The Turnaround – Building a program with the right people

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by Jason Strunk
Lubbock High School head football coach
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Lubbock High School football helmetI am going to make a really bold statement here: rebuilding a program is tough. If you know me, that’s just a little hint of sarcasm.

Fortunately, rebuilding is really all I have ever been a part of since I began coaching back in 1996. I have learned so many things along the way. Naturally, the first thing you really dive into is the X’s and O’s. However, as the years go by and you learn more and more, the one constant I have found in rebuilding programs is having the right people on board.

You will not be able to successfully rebuild if you do not have the right people steering the ship. You need to be on the same page in everything you do. Here are some tips and a little advice on making sure the right people are on board:

Attitude: the right mix of coaches will embrace the attitude of the head coach. They have to! It takes the right attitude to get over the hump. You cannot come in on a Saturday after a loss still hanging your head. What good is that doing for your players? I assure you, the players feel bad enough. There is no need to pile on. Hold your head up, smile and dive into the film. You have another week to get it right. I am always ready by 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to start the new week. Your staff has to be as well.

Patience: As the leader of the program, you need to preach patience to the players. Most importantly, you need to teach it to the coaching staff. It is easy to jump ship when things aren’t going right. As a head coach, I want continuity with the staff. Turnover is a killer. You must illustrate and harp on all the small victories you are making each day. Those little victories on the daily lead to bigger victories on Friday night. However, you must be patient. Your staff needs to understand the process and with that comes understanding the need to be patient. If you have guys on your staff that don’t see the big picture it’s going to be hard to turn the corner.

Relationships: If you have coaches that fly into the locker room and bolt out the front door after practice, you are in trouble. Building relationships is a key to any program. However, building relationships during a rebuilding process is critical. You need to be in the locker room every day. You are the constant support system for the players when the times are tough. It’s easy to build relationships when you are winning. Anyone can do that. When rebuilding you need the right guys in that room preaching to the players to stay the course, tomorrow is a new day etc. The right staff knows how to do this.

Ego: Check your ego at the door is what I tell all coaches entering our facility. This isn’t about you. It’s about the kids. I do not care if you coached in the Sugar Bowl back in 2009. That is of little importance to me. I want to know what you are doing today for some of our kids who haven’t eaten since yesterday. I don’t care if you have written a back on the spread offense. That isn’t doing me any good right now. You need to wipe your mind clean and coach in the moment and realize what you are coaching NOW. Above all else, staying in the moment is critical to rebuilding. The ego you developed after winning a state title isn’t helping me at all. The right coaching staff quickly gets over themselves and realized the greater agenda in front of them.

So, there are four tips for you. You may read them and say it sounds like what any program in the U.S. needs. That may be true but this is what I have seen as the key ingredients to successfully rebuilding high school programs. It’s all I have really ever been a part on the high school level. I have seen up close the kind of staff it takes to rebuild.

Fortunately for me, I have the right staff in place at Lubbock High. We broke a thirty-year playoff drought here. Great, right? Maybe to some but not us. That was just a small victory in the process, which came early. I am much more proud of the fact that our freshmen football teams posted back to back winning seasons in 2013 and 2014. That hasn’t happened here since Nixon was in office. Our time is coming. We are building this from the ground up.

If you rebuild the program and turn the corner it is because you had the right people on board.

No More Fumbles

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About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.