Since 1987, with the release of Tecmo Bowl, we have been raising generations of aspiring offensive coordinators.
The difficulty of this job has been masked by every person’s ability to pick up a joystick and have play-calling success. Your fellow coaches, players, parents, and fans will all be critical of what you do, but that is part of having the title of Offensive Coordinator. Now get your visor, Oakley sunglasses, and Starbucks ready to go.
It is your responsibility to ask some essential questions of your offense. These are things that you will need to evaluate at least every season to make sure you put the best product on the field. Some of these may be questions that are asked on a weekly basis.
Do You Use a System?
There are many pre-packaged systems that exist out there.
No matter what style of offense you want, you can find someone that has created a system that will give you the foundation to run an offense. Some of the systems are playbooks, practice plans, call sheets, etc. and others are way more involved and will give you access to coaches for advice, game planning, and film breakdown.
While these can be very expensive, they can be extremely valuable, especially to an inexperienced coordinator that has issues that he doesn’t even realize he has. The biggest benefit is that most systems teach you a mindset. That understanding of how to plan, practice, and play call could be worth the money.
Before subscribing to a system make sure you do your research. Talk to coaches that currently use it and more importantly the coaches that used to use it and find out why they no longer subscribe.
There is a lot of information floating around, especially on the internet, that can easily fill a playbook for any style of offense. The coaching profession is one of generosity and openness. Most any coach is willing to share what they have with you and it is easy to fill your entire social media feed with coaches providing content.
Again, do your research on your sources of information. Not all football teams are created equally and there are things that may not be applicable to your situation for a variety of reasons (roster size, staff size, player ability, etc.). If you are going to develop your own system, the verbiage you use is one of the biggest issues that comes into play. Take your time and build out a create a system to name your plays.
Pace of Play
Do you try to melt faces with speed, milk the clock, or some combination of the two?
This is a question that needs to be discussed by the head coach and the rest of the staff. It is an issue that impacts the entire team and the staff needs to be on board.
There are positives and drawbacks to each style of play but everyone needs to be on board. When it backfires, and it will, the message of the staff needs to be unified. Dissension on the staff will trickle down to the players and create a divide. For instance, I have always been a believer in an up-tempo offense, and we have had times where we have had criticism because our 3 and out ran 12 seconds off the scoreboard and other times we scored too fast and left scoring opportunities for the other team.
Your decision about your offense’s pace of play will also dramatically impact how you practice, communicate and call plays. Make sure you evaluate what is best for you by asking the following questions:
Find coaches that use a pace similar to what you want and start a dialogue to figure out what is right for you. The trendy thing is to be up-tempo, but it may not be the right move for you. Most teams will be a hybrid and have the ability to kill the clock or go fast, but what will 85% of your plays look like?
How Much is Too Much?
I grew up playing in a system that was Wing-T based and we had 2 formations and ran trap, belly, buck, wing counter, waggle, and 2 drop back concepts.
We won plenty of football games and even today I see offenses that carry about the same number of plays into a game and win. Then I watch some teams and they seem to run every play in the known football universe.
Here is my advice when building an offense:
1. Attempt to build a playbook that could last your entire career. See your playbook as a menu and each season you will select the items that work best for your program at that point in time. Our staff each season creates a priority list of plays and we begin to install in that order.
2. Build language that can be universal and open enough to adjust and grow.
3. Develop tags to easily take some basic concepts and make them more appropriate for more situations. Also, many plays are only one tag away from one another. Tagging will bring simplicity to the players.
4. Have the ability to move players to different locations. Everyone has THAT GUY on their team that should touch the ball at least 10 times a game. Can you move them around the field in order to put them in a better position to touch the ball?
5. Have some “go-to” or base plays each season that you, your staff, and your players believe in, especially in critical situations.
6. When you add to your playbook look for plays that protect or complement your base plays. In order to be able to call those base plays multiple times, you need to make sure there are ways to make sure defenses don’t tee off on you. I once sat through a clinic presentation by OSU’s Ryan Day in which he said every base run play needed to have an RPO, play-action, reverse, and ability to have multiple ball carriers. If you build a playbook with this mindset it will make game planning much simpler.
Can You Teach It?
This is the most important factor.
Can you and the offensive staff teach it properly to your players?
This is a deep question with many layers. Do coaches work both sides of the ball, do players play both ways, how much meeting time do you have, how much practice time do you have, do you have an access to an expert, how many returning starters do you have, what is the prior knowledge of the coaches, and what is the prior knowledge of the players are just a few of the things that will factor into what you can effectively teach.
One of the most valuable exercises I have ever used is making every position coach submit a position manual, and then they have to teach the rest of the offensive staff about their position. I also use this in the interview process for a new coach. I was hired one time because the head coach walked by the room where I was student-teaching and he listened to my lesson about the Battle of the Bulge. When I approached him about a coaching opening he basically hired me on the spot because he heard me teaching a complex concept to freshmen with success. He figured I could easily teach football concepts.
In my situation, I am fortunate to have 9 coaches on staff that are trained as teachers. Those coaches that are not trained in such a way, may require help structuring their coaching methods to best meet the needs of their players.
If you take the time to evaluate all these questions there is no doubt that you can develop the offense that will fit your team now and for years to come.
We all have goods and bads in our current situation and it just takes a little brutal honesty to evaluate where you are, see what you can control, and then move forward the best way you see fit.
The article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 1, Issue 3.