In the past two decades, pro football has had to deal with H-backs, strikes and contract renegotiations. College football has encountered redshirts, probation, draft-eligible underclassmen and conference shuffling.
At the high school level, the changes have been just as vast. The difference is that the changes, particularly off the field, must be tackled by part-time coaches who also are full-time teachers.
"You are not a coach anymore -- you are like a parent, babysitter and guidance counselor," said Bob Milloy, who has won six Maryland state championships in 17 seasons at Springbrook. "This is not just a 3 to 5 p.m. job anymore. The problems we must deal with flow over into every aspect of the game. Twenty years ago, it was just, 'Here's the ball and sweep right.' "
Interviews with a cross-section of Washington-area coaches, including those who have been at it for decades and those who are in the early stages of their careers, reveal how much high school football has changed over the past 20 or 30 years.
The coaches talk about being forced to change their attitudes about discipline and handling players. They say they spend more time worrying about students' grades, explaining the hazards of drugs and steroids, and generally find fewer players with a good technical knowledge of the game at the time they enter high school.
The changes in pay over the past few decades still do not equal the amount of time expended. Montgomery County coaches, the area's best-paid, this year will make a base of $4,616. They also receive a per diem, based on their overall experience in the school system, for summer practice. Despite a 38 percent increase this year, coaches in the District's Interhigh League are the lowest paid at about $2,100 per season.
On the field, most of the changes deal with formations and trendy new systems.
"Overall, football is still football and the game is still blocking and tackling," said Jim Fegan, who is in his 30th season at Georgetown Prep. "It is just that you must spend more time teaching the fundamentals of blocking and tackling."
The approach in teaching those fundamentals is where high school football has undergone perhaps its most severe change.
"You can't be a drill sergeant anymore -- that attitude will not work," said St. John's fourth-year coach John Ricca. "You have to be careful with the discipline. If you get too physical, you might go to jail or get sued. I was kicked a few times and threatened when I was a player, but this society won't allow that. There are no more paddles or kicks in the butt, and even if your practices are hard, there are limits to what you can do."
Second-year Oxon Hill coach Cliff Haskins said he has gone out of his way to establish himself as a disciplinarian, and he has given thought to how far he would go.
"Since I haven't had any serious trouble yet, I don't know exactly what I would do with a kid, but I do know I won't take off my belt and whip anyone," he said. "We don't beat anyone here, even though some parents tell me their son belongs to me while he is a player and I have permission to discipline him as I see fit. I am not going to hit anyone's child. . . . I have grabbed a face mask -- not in anger, but only as an attention-getter. And grabbing the face mask is the worst resort."
Liability is foremost on many coaches' minds, said Lake Braddock Coach Francis Dall, who was head of the Northern Virginia Coaches Association last year.
John Harvill, in his 33rd year at Gaithersburg, said liability has changed the way he handles many aspects of coaching, including treatment of injured players. "Years ago, if a kid had a finger out of joint, I would put it back in," he said. "Now I would never even touch it."
A hands-off policy, say numerous coaches, is what too many kids have when it comes to football before high school.
Fegan said parochial youth programs, which were a prime feeder to Georgetown Prep, have been severely reduced as sponsoring local parishes cut funding. "What happens is that you can hardly keep a sophomore on varsity anymore because they don't have much of a background playing tackle football when they get here," he said.
Churchill's 20-year coach Fred Shepherd sees the same trend, but puts the fault elsewhere.
"Soccer has become a 12-month sport for younger kids, and it has really hurt other sports," he said. "The people running soccer are doing the youngsters an injustice. We have had some really talented athletes here, but by the time many of them get to high school and decide they want to play football, we find more and more of them just have never developed hand-eye coordination."
Developing better player attitudes toward grades has also become much more of a task for coaches.
"In 1985, we had five or six kids flunk off the team," said Milloy. "Before then, we never had more than one flunk off every other year. Back then, grades just weren't a concern because those kids got it done on and off the field. With the recent guys, you have to stay on them all the time."
At many schools, tutoring programs for athletes and constant monitoring of classroom progress have become commonplace.
"It takes a lot of your time, but as a coach, you have to do it because you can't win without the players," said Milloy.
Coaches have also found that they no longer stand as an absolute figure of authority among their players.
"In the 1960s and '70s, you never thought about giving a kid an explanation for something -- you just told them what to do," said Fegan. "Now, you also have to give them an explanation. But that's okay with me -- I'm glad they are inquisitive."
Shepherd said the new attitudes go beyond questioning procedures once accepted as routine.
"I had a kid who wouldn't do squats," he said of one of the exercises done by most teams. "He says, 'Squats will stunt your growth. My friend's father is a doctor and he says so.' Well, I have shelves of books on sports and sports medicine that say otherwise, but what are you supposed to do with kids like that?"
The coaches also must do more studying to keep up with on-the-field trends that filter down from the professional and college level.
Over the past few seasons, the wing-T and one-back offenses have become extremely popular among Washington-area coaches. This season, the run-and-shoot has been popping up.
The trends have not caught on just with younger coaches looking for an edge. Even Shepherd, in many ways a throwback who has been a winner annually with the wishbone, decided to start his third decade in coaching with innovation. This season, half of the Bulldogs' plays come out of a run-and-shoot.
"Last week, I went to see Churchill play and I saw them coming out with three wideouts," said Harvill. "I thought Fred must have gone stark-raving berserk."