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By Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs

We know that much of successful coaching lies in managing issues and nobody understands that more than small school coaches who have learned to utilize limited numbers (players and staff), stay ahead of injuries and continually adjust their scheme to match their ever-changing personnel. We researched how some small high school coaches are able to be successful year after year despite these problems. Our criteria was geared to coaches who work with an average varsity roster size of 40 or less and our contributors have a career win/loss percentage of .790. Research was segmented into four areas of study: off-season program development, working with a limited roster size, delegating responsibilities to a smaller assistant coaching staff and implementing a scheme to maximize a talent base. Read the report here...


By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar
With Special Reporting from Adam Hovorka and Benjamin Fusco


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IthacaSeniorsWhen I first got into coaching nearly two decades ago, I heard the current Don Bosco Prep (NJ) head coach Greg Toal say, “If you want to learn how to coach and how hard it can be, coach at a small school.” Coach Toal was, of course referring to his early coaching days at smaller classifications, and I had no clue what he was talking about. Having mentored at schools with enrollments of at least 500 boys, I wasn’t used to those “small school problems” that many coaches across the country were having. That was, until this past season went I spent the fall at a small public school in Union County, New Jersey. It was there where I had to learn about several challenges: stimulating competition among a smaller talent pool, fighting complacency with the “star” players and working through a functional depth chart with diminishing numbers in season just to name just a few. And I was just an assistant coach. This became the impetus that drove me to conduct this research project. I wanted to find out how some of the most successful small school high school coaches were running their programs despite being confronted daily with these issues.

After conducting my research, I’ve found that it seems success at coaching in the small school level is directly proportioned to how well you manage issues such as handling limited numbers, smaller coaching staffs all while sharing athletes and facilities. It was the goal of this study to uncover the solutions that some of the top small school coaches in the country were using to combat these issues.

The structure of our research was to find the problems that these small school coaches were having and how they were addressing these issues. We provided each contributing coach with a series of potential issues and they were asked to pick one and address specifically how they were solving it. They are separated into the following four domains:

  • Off-Season Program Development
  • Working with Limited Numbers and Less Talent
  • Delegating Responsibilities to a Smaller Assistant Coaching Staff
  • Implementing a Scheme to Maximize your Talent Base

Once we put together the four domains we wanted to address, we needed to establish criteria for potential contributors. The criteria was as follows:

  • A minimum of 40 or less varsity players on average per year.
  • A winning percentage of at least .750 percent (career record).
  • A minimum amount of FBS/FCS full scholarship players coached during tenure.

After developing those criteria, we engaged in the pursuit of finding our contributors.

Now it’s important to note our contributors came directly from our reader base, they were not picked directly by the XandOLabs.com staff. Although a hard deadline prevented us from connecting with all of them, we tried to be equitable in representing several states across the country. Our contributors are listed below 

Contributor List (in alphabetical order):

  • Tony Becerra, Pleasantville High School (NY): 82-40 in 12 years, 0 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Tom Crawford, Bishop Diego High School (CA): 62-13 last 6 years, 4 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Kurt Forrest, Mechanicsburg High School (OH): 43-8 last 4 years, average 35 varsity players yearly, 0 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Jeff Giger, Strasburg High School (CO): 65-49 in 11 years, 0 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Greg Grant, Heppner High School (OR): 283-65 in 35 years, average 34 total varsity players yearly, 0 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Terry Hessbrook, Ithaca High School (MI): 139-19 in 13 years, average 32 total varsity players years, 5 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • James Hubert, Maplesville High School (AL): 160-38 in 16 years, average 40 varsity players yearly, 4 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Tommy Lewis, Victory Christian School (FL): 40-8 in 4 years, average 38 varsity players yearly, 3 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Mark Lippe, Adair High School (OK): 86-15 in 8 years, average 35 varsity players yearly, 1 FBS/FCS scholarship player during tenure.
  • Judd Naegar, Valle Catholic High School (MO): 148- 29 in 13 years, average 30 varsity players yearly, 0 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Ed Sadloch, (formerly) Cedar Grove High School (NJ): 203-65 in 27 years, average 35 varsity players yearly, 9 FBS/FCS scholarship players during tenure.
  • Lynn Shackelford, Cashion High School (OK): 117-26 in 11 years, average 36 total varsity players yearly, 1 FBS/FCS scholarship player during tenure.
  • Kevin Swift, (former) Gold Beach High School (OR): 127-67 in 17 years, average 35 varsity players yearly, 1 FBS/FCS scholarship player during tenure.

Continue to the full-length version of this report…

Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website, and you’ll get instant access to the full-length version of this research report—including access to everything X&O Labs has ever published. Plus, if you join today, you’ll also receive up to 4 FREE books (based on your membership level) mailed directly to your home or office. Here’s just a small sample of what you’ll find in the full-length version of this report:

  • Two sample models of a “Zero Period Physical Education Class,” which small school coaches are transitioning to in order to accommodate multi-sport athletes.
  • How these coaches are limiting in-season contact time to protect a smaller roster size.
  • The methods by which these coaches are cross training their players in practice to play multiple offensive and defensive positions.
  • Small staff delegation methodologies in-season for both game planning and practice planning and how these coaches are able to split their staff and coach on both sides of the ball with efficiency.
  • How these small school coaches adapt their scheme, sometimes on a weekly basis, to match their changing personnel in season.
  • How these small school coaches are able to both hide their personnel deficiencies and exploit those of the opponent on a weekly basis.

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After conducting all this research, I can see what coach Toal meant when he gave credence to the small school coach. There are so many daily obstacles that these coaches encounter before they even step on the field for practice. What adds to this is that many of these coaches are athletic directors or even principals in their building. So, aside from managing the football component, they need to be in front of any academic or discipline issues from the student body as well. But to these small school coaches, the shuffling of titles and hats are all part of the job. 



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