Over my four years as the defensive coordinator, I have had eight different position coaches work for us as either graduate assistants or restricted earning coaches on defense. This is the progression by which I train them.
By Nick Davis
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (IN)
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At Rose-Hulman, we, like most small colleges, have a pretty small staff. On my side of the ball this year, we will have two graduate assistants, a part-time coach and myself. Two of our four members on the defensive side of the ball will be new for the season. Over my four years as the defensive coordinator, I have had eight different position coaches work for us as either graduate assistants or restricted earning coaches on defense. Each time a coach leaves for a full-time job I feel that they are ready to go and do a great job at their new program. How do you train young coaches to know as much as you know in a small amount of time? The simple answer: you can’t.
I have tried to make sure our system in that every question is answered before it gets asked by our coaches and players. This took a lot of time for me as the coordinator on the front end to make sure we had rules in place to teach coaches and thereby the players. I stress that our whole scheme is a system that makes total sense to our players and coaches and has nothing to do with what anyone coming into the system knew before. An Over front or Cover 2 might be 10 different things to our staff and our players coming in but is a commonly understood term in our system.
One way to help with this transition of new coaches is to create documents that can help guide your coaches. We do a video playbook so the young coaches, and players, can hear me explain the playbook. We have all the things we have done saved to a google drive so that coach can refer to past years and former coaches. This season we are going to put one coach in charge of each skill that we will circuit. One coach will be the head on tackling, one coach will be the lead on takeaways, and one coach will oversee getting off blocks. That coach will have to watch the film in his area and create drills that we will circuit every day. Instead of having a different circuit every day, that coach will pick drills from his area to work on and have different focus stations. With having a tackling, takeaway, and getting off blocks focus, this is being preached every day by each of our coaches.
Teaching our scheme might be the easiest thing for young coaches. Our scheme is all a system based on word association. Our fronts are named by animals, fruits and vegetables. Our coverages are named based on cities and states. Our movement words tell every player involved where everyone will end up after the play. Owl Ball California means nothing to anyone other than the Rose-Hulman Defense staff and players. The owl tells our box players we are aligned in our 3 down front with our defensive ends outside the tackles in 5 techniques. Ball tells our ‘Bob’ linebacker to rush the B gap but tell all the defensive lineman where to end up. The other two linebackers now know what gap they each own in the run game. California tells our defensive backs and two linebackers not rushing that we are playing California coverage. California means we are playing a 4-man rush match man coverage and a city like Los Angeles might mean a different adjustment to the coverage.
What I learned from off-season breakdowns was that our players and coaches do not care that I have hundreds of words to call certain offensive plays. I talked all the time about being simple and in scouting report meetings I rattle off 6 different types of inside zone variations plays, and the kids look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Our young coach in the press box last year could not remember all six different ways we call inside zone. I do not blame him, we had too much for our kids to remember. My linebacker on all six types of inside zone 4 of them looked the same to him because his job did not change. My three-technique saw the same block on power as he did counter. The young coaches would be hesitant to breakdown the offensive play call for the game because it wasn't on the 50 different plays I had drawn before the season started. Everything in the break down would be done but in my mind, the most important thing wouldn’t because it was taking the longest.
So, this spring I sat down and thought about what I wanted to know on game day from our coaches and players. It would be great that all 60 people on our side of the ball talked in my terminology, but the most important thing is that we have an easy system to communicate, just like our scheme. At the end of the day, the players do not care that this is split inside zone and this is inside zone read if you play a one-gap defense where all the box players are going to play it the same way regardless. What this did going back allowed us to group offensive schemes and get a better idea of what is going on. It also made the young coach that was breaking down the plays have a much easier job. Now when that coach sits down to break down the run game he is putting five to six different schemes instead of having maybe 24 different plays because of adjustments or RPO routes within the five or six schemes. My coach that will break down the pass plays will benefit from this the most. No more having to make up concepts and variations of concepts weekly. He is just going to put the routes that were run by each receiver on the play. The routes come from a sheet that shows each of the routes we saw the last season as well as some other common routes.
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I have tried to make a transition for our new coaches and players as easy as possible. At the end of the day, it is not what the coordinator knows, it is what the players know, and you have to make sure your coaches can get them that information. Just because you learned something one way ten years ago does not mean that it is the easiest or most practical system to teach to your coaches and your players. Always keep challenging yourself to have a better system in place that can make the teaching easier.
Meet Coach Nick Davis: Nick Davis finished his seventh season on the Rose-Hulman staff and his fourth year as defensive coordinator. Davis has led one of the nation's top defenses over his first four seasons. His “Spread Defense” has led the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in total defense, scoring defense, sacks, interceptions, rushing defense, and 3rd down efficiency over his first four years. He has mentored several All-Conference, All-Region, Academic All-Americans, and All-Americans in his seven years at Rose-Hulman.