There is always so much chatter about the great head coaches and the great players. "Coach Tressel did this and Ted Ginn did that..." -- that praise is much deserved. However, what often gets overlooked are the assistant coaches.
The assistants get a good paycheck and they get to coach the game they love. They also put in ridiculous hours and usually move their families around the country to keep their career moving forward. I would say players and the head coach are crucial to a program's success. After all, it is the players that need to make the plays and the head coach is ultimately responsible for steering the ship through both good and bad times. With all that said though, many grossly underestimate the impact great assistants make on a football team.
I have always thought of three factors that make a great assistant coach…
1. The ability to recruit. Visiting with high school coaches, drinking a cup of coffee with parents, and banging out dozens of phone calls throughout the week are just some of the responsibilities that come with recruiting. Practice and away games won't take a coach too far away from his family, but the long hours on the road certainly will. The best recruiters are the ones that give honest answers to the potential signees. The great ones won't guarantee a starting spot, but they will guarantee an opportunity. The great ones won't act phony in front of parents, but they will look them in the eye with honest, and sometimes painful, answers.
2. The ability to inspire. I purposely said inspire rather than motivate because I believe players motivate themselves as opposed to coaches motivating the players. Eddie George and other running backs had the same coach. Eddie decided to spend twice as much time in the weight room and win every conditioning test he ran. Sure, he looked up to Coach Spencer. He learned from him and he most definitely respected him and hung on his every word, but that deep fire came from Eddie.
The great assistant coaches are fun to around. The great assistant coaches have that respect from the players. The great assistants are part of the unit trying to capture goals as opposed to "me against you." Players would take a bullet for the great assistants. They get the message across to the players that the wind sprints are for the good of the players, not for the coaches to punish the team.
3. The ability to scheme. Zone blitzes and spread offenses weren't that talked about 30 years ago. The chess match is constantly changing. When Michigan plays Ohio State, each team will have 10 or 11 game films to watch. Who can tweak this or tweak that? Who can self-scout themselves to put their own offense or defense in a position to throw in the unexpected? Who can make an adjustment at halftime to get the 3rd and 2 you will need halfway through the fourth quarter?
All aspects are crucial. If one aspect is missing, I don't think that coach would land on Coach Tressel's staff. Personally, I would put them in that order. Again, you need every aspect, but great players that are inspired to perform will beat some fancy "chalk talk" every day of the week.