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Copyright by John T. Reed

Like most of you, I am a voracious reader of football books and articles and I attend clinics and buy and watch football coaching videos. Early on, I had great difficulty understanding them. I figured it was my fault. After all, I was a novice in the field.

I have now coached football for 14 seasons, read a zillion coaching books, read a zillion articles, attended a zillion clinics, and watched a zillion videos. I have also written four books on football coaching—ten if you count each edition. I have written articles on football coaching that were published in national magazines. And I have given a number of football clinics. And guess what? I still have trouble understanding what other people write on the subject and what they say in videos.

The difference is, now, I no longer think it's my fault. The vast majority of the coaching books, articles, and videos are very poorly done. One problem is jargon.

Jargon

All professions have jargon. Jargon is the specialized vocabulary of a particular line of work. One problem in football coaching is that there is no unifying institution to make sure jargon is standardized. In the medical profession, they have medical schools and peer-reviewed medical journals to make sure most medical terms have only one meaning.

Because of the absence of such institutions in football coaching, it is a Tower of Babel. Different coach writers use the same words to mean different things. Glossaries in some football books give more than one meaning for some terms. For example, look at the word “waggle” in Tom Flores' Football the violent chess match. He says, “Some coaches call it a waggle if the quarterback moves in the direction of the flow behind the backs to whom he has faked. Others call it a waggle if he moves opposite the flow and is protected by a pulling lineman.” In other cases, different books give just one definition of a term, but different books define it different ways.

One of the basic principles of language is that a word must only have one meaning. I know the English language violates that on occasion. I also know that such violations often cause problems. A man was once asked by his wife in a cable if she could buy an expensive jewel. He cabled back, “No, price too high.” But the cable company left off the comma and she got “No price too high” and bought the jewel. The problem there, aside from dropping the comma, is that the word “no” has two meanings. One is “request denied;” the other is “none.”

There is no one in charge of the English language to prevent such problems, but professions can and should have a language arbiter. I created a football dictionary. But I have little or no clout. The obvious organization that should create an official football dictionary with only one meaning per word wherever possible is the American Football Coaches Association. That is primarily a college coaches organization. There is no pro coaches association. High school coaches have an association that primarily promulgates rules. They would be the second choice. Here are some examples of problem jargon.

‘Bootleg'

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Take the word bootleg. I just read a book called Coaching Fast Break Football by Wayne Wilkes. He seems to think the word bootleg means for the quarterback to run out to the side away from the play fake accompanied by a pulling lineman who blocks. I thought the word for that was “waggle.” I have also seen the word “bootleg” used to mean a quarterback roll out to the same side as the play fake with or without a blocker.

So when the word “bootleg” is used in a book, article, video, or clinic speech, the audience will probably be confused because the word means different things to different coaches.

‘Eagle'

Another word that drives me nuts in football coaching circles is “eagle.” Originally, it was a 5-2 defense invented by onetime Philadelphia Eagles coach Greasy Neale in the 1940s. The Pro Football Fan's Companion says, “one or both defensive ends drop back into pass coverage, effectively turning it into a 4-3 or 3-4.”

But Tom Flores Violent chess match says it's a “defensive alignment with the tackles outside of the offensive guards and the linebackers on the ends.”

Joe Thiesmann's Complete Idiot's Guide to Football says, “The eagle defense uses a linebacker on the inside of the tackle box and puts a lineman on the outside.” That's three books with three different definitions. The Flores and Thiesmann versions sound similar, but are both a bit vague.

George Kraft's Fundamentals of Coaching Football just has a diagram. It shows the defensive end outside a weakside (no tight end side) tackle and a linebacker lined up over the weakside tackle. In Complete Linebacking, Lou Tepper defines it the same way.

Bill Arnsparger's Coaching Defensive Football shows a diagram of an “eagle adjustment” with the defensive end outside the tight end and a linebacker lined up right in the tight end's face.

A high-school coach once used the word “eagle” as a verb when he was talking to me. I said I was not sure what the term meant. He admitted he was unable to define it.

