My Favorite Part of Coaching, Not.

As some of you may know I coach high school football in my spare time. Currently I’m the offensive coordinator for one of our local high school Varsity teams and one of my favorite parts of the job (he says, with sarcasm that’s difficult to convey in this medium) is all of the unsolicited advice we get from parents, spectators, sports writers and other people who aren’t football coaches. I’ve even had people stick their heads into the booth DURING THE GAME to offer their pearls of wisdom.

Here’s a selection of some of my favorites.

1. (After a bad defensive game) “Don’t you guys practice tackling?”

Wait…you can PRACTICE tackling? Why didn’t we think of that?!?! Oh, right, we did. Yes, of course we practice tackling. Every day. But tackling is surprisingly hard. The other boys are sportsing hard too and sometimes the other boy is bigger/faster/stronger than we are. That makes him harder to tackle. Sometimes we just made a bad play or have a bad game. Even NFL players miss tackles sometimes so expecting a 15 year old who has played exactly 3 games of tackle football in his life to suddenly be a devastating tackler might be setting your sights a little high.

Rest assured we do practice tackling every day.

2. “Why don’t you throw the ball to your running back more?”

Because he can’t catch. That’s why he’s a running back instead of a receiver. We hand him the ball. I realize that your favorite NFL team kills people by throwing the ball to the running back in the flats. We did too, last year. Maybe we will again next year. The kid we have at running back THIS year is a terrific runner and understands our scheme…but when we throw the ball towards him he acts like we threw him a live badger. He’s on pace for 1000+ yards rushing but nobody’s good at everything – I’m a terrible ice skater.

-or-

2a. “You should run the 3-4 defense like [NFL Team] does!”

That would be hard to do considering we only have 2 linebackers.

And unlike your favorite NFL team we can’t just trade with another school for a RB who can catch and we can’t draft more linebackers. We’ve got the guys we’ve got.

Which brings me to…

3. “How come your players are so [small/slow]?”

I dunno. Maybe you should have mated with a [bigger/faster] guy? There really isn’t a lot we can do to make our players 6’3″, 240 lbs and despite a summer of running they’re not going to go from being Carl Spackler to Carl Lewis in 8 weeks. They either are or they aren’t. We have to take whatever 40, 50 (too often 30) kids who show up and make a football team out of them. If they’re all 5’9″ and 165 lbs then that’s what we’ve got. Welcome to high school football.

4. “Why do you let that kid drop the ball?”

As it turns out I can’t force a kid to catch a football – especially when I’m 30 yards away and the officials frown on me entering the field during a play. We practice it during the week, we try to put him in a good position to catch it, we teach our QBs to throw a catchable ball but when the football meets the hands it’s up to that student-athlete to actually latch onto that football and maintain possession of it.

Same is true of any skill on the field – whether it’s blocking or tackling or throwing or kicking…we get to tell them what to do and how to do it. They get to actually go out there under the lights and either do it or don’t do it.

Naturally a player who doesn’t do it often enough will stop getting opportunities to do it – See #2 or #7.

5. “Why don’t you line up in trips and run the sweep away from the trips?”

Because our guards are too slow on the pull so we don’t have a blocker to account for the overhang linebacker. I get that you see a lot of grass over there and get excited but when we design the offense we really do have to factor in where our players are, what they can do, where their players are likely to be and how we’re going to actually execute the play.

Sending our ball carrier on a play where we’re outnumbered or outflanked isn’t really fundamentally sound and thus would probably qualify as a trick play at best.

Which brings me to…

6. “You should run the double-flea flicker reverse bounce pass! We killed people with that when I was in high school!”

The only person you killed with it was your head coach who held his breath every time that play got called. Because it’s a terrible play and it almost never works.

Trick plays in football serve two purposes and two purposes only:

  1. To surprise the other team by catching them off-guard with something they weren’t expecting and aren’t prepared for. The more exotic the play the less fundamentally sound it probably is and the less often you can get away with running it because exotic plays generally only work when the other team is surprised. It’s a gimmick you can pull out of the bag once in a while when you think the other team isn’t expecting it.

