Football is often thought of as this complex orchestra of weird jargon, dancing bears, and Tchaikovsky. But honestly, it can be simplfied as effectivly as it can be made complex. It’s the obvious things that cost us an Apple Cup.
Blocking, tackling, pass rush, coverage.*
*Could have put a head shot of Lincoln Riley here and made the same point, to be honest.
Don’t give up 51 points. Don’t score only 6 in the second half. Simple goals. How did we fail to enact them?
Part of the answer, I think, lies in one of the foundational truths of coaching football.
Football is the illusion of control.
There isn’t one position, one play, or one responsibility that can’t be explained, drawn up, coached, and expected to be executed every time. Standing at a whiteboard or sitting around a fireplace with a beer in your hand, the perfect play is not only possible, but so likely as to be expected.
Well, if we do it the right way, anyway.*
*This could read as “my way” and be just as accurate in a coach’s mind.
I find that life is much the same. Think about your day and consider where the complexity comes from. It’s not in making breakfast, or getting your kid to school, or not being late to work, creating and checking off a good portion of that to-do list at work, getting said child to soccer practice, texting back your friend, emailing your mom, writing that letter of recommendation, securing dinner-somehow, working out, having a drink (everyone needs a hobby) and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Any one of those things is relatively straightforward.
The complexity comes from doing all of them.
This is true of football as well. The impediment to the perfect play isn’t one thing. Individual players execute perfect technique on any number of plays. But the perfect play? With 11 guys executing the correct assignment with perfect technique? Well… that is a rare circumstance indeed.
The problem is obvious. Eleven players must do different things, use different techniques, all at the same time. Well, that and the fact that eleven guys on the other team are trying to do the same. In a sport where success is mutually exclusive, the guys on the other team are a genuine pain in the butt.
For a certain kind of personality though, this complexity only drives the obsession. You can manage your day if you build the right schedule. Eat the right food. Wear the same clothes every day to eliminate decision fatigue. Draw up the right play, make everyone wear armbands, change the formation, disguise the coverage.
We’d normally run the post at a sharper angle, but against this team-when they play cover six, we want to bend it a bit less. Turn it into a skinny post. Unless they’re in single high, then turn it into a deep-in like normal.
We can gameplan for everything if we work hard enough, smart enough, passionately enough.
Except for the obvious.
If we get going at 7:45am, then we will get to school on time. But of course, three-year old’s don’t really like schedules do they? When did he turn three? Well let’s start five min early then, to accommodate the tantrum. But that cuts five mins out of breakfast -so there goes the egg whites on toast and here comes the breakfast cookie. Diet is out the window I guess.
Just like that you’re ten minutes late to work and you’re buying chipotle for dinner because, honestly, you just need some *me* time and it might as well be a burrito. No, that doesn’t make sense, but sense went out the door somewhere around “make a to do list”.
Football is the same. You build a great game plan to account for their advantages in the trenches, maximize your strengths at the WR position, and then you call a play and realize. “Oh, we just can’t block their nose guard can we”. You knew this watching film. You *knew* this. You planned for this. But boy if we just cannot get a play off to save our lives.
Here is the kicker, if you’re a coach anyway. Everyone in the stadium knows it too, and if they didn’t know it in warmups, they knew it by the second quarter. Your center, however, still can’t block their nose in the second quarter. So what are you to do?
Yes, this is what happened to the Cougar defense and Cougar offensive line last Saturday. They knew they would have struggles. Yes they had a plan. No, sometimes a plan, or a backup plan, or a backup, backup plan, isn’t enough. Sometimes the other guys are just better than you are. That day anyway.
That’s the thing about football and about life, even when you can see the shark coming (which isn’t always the case) you can’t always swim around it.
It’s the obvious problems that you can’t solve in real life, and it’s the obvious problems you can’t solve on the football field. My left tackle just can’t block that guy. My safety can’t tackle. My outside linebacker just cannot remember which direction to run. That running back is too good. Hell man, Penix can really sling the ball.
Many an off season, and many a Monday, the plague of the obvious problems has driven coaches so far into a whiteboard that they get lost. A situation typically reflected by teams that don’t know where they’re going; or teams so wound up in their assignments that they can’t really play. Why did that lineman jump offsides, again? Well, maybe they were thinking too much. Why were they thinking too much? Well, maybe their coach was thinking too much.
The obvious answer to this problem is to simplify. Don’t try to much, don’t overthink it. Trust your guys to make plays. Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. The K.I.S.S. method. Keep It Simple Stupid. Next time you watch a team run the ball* on 3rd and 3, again, for no gain, and wonder aloud why on earth the coach doesn’t seem to have any other answers. Well, now you know.
*or, hypothetically speaking, if a team were to incessantly run tunnel screen, or flash screen, or any other type of quick hitting WR screen you can draw up. Hypothetically.
He was trusting his guys in the face of the obvious problems. Which has now, itself, become an obvious problem.
I imagine anyone who’s stared into an empty bowl of cereal at 11:30pm, after swearing that they were starting a diet today, can understand what that coach feels like.
I can also imagine Coug fans starting into that bowl of cereal at 11:30pm last Saturday, wondering how on earth our best defense in years gave up 51 points. We knew their offensive line was good. We knew Penix was really good. How did we not have an answer for this?
Trust me, I’m sure Coach Dickert was doing the same.