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Gameplanning : Stealing Ideas from the Greats and Building a System that Works


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The workload on a Saturday morning is substantial, especially when you got very little sleep the night before. My goal is to be in bed by 2 am after a ball game. The next day it is time to get up and start working on the next game. This game plan procedure has been tweaked over 30 years of being a head coach. It has been efficient and effective. 

 

 

This plan has roots in much better coaches than myself. The biggest influencers:

1- Bill Walsh’s Finding the Winning Edge- best book for organizing a football program.

2- Brian Billick’s Developing an Offensive Gameplan- the foundation of how we build our script and gameplan each week. Completely changed how we prepare our offense on a weekly basis.

3- Chuck Smith- UK LB Coach & six-time HS state champion. We coached together when he was the DC at Mercer. His LB’s always called the play the scout team was about to run. Our process tries to eliminate that for our opponent as much as possible. 

4- Roger Gruneisen & Jim Kennedy- our offense is an evolved version of their offense, from the late 60’s and early 70’s at Trinity HS in Louisville. The basis is that you can run a small number of plays but from a large variety of looks and formations. 

5- Homer Smith -Manuals on Football- best source ever on offensive football, gameplanning, attacking a defense, etc. 

 

Here are the steps to building our offensive gameplan:

 

1- Offseason Scouting Report on Hudl: Before Christmas vacation -for every team on our schedule for the next season, we will have a scouting report on their defense. In Hudl, it will be labeled under “Opponent Scout” as….”Henry  Co. Defense: 2021 Prep.”

 

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If we have played them the previous season, that is the foundation for this prep work. If it is a new opponent, we try to get video on opponents similar to us, and as late in the season as possible.  I will look for top returning players for the next season. 

 

A key component to all scouting reports, offseason and in season is the NOTES column we have added for HUDL. This column helps us organize the information and put the scouting report in the order we want our team to watch it. 

       

Some of the info in the NOTES column is self-explanatory.  Every playlist will contain the following:

3/4 & SH: 3rd & 4th Down, short yardage

4/3 & LONG: 3rd & 4th Down, long yardage

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RZ: Red Zone

GL: Goalline

 

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1MC means it is their first snap against us. In the example provided, it is their first snap vs. CAL(1CAL). 

Stunts, secondary coverages, exceptional players…. Anything you want can be identified in the NOTES column. For me, this is more efficient than entering data into every field.  I can go to exactly what I think our guys need to see. 

In the NOTES column and in the Hudl notes themselves, I will highlight the BEST defenders. 

Some coaches love to build a gameplan around attacking weaker personnel. That has a place. If you are playing a really good team that is winning, they probably won’t change much and you are probably OK. But, for sure, the good ones are going to be where they should be and you better be prepared for that. You can prep for the bad players, attacking a weakness, your offense takes the field…. And the bad player is on the bench!

After a big playoff upset one November, the opposing coach…. Multiple state titles and hall of fame coach, told me that I had really screwed up his offensive gameplan because I had replaced our weakest defender. My response was that we had needed the bodies through the season, but I knew against his team in that game, he would be a huge weakness and they would exploit him. Our good defenders…. They were right where they had been all season. That part rarely changes for any team. 

I highlight the BEST defenders because you can’t focus on everything. I want to make sure our guys know who we must block to win. And, it builds a healthy respect for your opponent. Focusing on the weak links will set your guys up to be over confident.  No matter the record, EVERY team has a best defender. That can really help your team get the right mindset. 

2- Pre Saturday Prep: Two Wednesdays before we Play- We practice before school every Wednesday.  After that practice, I will do a preliminary scouting report/ playlist for the opponent after this Friday’s game. I will use the same NOTES column to be organized. One timesaver is to get on the KHSAA webpage…. Who is leading the team in tackles, interceptions and fumbles?  That is great head start to looking for the best players. Because there is little time, I start with two filters:

  1. 3rd & 4th down 2) YL: between the 1 and 20 (Goalline & RedZone)

If I have enough time, I will add Hudl notes and to the plays that have been filtered. If I don’t have time, I just add the right term in the NOTES column so I can find it on Saturday morning. 

