The fact you are reading this means you are probably an entry level coach looking to get into the college football coaching arena. I’ll start by saying “good luck” because it’s going to take some luck, a whole lot of work, and knowing some people in the business willing to give you a chance. Over my 35 years I have worked in a number of fields from software and IT to public relations, television show production, media and magazine production. I want to make one thing very clear, getting a position regardless of your knowledge and skill level is harder in the football coaching arena than any industry I have been in. However, it’s well worth it. To have the chance to help teach and mentor young men using football to further their education and in many cases change the trajectory of their lives makes it a very rewarding occupation. If you also love the game of football, competition. game strategy, and data analytics than you’re definitely on the right occupational track.
Make no mistake, almost every player who has ever played and loved the game of football thinks they can be a great coach. Many can be, and the more you studied the game as a player with film and understanding of the x’s and o’s the easier it will be to transition to the other side of the whistle. In addition, I would say if you were a team captain, especially one voted team captain by your peers you probably have another step towards being a solid football coach.
Unfortunately, one thing goes without question, it is a game of who you know not what you know. There are some ways to open doors that might not be opened to entry level coaches and that’s what this article will eventually get to. In the meantime, I have a few suggestions that I believe are more common sense than the 10 skills I discuss below.
For the purpose of this article I am discussing lower level positions and lower level colleges including; NCAA Division 2 and 3, NAIA, Junior College and lower funded FCS schools. Many of the 10 skills I am about to discuss with you don’t apply at the highest levels of college football. During my time at the University of Texas I never saw a position coach or coordinator use Powerpoint, VIsio, Photoshop, run analytics, work on spreadsheets, enter data into the XOS video system, or check that a player is in class. Don’t get me wrong, they did plenty of work, but the busy work they each had guys other staff members doing that for them under their direction. They spent their time recruiting, game planning, analyzing personnel, and preparing and running meetings and practices.
At the lower level schools where I have been a member of the staff including two NCAA Division II schools and two junior college programs the job descriptions include many more tasks that may or may not surprise you. Things you might not expect a football coach would need to deal with include everything from laundry, tutoring, visual class checks, equipment repairs, cleaning, financial aid form assistance, field preparation for practice, and much more on top of the traditional coaching duties everyone would expect. As an entry level, or early career coach you need to be willing and ready to do anything and everything to help a program, a staff, and the players within that program.
Without further ado here are the 10 things, in my opinion, that you can learn that will help give you a better chance at attaining a college football coaching position.
1. Spreadsheets & Databases
Without a doubt understanding and being able to use Microsoft Excel and in some cases Google Sheets is a huge part of the coaching job. From data entry, data analytics, recruiting lists and statistics to call sheets and depth charts there is no question that spreadsheets (usually Microsoft Excel) is the most used non-video computer program in any coaching office. In addition to being able to manipulate and use Excel it is important to be able to export and import Excel data into the video systems (HUDL, XOS, DV Sport, Qwik-Cut).
To take it to the next level, using a database program like Microsoft Access can also allow you to do additional things. I have found it extremely helpful in producing analytics based on previous play results, or field position change. A few examples are:
- For the offense:
- What does the defensive coordinator do immediately following a big play?
- What does the defense do immediate after the offense crosses the 50? the +40? the +25?
- What does the defense do immediate after a sack or loss of yardage play on 1st down? on 2nd down? on 3rd down?
- For the defense:
- What does the offense do immediately following a defensive penalty?
- What does the offense do immediately after making a play of 30+ yards? 15+ yards?
- What does the offense do immediately after crossing the 50? the +40? the +30?
These are all reports that can’t easily be done quickly and automatically in most video systems because they rely on data from one play before, Most systems will easily run a report based on all plays that start between the 50 and the +40, but to get the first play after crossing any particular yardline you need to compare the current play to the play previous to it. This might not sound very useful, but coaches have emotions and they make decisions based on those emotions/feelings. A defensive coordinator might put his foot down and want to stop a drive when a team crosses inside the +40. Find that trigger, find that line that creates the emotion and you can use it to your advantage on game day.
Each of these sample reports above may not lead to an advantage on game day, but find the one or two that do and it can be the difference between and win or a loss.
