Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Open Communication and Respecting Each Other's Opinion is the Key to Staff Harmony

Humbly, now in my 28th year of coaching football at various levels, it's fair to say that I've changed and matured significantly since my initial foray as a young coach into the world of teaching and mentoring football players, on and off the field. 

To date, in my previous 12-years as a head coach, one of the main ingredients that bonds my coaching staff together has been to foster an interactive and open pipeline of fair and equal communication amongst all members. 

Developing and maintaining a fantastic culture takes a lot of work and it's worth it. 

For many months and/or years, my staff and I have worked very hard together...we celebrate the wins fully united and remain galvanized through the defeats and most challenging of times.

Every year my coaching staff changes a bit, but without a doubt, each season is special and unique in its own right from a staffing point of view.  My staff deeply cares for one another, and they fully understand how vested I am in their own personal story and their outstanding level of commitment to our unified team-based cause.

Creating a harmonic coaching staff takes a detailed plan, key experience, discipline, respect for others, and the ability to handle insightful critique and then adjust along the way to improve the team.

My coaching staff is keenly aware of the mantra I often use that, "I don't care where a great idea comes from."  

Literally, if I like a creative idea, I will try it. And, whether or not the new concept or method actually works, I will acknowledge and praise the individual or group that brought it to my attention. 

We are all equal and in it together. Our mutual goal is simple, do whatever it takes to help our team win.

However, effectively coaching football and keeping the staff in fluid harmony is a tough balancing act on and off the field, and that's why an experienced head coach needs to remain flexible but not sacrifice his or her principles along the way. 

Conflict of opinion between members of the coaching staff is the norm and not the exception. 

Therefore, in order to minimize any potential fallout or hurt feelings within the staff, it's critically important that each member of the staff understands and believes that their opinion matters. 

For example, whether or not a specific idea or concept offered up by a Coordinator or an Intern is actually implemented is not the most important element of maintaining staff harmony.  Rather, it's the fact that every staff member's thought process and individual perspective is relevant. All people have value and it is very important to reinforce that basic truth on a regular basis.

In my prior dozen-years as a Head Coach, I have worked with many amazing people that have become lifelong friends, collaborative peers, and sadly, some of them have since passed away. I have been blessed to have learned so much from them and gleaned important bits of knowledge and information that have enabled me to further develop as a coach.

Oakland Panthers Final Day of Training Camp March 5th, 2020 (below)

And, our coaching relationships have been mutually helpful. In fact, four of my assistant coaches have ascended directly from my coaching staff into their own first Head Coaching job. Factually, of those four outstanding men, three of them happen to be black coaches. Excellent people on & off the field.

On my staff we all strive together, and help each other any way possible, on and off the field. 

Our staff & team was unified and ready for opening night 2020 (click here).

And, if you are a young and aspiring football coach looking to create your own path, my humble recommendation is to learn from those that came before you since the game was first-invented. Experience matters, credibility is relevant and having the vision to "look long and see short" when developing your coaching style and your plan is vital. 

Be open, be honest, be flexible, and praise those who deserve it based on their effort and ingenuity. 

If you start each day with a giant slice of humble pie and work as hard as you can to help your fellow staff members within your current situation, the odds are favorable that you will eventually become a head football coach.

Then, you will have a chance to create your own coaching staff that cherishes and values open communication and harmony. 

Go for it, and remember to remain flexible along the way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Farewell, My Dear Friend. In Memory of Coach Tripp Merritt...May He Rest in Peace.

When I received a phone call from a good friend of mine that my dear buddy, Tripp Merritt had suddenly passed away in his sleep at 52-years old on August 10th, 2020, it was beyond devastating to let that terrible news sink-in.

Tripp was a fantastic person, and yet he was humbled by his own imperfections, as each of us are. 

Throughout the highs and lows of his life, he always worked to improve himself for his benefit and that of his beautiful wife, Pam, and their combined group of wonderful children. 

Tripp was at a very happy point in his life when he unexpectedly passed away.

Importantly, Tripp was a genuine and loving man with a gentle soul. 

Most people never knew that Tripp overcame a significant physical disability growing up, only to become a dynamic high school student-athlete in his home state of North Carolina. He then served our country in the United States Coast Guard before becoming an excellent NCAA football coach for many years to come. 

Tripp's positive and insightful teaching methods greatly helped the multitude of student-athletes he tutored throughout the country, both on and off the field. 

And, fortunately, I was lucky enough to begin my 20-year friendship with Tripp that began at St. Mary's College in Moraga, CA, in the year 2000. 

Tripp and I coached together at SMC for three-years, and we ended up becoming roommates. It was a wonderful and fulfilling time in our lives. The coaching staff under Tim Landis at St. Mary's was filled with remarkable people.

Rarely, did Tripp and I talk about football when we were away from the gridiron. Instead, we discussed the amazing complexities of humanity, our favorite movies, politics, fishing, baseball and basketball. And, with both of us having been single men during that time in our lives, we talked about the women we were dating or the ones that we were interested in getting to know better. 

I was also a single dad back then, and Tripp would volunteer to help me out with my son, Parker, whenever the situation called for it. 

Luckily, when I began dating a wonderful woman, Dolly, and we eventually decided to get married, it was Tripp that proudly accepted our request to get himself deputized. Tripp eagerly followed through and fulfilled his once-in-a-lifetime duties, and he proceeded to marry us in 2004.

Tripp's legacy of having been a wonderful NCAA football coach, is true; as evidenced by the numerous heartfelt comments put forth from the many players, coaches and administrative staff members that he worked with. 

People gravitated towards Tripp and loved him, and he returned those feelings ten-fold. 

For yours-truly, however, my dear friend, Tripp was not only a coaching buddy, but he became one of my closest friends that changed my life for the better...forever. He made me a better man.

Tripp...May You Rest in Peace. We shall see each other again in the future.

God Bless the soul of my dear friend, Tripp Merritt.