Friday, January 29, 2010

Comeback at Ft Benning- Fading Alabama JV Football Memories

This is an upload from my blog

I will do one or two more of these since we have a snow day. The following story is as true as my pride and memory have preserved it.

I'm writing these assuming that the Fall of 1982 was the last official season of a JV schedule, even though I know they played individual games at times after that.

After the Marion Military game, we traveled next to Ft Benning, GA. home of American heroes- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Omar Bradley, Senator Robert Dole, Gen. George Marshall, General George Patton and Gen. Colin Powell. While at Fort Benning, Gen. Eisenhower coached the Fort Benning Doughboy football team to an all-Army championship. He later retired as a five-star General.

A couple of vivid memories was how neat it was to go on the base and how impressive their stadium was. It was made like a small bowl and it was a perfect evening for football.
To add to the atmosphere were the packed crowd of cadets- it was a sellout- Alabama was in town.
Not only that, each army fatigued fan had a bunch of red tickets that they were taking to the concession stand. Those tickets were exchanged for cases of beer.

I'm going through pre-game warm-ups and staring at this spectacle. A long line at the concession stand, and soldiers carrying cases of beer under each arm up into the stands. Within 30 minutes, the bowl was standing room only- everyone dressed up like GI Joe- and chanting army cheers- 'AAYEAAAYYEO', 'AAYEAAAYYEO'- we got pumped up pretty good and then the doughboys came out to a loud cheer.

They were huge! And it appeared to me that not many of those boys were college age- they were men! Their QB was tall and good. We were in trouble.

Now. I need to take a little side ramp. Our center (and I am blank to his name, it feel it almost at the front of my deteriorating frontal lobe) was a great guy. But he was was not a great center- He tried- but I think he weighed 185 lbs and snapped the ball real slow. It was like catching a pass... under center!

I had been using him for weeks during scout team and even though Mike Rodriquez was the scariest looking human on the Alabama defense- I was convinced he was a kind-hearted person because my center could still walk after each practice. (And Tommy Wilcox was nice enough to let me live many times during practice).

Ok- Back to Benning. The coaches decided to help our offense this game by bringing center Mike White along. Mike was a real lineman- muscles and tough- (he also had a cool trick where he could put a twist tie in one nostril and pull it out the other nostril- but that is another story).

Now the problem... I had never taken a snap from Mike White... ever. My first worry was when I line-up under him for the first time and said the cadence. We were using a totally different cadence than the real Alabama offense. So we got that straight and then I said "HUT". A heat seeking missile called the football about broke my thumb and the ball ricocheted 10 yds away. HOUSTON WE HAVE A BIG PROBLEM.

Not only was it faster, but the real Alabama offense used a different snap that allowed for the reach and ride of the wishbone. I had done it a few times, but our scout team took the old style snap because that is how Mr ED snapped it (please, my old center, accept my apology now).

The smell of beer in the air, the raucous chants, and an evening in Ft Benning- it was going to get wild.

We received the opening kick-off and we have 3 possessions, 3 one play drives, all turnovers from missed exchanges. It was pure misery. Mike White's face was beat red- he was so mad I thought he was going to throttle me to death. I was sure that 3 or four of my fingers were broken from the practice we were doing in between series. We were working so hard on the QB exchange that I was pouring sweat.

My only saving grace was that they tried the back-up Qb, Mark Jounsoun (sp?). And he screamed bloody murder as were heard his hand crack after Mike White's bicep fired.

The coaches had to make a battlefield correction- Mr Ed was back in the lineup and Mike White was spared as a JV player.

Now the game. Our early turnovers spotted the doughboys an early lead. I think it was 10 or 13 to zip. But again, we had a great defense and good kicking game.

We actually moved the ball a little in the 2nd quarter. I ran an option play for 15 yds. And pitched on the next one for a 20 yds gain. I think I also remember our full back doing well. Thom Whitley had been added to that position and he just willed himself for 5 yds on the dive play.

Again... fading memory.... but it seems like Paul Trodd kicked a long FG right before the end of the half.

