McKay's Corner 9/7

our weekly look at former USC coach John McKay

Coach McKay's Corner 9.7.01

Coaching is Teaching: "It's just like a classroom"

      Only a coach can have real empathy for another coach, and I understood exactly what Missouri's Dan Devine felt when his team had a horrible breakdown in the middle of the 1961 Orange Bowl. Missouri was playing Navy and had put together a painfully slow march which had finally reached the Navy one yard line. There, the quarterback called for a pitchout, and favored Missouri was about two seconds from a touchdown. So they thought.
      Unfortunately, Missouri's tight end missed his block on a Navy defender names Greg Mather. Mather lined up in one of the gaps of the offensive line, burst unchallenged into Missouri's backfield, picked that lateral right out of the air and ran 98 astonishing yards to score.
      On the sidelines I imagine Devine was contemplating suicide. Next to him was the assistant coach in charge of the man who had missed the block on Mather. "You idiot," screamed the assistant at the player.
      Devine glared at his coach. "Who," he said, "was the idiot who taught the idiot how to block?"

      I've always thought Devine's remark summed up football coaching very succinctly. There is nothing mysterious about developing a good team, because coaching is nothing more than teaching. Head coaches coach assistants, and then assistants impart the techniques to the players. The better job they do, the better job the player will do.
      Over the years I've grown very mad at assistant coaches whenever their segment of the team continued to make mistakes. I always tell them not to blame it on the kids.
      "You are a damn poor teacher," I'll snap. "This is not that difficult a game if you teach the players properly."
      Sometimes young assistant coaches aren't good teachers; they're great strategists. They've got ten million plays that will win the game, with no thought about teaching the people that have to play that game.
      I believe strategy will win some games, but not very many. I don't believe I'm going to earn my living by deceiving anybody. I'm going to earn it by recruiting good players and then working hard teaching them to block and tackle, so that whether I deceive my opponent or not, I'll move the ball and stop him from moving it. We don't beat people with surprises, but with execution.
      There are occasional exceptions. The best strategic job we ever pulled off was against Oklahoma in 1964. The Sooners were ranked second in the nation, and had home field advantage and were favored by a touchdown. We won, 40-14.
      We had prepared for that game since spring. We were a good team, but not one good enough to win by 26 points. However, we got in a formation nobody had yet used as far as we knew. Today it's one of our standard formations. We took the split end and put him way out to one side, and then put the flanker, Rod Sherman, about half way out on the same side. We opened the season the previous week and beat Colorado without using this formation.
      Many teams in those days used basically an eight-man defensive front, with six linemen and two linebackers or five and three, with only three men deep. We decided if Oklahoma did that against this formation we would win, because we would have a big advantage. Most coaches change their offenses in a game quicker than they change their defenses - they don't like to change their defenses - and we can take advantage of that stubbornness.
      The way Oklahoma lined up on defense there was no way to cover Sherman, and most of the time Rod was wide open. He caught seven passes. When they moved a player out to cover him, we just audibilized to tailback Mike Garrett and ran him off tackle for good yardage.
      We also rolled out our quarterback, Craig Fertig, another ploy we hadn't used the week before. And Craig completed 16 or 28 passes for 212 yards, with no interceptions - despite throwing in a 40-mile-an-hour wind.
      "If my mother were passing left-handed," said Craig later, "she could have completed them today."

All above from McKay: A Coach's Story by John McKay & Jim Perry (1974)

Remember the John McKay memorial service Sept 12 Bovard Auditorium

RIP Coach McKay.
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