Monday, June 29, 2009

A-11 Story....Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Football players like to be comfortable in their team's system. The A-11 shattered that.”

EVERY coach on the staff knew it was going to be very rough sledding, in terms of helping the football players (V & JV) somehow understand that switching to this “crazy”, “radical” and new offensive system was good for them and the program.

Helping to manage the players’ passionate commitment to the familiar football ways they had been playing under, but also to tear them away from the grip of traditional gridiron methods, plays and terminologies, ones that all of them had grown up watching on television was brutal. It was far more difficult and emotionally searing, and gut wrenching than any of the staff members had anticipated, and we had projected a significant amount of angst and apprehension from the players – once they had soaked in the news of our impending change.

In the Varsity locker room one week before the official start of the 2007 spring football practice at Piedmont, nervously and with a sweaty brow I stood before the V & JV squads. Behind me on the white board were a dozen categorized and neatly divided A-11 formations, and a bullet-point list of key rules and points.

The assistant coaches were scattered around the locker room, intermixed with the players and providing unspoken measures of support with their presence. I would soon learn that all of the assistant coaches were 100% committed to the A-11, but one coach was not. The one dissenting coach had made his voice and mature opinion known in our staff meetings. But, it would not be until during our first real game, three-and-a-half months later vs. Campolindo, that the true level of his displeasure would be revealed.

Unrehearsed, I spoke, “Gentlemen, we’re making a very big change to the offense.”It was now official. I had made the commitment to the A-11. There would be no going back, no running, no hiding and no changing of the path before us, regardless of the A-11’s initial success on the field. The coaches, administration and now even the players had made the pact complete. However, for the players - the wonderful and hardworking Oarsmen responsible for rowing the ship of our football program –respectfully they had been “shown” the futuristic way of our program, but not asked to participate in the choice affecting them.

It’s always one of the toughest decisions a head coach must make, and major decisions like these need to be well thought out, swift, consistent and sincere. Any type of public wavering by yours truly would be disastrous, ruinous for the players, the program, for me, and the staff. No bones about it.

“To that?” One of the players uttered, pointing at the white board behind me in disbelief.

I nodded slowly, acknowledging the player and scanning the youthful, quizzical and surprised faces of the others. “It’s called the A-11, and it stands for, all eleven players potentially eligible.”I waited for more questions, but silence ensued, and so I took the players through the basics of the A-11.

Steve Humphries chimed in a few times and explained various aspects of the offense, including some new ideas he was excited about, as the assistant offensive line coach. Some of the other assistants offered words of wisdom and encouragement.

After a few more rounds of normal Q & A, finally, thee question I had been waiting for arose from the concerned heart, mind and mouth from one of our very well respected team captains.

“What about the linemen?” He asked warily.

Tremendous and fiery debate had transpired in our coaching staff meetings over this very issue. But, with the truthful understanding that the Piedmont football program normally does not have enough ‘traditional linemen’ in its ranks – implementing the A-11 made sense, and doubled with the fact that most of the time Piedmont has an abundance of skill players, it really made sense.

More speed and less bulk = the A-11 Offense.

I answered the question. “Our linemen will play in the A-11, but not as many of them will play in the A-11, because we’re going to put more speed on the field at the same time. We are going to spread the field wide and force the defense to spread out with us. We’ll still keep our traditional “Highlander” offense, and all of the linemen will of course play in that too. Plus, whatever linemen that don’t start in the A-11 or in Highlander; we’re going to switch those players to the defensive line, so everybody gets to play.”

Some of the players were visibly unhappy, and that’s understandable. It was a shock to their football psyche and to their system. Other players were fired up and excited about the change. And to be sure, a segment of the players were cautious, cool and non-committal.As a coaching staff, we had more than four months to chew on and get used to the brazen idea of the A-11.

It would have been unfair of me and/or the staff to expect the players to welcome the A-11 with gleeful shouts of joy and open arms. Most of the players were scared, they knew it, and we knew it. The senior players did not want to waste their final season.

Heck, the coaching staff was terrified of failing. We wanted to succeed for the players – especially the seniors, and for the program, and for us. As a staff, we had already made the decision - failure was not allowed to enter into the equation, or it would surely consume everything in its path with its insatiable appetite for destruction.

Spring football would happen, a new offense would be installed & very uncomfortable change was now upon all of us.

Making football history? That was not even in our minds…

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A-11 Story: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Take a break from what you already know and learn some new concepts.”