2. Photoshop ( Photography, Graphics & Video)
It’s kind of crazy to think that sending recruits graphics both electronically (DMs/Texts) or printed for custom personalized graphic hand written cards will lead a recruit to choose one skill over another, but more and more it seems to be the case. Almost ever Division I program, both FBS and FCS, have media departments that do photography, custom graphics, custom videos and more. Smaller schools do always have that option and when they do it is usually for a full athletic department not just the football program so getting them to get your graphics done when you need them is often not possible. Being able to accomplish this on your own can definitely be a great asset for any coaching staff outside of the Division 1 programs.
- Photography: Staged photos of both recruits and current rostered players is an important part of the graphics. These graphics are used for social media and player promotion.
- Graphics: Manipulating the graphics using Photoshop or a similar program is the next step. Being able to add text, cut players out, remove backgrounds, do jersey swaps is a useful tool in recruiting. Print the graphic on cardstock, trim, fold, and it makes a super cool card you can mail a recruit. You never know what it will take to separate your program for the others recruiting the player.
- Video: Taking it to the next level with custom video is a nice touch. Video generally is more for program promotion and less direct recruiting through social media, but having the ability to quickly create quick videos to show your program in a positive light is a skill that can help you land that next coaching job.
I have seen a wide variety of play-drawing programs used over the years everything from Powerpoint to the tools within the videos systems like Hudl, Qwik-Cut, and others. Hands down the best is Visio. The bottom line is you use what the offensive/defensive coordinator want you to use, but having the knowledge and skills to use Visio is another resource that can get you where you want to be.
Regardless of what you use for the playbook Powerpoint is a program that is used daily in coaches offices. From presentations for clinics to meetings with the players Powerpoint is an important tool for coaches at all levels.
5. Signal Recognition
Something I have always found a lot of fun and extremely helpful is the ability to steal signals, legally of course. On gameday everyone has a job, whether it’s managing the sidelines or calling plays everyone has something, if not a lot of things, they are responsible for. My affinity for solving puzzles, riddles or finding bugs in software (my former occupation) has always driven me to want to steal signals and it’s been extremely helpful in the past. Not every coordinator really cares to know what the other team is doing, but being able to alert a coordinator to a blitz coming or the correct coverage can be very valuable. Even though I am an offensive guy, I have found it more beneficial for the defense. Being able to alert the defensive coordinator of what is coming quickly can be game changing.
As an example, when I was at Pitt State I had one opponents signal system locked from early in the game. I was able to relay the play to the DC with plenty of time for him to call the defense. It was extremely effective and we held the team down for most of the game. That is, until they called a play with a new signal which was a motion imitating a Gorilla beating its chest. Pitt State’s mascot is a Gorilla, so that was an obvious special play for this game, and even though we knew it was some sort of trick or special play we didn’t know exactly what and it ended up going for a game winning touchdown late in the 4th quarter. Hindsight being 20/20 a timeout there, knowing it was a trick or special play, might have been enough to get the defense set up and changed the outcome of the game. Regardless, being able to steal signals is just another useful tool to add to your coaching tool box and may give you a leg up on another candidate for the same job.
6. Understanding D2 & NAIA Scholarship Equivalency
Usually the head coach and recruiting coordinator handle the scholarship count and load. However, when recruiting understanding the NCAA and NAIA scholarship equivalency’s will help. For example, when I was at Missouri Southern State University we could give an estimated 3 full package scholarships (financial aid, institutional aid/scholarship/grant, and athletic scholarship) to players from a nearby state with an EFC of 0, for every 1 scholarship to a player from Florida, California or Georgia. Understanding how this works, and it is different for every institution, is valuable recruiting knowledge and again can help get you a job over someone who doesn’t understand it.
7. Financial Aid (FAFSA & EFC, SEOG, Student Loans, and School and State Based Scholarships and Aid)
Every player has to file a FAFSA and it can become a lot of work and a big issue if a player hasn’t done so. In fact, every player should file their FAFSA well before their final semester in high school. Understanding how FAFSA works, what is included on it and the different ways a player and his family can file it based on dependent or independent tax status is important. Filing the FAFSA early is important as their are additional monies available to those based on their EFC and when they filed. One of which is SEOG and others are state based and worth understanding. At Division 1 programs this doesn’t matter nearly as much as all scholarships are full scholarships, but at the lower levels every dollar of financial aid, institutional, state or federal aid saves athletic scholarship money. Having a complete understanding of this is another leg up on the competition and once you get the job, can help you get additional money for players.