Halftime- Coach Rutledge gave a great speech- made us all laugh and then reminded us that Alabama football was all about the 4th quarter.

We intercepted a pass coming out in the 3rd quarter and started the drive deep in the doughboys territory. We lined up and got them to jump offsides. They called timeout.

While we were in the huddle, I heard my offensive linemen talking. "Did you smell what I smelled?"
It seems like the doughboys traded in some red tickets at halftime. I had never been a part of players who had been drinking DURING the game.

As good and crisp as Ft Benning was in the first half- they just wilted in the 2nd. We put in a blitz scheme at halftime and we got some big time hits on their Qb.

The most amazing part of the game was that when we started the 4th quarter, the Cadet crowd changed their chants to a very familiar cheer. They were screaming "Rolllllllll Tide Roll"!

With 2 or 3 minutes to go, we blocked the Ft Benning punt and returned it for a TD and we went crazy... we won the game! It was a major miracle.

The next day at practice, Coach Bryant blew his whistle, and brought everyone up. He had all the JV guys stand up and bragged about our 4th quarter comeback. "That, men, is what Alabama football is all about." Everybody applauded.

My only thought was "If he only knew".

Mike White sneered at me. Coach Bryant blew his whistle, and I ran off to go through the gauntlet. I had the pleasure that day to get hit by Emmanuel King, Dante Bramblett, and Eddie Lowe. Eddie hit me so hard everyday that my whole body got a concussion.

Ahh the memories!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Shark - Fading Memories of Alabama JV Football

My little brother Lee and me after AL/Marion Military
This is per a request and I will not bore anyone with a lot of these stories- this is a 27 year memory so make allowances for human pride and error.

In the fall of 1982, the University of Alabama played a limited JV schedule. Becuase of the redshirt rule, most of the talented freshmen were not available and created a team made up mostly of walk-ons with a sprinkling of scholarship guys.

There was almost no practice for these games. I do remember us running a team period where we ran a few wishbone plays, but there was no installation or technique teaching for the offense.

Our first game was at Marion Military Institute.

Now, you have to understand that these teams were playing ALABAMA- and they were jacked to the max.

We had spent the week running Georgia Techs Pro I offense. Our beloved 'Head Coach' was Jack Rutledge- possibly the most loved man in that program. The offensive coordinator was 'Famous Amos' Jones and it seems like I remember Rich Wingo and Murray Legg coached the defense.

First, the defense was solid. Wingo was really stoked that Lee Clements was 'just knocking the hell out of people' and we played great defense in every game.

Now to our poor offense. As a coach now, I appreciate how woefully unprepared we were for a game situation. It was not anyone's fault.  Our first possession, we broke the huddle and I immediately called timeout because we only had 10 men on the field. The problem was that I had talked Coach Amos to run a Pro-I bootleg on 1st down because it was one of the few scout team plays that actually worked that week. So we had 1 less back and no wide receiver.

As we stayed in the huddle on the field waiting for the chaos to be sorted out, I realized it was going to be a long night. My center looked at me and asked, "who do I block?".

See, we always practiced against Alabama, who ran a 50 defense (3-4 today) so there was always a noseguard. Marion ran a split 40 that had two 'three techniques' and no noseguard.

This was not going to be fun at all.

We ran the boot on the first play and I was sacked for about a 10 yd loss. In fact I was sacked enough times that game to end up with -77 yards rushing for the game.

The low light of the game was where I got mad and kept spinning out of tackles. I spun , stepped, got hit, spun stepped, got hit- and if my memory recalls it right- I broke about 7 tackles and still lost 5 or 6 yards. After the play, the official marking the ball said , "WOW".

A positive and a lasting memory. Joe Smith, a scholarship wide receiver actually dressed out and we found a play that worked. I would get the snap, take a 1 step drop, and throw it to Joe before every Marion player hit me. And Joe actually caught it.

Hoss Johnson was waiting on me as we came back to Bryant Hall after the game. 'I was listening to y'all on the radio- oh my goodness, you got killed.'