HAVE you ever wished you had taken the time to learn a second language? Some people speak multiple languages, but most folks converse using one dialect, and for their own reasons, it suits their needs just fine. But, as a football coach, what if mastering another “language” offered the possibility of improving your team’s success? Would you do it? Should you do it? And, can you do it, even though a segment of the population judging your every move will quickly side against you?

During the first twenty-one years of my coaching career, I stood against having my Quarterback set in the backfield to have him operate in the Shotgun formation. I was ignorant because I had not taken the time to learn the nuances of the Gun. I assumed bad things would happen, incorrectly, and made the egregious mistake of telling myself that having my quarterback not under the Center “was too risky” and that a Shotgun offense was, “not my cup of tea.”

So, imagine my surprise in December of 2006, when I walked into the living room at the home of Piedmont Football Offensive Coordinator, Steve Humphries, and saw the X’s and O’s diagram in full-color on the white board, perched upon an easel and depicting what is now known as the A-11 Offense ‘BASE’ formation. The ultra-spread offensive design featuring Trips receivers flanked wide to each side of the field, and only three offensive linemen in the middle, had not just one quarterback deep in the Shotgun…but also Two quarterbacks in the Shotgun!

For months during the 2006 football season, Steve had wanted us to set aside some time to meet, so he could “show” me a new football idea. However, having just assumed the role of head coach again at Piedmont prior to the 2006 season, there were too many distractions to review anything until after the season. Fortunately throughout my coaching career, I’ve taken pride in creating successful offensive schemes, and Steve and I finally found the time to do some brainstorming. I had been looking forward to our chalk-talk session but was stunned at least.

Immediately upon review of the Base formation featuring a duo of quarterbacks in the Shotgun, I found myself uttering why it was not a good idea or reasons why it would not work.

“Open your mind and close your mouth, please.” Steve replied after a few of my blips.

I smirked and sat down in a fat comfy chair. Steve handed me a cold bottle of beer, we toasted and for the next hour I kept my mouth shut and my mind agape. Steve proceeded to draw up wild formations and plays, and walk me through an array of radical offensive ideas.

“What if every player on the field was a potential receiving threat?” I asked him.

Curious, Steve raised his eyebrows with interest and kept his mind unfiltered as always, cool with exploring new possibilities. From that moment on, and for several days thereafter, we devoured the NFHS 2006 football rulebook, searching for a legal way to enable our offensive team to have “all eleven players potentially eligible.”

Overall, the hardworking players on our Piedmont football team are usually smaller in size than most of the teams we play, so spreading the defense might help serve our needs. Plus, finding good ways to help prevent injuries would also prove to be important.

Once we found and clarified the numbering exception allowed by the Scrimmage Kick Formation (SKF) rule, it served as the key to unlocking an innovative new style of offense. An offense that could have multiple players instantly become interchangeable by simply stepping onto the Line of Scrimmage (LOS), remaining off of it, or shifting into a new location. We submitted all of our ideas, many rule interpretations, X and O diagrams, and other items to the NFHS, and eventually the CIF governing body. After a pensive two months of review by the powers-that-be, and detailed phone conversations with the CIF state rules interpreter, who carefully reviewed all items with us – our new style of football offense was declared Legal to use by the state rules interpreter of the CIF in February of 2007.

Great! The proverbial Mustang was now running free on the open range. We had the backing of our excellent Piedmont Principal, Randall Booker, and also that of our top-notch Athletic Director, Mike Humphries, both men urged us to go for it.

But now what?

Steve wanted to tag our new system, the “Planet Pluto” offense. We tossed that name onto the scrap heap and soon settled upon the A-11 (all eleven players potentially eligible). It was the simplest name we devised and it sounded respectable.With help from the outstanding assistant coaches on the staff, we spent the next few months developing the terminology of our new system - how to call formations, play numbering & branding of position groups, breaking down the field into Red/White/Blue teaching grids, various motions and the bedrock of our system’s rules.

The wild ideas emblazoned on the white board that day in Steve’s living room had gone through multiple drafts, revisions and edits. Reams of paper and hordes of dry erase ink pens ran dry; and on more than occasion, rapid-fire exchanges of harsh words and stubborn positioning by each member of the coaching staff took shape.
We worked and battled on the commitment together. Many sleepless nights were required to craft and steer the A-11 concept into a beginner’s package worthy of implementing during our upcoming 2007 Spring Football practice, set to commence in late May.

All of these steps and many more were completed - before we ever met with the players...