From D-Line to D.C.
I had been a defensive line coach for seven seasons and although I had also become the recruiting coordinator and special teams coordinator, my next logical step was to coordinate a defense ... my own defense. Was I ready? I kept remembering the words from my old boss and friend, Coach Jones: "You'll never think you're ready until you do it." So I started to develop a plan.
Where did I want to coach? It had to have three pre-requisites--a tradition for football, a winning record, and a community where athletes were expected to win and that had the resources to develop winning teams.
I did not expect to be the best coach on the staff. In fact I turned down several head-coaching opportunities for that reason.
I wanted to learn as well as teach.
I wanted to be challenged and broadened by the people around me.
I wanted to be around a head coach who had the same ideals about football as I did. A passion for the game and the people who play it, and who was charismatic and cared for people.
I wanted to coordinate a defense in a place where I could coach the defensive system I envisioned. I was fortunate.
I found a place that may not have been Shangri-la, but it was close enough.
When I entered the situation at Venice H.S., I found a team ready to get over the hump. An alumnus, Angelo Gasca, was entering his third year as head coach after several years as an offensive coordinator. He had also played and coached at different college football levels.
I was pleased to find an offensive coordinator/head coach committed to changing the stereotype about Venice H.S.
I was given the off-season conditioning program and I immediately began to instill my philosophy and personality on the defense and the team.
I tried to build on the positive aspects already in place, and to give the players a chance to get to know me. I didn't just supervise. I threw myself into the trenches and got involved. I was present physically and emotionally in all their workouts.
We worked hard and smart.
We worked consistently.
We grinded and we competed.
We grouped them and I tracked their progress and posted gains or lack of gains.
I instilled a program that was all about power and explosiveness. We used Olympic lifts and full body movements. We focused on core strength.
On the field, we maintained the running, agility and change-of-direction drills that had worked successfully before my arrival. However, with the blessing of the head coach but the dismay of other staff holdovers (who called it 'silly') I added a dimension to the workouts.
At the end of each day, we played any number of games that stressed team execution. I'm a big believer in "Team Building" and I used those end-of-the-workout games to teach life and team lessons. It also gave them a reason to come back and work hard through the monotonous chores of lifting and running.
We played games that included Ultimate Football (several versions), Capture the Flag, Ghetto Basketball, Bull in the Ring, Tug of War and Dodge Ball (with a football).
The first football subject that Coach Gasca and I discussed was our views on defense. What was our philosophy going to be? We had inherited a man-to-man defense that tried to attack receivers and blitz aggressively at the LOS. It had played mostly a 50 front and had a tendency for giving up big plays.
Although well coached, Venice didn't have enough athletes to match up consistently. Coach Gasca had a strong idea about a 4-4 defense. He felt the outside run support and umbrella coverage would be more conducive to the type of players we had.
It would be very easy to adjust our formations to our young defense. We intended to start two 10th grade ILB's and four other underclassmen. I also felt very comfortable with the 4-4 defense.
At Whittier College, we had used a multiple front with a base 4-3. I had coached the 4-4 with Coach Jones at University H.S. and I felt comfortable with it. I wanted to keep our fronts and coverages simple, but still play games and blitzes out of them.
Our No. 1 priority became "Don't give up the big play!" Our mantra became "RALLY TO THE FOOTBALL."
In year two, I built on the foundation that we had laid down the year before. I added to the existing package and became multiple in our fronts and coverages without detouring from our philosophy and defensive rules.
Coming into my situation at Venice, I wondered how it would feel to be a position coach and be powerless over the defense. Although I knew it would be tough, I wrongly and overconfidently believed in my ability to circle the wagons without our coaches, introducing a new philosophy.
I also thought that developing something collectively would give our defensive staff ownership of our defense. In the teaching process, I learned a valuable lesson about loyalty and why new coaches will clean house and bring in their own people. People they can trust.
I inherited an OLB coach with NFL experience who felt the DC job should be his, despite his inability to spend the necessary time at the school.
The secondary coach was his brother, loyal to the head coach and the previous defensive coordinator, but not to me. Both felt uncomfortable with the defensive philosophy that Coach Gasca and I had decided to implement.
I did have two defensive line coaches returning. Unfortunately, the defensive line was my position of expertise and I wanted to coach them myself. It was imperative to take over the young defensive line and get them to play the type of nasty, fast, technique driven style that I desired.
We needed them to protect those two 10th grade ILB's. The coaches stood back with the players and learned what I wanted. I also brought in an ILB coach of my own who had played for me at University H.S. and Whittier College.
Although he was a first-time coach, he was my security blanket. He had played in the two systems of defense that I knew and would be familiar with my terminology and, hopefully, what we were trying to do. I'd be able to tap into his experience.
Although year 1 at Venice produced a very successful season, I was still struggling to put together a well-oiled coaching staff. It was still a problem.
I had lost both of my LB coaches, one to a new career and the other to his refusal to embrace me and my system. I retained my defensive backs coach, one who doubted me at every turn and who was still on the fence about buying into my system.
I entered a situation with an existing defensive staff, as high school coaches often do. But my staff had outside loyalties including an undermining former DC as an offensive assistant. He didn't make things more pleasant. At half time in a game marked by our sluggish play, I was on the way back to the locker room with my head down when I heard a stream of invective coming my way.
I looked up to find the Offensive Assistant's wife sounding off. I shook my head in disbelief. Either she knew a lot about football or she was repeating her husband's dinner table complaints. We were 8-0 at the time and went on to win the game.