They also posted my Official NCAA stats on the board in the dining hall. I had 75 yds passing and -77 yds rushing for a total of -2 yds total offense. It was highlighted in yellow with the note 'WAY TO GO'! Coach Mal Moore just laughed out loud when he saw me.

Now to the shark. We had a walk-on player that he and everybody called 'The Shark'- someone help me with his name. All I can remember is that he was a receiver and one of the most unusual characters I have ever met.

He was from Florida or Oklahoma (but I think it was Florida). I asked him what brought him to Alabama, and he pointed at the tower without saying a word.

He took white athletic tape and doctored up his practice stuff including making an 'S' on his jersey. He did push-ups throughout the whole practice. He must have done over a 1,000 push-ups everyday.

And I never saw him, EVER, catch a pass. I would throw him the ball during warm-ups and he could not catch. He actually was a tall, decent looking receiver. He could run, ran pretty routes, but the ball hit the turf every pass.

So in this game vs Marion, because the defense was playing great- we had the ball and a chance to win in the 4th quarter. I think we returned a punt to our side of the field. On 3rd down we called our last timeout.

I went to the sideline and was talking to Coach Amos. 'The Shark' stepped in our huddle.

He said, "Shark Deep Sure Six"- kind of like a hollywood moment.

Coach Jones looked at him and asked, 'What did you say?"

Shark spoke with firm confidence and enthusiasm, "Shark Deep Sure Six, Sir"

Coach Jones grabbed him and screamed 'SIT DOWN SHARK'.

And that was the last I ever remember seeing the shark. We lost. My white uniform had blood on the jersey and pants ( Nowadays I would have been ejected for the blood rule).

An interesting side note. My wife, Lisa, was at that game watching her high school boyfriend who played LB for Marion. I would meet her 6 months later.

All she can remember was the Marion crowd talking about how that Alabama Qb was being beat to death.

But I have loved writing this because it is such a fun memory! OK guys, chime in- where is my memory only legend or gaps I have forgotten.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27 Years Ago and a Lifetime of Memories- Paul 'Bear' Bryant

Yesterday marked the 27th anniversary of the passing of Coach Bryant.
I had the privilege of being with Coach Bryant his last season at Alabama as a walk-on Qb. I have more special memories than I could ever recount.
Growing up in Alabama, we all have vivid memories of that deep husky voice and stories of legend.

I first got to meet Coach Bryant in Tuscaloosa on a trip with Jack Rutledge, father of Jeff. Mr Rutledge was my Sunday School teacher and we were thrilled to bump into Coach Bryant.

I later met Coach Bryant when he introduced an evangelist at Ruhama Baptist church in East Lake, AL. I think I must have been around 15 years old at the time. It was the largest crowd that the church had in a long time and it made a few of the deacons mad.
My grandmother pushed us through the crowd and told Coach Bryant, "My grandson wants to play for you one day." He smiled and said "Smart boy". The funniest part of that story is that she had a game program that belonged to my uncle Jerry. He had sent it with her to get an autograph. Later that afternoon, she gave the program to Uncle Jerry with Coach Bryant's signature: "Hi Jay, See you at Bama, Bear Bryant". My uncle wasn't too thrilled that my name was the one on his program.