After looking it up in several books, I have a sense that it generally has something to do with shifting the defensive tackle or end outside the weak tackle or tight end and putting a linebacker over or on the weak tackle or tight end. Until the football coaching world gets a little more precise and consistent, the word “eagle” is not yet ready for prime time.

Defensive line techniques

Once upon a time, a Texas high school coach named Bum Phillips invented terminology for the alignment of defensive linemen. Everybody thinks Bear Bryant invented it. Nope, it was Bum. At least that's what Bear tells us on page 29 of his book Building a Championship Football Team.

This terminology generally numbers the various positions a defensive lineman can line up in in relation to the offensive linemen. The numbers start at 0 at the center and generally go up as you move outward. Unfortunately, it's more complicated than that. Some possible alignments are skipped and others are out of order. For example, the various alignments on a tight end are inside shade, 7; head up, 6; and outside shade, 9. If you line up outside the tight end completely, you are in an 8 technique. On the offensive tackle, there is a 4 (head up) and a 5 (outside shade), but there is no inside shade number. Accordingly, many coaches have created the “4i” technique which is inside shade on the offensive tackle. A 3 technique is in the guard-tackle gap. There are no outside or inside shades on the guard number, which is 2 for a head-up alignment. You could create inside shade designations with the letter “i”, but I have never heard anyone use the letter “o” to designate outside shades.

This is quite confusing, even to experienced coaches on staffs where they simply never use this terminology, like my son's high school team. They do all right without it—three North Coast Section championships in the last four years—ranked second in the state and undefeated my son's senior year.

To make matters worse, some coaches who use the terminology change it intentionally or just screw it up because they never fully understood it to begin with. I recently attended a clinic where the coach said, “We just number from the inside out in sequence.” Fine, but there are more possible alignments—four for each of the four offensive linemen on each side of the ball (including the center) or 16—than there are numbers—10. So anyone trying to use such a numbering system has to skip some possible alignments. Which ones are they skipping? And why? He didn't say.

Bottom line, no coach author should ever use this terminology in a communication to an audience beyond their immediate staff and team. If a writer or speaker insists on using this terminology, it should be defined in parentheses each time it is used. At the very least, the writer or speaker must, at the beginning of his presentation, provide a diagram to the audience showing the meaning of the various techniques.

Editors of football coaching materials must insist that jargon is either not used or is defined in a parenthesis or a diagram at the beginning of the discussion. The most common words like blitz and pass are OK. But words like smash route, dog, jab step, and so forth must be translated into plain English. Editors must insist that they can understand what is being said, even if they have no more than the average American male's knowledge of football. They must not assume, “Well, I don't know what the heck this means, but I guess the coaches who will be reading it do.”

Spelling

Spelling in written coach materials is downright comical. They spell backpedal as backpeddle. A shovel pass becomes a shuffle pass. A sight adjustment is a site adjustment. Counter trey becomes counter tray. Then there is the verb orientate. They mean orient.

There is such a thing as a spell checker. Also, if you are a football coach, you ought to know how to spell football words.

Page 23 of the September, 2005 issue of American Football Monthly—a magazine for which I was once a columnist—hit a new low. Explaining how simple “high-powered passing offenses” can be, it says, “While intelligence is on his recruiting check list, [Pearl River Community College head coach Tim] Hatten insists you don’t have to be a road scholar to run his offense.”

I might be able to run it then. I studied a little civil engineering in college and even operated a road grader briefly during an introduction to Army engineer training, but I wouldn't call myself a road scholar.

Some spelling errors just make us laugh. But others can cause confusion. For example, peddle means to sell, so a relatively new coach may figure “backpeddle” means to fake going backward when you really are not, selling the offense on the fake. Spelled correctly as backpedal, the reader recognizes the word pedal refers to the motion of the legs when backpedaling and how it resembles pedaling a bike.

To try to help the language problem in football, I have created a football terminology dictionary.

Diagrams

Play diagrams in books and articles are often all screwed up. A recent issue of American Football Monthly had text that referred to three successive play diagrams. The text depicted three different plays. But the diagrams were all identical and did not match any of the three text depictions.

