Coaches look to save time, improve scouting

Whitman Coach Jim Kuhn uses a computer program Monday to help his team prepare for its first-round playoff game.
Whitman Coach Jim Kuhn uses a computer program Monday to help his team prepare for its first-round playoff game. (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)

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By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 12:11 AM

The Whitman football team gathered in an upstairs classroom after school one day earlier this week to begin preparing for its Maryland 4A West playoff game against Gaithersburg. Coach Jim Kuhn hooked up his laptop computer to a video projector, and then defensive coordinator Andy Lee went to work.

Lee ran through a series of plays from the Vikings' regular season loss to the 11th-ranked Trojans. He could sort the plays in a variety of ways: by down and distance, by ball carrier, by formation, by yardage gained - or lost. Remote control in hand, he could rewind and repeat any play, in slow motion if he chose, before moving onto the next clip with the push of a button.

In less than 45 minutes, Lee had run through an entire breakdown of the Vikings' defensive performance in the 26-7 loss on Oct. 15 - what was done well and what needed to be improved.

As the high school football playoffs begin this weekend, Whitman is among several local teams that believe they have an edge by turning to computer programs that assist with scouting opponents and preparing game plans. An informal survey found that at least half of the region's teams employ some sort of computer-assisted scouting, similar to what their NFL and college counterparts use.

Without the software, "I don't know how I'd go about game-planning or preparing for a team," said Lee, 27. "It gives me everything I need. It spits out stats, favorite plays, percentages. It holds true."

While this software and Internet usage can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, many coaches and players believe it is worth the investment - both in time saved and strategic payoff.

Whitman senior Jeffrey Gruen, in his third year on the varsity, said there is a considerable difference from his sophomore year, when the team just watched games on DVDs.

Now, the Vikings can watch all of their games online on a password-protected site and also watch upcoming opponents' recent games.

"It's so much better [on computers] because not only can we focus only on offense or defense, but you can rewatch each play eight times easily and analyze every single part of it," said Gruen, who plays H-back and linebacker for the Vikings (7-3). ". . . We've never been an extremely physical team, so we take film very seriously."

Not everyone's on board

Some coaches still prefer to scout the old-fashioned way, by watching videotape, drawing each play on a piece of paper and then trying to figure out what an opponent is trying to exploit. Sometimes this is done out of necessity; not every program can afford the fees to use these programs. Other times, veteran coaches are not interested in changing their methods.

Stuart's Roy Ferri - who's in his 30th year of coaching, sixth as the head coach at the Falls Church school - copies plays on manila folders, scatters them across the floor in his house, and then sorts them by down and distance, formation and hashmark, "trying to get inside the opponent's head." Earlier this season, he used a program that tried to predict tendencies but decided it was not worth the time or effort.

"I've used scouting programs over the past 30 years, but I've never found one that replaced a coach's intuition," Ferri, 52, wrote in an e-mail.

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