Dye-Log: When to Push, When to Back Off

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about preparing a team for the season opener.

It is a nervous time of year for college football coaches across the country and a crucial time for players and coaches alike as they try to make sure all of the details are covered that will help them open the season with a winning performance.


Decisions are being made that can affect the entire college career of players such as whether to play him as a freshman or redshirt him. This is also the time of the year coaching staffs have long, intense meetings hashing out who the starters and top backups will be for the opening game and what the substitution patterns are going to look like.

Players are normally exhausted at this point during preseason practice. Coaches have to balance the risks and rewards of pushing their guys harder to be ready to play a game vs. the potential for getting players injured you can't afford to lose. It will scare you to death as a coach if you push real hard in practices and worry you if you back off.

I went to Auburn's practice Saturday and saw what looked to be a tired football team so it was not a surprise that Gene Chizik decided to give his guys time off to come back rested for a final push to prepare for the opener vs. Clemson. During the long hours in the heat of two-a-days, even players in great condition get tired and your body can only take so much before it needs rest.

At Auburn and at other major football programs around the country, teams are focusing on the game plans for their openers and who will be involved in executing the plays. Almost every freshman coming into a program like Auburn's has high expectations about contributing to the team immediately. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't.

For the ones who get the word that they are being redshirted, emotions can become involve because it can be difficult for teen-age athletes, who have been stars in high school, to look at themselves realistically and understand they aren't ready to contribute in a major way to their college team. When a freshman expects to play and is told he is going to be on the scout team, it isn't always a happy time for the player.

The coaches the players perform for every day have to make a decision about what is best for the team. When the decision involves whether to redshirt or play a freshman it can be particularly difficult. For a promising young player who should really benefit from a redshirt year, the coaching staff has to consider whether or not that player will become a pro prospect who may not even be around as a fifth-year senior.

Auburn's coaches have other things to consider with the opener against Clemson approaching. The staff first needs to address which players on the entire roster they think will be ready to help them win on September 1. They also have to choose who they believe will be ready to help the team win midway through the season. This selection process started in the spring, continued through the early weeks of preseason drills and is in its final stages this week and next.

The temptation for coaching staffs is to keep on pushing their players hard this week to get more information to make sure they are making the right decisions about who should play. You don't want to enter the season with a tired team, but you still have work to do so that is the challenge a head coach and his assistants must deal with this time of year.

(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)

Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.

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