I later got to meet Coach Bryant in Tuscaloosa on a trip with Jack Rutledge, father of Jeff. Mr Rutledge was my Sunday School teacher and we were thrilled to bump into Coach Bryant.
Coach Ken Donahue called me in January of 1982 and invited me to walk-on that coming fall. That was all I needed, I was going to play for the Bear.
Coach Bryant walked up to our table at Bryant Hall on the first day of practice. He put his hand on my shoulder and said something.... no idea what he said.
The team meetings were always interesting. Coach Bryant would tell stories, read Dear Abby, talk about football- I wished I had recorded every one.
When he walked into the team room, everyone sat up straight and put both feet on the floor. I used to be amazed because he seemed so hard to listen to on TV with that raspy, deep growl, but in the meetings he was animated and you understood every word.
He always preached kicking game first, defense second, and offense last.
He always told us how we were going to win and we believed him.
He loved playing and winning with class.
This blog is getting way too long- but I have funny stories about JV football that season. We were bad and I was the Qb and I was bad too. We lost to Marion Military Institute, came from behind to beat Ft Benning, was destroyed by Livingston (who played their starting TB Johnny Shepherd against us- and I had to get stitches in my arm) but then beat Marion at home in a re-match game because we actually dressed some scholarship guys for that game. The last JV football team at Alabama is filled with interesting stories. One of may favorites is "Shark deep sure six"- my old Alabama buddies may remember that one. Also Ft Benning's army cheers is another one.
My last physical sighting of Coach Bryant was in the concourse of the coliseum during winter workouts. We were running laps (sprints) around the concourse under the stop watch of Al Miller. I remember being sick, running a fever, and sprinting for my life to make those times. Running around the concourse meant dodging water fountains and opening doors. We also slipped on the curves like a bunch of greyhounds on a loose track.
Coach Miller said 'go' and we were flying, in panic to make it and then a door flew open and we all almost killed Coach Bryant right there. We all stopped, he laughed, we started again.. finished. And Coach Miller chewed us out for missing the time. "That one, boys, did not count".
The team was honorary pall bearers at his funeral. I will never forget that ride to Birmingham in a Greyhound bus behind his hearse. Every inch of Interstate 59 was covered with people, including the overpasses. They stood quietly and held signs. I fought back tears the whole way.
Growing up idolizing Bear Bryant was not a bad thing, it changed my life.
Getting to play for him for one season was something I never will forget.
Has it been 27 years?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Outlaw vs The Sheriff – The Quandary of Coaching in Big Time College Football

this is an upload from my blog:

The Wild West is in full bloom this January and it is best seen in the media-hyped, 'sources say', 'step on your mama' carousel of college football head coaches. It is a short silly season before the incredulous stepchild appears called recruiting.

Center stage this season is the shoot-out at Knoxville corral where the outlaw Lane Kiffin has bolted and the volunteers wonder who will stand tall in the fort with strong enemies all around.

I use this language to convey the polarization of college coaching types and worry out loud at the consequences of the current trends in our culture.

As college football becomes a by-product of media marketing and high dollar stakes, there seems to emerge two distinct coaching personas.

Persona style #1 I call the Outlaw coach. He has swagger, instant flash, and media appeal. The rebel side of human nature taps into great zeal and energy. This has been the case throughout history- it’s the bad guy that is most intriguing. They say that Milton was extremely upset that his readers of Paradise Lost became infatuated with Satan more than the other characters.

Outlaw coaches develop that contra mundum ‘we will fight the whole world’ attitude and it is very effective. Football is a fight, and the warrior energy can be fed with intensity that erupts from the outlaw swagger. Two recent examples of this are Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach. Leach is, in a way, a purer example- his ‘pirate persona’ won over Lubbock and rocked the southwest. The University of Miami tapped into this bad boy power in its dynasty days.

An outlaw coach can build a winner faster than his opposite. Flash, fire, inferno, burn-out – and a long term wasteland left behind.

Outlaw coaches resonate in our culture. Bravado and brashness- especially if you have media attractive sharp looks- sells tickets and attracts the Rivals-approved blue chip recruit. Outlaw coaches make it interesting and interest is better than irrelevance. Brash is better than boredom. Armani always beats Men’s Warehouse.

The downside however must be communicated. Outlaw coaches have no fixed values except for winning and self-preservation… at all costs. The best outlaws are experts at surveying the landscape and manipulating the circumstances to (A)- survive and (B)- ponder escape routes.

Persona style #2 I call the Sheriff. He wears the badge and keeps fixed values in their proper place. He appeals to the order of society and the values that we know provides stability and honor. But he doesn’t make news, doesn’t command the immediate energy of the outlaw, and gets confined as a keeper of all the by-laws.
The Sheriff coach builds it right, which means a slower rise to the top. But once he gets there- it can be a longer ride and a more honorable legacy. Sheriff coaches include Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bobby Bowden, and younger guys seem to be Chris Peterson of Boise State – there are others but it is always harder to name them on the spot.

