Monday, January 24, 2022

Joey Jones and Coach Bryant

 Every Jan. 26, I post a remembrance of Coach Bear Bryant who passed away on Jan. 26, 1983. These posts are on my blog, jayopsis.com, as well as this site.

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This year, I am so happy to post a couple of memories from Joey Jones.

This is Joey's bio from wikipedia:

Playing career

Jones is a graduate of Mobile's Murphy High School. He played college football for coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama. Jones lettered with the Tide from 1979 to 1983, graduating with a degree in business administration. As a wide receiver, he tallied 71 receptions, 1,386 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ranked third among Alabama's career touchdown receivers and seventh in career receiving yards. He was named All-SEC as a senior and chosen to participate in the Senior Bowl. He was a member of the University of Alabama's All-Decade Team for the 1980s and played professionally with the Birmingham Stallions of the United States Football League and the National Football League's Atlanta Falcons.

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The iconic catch when Joey was with the Birmingham Stallions

Coaching career

In 1989, Jones took his first coaching job as an assistant coach on the Briarwood Christian School staff in Birmingham, Alabama. After two years at Briarwood, he took the job as head coach at Dora where he led his team to a 24–11 record over three seasons. In 1996, Jones was hired as the head coach at Mountain Brook High School. At Mountain Brook, he led his team to the 1996 Class 6A state championship game, four region titles, two semifinal appearances and three quarterfinal appearances. Jones went 101–27 over ten seasons in charge of the Spartans.

After compiling a .767 winning percentage as an Alabama high school coach, Jones was hired as the new head coach at Birmingham–Southern College, where he led the team to a 1–7 record in its first season in NCAA Division III football in 2007. Jones was the first coach of the Panthers since 1939, when the football program was disbanded.

After only one season at BSC, Jones accepted the same position at the University of South Alabama in February 2008. He was the first coach for the Jaguars and was in charge of creating the program. The team began play in 2009, and joined the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) in 2012 as members of the Sunbelt Conference.

Jones led South Alabama to a 23–4 record in his first three seasons at South Alabama as Division-I FCS independent. After initially struggling after moving to the Sun Belt Conference with a 2–11 record in 2012, the team has since improved and posted a winning record against in-conference competition. The 2014 season saw South Alabama selected to the 2014 Camellia Bowl, their first bowl game.

On February 22, 2018 Jones was hired as Special Teams Coordinator at Mississippi State University.

Joey is now retired from football and now enjoys spending time with his family and splits time between Orange Beach and Birmingham.

JOEY JONES ON COACH BRYANT

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" I have many wonderful memories about Coach Bryant...but a couple that really impacted my life in a positive way. I signed a scholarship at the University of Alabama in 1980. Upon arrival, I soon found out that my ego would be in check as I looked at the depth chart...my name was 6th on the list...crushing my world.  After all, being an All-State receiver out of Murphy HS, I was thinking maybe 5th string..Ha!  I felt as if Coach Bryant didn't even know my name. Well, I kept on working through my freshman year and didn't play much.  So hopes were high going into the next year because one receiver graduated and moved up to 5th string.  To make a long story short, at our 1st game vs LSU, four of the receivers ahead of me were injured.  Here was my chance! The next game, as I was somewhat nervously warming up for the game, Coach Bobby Marks, who seemed more nervous than me, grabbed my face mask and said 'don't you get me fired today!' The second series, Walter Lewis threw a perfect deep pass to me and all I could think as the ball was traveling 60 yards in the air was that "I better not get Coach Marks fired".  The ball landed perfectly and I caught it for a 50 yard TD pass! Soon after that, Coach Bryant came up to me and put his arm around me and just stared in my eyes and smiled.  My confidence went straight through the roof. From that point forward, I felt as if I had finally proved myself to him.  Coach Marks phrased it this way...'You have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse'.

Through this experience, he taught me to 'earn my stripes', that no one would be 'given' anything. 

After he retired, we were on the elevator together.  He asked me if I liked to bass fish.  I said yes and he responded 'when it warms up this spring, I would like to take you fishing'.  I said 'Yes Sir! Can't wait!' And then, a couple of weeks later, Coach Bryant died.  I felt like he was my second father..a man who taught me how to earn my stripes and be a gentleman off the field. I am forever grateful to have the honor to play for him....but I sure would have loved to catch a few bass with him and just talk about life.

I appreciate Coach Bryant for so many things.  He was the most sincere man I knew...what you saw on TV was the same man on the field.  A very competitive coach on the field and a 1st class gentleman off the field. He always had a plan, and a way to achieve that plan."

