Starting this week, Coach’s Corner is beginning a four-part series evaluating some of the aspects of becoming and performing the role of a head football coach.
Over the next month, this series will briefly examine thought processes that are to be considered.
I am elated to co-author this series with former Fremont head coach, East Noble and Angola defensive coordinator Nick Maksimchuk. Nick is currently a social studies educator at Angola High School and serves as self-scout and video analysis consultant for high school programs across the United States.
In this first rendition of “Being a Head Coach,” we take a dive into the off-season!
Coach Maksimchuk – Offseason Xs and Os, Administrative Considerations & Back End Ops
Congratulations on becoming a head coach! One of the first things you will want to do is complete your staff.
This program is “your” program, so make sure you interview the current staff members to see if they will be a good fit for your coaching philosophy and for the students. Typically, staff members have ties to the community, so that is something to think about more if you take over a program in an area where you have no previous connections.
As you make the tough decisions, remember that you will not make everyone happy with the choices you make, staff hiring included.
Now that you have interviewed candidates and finalized your staff, now it is time to get the coaches approved by the school board and make sure that they have completed the necessary coaching requirements per the IHSAA. Courses include Concussion in Sports, Heat Illness, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, IN SEA 222, and CPR. All coaches must complete these courses before practice begins, which can be difficult if the majority of your coaches do not work at the school.
Do not worry, coaches; those coaching stipends make it all worth it (sarcasm). Nobody gets into coaching for the money! Some of you may be reading this thinking, “wait…you get paid?”
With your staff set, get the coaches together as soon as possible to review your program’s vision. Make sure you have food or a nice cold beverage at this meeting. Be prepared! Have a detailed coaches manual that outlines your vision.
Sidenote: Andy Thomas at Angola and Luke Amstutz at East Noble have two of the best coaching manuals I have ever seen, way better than I ever had as the coach at Fremont.
With your staff now having understood your program’s vision, you can now focus on the Xs and Os. That means it is time to beg your athletic director or team boosters to help pay for you and your staff to attend a coaching clinic. Some programs will be fortunate that the AD will cover the registration fee and the hotel. Others will have to fundraise or get boosters to cover costs.
Make sure you do your homework at these clinics as well, do not just go to a Glazier Coaches Clinic because of the free pens and paper. Also, make sure to attend the Indiana Football Coaches Association clinic and learn from the great coaches in this state.
When you attend these clinics, discuss the agenda with your staff so they know which session to attend. At these clinics, it is a great chance to dig more into the playbook with your staff.
As you are building your playbook, remember it is more about the Jimmys and the Joes than the Xs and the Os. If you are a coach that loves to run Power but your biggest lineman is barely pushing 225 lbs., you might want to explore other options or variations of Power for your team.
As a new coach, you will want to continue to self-scout your team every year, not just on personnel but with your playbook. Take the time in the off-season each season to watch your games and break down what went well and what did not work out so well. Always try to find the “why” of successes and failures.
The offseason is also a great time to find tendencies of coaches in your league. How did they react to motion? Did they change up defensive fronts?
Take the time and learn about yourself and your team every year. Do you like to call plays to the wide side of the field? Do you have plays that complement each other, or are you very predictable?
The more data you enter into Hudl the better, so start figuring out how to beg the AD or boosters to continue purchasing that online platform.
It is always good to get input from other coaches as well, so if you can create a good friendship with another coach and self-scout each other, I highly encourage it.
While you are figuring out a way to beg for money for Hudl or to attend a clinic, you also need to start looking at your equipment and more ways to beg/fundraise for money.
Reconditioning of equipment is a MUST, do not forget this! Keep a detailed inventory for your AD to make sure helmets and shoulder pads get reconditioned for your athletes’ safety.
Do not forget to recondition the headsets as well. I always refurbished headsets when I was getting helmets and shoulder pads out for Riddell to pick up.
I was blessed with the support of Fremont administration (AD – Roger Probst) that the equipment and headsets got reconditioned every year, and a few new helmets every year were purchased. Thanks, Roger!
Another administrative detail not to forget as you get closer to practice is reminding students to schedule their physicals and have every page signed! Ask any current/former coach, and they can tell you the struggles of getting students in for physicals. The cost of physicals can be an issue, but as a coach, a simple phone call to a doctor’s office may help students get a free physical.
All of these administrative tasks get easier and easier every year, but students getting physicals on time does not.
Coach Kempf – Strength and Conditioning, Summer Scheduling, & Team Building
As a head coach, the most critical facet of a program in the off-season is not scheme, . those are an extension of the previous season.
