Coach Lew Johnston (Photo: Sarah Murphy/recruit757)
Lew Johnston pens a conversation starter, recognizing the best football athletes he has coached
Taken from Lew Johnston’s blog “Coaching the little things”.
by Lew Johnston, a special contribution to recruit757
I recall standing in front of the team one day before preseason practice was to start. In August, we get a LOT of afternoon thunderstorms in Coastal Virginia. It was pouring outside. We weren’t going out to our practice field for at least an hour. Looking at our coaches, I asked, “Can we get in the gym?” “No,” was the reply. “The soccer team is in there,” he said. “OK,” I queried, “How about the Middle School gym at the other end of the campus?” One coach said, “We’ve never practiced in there before, Coach J.” I stated, “Well, please go find out if it’s available.” And off he went. Arriving back 5 minutes later, he said, “The AD says that we can use it!” So down to the Middle School gym we went!
I learned early in my head coaching career that things won’t always go according to plan. I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ll a “tip of the hat” to Mike Tyson. He said that “everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth the first time! Now what are you going to do?!” My recommendation is: you better be able to ADJUST ON THE RUN!
In Mike Leach’s book on the famous Indian warrior, Geronimo, he states that “Improvisation is key. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you don’t have. Think about the resources you DO have and how you can best use them.” So true! With the U.S. Cavalry chasing him all over New Mexico and Arizona, Leach writes, “For months, Geronimo used all his craft, guile, leadership skills and toughness to remain nearly invisible to the army.” Rather than fretting over what he and Apache band lacked, Geronimo adapted and succeeded in outwitting the army. Geronimo knew how to improvise.
Coaches need to do the same thing. Instead of lamenting over the personnel that you lack, look at what/who you have and ask: How can I best utilize their talents to maximize our chance of success? You don’t have time to sit around and complain about what you lack. Focus on the the people you have and how you can best coach them.
This is what led me to the Delaware Wing T offense in the first place. We had pretty good speed. I had an excellent offensive line coach; but, we lacked size on the line. A coaching friend encouraged me to look into the Wing T. “It’s created for small, aggressive offensive linemen,” he stated. We learned the offense and “improvised” until we got the right people in the right places. For 15 straight seasons, we had winning records.
Then, as I learned more and more about our offense, I also discovered how to “adjust on the run” during a game. I don’t know where I first heard it but it makes sense: “If you have a cannon, fire it!” Find your star and hitch a ride. Over the years, we’d adjust our attack based on the personnel we had. While I preferred the running attack, when we had a 6’3 230 QB with a rifle arm… we threw it all over the place! He threw for almost 7,000 yards and 75 touchdown passes in his career. Then, in my last year as a head coach, we had a good athlete at QB but he was not a great passer. So, we gave it to our star running back— 212 times for 2,112 yards! We won a state championship with him leading our offense. Oh… and we had a darn good Defensive Coordinator who knew how to improvise too! We only had 17 or 18 guys on the team who could really play. (Yes! A lot of guys played both ways.) So, he “mixed and matched” all season long to keep us one step ahead of offenses.
Learn to adjust on the run! Don’t get bogged down by the naysayers who want to tell you that “we’ve never done it that way before!” Well, maybe that way is exactly the way you need to do things to be successful! Be willing to improvise and find a solution.
– Lew Johnston
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