I also want to mention that Joey's book, "In Good Hands" is an excellent recollection of the transition from Coach Bryant's last season and Coach Ray Perkins first season at Alabama.

Click on the link below to view it on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Hands-Joey-Jones/dp/0932919014

Friday, January 21, 2022

Team Culture, Discipline, and Relationship Capital

I guess the hardest part of coaching in this current culture is the need to correct and train without getting into a firestorm of issues where misunderstanding and inappropriate responses complicate and often cancel the ability to see real progress and change.

As coaches, we need to train athletes about our clear and reasonable expectations and, today it requires a little more patience and a lot more individual time to educate these concepts. There just isn't a lot in culture right now that fosters the type of player we need to be to help a team succeed.

If my players aren't leading..... am I training them how to?

And these aren't taught by lectures, they have to be framed and modeled throughout the program.
Unfortunately,  the 'whack a mole' approach doesn't work if there isn't significant relationship capital there. I am not saying we don't give consequences for inappropriate actions or attitudes, but we have to be clear in the expectations, we need to be businesslike in administering discipline, and we need to evaluate what tools are best to use in the process.

And the reality is that parents are a huge key in this. When I used to administer school discipline as my job, the parent response was the single most important indicator of whether I could help a kid or not. If they were supportive of the process, we had a chance. If they decided right away that the kid was right and the school was stupid, I knew that it was unlikely I would ever be able to correct behavior.

This doesn't mean I was always right, but the parents willingness to support and join in the process as so important. It takes hard communication to get on the same page in those times, but crucial to any real change.

I developed a list a few years ago that tried to strike a comparison/contrast as another way of picturing the type of team we are trying to be.

Now, to use the term "Make Me Proud" or "Disappointing" does not work if I am not developing the type of relationship where that even matters.

What keeps this from merely being a weight-room sign or meaningless sloganeering?

There has to be real conversations about where players stand in these issues with a freedom to be where they are, who they are, and a positive plan for growth in the areas where a player is weak or has fallen. Honest question- is anyone ever really perfect in these areas?... sometimes it is a front where we hide from any chance to improve.

I think it would be interesting to see if a team's leaders would make up a similar chart about coaches.... what makes them proud of me or what disappoints them? Here are some guesses.

Standing up and fighting for them.... makes them proud
Spending time with them to hang out.... makes them proud
Knowing a lot about them- family, girlfriend, interests.... makes them proud
Not mocking or demeaning them in front of their peers... makes them proud

And I think each coach always needs to ask a simple question...

What am I demanding in my life that is comparable to what I am demanding in theirs?

These are never ending issues, but it HAS to be a big WHY someone is a coach. Without these efforts, we are merely twisting in the wind of a game that really never loves us back. Numbers, records,  and schemes will fade... but the relationships matter. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Mental Mindsets and Football- Offseason Challenges

Now that high school and college football is over and we begin to prepare to watch what should be exciting playoff games of NFL football, I wanted to write some thoughts about areas we can all continue to press in on and develop as coaches.

As I spend time with other coaches and dive into the amazing content available online, I think the schemes we use today in the game are as complex and diverse as in any time in the history of the game.


No doubt football is a scheme game- but scheme alone can not consistently win games. And I think a scheme is only as good as the players ability to execute it. It doesn't matter how much I know as a coach, what can my players realistically do with explosive effort and confidence?

I am also continuously challenged to see if I can explore how the new generation of players I coach think, learn, see, interpret, interact, and adapt. This is a generation of smart phones and social media. These students have more screen time than reading time. 

I also think we can explore ways of preparing them for situations BEFORE we encounter them as a team. Can we find time and communication to process these situations and pre-dispose them to respond in the best way possible as competitors?

Mindset of Each Week

As much as I admire the process that Coach Saban has brought and the ability to prepare and play each play without expectations of the eventual outcome, even he admits that the preparation for that type of play can be influenced by rat poison, and we even learned this season about the 'yummy' rat poison. So there is a chance to address the climate of a week of preparation be exploring the team dynamics of these types of weeks.

Types of Weeks
  • Games Where You are Favored by a Lot
  • Games Where You are Favored
  • Games that are a Toss Up
  • Games Where You are a Big Underdog
It isn't enough to say 'control what you can control, don't read the social media chatter, don't listen to the talk in the hallways, etc. Instead talk about the reality of the prognosticators, how it affects teams, how it impacts 'inner talk ' and discuss strategies to preparing well and being ready to compete at the opening kickoff.