The time after Thanksgiving to New Years is the deep dive into the playbook, communication loops, practice philosophies, roster evaluation and other areas of concern you discover in the self-scouting process. The off-season is then dedicated to the reload process to prepare your players for the upcoming season.
As Coach Maksimchuck eluded to, you have covered much of the back-end processes during that time. This section will address what I believe are the three most challenging and significant areas of planning to get into June and July – strength and conditioning, summer practice schedule and leadership.
Strength and conditioning should be simple, right? Well, not so much. Each school has unique challenges when building a comprehensive strength and conditioning program.
The weight room defines the school’s athletic culture. The ONLY way for a school to be successful is to have a centralized platform to build an athletic enhancement mindset that promotes consistent physical growth, injury prevention, conditioning level and a competitive culture.
If a school is fortunate enough to have a qualified and dedicated strength and conditioning coach, they build the weight room classroom and culture. If you do not and are a school of 1,000 or more, your school district is 20 years behind the curve.
If you are not fortunate to have this person in your school, the first hurdle is getting all head coaches on the same page to build a comprehensive plan supporting the major sports. If you can get your football, basketball and baseball coach all on the same page, the school can succeed! If not, the kids and school suffer.
For a school district to have a consistent tradition of winning, you often find that the weight room is the lynchpin. Carroll High School was a shining example when it committed to having this position in the mid-2000s.
Upon accomplishing the vision, structure is then addressed. Based on facilities and equipment on hand and coaches’ availability, how do you achieve the mission?
Then you look at student availability, the summer school schedule and wanting to make sure there is built-in family time. For football, this is the most crucial part of the athletic enhancement journey because even with the winter and spring, these eight weeks are essential with time and two-a-days now restricted.
The next challenge is the summer practice schedule. You have just 12 days in the summer that you can dedicate to football and your team. Competitions and practices must split this time. This decision process begins in late winter, in the heart of boys’ basketball season. The schedule needs to accommodate multi-sport athletes and the recovery time needed for those individuals. Every weekend, the most committed athletes are often playing travel football, AAU, travel baseball… so they do not allow themselves that physical recovery time.
The last part of summer planning is the use of facilities.
At DeKalb, we have a well-served but abused practice field. Coaches and the maintenance crew have made the most of it. You start practicing in June, but the area is also used by baseball in the spring and summer and summer PE. It must be watered for field health and injury prevention. If it rains, you must think about the field’s longevity for later in the season. My last year as coach in 2019, we had used the area to the point that it was unusable. The game field had been beaten down from the middle school, freshman, JV, varsity and youth levels and was beyond use.
We did not have a good practice surface at the end of my final year. Planned rotation of practice use is required.
The most fun part of the summer is the leadership program and team building. I love this portion of the program building because I believe it to be the most underserved but most necessary part of helping young men grow.
There are many ways to accomplish this goal, but my preface was to have a player-elected council. We called it our “Alpha Leadership” group. We were a book club during the school year (in 2019 using Extreme Leadership by Jocko Willink), which we discussed leadership principals and built out personal mission statements. This group’s goal would then carry over into the summer and regular season to build player accountability and act as intermediaries for the program’s issues.
Regardless of the path chosen, these programs need to promote individual growth and a player-led culture.
The leadership council was all four grade levels. The focus was to build a linear, comprehensive and sustainable leadership program. The most significant event that took place was the “Senior Brocation.” Coach Amstutz takes his seniors white water rafting, Coach Ekovich used to take his seniors on a day trip driving dune buggies and I took my seniors on an overnight canoe trip in Manistee State Park.
Coach Chris Crieghton, formerly of Wabash College, was influential for many of these senior trips across the state. He still uses this tactic at Eastern Michigan. His seniors have traversed up Pikes Peak, or in my case, white water rafting and sky diving. The purpose of this trip is a deep dive into many personal topics. These discussions approach the good, bad and ugly within the program. Any issues uncovered during these conversations are addressed and remedied during this time. These trips give all seniors a voice within the program and are often the most memorable part of their high school football experience.
We hope you enjoyed part 1 of being a head coach. We know there is way more into the off-season that can be covered here.
We are looking forward to next week when Coach Maksimchuk and myself will discuss the infamous in-season weekend!
If you have a topic or wish to continue the discussion you can find Coach Maksimchuk on Twitter, @NMaksimchuk, or reach out to me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing you here next week.
Yours in the Pursuit of Excellence,
Pete Kempf and Nick Maksimchuk