Youth Football Lessons Learn from Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini
Youth football coaches have to be careful about taking too much of what they learn from college coaches and applying it to their teams. Many youth football coaches try to make their teams look like college teams but they fail because they do not have the practice time or players the college teams have. Remember the college teams are made up of the best of the best, most DI teams will not even take your BEST player when he is 18 years old, not to mention the 24 others and Lupus, your minimum play kid that you have to get in 8 plays. But there certainly are certain aspects of the college game we youth football coaches can apply to our teams.
Here is what I learned from Coach Osborne and Coach Pelini:
Nebraska Cornhusker Football Coaches
If you have followed the University of Nebraska football coaching saga, you know that Tom Osborne is now the AD and Bo Pelini is the head coach. Bo was the defensive coordinator here in 2003. Bo took over for a fired Craig Bohl, the NU defense under Bohl ranked in the 50's and had surrendered a then record of 62 points against a very average Colorado team. In Pelini's only year here (the entire staff was let go after the season) his defense ranked # 11 in the country and led the nation in turnovers. After Pelini left, Kevin Cosgrove took over, under Coz the defense languished and this year ranked # 114 of 119 DI teams, near the bottom in every category. This defensive production in spite of having top ranked recruiting classes and a defense full of "five and four star" athletes. It's obvious Bo knows defense, who knows how he will do as a Head Coach, but obviously the guy can coach. The defense was terrible before Pelini got here, it flourishes when he's here and after he leaves it becomes one of the worst in the history of big time college football. Do not buy into the game is all about "Jimmies and Joes", Bo did not get lucky, the guy can coach.
I've had the chance to hear both Pelini and Coach Osborne speak on a number of occasions and of course met and spoke with Coach Osborne a number of times. I was able to attend a High School coaches clinic in Omaha in 2003 where a young Bo Pelini spoke to us about linebacker play. Coach Pelini and Coach Osborne are about as different as two people can be. Coach Osborne is very soft spoken and humble. Coach Pelini is a bit intimidating and brash but there is something both have and that is presence and a clear and focused vision of what their goal is and how they are going to get there.
I'm not sure how to describe it, but Coach Pelini has a presence that demands respect. When he entered that crowd and loud meeting room and got up to the podium, every eye was focused on this guy. No one really knew who he was, he was kind of an unknown. He was a young tough Youngstown, Ohio kid that had coiled linebackers in the NFL. He spoke about what his defense was going to accomplish at Nebraska the upcoming season and how they were going to do it. He did not predict where they would end up but he said they would attack, play to the whistle and create turnovers and that's just what they did in 2003. He rarely talked for 60 minutes about the importance of the linebackers first few steps and the importance of him not crossing his feet. An NFL linebackers coach going on about something we teach in Pee Wee football. Obviously Pelini feels this is a critical success factor in defensive play and felt we all needed to do a better job of teaching it to our linebackers, This was not fancy X and O stuff, it was getting perfect with a fundamental football skill.
Pelini came in for the 2003 season and moved some players around, he took a 205 pound backup outside linebacker and put him at defensive end on passing downs. He took a walk-on fullback who was being cut and offered him a chance to play on defense. He brought a passion and intensity to win that he was able in imbed in his players, his players played with confidence and wreckless abandon that we had not seen in a while and nor since. In short Pelini became a fan and player favorite and the players flourished under him, they loved the guy.
How did he do it? According to many of his former players he put in schemes that they believed in and that did not require the players to overthink. Most of the players could not remember the exact X's and O's but they said that Coach Pelini was so confident that the scheme would work and he was so well versed in every detail of the scheme that it just built confidence in the players, they claimed that if Pelini had told them he had a defense that only required 10 players, they would have believed it was the right scheme for the game.
They believed in him, his ideas and would run through walls for him.
Osborne had the same focus and confidence but he may have communicated it in a different way. At the 1994 Orange Bowl, NU was facing a Miami team at Miami at night in a place very few teams had won. They were playing a team led by Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis. NU was behind at halftime, but in the game. At halftime Osborne told the players: "Miami is going to come out strong and may score early, do not worry about that. a swing at you, do not fight back, you can not hurt anyone with all the equipment on it. stay with us. We are in way better condition than them, we outworked them, you saw them breathing hard toward the end of the half. , no excuses, let's get it done! (voice rising) "This lockerroom speech was made available on a VCR tape that was given to me.
I was at this game with my dad and sure enough it ended just like the "prophet" Osborne has said. Miami scored right out of the gate to take a 2 score lead. Miami got an unsportsmanlike penalty at a critical time and NU just started manhandling the infamous Miami defense featuring 2 future Hall of Fame Players. NU bludgeoned them with the running game in the fourth quarter to win the National Championship going away. What most of you watching the game on TV did not see were the Miami defenders on all fours during the timeouts gasping for air while the NU linemen were standing, watching and licking their chops like a lion preparing to pounce on a wounded wildebeest.
Applying it to Coaching Youth Football
The moral of this story is that to be successful as a coach at any level you have to have a clear vision of what your goal is and how you are going to get there. There should not be any hesitation in your voice when you answer the question "What are your goals with this team" There should not be any hesitation in your voice when someone asks "How are you going to get there?" Your assistant coaches are going to know if you have confidence in your scheme and approach. They will not follow you if you do not have answers to those questions or have confidence in your plan. The players and coaches will follow you if your vision for the team is a clear one that you can articulate concisely and confidently. People respect knowledge and give credence and respect to those they think can lead them to shared goals. If your players know you care about them and feel confident your approach is going to lead them to a championship season, they will follow you. To do this always be confident, not wishy washy about your goals, how you are going to accomplish those goals and that the end result is at hand. Know your scheme inside and out, the adage "Often Wrong, Never in Doubt" will serve you well here.
Where to go From Here
If you are going into next season with a haphazard collection or football plays and defenses and can not really answer the above questions, you may want to rethink that and look into using a proven system like "Winning Youth Football" or other proven integrated youth football systems. Your coaches, players and parents will quickly know if you are someone they are going to believe in or not. The reason so many youth football coaches have had success with our program is it is simple to explain, is modular and the progression teaching methods and practice methodology allow the kids to play "fast" without overthnking things. Every scenario you will face is laid out in the book and DVDs, with the countermeasures you will use to overcome the opposing team. The vision and detailed plan are already in place so you do not have to put in the research, time and suffer through "learn as you go" involved in developing your own.