Coach Hutchison's Football Philosophies!

In this section, Coach Hutchison shares some of his philosophies on playing and winning at the game of football. He will break down his basic philosophies for offense, defense, and special teams!
Trying to exhibit for display all my philosophies of what it takes to win at the sport of football has proved a daunting task indeed. Although I prefer a multi-dimensional power offense capable of the quick strike and an overly physical, overly aggressive, dominating style of defense, these styles may not suit a particular group of athletes. The meshing of what a coach wants and what he or she has to work with is the formula for success.

Winning Streak

This is the main reason so many coaches fail at one school and succeed at another. This is also the reason a coach "needs" several season to install his offense or defense successfully; the coach needs to recruit players that fit within the schemes he or she is attempting to install.

This meshing dilemma is also the reason so many great coaches have been able to be so successful for so long. It is considerably easier for a coach to modify (if only for part of a season) his or her individual traits than to modify the entire squad's.

An example would be for say Alcorn State to attempt to pound the ball down Notre Dame's throat with the power running game. Regardless of possible previous successes in running the football, such a strategy in the mythical game suggested above can only lead to one, inevitable conclusion - failure.

Coaches who can at least temporarily adjust to the talent available, or the talent faced, are always going to be the more successful coaches. Such adaptation has been a benchmark of great coaches like Dean Smith, Bobby Knight and Eddie Robinson, to name but a few.

Here I will break down my basic philosophies for the offense, defense and special teams.

Offensive Philosophies

Most Coaches have a set of "Golden Rules" when it comes to what a "good" offense should or should not do. The fact is there is no unified list. Which is better, a ball control offense? Control the ball with the short passing game or the power running game? Is defense more crucial than offense. While it may be true that "if they don't score, they can't beat you," it is conversely true that if you don't score, you can't win either.

So balance is the answer then? Well, not if your ineptitude is balanced. Surprise? While the element of surprise is always cherished, a team would surely find minimal success if it ran the ball on a majority of 3rd and 10s, and passed deep down field on every 3rd and 1.

A well-coached team reflects the head coach's philosophies and tendencies during game situations. If a head coach believes strongly that his defense should "carry" his team, then care to guess where the majority of his "special" athletes are assigned starting positions? The coach thereby scripts that his defense will be the strong point of his team. The amount of success his team has validates or devaluates his reasoning among his employers. I stress Ten Golden Rules a good offense should practice.

Golden Rules Of Offense

[1] Force the defense to defend the entire field.
Never allow a defense to crowd the line of scrimmage, stacking eight or ten men "in the box" because you are predictable in calling the run. Never allow the defense to flood the zones with extra defenders because you pass eight downs out of ten. The offense should attack ALL areas of the field and force the defenders to "stay at home" thus allowing the offensive coaches to create the basic 2-on-1 mismatches that lead to success for the offense.

[2] Establish the running game.
Force the defense to respect the running game, taking the teeth out of the pass rush, and you open up the passing attack.

[3] Create a mismatch at the point of attack.
Design and run plays to outnumber the defense at the point of attack. Traps, Power Plays, Isolations, Leads, Options, Pick Passes and a host of other plays can be used to create a situation where numerical or size mismatches can be exploited.

[4] Minimize mistakes.
Turnovers and penalties are avoidable through sound practices and preparation. Few things in the game of football are as demoralizing as giving up a score while your offense is on the field. This momentum shift often changes the course of a game.

[5] Physically dominate the defense.
Being strong and physical on offense is not as important as it is on defense - it is MORE important. A dominant offense can break the other team down physically and mentally and control the ball AND the game.

[6] Script the opening plays.
The number of plays predetermined is not important, only that there is a set offensive game plan in place. These plays are usually a combination of the plays a particular offense has had success with and plays that are expected to produce results against a specific opponent. Using a script can also keep a team from getting "rattled" if the opening moments do not go as planned.

[7] Improve the offensive line.
The Offensive line is the heart of a good offense. Without a sound offensive line all other aspects of the offense collapse. An offensive lineman needs a combination of size, speed, strength and, most importantly, intelligence. Regardless of how good the line play is, there is always room for improvement, and strengthening the offensive line play during the course of the season is key for post-season success.

[8] Take chances.
No guts, no glory! All teams find themselves behind at times, and in need of a quick score. It is necessary to practice the quick strike if a team wants to be capable of scoring quickly when the need is present. Throwing the Play Action Pass on first down 30-40% of the time is a good start (at least during the running of the script).

[9] Be disciplined.
Know what it takes to be successful and prepare beforehand. Know specific responsibilities and duties and be sure to carry them out - especially when things are not going well, as this is when it is most important. Very rarely does an undisciplined, unconfident team have what it takes to overcome adverse conditions in an hostile environment. Players learn the necessary traits to overcome adversity in practice. Disciple can be rehearsed through substitution drills and special teams drills. Confidence can be gained through rigorous scrimmages and positive reinforcement.

[10] Be prepared.
Staff and players should prepare for a specific opponent with a specific game plan. The coaching staff needs to scout the next opponent via proxy, video tape, or in person. Preparation for the next game begins at the final whistle of the previous one. There is no such animal as "game preparation." Game preparation is merely a reflection of the week's practice preparation.

Offensive Summary

Basically, as I see it, a good offense is capable of both running and passing the football. The key is balance. I believe a good team should run the ball 60-plus percent of the time, yet gain 60 plus percent of its yardage via the passing game. This is possible only if the passing attack aggressively throws the ball downfield.

