21 Hour Football Program – Case 3: Developing Staff and Community “Buy-In”

Jan 10, 2018 | Leadership / Character Development, Program Development

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar




Chapter 1: Protocols of Staff Development


Culture starts at the top. It’s instituted by the head coach, then trickles down to the players. But the key liaison between the players and the head coach are the assistant coaches. They are the ones that need to carry the philosophy forward. If they are all in-line, the chances of success improve. If they are providing mixed messages, the program can falter, and falter quickly. We all know this as coaches. But as a head coach, how do you get them in line with your beliefs? How do you get them to “buy in” to what you’re selling? In the ever-transient high school coaching world, many times assistant coaches are leaving to take administrative jobs, spend more time with their family or decide to part ways with the sport altogether.

So, we decided to research how coaches retain their staff after they build it and asked the tough questions like, is it even important to retain the staff? One thing we did find is that 76 percent of coaches that won at least 50 percent of their games the last three seasons said they’ve had zero or one coach leave the program each year.

We wanted to research how these successful coaches were retaining their staff year after year. Because let’s face it, familiarity does breed success. Once players get to know the staff, and those faces don’t change, a culture of comfort and trust will ensue. “Many coaches, one message” is what we call it. What we found that two components were key in keeping coaches: involvement and accountability.

Involvement in aspects of the program, aside from just the physical domain and accountability to affirm that there is a constant give and take between the staff and players. In order to validate our research, we asked one question to these coaches:

How, specifically, have you given your assistant coaches accountability (either on or off the field) in the development of your program?

Their responses are below:

Tom Wilson, Head Football Coach, Dowling Catholic High School (IA):

“My coaches have a say in many of the things we do. To list a few:

  • “Position groups

  • Social media promotion

  • Involved in setting the culture and teachings of our program.

  • Senior book read

  • Newsletter

  • Share weight room responsibility

  • Share speed work responsibility”

Mike O’Donnell, Head Football Coach, Archbishop Stepinac High School (NY):

“Our assistant coaches are very involved in every aspect of program. We use them in game planning and in scouting. We use a no huddle offense so numerous coaches are involved in getting signals in and are not just standing around on sidelines. We have an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator who I trust to call the games. We have another coach who is fully in charge of special teams. By setting up this system, our kids really get coached and are ready to move on to college level.

Our practice plan is one that has a 5-minute clock on each session. It keeps the kids attention. It forces coaches to be organized when going onto field.”

Rodney Saulsberry, Head Football Coach, Whitehaven High School (TN):

“75% of my staff are alumni of the program, so they have a vested interest in our development of young men. Also, I believe in coaching my coaches and giving them responsibilities and freedom to lead their position groups and units on offense, defense and special teams.”

Denny Diduch, Head Football Coach, Forreston High School (IL):

“My coaches all have position responsibilities that they are responsible for devising the drills to master technique at their positions. All coaches have access to Sunday prep meetings where they can voice concerns, ideas, etc. We open every game with a 12-play script that influences how we run practice all week. After week three, the assistant coaches come up with the script. All coaches are given specific roles and assignments that they are in charge of and can develop their own strategies to improve. On game nights, coaches are given a specific position to watch on both sides of the ball. They are then to report what they see to the OC/DC. Coaches are encouraged to continue presenting new ideas and strategies no matter how many times they get shot down.”

Coach/Player Mentor Programs:

While some assistant coaches responsibilities are relegated to on-field roles, other programs implement off-field mentorship models to develop the player/coach relationship. While this is not uncommon for college programs, where coaches are full time employees, organizing this at the high school level takes some coordination and follow through. For Ken Leonard, the Head Football Coach at Sacred Heart Griffin High School (IL) it became a necessity to implement these programs. He designed it two years ago, where each coach is assigned to 5-6 athletes. They will meet with each of them for only five minutes per week to discuss anything that is happening in their lives. “We are a private catholic school,” Coach Leonard told us. “We mentor and make players as great husbands and people. A coach has more influence in one year than anyone else has in his or her whole lives. Parents send their kids here for a purpose and it’s because of football. Our things carry over from the field. We needed to do more than just character development.”

The way the