Dye-Gest Column: Vital to Sweat the Details

College Football Hall of Famer Pat Dye writes about a head coach's assignments as his team prepares to open a season.

For Gus Malzahn, and really any college football head coach, this is the time you really sweat the details to make sure your players arrive on the field opening night ready to perform at a high level with confidence in their assignments and the proper training to make sure they can carry them out efficiently. In Auburn’s case, this will be particularly important when opening against a Clemson team expected to be a strong contender to win the national championship.

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Almost all of the physical work has been done this close to kickoff, but it is the head coach’s job to make sure he covers all of the bases to be ready for what can take place before, during and immediately after the opening game.

In addition to making sure the offense and defense are executing smoothly, it is his job to have all of his speciality teams players confident they will get the job done. He also has to make sure his team has installed its two-minute offense, its gadget plays, its desperation plays, short yardage situations, long-yardage situations and how to counter against what the other team will be trying in those situations. You have got to have a plan for it and you have to rehearse it enough to be able to execute properly when the time comes. That means a team needs to arrive at the stadium with the kinks ironed out.

For example, players need to know what to do in any situation they may encounter, whether it is defending an onside kick or trying to recover one, or something different that may or may not happen during the course of a particular game or even a whole season.

As a head coach you need to be certain that your assistants have also sweated the details and that they are rehearsed and ready to go with their game day assignments whether they are on the sideline communicating with players or in the press box helping the coaches on the sideline make their offensive and defensive calls. You may go through four ball games without having to call a particular play or alignment, but before opening the season the head coach needs to make sure everybody knows what to do.

During the course of a game the head coach has to make sure his assistants are in the right places at the right times to give the proper feedback on what is working best and where the problems are occurring. There have to be trained eyes watching the secondary, the defensive front, the linebackers or wherever, looking for any kind of tip that can give your team the advantage it needs to win a football game. All of that needs to be done in a timely and effective manner so play-callers get the information they need to make informed decisions.

Going into the opener the head coach needs to make decisions about how is team is going to warm up, who’s going out first and what the players and coaches are going to be doing prior to kickoff. By the time the teams are ready to play he needs to have already thought out how he is going to handle things if his team goes out there and immediately gets down two touchdowns or how are you going to do it if you jump out three touchdowns ahead? If the game is tight, you better have a really good plan for that.

The coach has to have a Plan B if the starting quarterback gets hurt or there are other players being on counting on who aren’t available. Basically, you need to have gone through every possible scenario and plan the best way to deal with them because how well you can make adjustments during the course of a game is critical to success. In many cases the head coach has figured out these things well in advance of opening night so by the time he gets to game week a lot of the preparation is about reviewing and fine-tuning.

When I was a head coach I even thought it was important to go into a game with a plan for what you were going to say to the press whether you won or lost. The most important thing after the final whistle blows is not what just happened, it is what is going to happen next week and the rest of the season. Immediately after a game is an important time to communicate with your players because you are never going to have a more attentive audience. What you say there in the dressing room are things they will remember the rest of their lives. That is just the way it is.

Suppose you get beat badly. What are you going to say and the same thing if you lose a close ball game, one of those gut-wrenchers. If you win one like that are you going to get so high that you beat yourself the next week by the way you handle it? If you aren’t prepared a lot of times you will make a statement or do something that you will regret later. I am sure all of that is going through Coach Malzahn’s mind this week.

Another thing a head coach will be carefully monitoring prior to the opener is the physical condition of his players. Do they look tired or do they look fresh? Does the whole team need extra work or just a few individuals?

Unless you are new to the job, you have the experience of going through similar situations and you know what has worked previously to guide you, but you also remember what didn’t work and that is a big factor in deciding how to prepare for any game, especially a season opener.

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