What To Run When Nothing is Working

What To Run When Nothing is Working

I believe in this Air Raid system. I believe it is the best way to play. I believe that very few high school teams actually play solid pass coverage. I believe that you can teach a QB to systematically take apart a defense. I believe that with enough reps every passing team can become efficient and successful. I believe that this is the best way to win. I believe you have enough kids in your school to run this system effectively. I believe that there are four WR’s a RB and a QB walking your hallways every day. I believe kids will be attracted to this style and will come out to play for you. I believe this is the most fun that you can ever have coaching football.

But, I also know that stuff happens!

Kids get hurt. Kids get sick. Kids become ineligible. Kids stop coming to practice because of a rough home life. Kids get ejected. All of this hinders our ability to stay consistent and give our guys the best chance for success on Friday night.

I also know that our opponents change every week and every year. Sometimes, you have to play the exception to the rule. Sometimes you have to play teams that are just flat out better than you at every position. Sometimes all of our assumptions are challenged by that one opponent that can play man, stop your passing game, and stack 7 in the box all night to stop your running attack.

Sometimes stuff happens!

Sometimes your guys just can’t catch. Sometimes your QB has an off night. Sometimes you just can’t stay focused. Sometimes you just can’t hang onto the ball or sustain drives. Sometimes you just can’t get into the end zone.

Sometimes it seems like the system is broken. Nothing is working. You have no identity. Sometimes you think that if you just changed your mentality, changed your plays, your formations, your system, you could fix the problem.

If you have coached for any length of time, you have undoubtedly come to this crossroads, where you are tempted to scrap it all in favor of something that gives you a chance to win. You have been tempted to go back to your roots and jettison all this new, hurry up, spread, throwing crap that doesn’t really work unless you have great players.

Before I go preaching at you and telling you what not to do, let me tell you that I have been there and I have gone the way of fools. I have thrown it all away. I have scrapped it all in favor of a pro set or a double wing. I have been there and I have lived the frustration and, sometimes I have made the wrong decision.

When it seems like the system is the problem, the greatest temptation is to change the system. We all know the line, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” And, sometimes, that line permeates our thinking and causes us to make drastic decisions that are based on false logic.

You see, the problem with that line of thinking is that it discards any chance of improvement. Everything we do as coaches is predicated on the fact that doing the same thing over and over will produce different results. Everything we teach and believe and stress is based on the principle that reps and reps and more reps will eventually lead to success. We believe that we can take a kid that can’t catch and teach him to catch, We believe that we can take a kid that can’t block and teach him to block. We believe that we can take a kid that can’t tackle and teach him to tackle. I submit that the opposite is true. I submit that the only way to be successful is to keep doing the same stuff over and over and over.

If that is true, it’s asinine to believe that the answer to our problems is a different set of plays, If you worked on this system for a month and they still can’t execute it…teach it better. If they can’t run Zone Right. Teach them to run Zone Right better. If they can’t run Mesh, teach them to run Mesh better. Don’t sell out. Stay the course.

What does it say to your players if, all of a sudden, after your 3rd straight loss you bring in an entirely new playbook? Put yourself in the mind of a high school kid. First, it implies that you never actually believed in your system, even though you expected them to believe in it. Second, it implies that you don’t think they can actually improve. They have hit their ceiling. Third, it implies that you are panicking. You are so concerned with the here and now that you have lost your sense of identity. (Again, this is coming from a guy that has done this before. I once changed offenses three times in a year. They say you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Guess what…by the end of the year, when none of my new offenses was working either, we went back to our spread sets. We actually had some success running the stuff that we scrapped 6 weeks earlier. Just imagine if we had practiced it for those 6 weeks).

Finally, it sends the message that you are so concerned with wins and losses that you have been driven to this decision. You have based your definition of success upon the one thing that is more fleeting and more unfulfilling than any other, the numbers on the scoreboard. Despite everything you have said and preached and modeled, this abandonment of your core identity tells your kids that, really, it is all about winning.

This sounds dangerously close to pride. It sounds dangerously close to obstinance. It sounds like you won’t listen to reason. But in actuality, it is exactly the opposite.