What works against the Sheriff coach is that the fan base gets less energy in our current media market. Outlaws stir the pot while Sheriffs usually initiate a yawn. Less energy is felt by the 5 start recruits who want momentum, who want to play now, who want to be coddled, and who want to gather as much hardware as they can on their way to the NFL. The outlaw coach promises to each individual the guarantee of that destiny. The Sheriff refuses to promise if he is unsure that reality will deliver.

The Sheriff coach does care where his players end up in 10 years, the Outlaw knows that he will be long gone before that rotten produce and backlash appears.

I do want to offer a 3rd type- the ‘successful blend’- good guys who have the attractive persona or bad guys who learn that fixed values can provide a means to their end. The toughest part of these guys is that it is impossible to really know what is the controlling element. And it really does not matter because they win. These coaches are few and far between. I will mention Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Pete Carroll as this type.

Can you feel the pressure an AD is under in hiring a coach? Do we spend cash for flash? Yet he knows that it will be misery trying to keep the wild horse in the pasture and that his new guy will have no control or respect for any authority.

A lot of programs have adopted the mentality of splashing the flash, knowing they can do it over and over- that is the trend in basketball right now. Hire a suit, get the splash, sell tickets, and fire or replace as the inferno cools.

The tragedy of the legacy is what we should grieve. The long-term cost of outlaw coaching is a loss of character. We begin to value the wrong things and wonder where commitment and loyalty go. We modeled, the young people noticed, and we reap the whirlwind.

Can we reverse the trend? I say ‘yes’.

I call on two important pieces of this puzzle to stand up and do what is right.
The first important piece is the Athletic Directors. Be willing to lose the press conference and win the war. If you find your coach to be a genuine sheriff, stand firm in the storm with solid support and patiently wait for the fruit of that style. It takes a while for a Sheriff to clean up the town and it will seem the darkest before the dawn.

But I also call on fans who understand the need for Sheriffs to stand up and vocally support those types of coaches. Auburn fans do not have to wring their hands and whisper about Gene Chizek- they need to get loud and proud and do all they can to make that guy successful. If a guy ends up coming short, don’t let it be because no one really rallied around them.

An entire other topic is the type of athletes schools should be signing… but that is a fight for the Sheriffs of the world.

I hope the University of Tennessee gets a Sheriff because I care about where those players end up. They will be marrying my daughters and raising my children.

You ought to care also.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nick Saban’s Process

Now that Nick Saban has coached two national champion football teams at two different universities, his ‘process’ will be getting a lot of headlines. I thought I would give it to you as he presents it to his coaches and team.

• FOCUS ON THE PROCESS NOT THE RESULTS. The results will take care of themselves.

In some ways these are coaching cliché’s, but everyone I know who is around Saban speak of his relentless work ethic and demand for others to grind it out with him. He also studies human psychology and understands techniques needed to motivate today’s players. He is more of a positive energetic pusher to the players in public and just rips his coaches in private. Love him or hate him, he has command and everyone around him keeps in step.

I heard Saban speak at a clinic when he was at LSU and he spoke of how he needed to adjust his coaching style. Here are the notes I took:

“Never before has coaching had a greater challenge or greater responsibility. I have found it difficult coaching players who are a product of this culture.
Kids have too many choices and too few commitments and very few consequences. They are self-absorbed (not selfish), it’s just a mentality. They want to know “how does this benefit me?” Very few of our players coming into our program have ever experienced consequences and that means they do not know suffering. But if you don’t suffer, you never get hungry, and you never learn to fight

It is tough on coaches today. We have fewer coaches, less time with the athletes, and greater expectations.

So here are some adjustments I have had to make in my coaching style over the years.
I want to inspire learning. I bring in people and talk to my players about why I need to learn and why they need to learn. This involves character education: commitment-perseverance- integrity. We tell them, ‘there are no victories without adversity. That’s tough to teach when there’s a re-set button on the X-box.