When the ball is put in the air, three things can happen, and two of them are bad. Completions therefore must outweigh incompletions and interceptions. The goal of each and every offensive pass play should be at the minimum a first down. In other words, I do not support a short passing, ball control offense featuring 3- or 4-yard passes. The defense should be stretched and forced to defend the entire field at all times. This can only be accomplished if the offense is a perpetual threat all over the field.

The running game should attack between the tackles with quick hitting plays designed to minimize defensive pursuit. In general, a good offense should seek to run the ball against a pass defense, and pass the ball against a run defense. This is an important concept designed to limit the linebackers' and defensive backs' effectiveness. When the run sets up the pass, and the pass sets up the run, and the defense is kept on its heels and spread out defending the entire field, an offense should be able to move the football. I do not support the philosophy of "taking what the defense gives you," rather I believe in taking what I want.

My offense will not wildly fluctuate each week to fit my opponent's defense. Instead, my offense will only slightly modify each week in an effort to expose weaknesses in the opposing defense. Only by maintaining both the running and passing games can either be expected to individually carry a team if need be in a particular situation.

Defensive Philosophies

There are many varying philosophies of defense. Basically, two dominate contemporary thought. The first I refer to as "The Fortress." This defense acts on one premise alone: Stop the Offense from scoring. The bend but don't break defense is a good example of this philosophy. This is not the approach preferred by this author. Fortresses are designed to weather the storm and this strategy is a defensive approach to Defense (pardon the play on words).

The second, which I prefer to utilize, the "Divide and Conquer" strategy. I favor the offensive approach to Defense. The Defense needs to attack the Offense. The Divide and Conquer defense places the defense's responsibilities on a higher plane. Goals for this defense are to deny every yard, every pass, every play.

In this strategy it is the responsibility of the defense to return the ball to the offense and to keep the opposing offense from dictating the pace of the game. Defense should emphasize creation of turnovers and forcing the offense into long yardage situations. An offense kept under constant pressure is more likely to make mistakes. When a mistake is made, the defense must be skilled at taking advantage of the mistake. It serves little purpose to make great efforts to cause a fumble by stripping the ball if the defenders are not skilled (through practice drills) at recovering fumbles.

Keys For Great Defensive Play

Aggression is a key element of defensive play. There are two predominant rules for a defensive player. First, sprint to the ball. Second, be hostile when you get there. Hank Gathers put it best when he said a football player needs to be three things in order to be a good football player. He must be agile, mobile, and hostile. Truer words of wisdom have seldom been expressed.

I support an excessively aggressive, physical defense of multiple formations designed to be unpredictable to the opposing offense.

Defensive players always chase the play to its conclusion. At the whistle ending the play all 11 defenders are either at the tackle or on their way to it. This concept should be learned and implemented at practice until it becomes routine.

Special Teams Philosophies

Special Teams are not merely key to a team's success, they are crucial. As George Allen noted, the kicking game is a full one third of your team's season. The kicking game can reverse the outcome of a game often on a single play. Great special teams begin with great special teams players.

These players often distinguish themselves in practice. They are the ones who leave their feet in order to make a play. They are the ones that other less-energetic players often complain about as being overzealous. They love contact. They chase every play. They need not have exception speed, size, or quickness. What they already have far outweighs any shortcomings in those areas. Here is a picture of artist David Alan Brown's ideal special teams player according to both George Allen and myself.

The more prominent special teams play, the more an opponent must take up valuable practice time to counteract it. In an effort to maximize special teams performance, I will incorporate special teams preparation with conditioning. In this manner special teams can be practiced each and every day of practice.

Many teams are lax in their devotion to the kicking game and special teams play in general. This despite a contemporary trend recognizing the valuable contribution special teams play can make to a game, often even breaking open and/or deciding a close game. Without surprise, those teams willing to spend valuable practice time devoted to special teams play are the ones who most often benefit from it.

One way to more fully incorporate special teams play into practice is to combine it with conditioning. Rather than have players run a high repetition of laps (where many linemen tend to be less than enthusiastic or energetic) a coach could run a high number of kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. The same conditioning results and the time is spent more productively "killing two birds with one stone."

Special teams are addressed each and every day of practice. Punts, punt returns, kick offs, kick off returns, field goals and extra points are all incorporated into the daily conditioning rituals. This exercise comes immediately after team warmups. The day before a game, special teams are given extensive coverage in full pads with zero contact.

When a team is trailing by two points and declines to attempt a 40-yard field goal opting instead to go for a 4th and 8 situation from an opponent's 23-yard line, the message is clear. The kicking game is inadequate. There is a chink in the armor. This deficiency is always self-inflicted. There is always at least one player on a squad capable of placekicking the football. The team's inability to kick the go-ahead field goal in the scenario above reveals the coaching staff's ineffectiveness in finding, training and utilizing this player(s).

A team so uncommitted to the basic necessities such as a simple field goal is likely to be deficient in other special teams areas as well. It is against just such a team that I will feel confident to try my team's highly practiced and prepared special plays. In other words, such a scenario is ideal for going for the fake kick or blocked kick attempt. The reasoning is simple. If my opponent has prepared so little for their own field goal team, how much have they prepared for my multi-threat special teams play?

I like my chances.

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