You see, I don’t think that anyone can change systems in the middle of the year and actually see the level of success that inspired that change. Think about it. You have spent 3-4 months installing, repping, drilling, and practicing and offense and you still aren’t proficient at it. How do you expect to install a different offense in 3 days?

If you are 0-4, changing the system is not going to make you 6-4. Your kids need to get better. Your coaches need to get better. Your practices need to get sharper.

If you lose, that does not mean that the system is broken. It just means you have to coach it better, teach it better, learn it better, work harder at it.

Great coaches have a philosophy and they stick to that philosophy in the midst of success and failure. Bill Walsh lost a lot of games. Did he ever abandon the West Coast offense? Mike Leach is getting his butt kicked at WSU, but I don’t think they are coming out in the wishbone next weekend. Chip Kelly has lost almost every big game of his career, but he still plays as fast as she can. They have a a system. They believe in it. If it doesn’t work, they figure out how to coach it better.

So, that’s a diatribe on what not to do. The question is, then, what do we do? What do we do when nothing seems to be working? Here are 5 tips.

1) Have an emergency plan

Have a little something…just in case. This may seem contrary to everything that I just said. I just railed against abandoning the system and now it seems like I am telling you to abandon the system. But, that is not what I mean by an emergency plan. What I mean is that you should have a package that you have practiced since day 1 that is an alternative to your base offense.

This is something that you can go to a in a pinch. It’s something that you can rely on in a rainstorm or if your QB gets hurt in the 4th quarter. It’s something you can go to when nothing else is working. This is way different than coming in after 3 straight losses and throwing a new playbook on the table. This is a package of 6-8 plays that you work on every single week just in case you run into a situation when you need them. Build it into your practice plan.

Personally, I like a package of I formation plays – Power, Lead Zone, Toss, Dive, Boot, and maybe a couple quick routes or 1 on 1 tagged routes.

Don’t get too complicated. Remember, this is a change up or an emergency package. You don’t need to include your whole offense.

2) Focus on personnel instead of plays.

Sometimes, changing your offensive rhythm is as simple as moving a guy or two to another spot. Maybe your best RB is really your best slot receiver. Maybe your Z needs to move inside, or your Y needs to move to Right Tackle. It’s much easier to teach 1 guy a new spot than it is to teach an entire offense to everyone. If your offense isn’t clicking, maybe you aren’t matching your players with their best skill set. Constantly evaluate.

3) Change-up your base formation.

I love Ace and Trips. I love 1 back. I think it makes the box simple and limits defensive adjustments. But, maybe your answer is a new formation. You can run Double Tight instead of Ace. You can run Trey instead of Trips. You can put your H in the backfield and run some 2-back. This is much different than changing the whole system. Adding a new formation can give you a different look at the point of attack and change the way the defense aligns.

If you have a really good TE that can set the edge and get open vs. linebackers, don’t waste him lining him up in the slot all year. Maybe running right behind him is the answer to your running game woes.

4) Focus on fundamentals…Coach harder.

Ask yourself…really ask yourself… are your guys doing everything they have been coached to do? Or, more accurately, have you really coached everything they way you can? Are they really executing their footwork, their releases, their hand placement, their angles, their cuts, their stems? Are you really coaching as hard as you can? It’s a cop out to blame the play. Remember, the old adage…this game is not played by X’s and O’s, it’s played by Jimmys and Joes. Coach your Jimmys and Joes harder!

5) Focus on what you are good at…Less is more.

If you used the installation guide from Win With The Pass, you put in the whole offense. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to keep running everything. If you are 0- 12 on Verticals and 6-8 on Blue, get rid of verticals and rep the heck out of Blue. If you can’t get any yards on outside zone, get rid of it and use speed option to get the edge instead.

If you are struggling, the answer is less, not more. Pick a few things and get really good at them. Rep them over and over and over and over. Narrow your offense down to your favorite 3 or 4 pass concepts and your favorite 1 or 2 run concepts. You can get a lot of yards and score a lot of points with Red, Blue, Levels, Mesh, Inside Zone, and Speed Option.

You are not alone in your questions. Anyone that has ever coached has questioned his system, his practice plan, his drills, his play calling. Remember…really good coaches lose every single weekend. Really good offenses get shut out. Really good passing games throw picks and lose games. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it was a bad play. This system is tested and proven. Stick with it!

Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it!

Keep Chucking it!