A Sports Illustrated article on the hot plays of several top college football teams described a counter or misdirection play. But the accompanying diagram was a simple 25 power trap with no misdirection. I contacted the coaching staff in question and asked why they called it a counter or misdirection when there was no misdirection in the diagram. They wrote back and said Sports Illustrated screwed up the diagram leaving out the tailback's initial step to the right before cutting back to the left.

The first printing of Coaching Fast Break Football had a zillion diagram errors: players with no assignment, diagrams with 10 offensive players, others with 12, some players were doing something different from what the text said, others were not completing their text-described action. Blockers often blocked the defender into the play. Some diagrams used letters for defensive players—the common method. Others inexplicably had circles—usually only used for offensive players. The tight end was called Y in most of the book, but suddenly became tight end in the back of the book.

Why are football book and article diagrams so screwed up? Coaches usually provide sloppy hand-drawn diagrams to the publisher. These are turned over to graphics people who know little or nothing about football. Although most publishers turn the finished galley proofs back to the coach author for final check, the coaches often give less than 100% effort to the proofreading and say, “Yeah, yeah. It's fine,” when it's not.

Videos

Coaching videos are generally of such poor quality that it is a scandal. Coach Hugh Wyatt does a great job with videos he produces about his double wing offense. He used to be in TV. But the typical coaching video is just a coach doing a clinic with a camera pointed at him and the only microphone is on the camera.

The coaches are often disorganized and rambling. They often speak in impenetrable jargon. The lighting is often bad and glare on the white board or overhead projection screen often makes it illegible. At best, diagrams drawn hastily during the presentation are hard to read, incomplete, and sometimes incorrect. Lack of a mike on the coach often renders the audio garbled. I recently watched a “professionally produced” video titled “Man pass coverage.” The first part of it was about zone pass coverage, the opposite of man! That's like buying a box of Wheaties and finding it contained half Cheerios.

In some videos, like Tom Landry's, the big name just makes a cameo appearance at the beginning and/or end.

There probably never will be quality football coaching videos. The numbers don't work. You have to shoot about ten minutes of video for every minute you use. That much waste is expensive. In writing, you use about 95% of what you originally write. Fewer coaches want video compared to the number that want books. Also, most high school and higher level coaching staffs have VCRs in tandem to make it easy to duplicate video tapes. That cuts sales of the video producer even further.

One really great video you must watch

There is a really great video that will tremendously help your team. It is the video of your team's most recent games. Don't just watch it for the entertainment value. Study it. Watch each play at least eleven times. During each of the eleven times, watch one of your players.

If you are on defense, first see what play the offense ran. Then after getting straight in your mind what each of your defenders should have done, watch it eleven times to see what each of your defenders actually did. Take detailed notes.

If you were on offense, run it first to see what play you were running. Figure out what each player should be doing against the defensive alignment in question. Then run it again at least eleven times to see what each of your offensive players actually did. Take detailed notes.

Do the same on special teams.

Rude awakening

If you are a rookie coach or a veteran coach who has never done this before, you are in for a rude awakening. In general, in youth football, your players don’t have a clue what they are supposed to be doing because you spent far too little time making sure they did. Furthermore, many youth players do not choose to use correct technique because of their own comfort, convenience, personal glory-seeking, or fear. The typical youth coach watching film of his team for the first time, I mean really watching, is going to find out that his carefully drawn-up plays exist only in his play book and his imagination. As far as the only place that really matters—the playing field on game day—is concerned, his plays do not exist. Sure, the ball handlers are executing their part of the play. But that’s because that was the only part you looked at when you did it in practice. Problem is this is an eleven-man game. The best team wins. If you are playing one or two against eleven, you’re toast. The typical poorly coached youth team is playing with one or two against eleven when they are on offense.

Before you can fix something, you must first diagnose accurately what was wrong. In football, the only way to do that is to study film of your own team very closely. The youth football world is full of guys who think they need better plays or more plays when what the really need is to move the fullback out one step before the snap on the sweep play so he can get to the cornerback earlier—or some similar adjustment. Frequently, film study will reveal a kid who simply does not want to be there—a boy who just looks for a place to hide on every play. These boys do what I call “run to daylight and hop around looking concerned.” You probably will not see them until you study your film. After you find them, straighten them out or move them out. You cannot win with such players. Everyone's efforts—both players and coaches—are for naught if you have players who are making no effort to do their jobs.