Also, for many defensive coaches, who they are on 3rd/4th down, who they are in the RedZone…. That is who they are! The best video on any coach…. What does he do when the game is on the line…. Especially a game they must win to advance in the postseason.  

Also on Wednesday, I will do a skeleton of the practice schedules for the following week as well as set up the game script format, including pregame itinerary, so that again, it is ready to go on Saturday. One of the biggest takeaway’s from Bill Walsh’s book is that anything you can do ahead of time, do it.  Saturday morning, I am operating on very little sleep. If I can have part of the work for that week already complete, it makes me much more effective, not to mention a huge morale boost. 

3- Building the Scouting Report on HUDL: Saturday Morning- When I get to the office on Saturday morning, the previous game should be over for me. Our position coaches do a great job with feedback for our kids. My number one job with postgame video…. If something did not work, what was the problem?  That gives me a laser focus on what is most important.  Once I have answered that question and begun to work on solutions to those problems, it is time to prepare for the next game. 

I will also take a sharpie and mark through the plays on our script that we actually ran in the game. If there are plays left over that will work versus this defense, that is a great head start. Many of our special situation scripts, we can go several weeks, practice those situations, but never need them. When we do need them, we are glad to have them and glad for the large practice reps for a critical situation. 

By now, I should have the last two games on our next opponent. This part is archaic. After entering ODK, I go through it, play by play, and begin to put info into the NOTES column. I can do that faster than I can send it to HUDL assist. 

Once I have been through all of the video available, I will do a filter of every game or playlist with our opponent’s defense. Now, the only filter I need is NOTES…. That will incorporate everything I want our guys to see. I really like to have a scouting report playlist under 20 plays, but it can grow to 40 or more… which is great for me, but not what I want for our kids.  

Once the playlist is built, I put it in order. The list begins with their 1st snap and base defense from the games scouted. All the following are listed together: 3rd / 4th & Short; 3rd / 4th & Long; RedZone and Goalline. Those four groups go at the very end of the playlist scouting report. We do not use paper scouting reports. My goal is to send our team that scouting report by Noon on Saturday. 

By the time I send the scouting report, I have a good idea of what we are facing defensively. Homer Smith says that conventional names for defenses (4-3 for example) are a poor ways to look at a defense. We look for spacing and the technique played by the front, in addition to the fundamentals and techniques of the other defenders. One 3-5 you can attack like it is an old 5-3. Another 3-5 will turn into a Bear front when the ball is snapped. 

One thing I have to watch…. The older I get, I prefer running certain plays vs. certain surfaces, schemes & techniques. When I was younger, we basically ran everything we had vs. any look with few exceptions. We can still do that, but not really what I want to do.

Also, if your opponent is switching defensive schemes, take advantage of the tougher parts of the scheme they may struggle with executing. For example, if a team switches to standard Cover 2, try to get a WR outside and in the hole between the Corner and Safety.

 

4- Self Scout-Hudl & Excel: Saturday, post sending out Scouting Report- Once the scouting report is sent out, I download our offensive data from the games that I anticipate our opponent’s DC will breakdown. That data is organized into three sheets:

  1. Formations 2) Plays 3) 3rd & 4th- Short/Long

If we are run heavy in some sets, we need to make sure we throw from that set this week. And, the reverse is true as well. We also look at … what sets can we eliminate?  Are there sets we can make them prepare for that we can then make sure they never see in our game?  Also, what sets have they not seen that could give them problems?

Ideally, we would like them to have to prep 10 or more sets they will never see in our game. We would like to give them at least five sets in our game they have never seen or at least it has been a long time.  In a minimum of two games, we would like to give your opponent’s DC 40-50 sets. The way our offense is set up, that is easy for our kids to do on offense.  If I can make the DC’s wife mad at him by Sunday night because he has his hands full breaking down 50 sets, that is a great start to the week …. For US!

In 2020, I almost had to play against my former staff. It fell through because of COVID. But in their preparation, their head coach, Jonathan Thomas, who played for me and is family in every sense, told his staff, “You know these tendencies are meaningless. You know he is going to make it all look different.” That is what we are after. 