8. NCAA/NAIA Eligibility guidelines (Transfers & High School Graduates)
This should go without saying, but knowing what it takes to be NCAA or NAIA eligible is a mandatory job skill. In fact, if I was a head coach I would ask questions to this information on every interview. In addition to knowing the basic rules, knowing how to get players eligible within the rules is a very useful skill. There are several resources and avenues for a player that is borderline or just under the requirements for NCAA to go about getting eligible. Understanding the sliding scale is just step one, understanding the bigger picture and how to utilize the rules and avenues available to get eligible is important.
9. Whiteboard diagrams
I have never been a big fan of drawing plays on a whiteboard for player meetings. I usually opt to have it on a Powerpoint presentation with video to match whatever the topic is, because time is crucial and taking time to draw a play during a meeting is wasted time, in my opinion. However, there seems to always come a time where you need to sketch a play or chart something on a whiteboard and when that happens being able to draw it legibly and give a clear picture to the players is especially important. I have seen very well paid coaches redraw a single play three or four times to make it look cleaner during the middle of a player meeting, which drove me insane because I know it’s not really that important. However, giving a relatively clear representation of what you are looking for is important and besides it just looks more professional when you draw clean labeled plays when asked to do so. When it’s you and one other guy for the same job and in your final interview you are asked to draw a Y-Cross up on the board, it better not look like a 3rd grader drew it up there, just sayin’.
10. Drills (progression & teaching points)
This is the most football related skill on the list, but it is often overlooked so I thought I would bring it up here. Having a portfolio of drills broken down by the skill you are trying to coach with a set of steps progressing from an entry level drill to the final drill you run. First let’s understand why we do a drill, We do a drill to create a habit of something that will happen on gameday. A drill is not an obstacle course with no direct emphasis on a skill. Too often I see position groups go through a drill that has so much going on that it’s often even hard for the players to remember what the drill is let alone what skill they are working on. Next, we want to build into the full drill. Start with phase 1 of the drill, then move to phase 2 and then to phase 3, and so on. Here’s an example;
Drop Step Drill:
- Skill: Teach a receiver to get vertical up field immediately following the catch.
- Coaching points: Catch the ball with eyes and hands; Secure the ball to the body; take first step directly up field not parallel to the line of scrimmage.
- Coaching buzz words: “Eyes” – reminds the player to uses his eyes to catch the balls, “Chin” – reminds the player to secure the ball with the point of the ball towards his chin, “Drop step” – reminds the player to drop step up the field much like a basketball player at the post position drop stepping to the basket.
- Why: After securing the ball it is important to get vertical or knife up the field. I tell my players the first 2 steps after a catch are mine get me 2 yards, after that be an athlete.
- Phase 1: Players stands facing ball thrower/coach, catch the ball with eyes and hands, secure the ball with point of ball pointing directly to the chin and no part of the ball visible from behind the player. Now drop step (1 step) directly up the field to the side the ball is delivered and then drive 2 more steps to the finish cone.
- Phase 2: Same as phase 1, but now add a player with a bag so following the catch, tuck and drop step, the player must make one cut off the bag and run through the finish cone.
- Phase 3: Start with back to ball thrower/coach, drive 3 steps, turn (like a hitch), then finish the drill same as phase 2.
A perfect drill is something that works on one or a few particular details that can be seen directly on gameday film. Create a portfolio of drills you would use to teach each skill for your position group. Always have coaching points, and quick simple terms that can be used to alert the player quickly during reps. Being able to quickly set up a drill to teach/coach/reinforce a particular skill is a important. Using memorable and consistent terminology will help players gain the skill you want.
Getting a coaching job is hard to do, especially at the collegiate level. Please don’t take this wrong, these are not the most important skills for a coach to have, these are the skills that are in addition to the typical coaching skills one needs to be a college coach. Teaching the position and the game, understanding the game, knowledge of defensive schemes, offensive schemes, player evaluation, recruiting relationships, motivating players, and lots of other skills are the main skills needed for the job. Problem is, everyone thinks they can do all that, and it’s hard to prove if you actually can until you have the job. These are just a few skills that can separate you from the pack. I don’t know first hand, but I have been told multiple times by head coaches at various levels of collegiate football that a job opening can get from 200 to 500 applicants. What are you going to do to separate yourself from the other 199 to 499 applicants? You never know it could be one of these skills that catch the eye of your next boss and get’s your career headed for where you want it to be.