In spring, we brought in a former head coach to coach the LB's. I was excited to work with him. His philosophy of defense was different than mine, but I thought we could integrate some of his ideas into our package. But he too was unable to check his ego at the door. He couldn't cope with not being in control of the defense.
An attempted coup failed and he disappeared. It took me a month to undo the techniques that he had been inflicting upon my defense.
I suddenly discovered that I didn't need a new philosophy or a new idea, or a new coach. I didn't even need a great coach to pair up with. I just needed loyalty. Someone I could trust.
I decided to let our special teams coach work the defensive line during individual periods. He would do what I asked without undermining me. Consequently, instead of coaching one position, I coached the front 8 as a unit more than I had the previous year.
It became a blessing in disguise. I found that I liked it. I liked them hearing one voice, one philosophy, and one direction. After a brief power struggle with the new LB coach, he and the DL coach learned to coach off of me.
Our defensive fits became tighter and I could make sure that we were getting high volumes of reps for our defense--which is my practice philosophy.
The result was positive. We continued to improve and became a dominant defense, mixing with our explosive offense. We changed the culture of Venice H.S. football and we now finally had a balanced football team.
One of the things Coach Gasca has always told me about going from college football to high school football is not to hold back teaching the kids everything I knew. I always kept this in mind and it has been a great piece of advice.
Over the course of the past three seasons, the kids at Venice H.S. have taught me not to limit them. The difference from when I was a position coach is that I now have to formulate and carry out a game plan.
Each coach has different strengths and weaknesses. One of my strengths is the ability to prepare and break down opponents. On Saturdays I break down opponents. On Sundays we meet as a staff and watch our own film and the opponent's last game. I start to formulate a preliminary game plan and take suggestions from the head coach and members of the staff.
Once we go on the field Monday for our verbal scouting report and initial game plan, I won't accept discussions on the game plan from my assistant defensive coaches unless it is a major issue. I've gotten more stubborn about this.
Unfortunately, I've developed this policy because of my trouble with extended second-guessing from coaches who haven't put in their weekend of work.
Every Monday, I distribute a Defensive Scouting Report that rivals most Division I breakdowns. I include a Personnel Report, a Formation Tendency Chart, a Down and Distance Tendency Chart, Trick Play report, and every running and passing play diagrammed vs our predicted defense.
I also include any new movements, blitzes or stunts that we could utilize, and a review of defenses that might be good for the week.
It's a comprehensive report. I put a streamlined version of it on the white board in the team room that highlights the largest tendencies of our opponent. Even our less focused players can handle the streamlined information. We review it before film session and often refer to it during film session as the tendencies appear.
The "Film Session" is an interactive period, not a coaching monologue. Linebackers scream out strength calls and formations, safeties go through their coverage calls and alerts, and defensive linemen look for light/heavy offensive linemen. I don't believe this is normal high school preparation.
There is a big difference on Game Day now that I'm a coordinator rather than a defensive line coach. When I was a DL coach, my thoughts centered around the mentality of my players and their ability to be in the right frame of mind for the physical battle. I also wanted them to make sure they understood their assignments in the context of the defense.
As a coordinator, I find myself taking time to distance myself from the players and coaches before a game so that I might clear my own mind for the game. I try to visualize how it might play out and what my adjustments will be for different scenarios.
As a position coach, emotions could consume me and it would be okay. As a coordinator, I'm more effective when I am free of emotion.
Many coordinators sit up top in the box and are highly efficient. Others are able to handle the emotions of the game and still make clear decisions from the field.
There are times during the highest emotional periods of a game when I can call upon my newfound hobby of yoga to put me in the proper frame of mind. One of the features of yoga is staying calm in times of chaos. Anyone who has been in the crunch time of a football game can attest to the chaos.
One of the biggest challenges I've had is learning how to utilize my staff on game day. I've been in charge of many kids in my coaching career. This is the first time I've supervised adults. There is a big difference. In my first year, I didn't do a good job of utilizing my staff during the game. I was closed off and ready to bite people's heads off.
Although it's still not a strength, I think I did a lot better job last year of more clearly defining my needs during a game and my staff has adjusted.
When things don't go well, I'm prepared, not only to take on the guff of my fans but also of my assistant coaches. Since taking on the role of DC, my shoulders have broadened and my skin thickened. It's all part of the job.
The past three seasons at Venice H.S. under Coach Angelo Gasca have produced an overall record of 32-7. We are the three-time consecutive conference champions and haven't lost a conference game in my three-year tenure.
In year two, we went 13-1 and advanced to the finals of the city championship and played in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was the furthest that Venice H.S. had ever gone in the playoffs.
In year two, we beat five teams that were ranked in the Top 5 at the time that we faced them.
Defensively, we did not allow six opponents to score a single TD.
We had one scoreless streak of 14 quarters and only two opponents scored more than 14 points against us all year. Five of our defensive lineman won Division I scholarships.
Last year we replaced 18 starters and advanced to the quarterfinals, and sent two more defensive players into Division I football.
This year, we had one of the top strong safeties in the country and two defensive linemen who will play on Saturdays.
Most importantly, we're winning, we're learning, and we're having fun. I'm confident that in year four, my development from D-Line to DC will continue. Each football coaching situation is different and you'll never truly know if you are ready until you try it.
My advice is to "Go for it!"
By Gifford Lindheim, Defensive Coordinator, Venice (CA) H.S
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|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2005|
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