You will learn about 100 times more to improve your team watching video of your own team and analyzing it in detail than you will watching somebody's else's highlights and chalk talk—especially when the somebody else coaches at a different level than you.

Jokes

Somehow, the idea got started that all speeches had to start with a joke. An American who spoke to a group of executives in Japan through a translator was pleased with the response to his opening joke, until he commented about it to an English-speaking member of the audience. When the American said that he was pleasantly surprised at how well the Japanese got the joke, it was explained to him that the translator said something to the effect, “The American is telling a joke, which is a tradition in the U.S. at the beginning of speeches. Please laugh now.”

Coach of the Year Clinic Manual articles often start with jokes—usually shaggy dog stories—often jokes most of us have heard before. Spare us, please. If the speakers at clinics will not skip the lame attempts at stand-up comedy, at least the publishers could edit out the jokes when they print the manuals.

Thanks

Clinic speakers usually start by thanking many of the people in their lives—the great head coach, the great staff, the great players, and the great opportunity to represent State. Memo to editors: leave that stuff out of the printed versions of clinic speeches and cut it out of videos of clinics. AFCA books by Human Kinetics usually leave it out. AFCA manuals published by AFCA itself and Coach of the Year Clinics Manuals usually leave that stuff in.

I am a great believer in acknowledgment sections in books. Mine have them. I try to include everyone who ever helped me, like an Academy Awards speech. But no one reads the acknowledgment section except the acknowledgees. Keep that stuff out of the main body of the article, book, or tape.

Intimidated

One of the big problems in publishing football coaching materials is that publishers and editors are intimidated by the authors or the subject matter of coaching. That's a formula for communications disaster when you consider that most coaches are not only not writers, they are far from being writers.

There are some notable exceptions. The book Playing Football the NFL Way written by Tom Bass and published by St. Martin’s Press is super and makes almost none of the mistakes I complain about in this article. It is what a football coaching book should be except that it has no bibliography. It does have an index and glossary. (Bass’s later youth football book is annoyingly politically and psychologically correct. I do not recommend it. I got the impression he may never have coached a youth team and is just spouting dumbed-down NFL stuff.))

Harding Press does a good job of keeping the diagrams squared away and using readable writing, but their books, like many today, have no indexes or bibliographies (lists of other similar books, articles, and videos). Coaches Choice books are good if James Peterson is one of the authors. He owns Coaches Choice. When he is not one of the authors on a Coaches Choice book, the understandability may range from great to “What the heck?” Coaches Choice books also generally have no indexes or bibliographies.

Human Kinetics generally does a good job with their books, like George Allen's Guide to Special Teams, although they, too, usually have no indexes or bibliographies.

The best football coaching books are generally done by major publishing houses that publish all sorts of books. They are intimidated by no one. One of the best football books ever is Vince Lombardi on Football. It was published by Van Nostrand Reinhold, a major publisher of technical books. It has everything but a bibliography. Parker books did a lot of football books in years past. They still have some and they do a decent job of making them readable and understandable.

Indexes and bibliographies

All nonfiction books should have indexes and bibliographies. It's cheaper to leave them out. But it stinks. It makes the book less helpful to the reader. The author has a bibliography. It is the stack of books he used to learn what is in his book. He only needs to grab the books off the shelf and list them in the back of his book. That's what I do. My books have, by far, the best football bibliographies around—mainly because they are almost the only bibliographies anymore. One coach publisher told me coaches don't care about bibliographies. Yes, they do. I get compliments about mine.

Nowadays, all you have to do to index a book is mark the words in question and the computer will do it automatically. Yet now that it's easier than ever to create an index, indexes are harder to find than ever. Coaches ought to complain about that. It's really chintzy of the publishers to leave out indexes. It saves a few hours work and a few pages of printing, but greatly reduces the utility of the resulting book.