I constantly put before them a roadmap: ‘graduate- perform with confidence and consistency’. I create their expectations- I tell them to not let the media or public do it. A kid coming in our program today believes he needs to win the Heisman or go to the NFL to validate his career. We need to make his expectations realistic and give him a day- by -day plan to get there

I’ve learned to coach and not criticize. If you do not praise their good techniques, you better be careful about chewing on them. I want to catch them doing it right and point it out. The worst coaching ever is to scream, ‘CATCH THE BALL!’. Instead teach then how to catch the ball.

I tell them regardless of the game circumstances, NEVER show frustration. Don’t hit/ lash out/ throw things/argue – if you do that your opponent grows. If you always look determined and fighting- I have found a lot of these opponents crumble. Kids are front -runners. I tell my coaches- don’t vent on players or officials- it is a sign of weakness,not confidence.

A word about ‘character’. My definition of character is: my thoughts- habits- and priorities as shown daily in my choices

To put it this way- if all my players get is x’s and o’s , I’m not coaching. Today’s kids need character training first.”

We can all learn from these principles.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Marking Milestones in Alabama's Latest Title

this is an upload from my blog:

As we watched Alabama win the national title last night, I couldn’t help but think about the last time we did this and all the change that has taken place.

The last time I could afford season tickets to the Alabama games was 1992. Lisa and I splurged and attended every home game that season. We never saw them lose. They won ugly back then too- rugged defense and making sure the offense didn’t screw it up. But that is how it has always been done at Alabama for as long as I can remember. Finding a way to win- it is the will to win in the 4th quarter.

One milestone that season was the first SEC championship game at Legion field. I managed to find one ticket and went. That night was the first time I ever talked on a cell phone. It was my friend’s that I went with and I called my wife from the stadium…. Amazed that I could do that. Antonio Langham intercepted Shane Matthews to seal the SEC championship and an opportunity to win the National Title.

And we watched (on TV at home) Gene Stallings carried off the field on the shoulders of his players after the Sugar Bowl victory over Miami. To be honest, I like that ceremony much better than the Gatorade dump. Is there a symbol there?

Now flash forward to 2010. I am living in Nashville, enjoying the win with a household of beautiful girls and thinking how much time has gone by.

These things are markers and memories. These will dim over time. But while it is fresh on my mind I wanted to write a couple of thoughts and hopefully re-read these one day with good, warm thoughts.

The Passion for Alabama Football

People make fun of it, but it is a part of Alabama. I grew up with Leonard’s losers, John Forney radio broadcasts, Sunday Bear Bryant shows, and dreaming of being a part of the Crimson Tide. It is what Alabamians do, and it creates energy and unity – a huge heart for football takes someone at the top who can pull it all into a unified confidence. Is it too much? Probably, but that's what they do, it is in the DNA of the Crimson Tide world. When Ricky Bobby said' If you ain't first, you're last" most people in the nation laughed, people from Alabama said "Amen". Alabama fans cannot be held together by anything less than a coaching persona. How many people are there in the football world that can take on that mantle? So love him or hate him- Saban is one of the very few who can survive and thrive at a place like that.

The Testimony of Colt McCoy

He was so full of emotion that he had to pause twice to answer. He was crushed.

And then he said it- " I always give God the glory, I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life, and if I know nothing else, I'm standing on the rock.” Wow- that guy is a champion!

The Inspiration to Keep Digging and Doing It Right

As a football coach, I get so inspired by the champions and the winners. The things they say are more than clichés. I have to continue to push, press, learn, evaluate and apply. As I write this, I am able to look at 3 state championship rings I was privileged to be a part of. I want to get back there again. And each year, you see what it is- a group of highly dedicated and united individuals, who lay all the selfishness aside and fight with every fiber in their being. They work and compete as champions. Alabama’s title began over a year ago after a humiliating loss to Utah.

So I am ready to run after it again… today.. in every area. Knowing that I too am standing on a rock.