“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…