Great resume

Some coach-authors have great coaching resumes, but write books that are hard to understand. Bill Arnsparger's Coaching Defensive Football is an excellent case in point. I genuflect at the mention of his name. My copy of his book is autographed. I was lucky enough to get to talk with him one-on-one at Cal's spring practice. But I cannot understand his book. Wish I could, but I can't. It was published by St. Lucie Press. They were apparently intimidated by Arnsparger's resume and failed to force him to make his book understandable. If I could buy the plain English translation rights to his book, I could outsell the original version by 10 to 1, that is, if I could figure out what the heck he is saying in the book.

Some might think his book was intended for NFL coaches and they understand it. I doubt NFL coaches all would understand it. But more important, no book is published for NFL coaches. There are only 32 NFL teams. Football coaching books are not really even published for college teams, either. There are only 604 four-year college teams. Too small of an audience. The target audiences for football coaching books are high school and youth coaches. There are tens of thousands of youth and high-school teams.

Grant's captain

General Ulysses Grant reportedly had a captain on his staff who was known simply as Grant's captain. The captain's sole talent was his stupidity. Grant would draw up battle plans, explain them to the captain, then listen while the captain explained them to another officer who had not heard Grant's explanation to the captain. Because he was stupid, the captain would often garble the plans. Then Grant would redo them, simplifying them, and start the process all over. When got to where the captain could explain the plans correctly to the other officers, Grant would issue the plan to the rest of his officers.

Publishers of football coaching books need a Grant's captain. He should be the lowest common denominator of the target audience. That would be a rookie youth coach who never played football. When he understands every word in the book, it is ready to go to print. The vast majority of football-coaching books do not come within a country mile of meeting that standard.

Magazine articles

There are only two or three football coaching magazines that I know of: Scholastic Coach, American Football Monthly, and Gridiron Coach. Scholastic Coach articles are generally understandable. I suspect their brevity helps. I have gotten some great stuff out of Scholastic Coach over the years. For example, one kick return I got there went for a touchdown the very first time I used it. AFM articles were extremely well edited when the magazine first started. Lately, they seem to vary from great to “Huh?” according to the writing skill of the author. AFM has also lately had many articles on subjects dear to the hearts of advertisers—like nutrition supplements and exercise equipment—but of less interest to the people described by the magazine's title. I have not seen Gridiron Coach enough to comment on it.

Old books

I am a big advocate of the single wing and other offenses that have not been popular in recent years. I call them contrarian. I also am a super advocate of what I call the gap-air-mirror defense—a modern descendant of the old gap-8 and 10-1 defenses.

Because these schemes are no longer as popular as they once were, would-be readers must track down old books through libraries and old book dealers. But the coaches who do so are often disappointed. The old books had a poor format. Modern football coaching books generally tell you what kind of kid you need for each position, tell you how to line up against various formations or how to attack various defenses, and other important details.

In the old days, there were few offenses and defenses, so those books tend to show how to operate against only one or two opposing schemes. They also rarely discuss the kind of player you need for each position. Plus they tend to engage in old-time, scoutmaster type speeches about the need for “pep” and character. For example, here's a line from John Heisman's Principles of Football (1922), “Food for a football player should never be highly seasoned and all condiments must be pretty generally sidestepped.” Back then, people thought coaches were wizards with mysterious rhetorical powers. Coaches seemed to believe that or at least want to perpetuate it and wrote vaguely about what they did. Nowadays, coaching books are appropriately very technical and detailed.

Old books often have techniques which are now illegal or considered dangerous, like blocking below the waist or spearing. They also taught blocking in the era when offensive players could not use their hands. And they contain discredited strategies like punting on first down or substituting your entire second-string team (e.g., Paul Dietzel's Chinese Bandits). Old books often use terms, like “buck,” which are no longer understood by anyone, or terms the meaning of which has changed over the years, like quarterback, which used to mean blocking back.

‘Not at our level'

The main problem with youth coaches trying to get better by reading coaching books and articles, watching training videos, and attending clinics is that those materials are generally created by pro and college coaches for pro and college coaches. Some authors and speakers are high-school coaches writing for high-school coaches. The typical football coaching author or speaker has never coached youth football. And even the coaches who used to coach high-school football are not real sharp on high-school football if they have spent the last ten or twenty years at the college or pro level.

