When I first began coaching, I did not know much about what I was doing. Most of my knowledge came from what I learned from playing in high school. There weren’t many books about coaching football in those days and video was in its infancy. One thing I did learn early is that you needed to find someone who was successful and learn from them. I studied some of the great coaches and one that I found fascinating was Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi was an Italian American who did not get his first head coaching job until his late 40’s. He became head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1959 and immediately changed the culture around the team. The Packers were in the NFL Championship game in his second season. He led the Packers to 5 NFL Championships, including victories in the first two Super Bowls. I studied Lombardi and his coaching techniques and took much of my philosophy from him. Here are a few of the things I tried to incorporate into T.R. Miller football.
1) Hard work builds confidence. We spend many hours lifting weights, running and conditioning. If you have put all of this work into football, you will have the confidence that you are prepared for anything. Lombardi said it best-“ The harder you work the harder it is to surrender.”
2) The players should be emotionally involved. Football is an emotional game and players can play at a high level when there emotions are high. If you are emotional about your team, chances are it will be difficult not to give your best effort. We love motivational videos, music, gimmicks, and speeches. We love to get fired up.
3) Demand effort every day from everyone. We have a standard of work in off season conditioning and practice. I expect our players to perform at a high level and give great effort. I expect our coaches to coach practice aggressively every day. I expect our managers to work their responsibility with skill. Our video staff must be ready to go each day and shoot the video the way our coaching staff wants it done. Not just occasionally—EVERY DAY!
4) Play physical football. You never want to line up and the other team take it to you physically. It hurts your self image and how a teams views itself is critical. The one thing a football team does not want to be called is soft. You have to do the tough things, the hard things in your program to build that toughness. We have a saying, - “There is a right way to do it and an easy way to do it and they are seldom the same thing”. I believe you have to block and RUN the ball on offense and take on blocks and tackle on defense. And you have to practice it!
5) Be great at something—be known for something. Lombardi was an offensive coach and he was known for running the handoff sweep play. He built his offense around it and acquired players to run it. In fact, he was so well known for running the sweep that his play throughout the football world was known as The Green Bay Sweep. At Miller we always seemed to have good runners and our play has been the toss sweep out of the “I” formation. We are known all over the state of Alabama for the sweep. We believe in it. I want our players to believe that if we execute that it can’t be stopped. Lombardi believed that you are better off running a few plays and running them well than running a bunch of stuff average. I took this as part of our philosophy.
My favorite Vince Lombardi quote---“Winning is not a some time thing, it is an all time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while……you do them right all the time.”
It is the beginning of a new football season, and with it comes the dreams of great games and the hope of a successful season. I went to see the new football movie about the DeLa Salle football team called, When the Game Stands Tall. It was great and I enjoyed the story, the football action and the inspirational lessons that the movie teaches.
But the greatest football movie of all time for me is still Rudy. I watched it again the other night and it never fails to be an emotional experience each time I watch.
It is the story of a no name high school football player who had a dream of playing football for Notre Dame. A struggling student in high school, Rudy enters Holy Cross Junior College and eventually earns grades good enough to get him accepted to Notre Dame. He makes the team through a tryout because of his great effort and becomes part of the practice squad. His dream of actually dressing out at a game looks to be impossible until his teammates get involved.
There are some great scenes and great lines in this movie, but the best comes when the Notre Dame players go to the head coach’s office. One by one they lay their jersey on his desk and express that Rudy should dress in their place. The best line has to be spoken by team captain Roland Steele. When he requested that Rudy dress in his place, he was told by the head coach that he was an All American and team captain and he should act like it. To which Steele replied, “I believe I am.” That one gets me every time.
For me football was an emotional game when I played and I have enjoyed coaching it the same way. I love the kids who are always considered too small or too slow but manage over time to be good high school players because of their great courage and determination. I have enjoyed teaching our players over the years the lessons that can be learned from this movie.
The best 3 lessons that jump out to me are:
1) The importance of a positive attitude- You have to believe in yourself and your ability to get the job done. There is a lot of discouragement in football and life and you have to keep believing, and not get discouraged. Rudy was so positive that he inspired others around him.
2) We all have been blessed with courage- Courage is one of the best things we can possess, and sometimes it is courage that we need to perform every day tasks. There are many forms of courage, but you must choose to use yours.
3) Respect- One of the greatest things you can earn through football is the respect of your teammates. There is a feeling of comfort in knowing that you are respected by those around you for your efforts rather than your abilities.
Rent this movie and watch it if you get a chance. We should never underestimate the life lessons that you can learn through football. Rudy certainly delivers those lessons, and should inspire you as well as entertain you for an evening.