at every level and on both sides of the ball. He was the offensive and defensive line coach for four undefeated teams and was a defensive coordinator in his last 11 years, twice reaching the semi finals of the Illinois state playoffs.