The youth game is different—not just smaller and slower, but different. For example, we have weight limits, minimum-play requirements. The typical youth-football team probably does not have a single kid who will end up playing college football and a bunch who will end up dropping out of all sports before high school. The typical youth tailback will play tailback in high school, but the typical guy trying to tackle him will play clarinet in high school. Youth players are dumber and less coordinated than those same players will be when they get older. They are less knowledgeable about football than college or pro players and many are rookies, which means the coach has to spend months just getting them over their fear of hitting. None of this exists at the level of the majority of coach authors or speakers.

I do a lot of reading and clinic attending, but it is as if I am mining low-grade ore. I have to read through and sit through a lot of stuff that has zero applicability to youth football before I come across a nugget I can use in my youth-football or clock-management books.

For example, college and pro teams do a lot to disguise pass coverage and to confuse blocking. At the youth level, doing that is unnecessary and will most likely confuse your own team if you try.

Youth football books

There are two kinds of youth football books not written by me: those written by big name college or pro coaches like Tom Flores, Jack Bicknell, and Joe Namath, and those written by some of my fellow youth coaches.

The big name guys know football at their level, but they show me nothing about youth football. They seem to have an attitude that youth football is just pro or college football, only simpler. There is also a widespread belief that youth coaches should just coach “fundamentals.” Wrong on both counts. What're you going to do on game day if you just coach fundamentals? Yell out to your offense, “Just do fundamentals,” when they look to the sideline for a play?

The starting point for coaching a youth football team is plays—offensive, defensive, and special teams. You will have your hands full teaching assignments. You only teach fundamentals when they are necessary to execute a particular play that is in your playbook. There is barely time to teach the assignments.

All youth coaching books but mine seem to be edited by committees of politically-correct child psychologists. By the time those guys get done with the books, they don't say anything. They tend to be extremely basic, like showing you that a football field is 100 yards long and has 10-yard deep end zones. They also tend to be utopian, like giving you a chapter on nutrition.

Earth to youth coach publishers: the coach can't even get his own kids to eat vegetables. How is he supposed to get his players to do so? And how did this get to be a youth coach's job, anyway? I am probably one of very few coaching authors who talks to his readers on a daily basis. No one has asked me about nutrition.

They ignore politically incorrect questions like what to do with weak players. They treat winning as if it were a form of child abuse. Truth to tell, you probably are better off never reading a coaching book that has the word “youth” in its title, unless I wrote it. As a practical matter, the word “youth” in a coaching book title means it contains nothing but bland generalities and the latest fashionable theories about relating to children. Better you should read books aimed at higher level football then modify them to serve youth purposes.

Hard to find basics

All football coaches need the basics, especially youth coaches. People are always saying teach fundamentals. Where are youth coaches supposed to learn fundamentals? Sure as heck not at clinics. The topics there are anything but basic. At a clinic I recently attended topics included “Inside zone play against 7&8-man fronts,” “Four-wideout passing game,” “Quarter coverage in an 8-man front.”

Most coaching books tend to focus on a particular scheme like the Wing-T offense or the 46 defense. Articles are even narrower. Coaching videos are just clinics repackaged. What we need in addition are books on how to select which scheme to use or the basic principles of offense or defense. Drew Tallman made an attempt at scheme analysis in his Directory of Football Defenses, but it was a little hard to follow. Few other such efforts have been tried.

I have been trying to answer those questions over the years by going to the other clinics, but it is excruciatingly slow to attend an hour-long clinic just to get one principle like, “You never run weak against a 4-4.” (Actually, you can if you bring an extra blocker by pulling a backside guard, man in motion, using a full-house backfield, or letting the quarterback carry the ball.)

There are some good books on the big picture of football coaching like Flores' Violent Chess Match. But they are very few in number and too brief. Many books with general-sounding titles are really biased in favor of a particular scheme, like Bud Wilkinson's Sports Illustrated books on offense and defense. We really need a multi-volume set on the basics.

One problem is that the coaches needed to write a book on which scheme to use are rare. Almost all coaches came up in one scheme or another. A speaker at a clinic I recently attended said he tried a new scheme once and it didn't work. The lesson? Coach what you know. I disagree. Most coaches, however, follow that admonition. They learn one trick at their first coaching job or last playing job and ride that pony for the rest of their careers. You have your wing-T coaches and your option coaches and your 4-4 coaches and so forth. Are they using the best scheme for their personnel or team? I doubt it. The way to pick the best scheme is to survey your personnel and survey the available scheme and match the two. The typical coach only knows one trick so he justifies that rather than seeking the best.