Once the game gets going, all of the 'talk' about the game is now over and the flow of each game takes on its own narrative. But we can also prepare teams on how to respond to each and every game flow by mentally rehearsing those moments and how to best respond as competitors on a team and the unique role each participant plays to create the best opportunity to win. We need to talk about these situations BEFORE the storm arrives.

Types of Games
  • Early momentum or early difficulty
  • Sloppy Slugfest
  • Mistakes-
  • Up easy early
  • Down by more than 1 score
  • Down by a lot
  • Defensive showcase
  • Offensive showcase
  • Weather impacted
  • Crowd noise
  • Injury shake-up
  • Big Hole but digging out
  • Overtime
  • Pressure Packed Do or Die Plays
Discussing these things, and not all at once can create mindsets to keep teams in the best mental condition to win.

STOP THE TAPE:

One thing I will do with my players from time to time is to stop the film at some point in a game and ask questions: What were we thinking? How did we feel? What were we saying to one another? What was our body language like? Did we BELIEVE? If you had it to do over, what would you do differently? Did you encounter this in practice? Can this help you prepare differently in the future?

SITUATIONAL FOOTBALL

These types of mental rehearsals should also take place among coaching staffs. Over the years I have made a list of game situations that we don't handle well because they are rare and sometimes hard to process because of  the speed of the moment.

Situations a Lot of Teams Don’t Handle Well

Sky kicks- If you study teams that like to sky kick, you can steal a big return against them if you are willing to work on it. 

Kick-offs into a big wind- prepare your team for what I call the big drop.... these kicks are often muffed

Kick-off with a 15 yard penalty help- a lot of coaches just bang it out of the back of the end zone. These are great opportunities to squib kick or sky kick or even do a surprise onside. 

Team Expecting a Onside Kick but you have time and time-outs- Against most hands teams, a kick-off team can squib or corner kick deep and rally down to pin the other team deep. Then you can use timeouts and force a punt and may be in better shape to score. 

4th and short- on defense, be careful about using your all out goal line calls to stop a 4th and short in the regular field. I have seen teams break out into a long TD without back end run support.

Pinning teams inside the 10 or 5- in high school football, you ought to consider experimenting with your field goal team and angle kicking out of bounds. It is a scrimmage kick and you can coffin corner better with your FG unit.

Overtime and 2 point plays- do our players know what we believe in?

2 minute and 4 minute situations- it's funny how much we talk about these situations... but do we really practice them live with clocks and real game situations?

Red zone mindset, especially versus spread teams- I think coaches should continue to preach a need to dig in deep as the field shrinks. A lot of teams move well from 20 to 20, but spread teams have a hard time scoring TD's if the defense knows how to use the smaller field to play in less space. A lot of spread teams have no answers for corner and safety blitzes when the top of the defense is no longer a problem.

Resting players is an art- I have always suggested we study basketball coaches and how they steal time for a good player to reserve energy. Sometimes we think running them on and off is a help, but running on and off the field can wear out a lineman if you aren't careful. I have always cringed when I see a big defensive lineman run around and celebrate a big sack in the 1st quarter of a hot early season game. Would it serve him better to save that energy?

Finally, exploring the mysterious realm of human nature and the human heart.

Have you ever considered how many factors work against the dynamics needed for team success? These factors are external AND internal. And, the foundational principles required for team success are found primarily in traditional values that are being lost in our secular society.

There is no such thing as a perfect team and I have NEVER watched a perfect football game. It's funny how mistakes that can cost you from winning are often made in games you win- it's just that a team overcame those mistakes.

But the reality of never achieving perfection is no excuse from an intentional and passionate pursuit of perfection.

A Championship Team is made up of individuals who are pursuing an ideal of a TEAM- where group success will be valued higher than individual success. But group success is enhanced by individuals giving their individual energy and talents with everything they have.

As we deal with the dynamics of the reams we coach, we HAVE to spend time on the "inner man' the place where fear, anxiety, and doubt war against the desire to fight and win. 

We have to spend time (without being boring) working with our players the transcendent virtues of championship teams.

We have to take time and find creative ways to teach trust, brotherhood, integrity, encouragement, perseverance, relentless optimism, hope, forgiveness.

For the average football player, talking about these issues in a way that is more than cliche' is almost impossible. It means learning to honestly communicate and learn vulnerability.

Without a commitment to these shared values, a team can never really become a team. 

Take time this off season to think through HOW we can accomplish these things in a way that is creative, fun, and more than ritual. It could be the missing piece of your team and the ultimate winning edge.