ORLANDO â On Monday, Jay Gruden admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed as he tried to digest six hoursâ worth of information received during the opening sessions of the NFLâs annual meetings. The first-year head coach said he continues to learn how much goes into running an NFL team as opposed to just overseeing a unit.
On Tuesday, at the AFC coachesâ breakfast, many of Grudenâs counterparts classified Grudenâs eye-opening experience as typical, and a challenging, but necessary part of the education of a head coach.
Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen found himself in Grudenâs shoes just two years ago, when he accepted his current job after spending the 2011 season as the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator and eight previous seasons as an assistant with the Falcons and Saints, respectively.
His take on that first year as a coach:
âListen, thereâs way more involvement that you could ever imagine,â Allen said. âAnd you think you know, but you donât really know until you go through it. Every day thereâs something that comes across your desk that youâve got to make a decision on, and the volume of those decisions and the repercussions of those decisions, a lot of times, have a huge effect on the football team. The biggest thing is the volume of the decisions that youâve got to make. Sometimes itâs the most minute decisions, and sometimes itâs the most critical decisions.
âItâs like parenting,â he added. âThe first time you were a parent, you didnât know how to do it. Youâd read all the books, but you still werenât ready for it. And itâs the same thing with coaching. A lot of itâs trial and error. Hopefully you learn from your mistakes.â
San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy (now entering his second season), and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who got his first head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals in 2007, and this offseason was hired as head coach of the Tennessee Titans, both agreed with Allen.
McCoy says the key to success is remaining true to your beliefs and your plan. He spent 12 years as an assistant before becoming a head coach. Over the course of those years, he took notes on the things that he saw work well, and not so well for the head coaches he worked for. During interviews last offseason, he shared with prospective teams that he had extensive binders that served as how-to guides of sorts for any given scenario.
McCoy found himself referring to those binders this past season, and said remaining confident in his plan helped produce positive results.
âThe most important thing is, when you have a plan, that everyone buys into it, and then youâve got to stick to the plan. Not everyoneâs going to agree with the decision youâre going to make, but you canât worry about that,â McCoy said. âDo what you think is right. You have a plan. Itâs why you got the opportunity. Youâve had success other places for certain reasons, so just go with your heart and go with your gut.â
Whisenhunt listed expanding oneâs view, and time management as two crucial keys to success that he learned.
âAs a coordinator, youâre only essentially looking at one side of the ball, and youâre only responsible for the offense or the defense,â he said. âNow, when youâre a head coach, now all of a sudden youâve got all three phases and youâve got a lot more going on. That, for me was â I donât want to say I wasnât prepared for it â but itâs just the volume of it and the things that come up that are non-football, even as far as what times are the busses leaving this week to go for the airport for the road trip. Those things are all part of it. Fitting those things into your schedule, and making sure thereâs enough time in the day while youâre still involved in football.â
McCoy said in addition to learning how to handle different situations, a coach also has to learn his players. That also proved itself as a year-long process, he said.
âOn film, you see what kind of players they are, but personally, you donât know them,â McCoy said. âEven up until the first playoff game, you learn about the players on your team because you donât know how theyâre going to respond in certain situations. Even in practice, Iâve never been with Philip [Rivers] in a huddle. So after he throws an interception or touchdown pass, or misses the ball to an open guy, howâs he going to react? And thereâs certain things that happen from the first playoff game.Â How are we going to react to the pressure going on the road. Youâve never been in the locker room with that team in a playoff game, and then the next one. Howâs it going to be? It was good. Itâs good before we got into the draft to say, âOkay, we know a little more about our team.â And you find out who your leaders are going to be? People can tell you, âHereâs the leader.â But you donât really know. Itâs a process.â
All three coaches also stressed the importance of surrounding themselves with quality assistants, who in some cases might be more experienced than they were themselves.
McCoy hired Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator, and although he himself had served as an offensive coordinator before getting the Chargers job, McCoy charged Whisenhunt with play-calling duties so he could ensure that he could devote equal attention to all phases of the team.
When Whisenhunt left to take the Titans job, McCoy promoted quarterbacks coach Frank Reich to offensive coordinator. Reich has never called plays in a game as a coach, so McCoy envisions a collective effort when it comes to play-calling this year.
The coaches said thereâs nothing wrong with admitting that you donât know the answer to a situation and leaning on veteran assistants.
âThereâs a lot of things on your plate,â Whisenhunt said. âI was lucky because I had some good coaches there that I could lean on. I think thatâs a big part of it, too.â
Said second-year Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley: âYou want to go into it with an open mind enough to say, âHey, thereâs something I can learn from every day,â and take that approach to see that as things are happening.â
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line âMailbag questionâ for him to answer it inÂ The Mailbag.
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