Many years ago, when I was a head wrestling coach in high school, I decided to make some changes in our program. Now, it wasn’t like we were a bunch of misfits, but wrestling seems to have their share of prima donnas and renegades. It’s the nature of the sport. It’s an individual sport (with some team concepts) with a bunch of tough kids. Some people view the basketball team as the main winter sport and wrestling is for the guys who couldn’t make the basketball team. We never viewed it that way and I decided to show it. Well, I noticed that when the basketball team practiced they had practice shirts and shorts. School colors, sharp looking. My wrestling team (and almost all others) practiced in t-shirts and shorts of assorted colors with any number of names or slogans on their shirts. (Nothing vulgar, of course). My 103 pounder might have a green shirt that said, “Joe’s Garage” while my 112 pounder had an orange shirt that said “Support the Fire Department”. My whole team was in different colors with different slogans. I also noticed the basketball coach had their practice gear washed every night – shirts, shorts, jocks, socks – everything. My guys washed their own stuff (sometimes).
So, here’s what I did. For the next season I ordered 48 high quality gray practice t-shirts. The shirts had our school name, with a numbered disc. The numbers went from 1-48 from small to XL. Each guy got his own t-shirt with a number on it. They looked good. I then gave them a black marker to put that same number on their socks, jock, and shorts. By the way, the shorts had to be black, navy, or purple which was our school color. Every night after practice I brought in a big bin for the guys to throw their clothes in after practice. Into the wash it went and then to the dryer. The next day before practice I sorted and laid out each guys stuff. Was it extra work? Yeah, but I thought we looked like a team in practice, we were clean, and it promoted pride in the program. If a photographer from a local newspaper came in to practice to get a shot of seniors, state qualifiers, etc., all my guys were in the same practice gear looking good. Now that I look back – I changed the culture in that area of our program. My goal was to add a little class to the program. Did I want our program to have a good culture? Heck yeah, I did. I wanted our kids to know we would work hard, behave in class, support each other, and be respectful of teammates and opponents. We would look good, be well behaved, and be tenacious on the mat. Those were some components of our culture and it was very important.
What’s Most Important, Culture or Scheme?
Culture or Scheme? I hear this question asked so much lately and it seems to be the hot topic in football. As an example, here is a
statement made by Chip Kelly, former college and NFL coach. “I think culture is more important than scheme,” he said. “Pretty straightforward, black and white.” Well, he got fired from two NFL teams, but he also had great success at Oregon. And Brian Kelly at Notre Dame said, ” “We know we’ve got a collection of good players. That’s not going to win. But culture will win. If everybody’s bought into that culture; if everybody’s bought into team … Some guys are going to have to give up some carries. Some guys are going to have to give up some accolades for this team to get to the playoffs. That’s why we push that messaging.” Then I hear others say, “Just run the Spread Offense and RPO’s and you’ll win”. But what do culture and scheme really mean? Let’s define both AND give some examples.
The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. In football it’s “This is who we are; this is how we do things. You MUST have that. Some examples are:
- On field directives for assistant coaches – what will they be?
- Off field directives for assistant coaches – what will they be?
- Relationships with players
- Coaches, players, parents “bought in” to the mission and vision of the program
- Emphasize physical
- Run to every drill
- All players important…etc.
These are just a few examples and the list can go on and on. It’s all good stuff and essential to a good program.
A plan or program of action, a systematic or organized configuration. A pre-determined strategy in football comprised of offensive or defensive formations, developed by a team’s coaching staff, which is dependent on the specific circumstances of a game and the style of football employed by a team. In football that’s your offense, defense, and special teams. You MUST have that. In my opinion, it’s not that important which scheme you use but how well you know it, can teach it, and execute it. For example, there are some out there that believe the Spread Offense is the magic bullet. Run this scheme and your chances of winning go way up. Maybe, maybe not. Whether it’s Spread, Pro, Wing-T, Wishbone, Flexbone, Split T, I, Veer…you’ve got to know, teach, and execute properly. If not, success may be hard to come by UNLESS your talent is vastly superior to your opponents.
I would argue that skills and strategy are more important than which scheme you’re running. Are they more important than culture? Let’s look at some examples.
- Sound game plan.
- Players well coached in the fundamentals.
- Players well drilled in the skills.
- Good halftime adjustments that you know and can teach.
- Pay attention to personnel. High school football is all about talent mismatches.
- Base evaluations on what your opponents think.
- Where can you exploit them?
- Use of stats.
- Chart formations.
- Hash tendencies
- Down and distance situations.
- Goal line play…and this list can go on and on.
A good coaching staff has an answer to the all of the “what if’s?” Can you say, “We’ve got a great culture but we don’t have good scheme, skills, or strategy”, and still be successful? Probably not (unless your talent is vastly superior to your opponents).
OK, So Which Is It?
In my opinion, it’s all of it. To have a good program you MUST have a sound scheme, know it, teach it, execute it, AND have a culture that reflects a sound vision, mission, and all that goes with it. There is so much that goes in to running a good program that it’s just too simplistic to say it’s either – or. Head football coaches these days act as CEOs, setting the overall tone for the team while others execute their plans. There is the coaching part — playbooks, strategies and implementation. Then there is the part overseeing players, and managing the team. Culture, scheme, skills, strategy. It’s a big job and there are many out there that do it well.
does a great job of blending the two. Another resource for implementing a winning culture is head coach Jason Aubry at Joliet West. In his 10 years at Joliet West he has completely changed the culture. He has flipped a toxic, stagnant program into a program with a championship culture. Want some innovative schemes? Look no further than Craig Buzea, head coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. His highly multiple offense is a thing of beauty. If you want an up tempo culture, check out Valle Catholic in Missouri. Coach Jud Naeger has it going.
Remember, we here at Chiefpigskin are absolutely committed to helping ALL football coaches (including ourselves) become better at what we do. As we build our library we hope you’re building yours. Keep checking us out and see what’s new.
Coach L. Albaugh – DBLITY