Football in July…..The season ahead
July 23, 2012
In the late summer of 1965 I was eagerly awaiting my first season as an assistant high school football coach. It was early august and I had reported to Willamina High School to meet with head coach Gleason Eakin and the football staff two weeks prior to the official opening of fall practice.
We spent the next fourteen days in detailed meetings that covered everything involved in organizing and preparing a high school football team. Coach Eakin was very thorough and our daylong meetings covered every possible football topic. I was very impressed and I felt our eventual seven win two loss record was a testimonial to our preparation.
The following year coach Eakin had moved on and our new coach, Choctaw Smith showed up the day of the first practice. After introducing himself he told me to run some drills with the skill guys and he’d call us together when he was ready. Fortunately coach Smith called us together before I ran out of drills and just a moment before our players mutinied. To say that coach Smith was different than coach Eakin would not nearly do justice to the chasm between their two philosophies. I felt like our season was doomed before it began. But, another seven win two-loss season pointed out to me in glaring reality that there is more than one way to coach football.
Coach Eakin was all about organization and on field reads and keys. Coach Smith was a ‘knock him on his ass and tackle the guy with the football man. Both worked. After telling that story to colleagues and friends I’ve often been asked to which of those philosophies I most adhere? The answer is, I believe in organization up to a point but if I had to choose between the two coach Smith’s simpler coaching version would most likely fit like a tailored suit.
Once again it’s closing in on August. It’s been forty-seven years since I began my coaching career and I’m still as excited for the beginning as I was when I was a twenty four year old novice. The game of football is in my blood and I can’t seem to get enough. I’m asked now and then about retirement and my answer is I’ll keep doing it until someone in charge asks me to retire or I feel like I’m no longer relating to the kids.
It hasn’t been very long ago that high school football began in mid August and we rarely saw much of our players over the summer months. A lot has changed since 1965 but the most obvious to me is the off-season emphasis and the summer preparation. July has become for most teams a football prep month. Summer camps, individual position coaches, elite travel 7 on 7 teams, for better or worse, have suddenly become the norm for a lot of programs.
I will continue to keep it as simple as possible in Pacer land. Six or seven days in July we have a non-mandatory shirt & shorts team workout and some 7 on 7 coaching moments. I refuse to get involved in the OSAA approved two-month full pad contact with scrimmages and games that some feel is necessary to field a competitive team. To state the obvious, it’s simply high school football and copying the NFL or D-1 teams is just insane. I want our kids to understand that family comes first and if they need to miss a non-mandatory summer session it’s ok by me.
I’ve said this many, many times. I want our players excited both when the season begins and when it ends. In my opinion, Twelve month, or nearly so, football doesn’t allow the body or the mind adequate time to recover. As an example, this past week we had two or three projected starters present during both our team practice and our 7 on 7 competitions. All that did was give about twenty-five other kids a chance to gain valuable experience. And it gave our staff a good look at young kids and hopefully to find a hidden gem or two.
My early experience as an assistant coach at Willamina allowed me to learn a very, very valuable lesson. There are without a doubt many ways to approach and to coach this great game. I would be the last guy to try to tell someone else how to run their program but I would say this; high school football is a fall sport and just one of many that our young people have an opportunity to experience. Don’t try to make it something it isn’t and always remember for most kids it’s a hobby and also odds are for Seniors will be the last time they will play the sport.
I believe it is our obligation to try to make the season for our players, their families, the Lakeridge community and our staff a glorious experience.