    There’s a reason Nebraska didn’t run the Fumblerooski 5 times a game.

  2. They’re fun. Kids like running them. Fans like watching them. Coaches sometimes think it’s entertaining to pull out a creative play that might actually work occasionally. Nobody puts Spread A Near B4 Lead on YouTube unless something crazy happens. Run Double-Reverse Pass out of the Swinging Gate formation (and by some miracle it actually works) and you’re going to get a lot of views online. But you probably can’t build an offense on it.

The problem with trick plays is that they’re tricky. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, sometimes catastrophically wrong, and they take a lot of precious practice time to get them right. That “Hook and Ladder” you scored on in your flag football days is fun…until the hook guy accidentally pitches the ball onto the turf and the other team scoops it and runs it back for a TD.

Just because you saw some school on YouTube run this awesome trick play doesn’t mean we should devote 30 minutes of precious practice time trying to learn it and praying that it works on Friday night.

-or-

6a. “You should totally run that play where 3 players run into the huddle but 4 players run back to the sideline and one of those players stops right at the edge of the field and pretends he’s out and talking to a coach. The other team doesn’t see him and you throw him the ball!”

Why? How does a 15-yard Illegal Participation penalty help us? It’s illegal in high school football (Rule 9-6-4c) to use a pretended substitution to deceive the opponents. Sometimes we don’t do what fans suggest because we know the rule book better than they do and we understand that we CAN’T legally do that.

7. “Hey that #62 on your team is huge! How come he isn’t starting?”

Because he’s 5’7″ and 330 lbs. He can barely get into his stance and once he’s in it he can’t get out of it. There are very few positions in football that don’t require you to be able to run, at least for short distances.

or the variant of that…

7a. “That #86 is crazy fast? How come you don’t throw the bomb to him?”

Because #62 can’t move his feet so our QB doesn’t have time to throw deep.

-or-

Because our QB can’t throw the ball more than 30 yards – sorry, he’s 14 and neither of his parents are Aaron Rodgers.

-or-

Because even our RB (see #2) catches the ball better than #86 does.

The football is like a one-man cold to Clifford Franklin!

Which brings me to the all-time classic…

8. Why isn’t MY KID starting?!

I get that he was the 3rd best player on his Pee Wee team. But…

He only shows up for practice 1 day a week and we can’t put him out there if he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

-or-

Even though he always catches the Frisbee when you throw it to him at the beach that doesn’t mean he can catch a football, while wearing 15 lbs of football gear, under the lights with other large boys intent on preventing him from doing it.

-or-

The kid starting in front of him, hard as this may be for you to believe, is actually better than he is at football.

Parents aren’t always the most objective evaluators of talent.  You love your kids, naturally, you think they’re great kids (and they probably are) and you still remember how proud you were when little Jimmy caught the winning touchdown pass in the Hippo Bowl in 6th grade. At the varsity level, however, there can be a lot of competition for positions and sometimes, just sometimes, little Tommy is bigger/faster/smarter/more talented than little Jimmy is. Even just a little. Hard to believe I know. Imagine how little Bobby’s parents feel – despite always being one of the first 10 picked at the family Turkey Bowl he’s behind little Jimmy on our depth chart.

High School coaches spend a lot of hours – during the season and outside the season – thinking about, evaluating, discussing. re-evaluating and trying to improve their teams. Just ask my wife – I assume that’s who that woman who keeps asking me if I’m ever going to come to the dinner table is – and she’ll tell you how much time goes into this volunteer job. It’s not just Friday nights.

I don’t mean to suggest that we know EVERYTHING or that we’re never wrong. We’re humans, of course we get it wrong occasionally. But football is a far more complicated and nuanced game than most fans appreciate so if we’re not running the play you think we should run or starting the player you think we should start there’s probably a reason for it.

Only three people really understand football and two of them are John Madden.

And no…we’re really not interested in spending 20 minutes arguing with you about it at Pizza Hut after the game.

We appreciate your support but please understand if we often greet your feedback with a slightly impatient smile and then decide not to run the “It’s the wrong ball!” play on 4th and 17 as you implored us to do.

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