If there truly were a football university like the one parodied in ESPN commercials a few years back, its students would be required to study all offensive and defensive schemes, and they would be taught how to choose the right one for their current personnel. I am trying to give myself and my readers that sort of course, but it's slow work digging out its contents from existing coaching materials.

Aborigines with only oral history

In his book Roots, Alex Haley told of going to the portion of Africa where one of his ancestors—Kunta Kinte—was living when he was enslaved. The tribe still existed, but it only had oral history. There were no documents saying “Kunta Kinte disappeared today.” So Haley had to sit an listen to the tribe oral historian—who refused to answer only the one question—give the entire history of the tribe. After hours of listening, Haley heard the part he wanted to hear about Kunta Kinte. I think that tribe needs improved schooling and some more permanent records.

Why I am I talking about that in this article? Because the football coaching world seems to be in about the same state as that tribe. Time and again I have heard coaches say they decided to run a particular offense or defense and they “visited” with some cocahing staff that had been running the scheme. Invariably, they talk about how generous the teacher coaches were with their time. Often the student spent days or weeks at the teacher coach's school or facility. This reminds me of Alex Haley sitting by the campfire swatting tsetse flies among his illiterate ancestors in backwoods Africa. Isn't about time we fooball coaches switched from oral history to written history? It is the Twenty-First Century after all.

For example, the most popular youth defense, and one of the most popular high-school defenses, is the 5-3-3. Where, pray tell, do the youth coaches get the details of how to run that defense? As far as I know, there is not now any book in print on the subject. Indeed, I am hard-pressed to identify any book that ever was in print on that defense. Drew Tallman's Directory of Football Defenses, Copyright 1969 by Parker Publishing, has 22-page chapter on the 5-3-3. Coaching Football Successfully by Bob Reade features the 5-2 Rover, which is a sort of 5-3. That book came out in 1994 and I still see it around, but Reade was a college coach so his version of the 5-3 is probably quite different from what a youth or high-school team needs.

Established coaches no longer write coaching books

Scholastic Coach editor Herman Masin pointed out to me that writing a how-to cocahing book used to be a normal thing for a successful coach. Bear Bryant came out with his Building a Championship Football Team in 1960. Vince Lombardi did Vince Lombardi on Football in 1973. Other famous old coaching book authors include Bud Wilkinson, Don Faurot, Charlie Caldwell, John McKay, Dana X. Bible, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine. But the vast majority of recent books related to successful coaches like Bobby Bowden, Tom Osborne, and Bill Parcells are nothing but celebrity biographies—no x's and o's. We also now have coaches writing how-to books about business management—on the theory that coaching a football team is the same as managing a business. Spare me. The authors of new coaching books today are generally less prominent, hopefully up-and-coming coaches who are using writing a book to increase their visibility for getting future coaching jobs. For example, Brian Billick wrote the excellent Developing an Offensive Game Plan when he was an NFL assistant. Now that he is a Super Bowl-winning head coach, I doubt we should hold our breaths for his next x's and o's book.

Won't reveal secrets

The football-coaching profession constantly congratulates itself for how generous coaches are about sharing what they know with each other. I agree—to a point. But I have also heard of head coaches whose assistants were going to speak at a clinic admonishing them not to give up too much. The assistant complies—or so he thinks—only to still get his ass chewed for giving away too much.

In 1998, I read a Q&A interview with Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder and heard him make the keynote speech at a football-coaching convention. My note pad was blank when he started and blank when he finished. He gave nothing but his name, rank, and serial number in both the article and the speech. If I had booked the speech, and I had specified that I wanted specific how-to coaching content in it, I would have refused to pay him his multi-thousand-dollar speaking fee.

Yes, coaches are frequently generous about sharing information. But the generosity is not quite as great as the oft-heard “aren't we a wonderful profession” comments make it sound.

Best wishes,

John T. Reed