On the sheet broken down by plays…. Of our best plays….. how can we run them from different sets that they have never seen?  One of the best moments of the 2020 season, Mike Johnson, a brand new coach on our staff, was really getting the hang of how our offense works. We had put in a new way to run off-tackle that we had never run before, even though it is our most run play over the past 29 years.  Just outside the RedZone, he is fired up and tells me to run that play with the new wrinkle. Great call… TD! We had practiced that new wrinkle several times through the week. Easy for us, but looked very different for our opponent. It was a play we have run a million times, but it had never looked like that before. Coach Gruneisen and Kennedy would have been proud!

Usually, the self-scout sheets, I will take home with me on Saturday when I leave to eat lunch with my family.  While we are hanging out at home, watching college football, etc. that is when the gameplan will begin to take shape. Out to the side of the sheets, I write down the plays I want to script. In addition, by Sunday morning, our QB coach, Graham Heasley, will send me script & concept ideas. Graham is a former head coach and offensive guru. He can look at a defense in a different way, take our offense, and find ways to attack that I will miss. Graham’s help has significantly improved our offense. 

5- Building the Script: Sunday morning- Before church, I will go to the office and begin to physically enter the script. I am using the skeleton I prepped on the previous Wednesday. During this time, I will draw a bunch of this up on the board to make sure what I am visualizing and anticipating is what we will get. We do a bunch of anticipating an adjustment. If it is a new set, we draw up how we think they will adjust. During the game, if we get that adjustment, we keep rolling. If it is not what we expected, we attack where they are not. Very simple approach. 

We have scripts for 3rd/4th Short, Medium & Long. If a play gets used from that script, it is eliminated, previous plays are bumped up, and we add new ones.

For 3rd/4th & Long, we like to mix it up, week to week. One week may be Trips, the next week is 2 X 2, and the next week may be empty. We may change up routes…. One week, the #1 WR runs a certain route…. The next week, the #3 WR runs that route. If possible, when the opposing DC breaks us down, we want something to seem different to his kids when we play. 

 

6- Final Script & QB Meeting: Sunday afternoon- Once the script is finalized, our QB will come in to meet with me at 1 pm. We will go through the script, any new wrinkles or adjustments. By now, he has seen the scouting report and it should make sense to him. If it does not, we go over it. Due to COVID, we did all staff meetings through email, text, phone calls, etc. It was frustrating but we made it work. My QB was also my son, so COVID didn’t matter since we lived in the same house. 

 

Here is what the script will look like:

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The Script Key:

Blue Letters- Inside Drill: E (everyday), M(onday), T(uesday), W(ednesday)

Red Letters- Outside Drill: E (everyday), M(onday), T(uesday), W(ednesday)

White Letters in Blue Blocks : TEAM OFFENSE

Green N: November Drill- practiced vs. Blitz in Red Zone, every Tuesday , last part of practice. 

White Letters in Red Blocks : Thursday Scripted offensive plays on air…. Usually special plays, etc.

 

Conclusion:

As much as you can, make this a ritual and embrace the workload.  In the middle of the 2012 season, we ended a 7 game losing streak and went on to win out district and reach the state quarterfinals. Around that time, I started listening to music while I worked every Saturday and Sunday. I start with the same old song every Saturday morning since that season. On Sundays, I listen to music from old NFL Films. 

Don’t copy me…. make your own rituals and traditions. 

This method, being multiple with our formations, is a ton of work. But, it takes no talent to line up properly and it gives us a significant advantage by doing so. My goal is this… do 100% of what can help us win, do 0% of what will not help us win. 

 

If you have questions, suggestions to make our process better, email me at coachdavidbuchanan@gmail.com

 

Homer Smith said we owe it to our players to burn the midnight oil and give our guys the absolute, best opportunity to win. Go be that coach!

 
 
 
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Excellent! Props to you on a work ethic not many will take on anymore. Learning from and taking different perspectives from others who have been around like you do is key. 

You have got it together and I'm sure everyone around you appreciates it. I know I do and I'm an outsider. I love to see people strive for excellence, and that's exactly what you do. 

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51 minutes ago, TilghmanPride said:

Excellent! Props to you on a work ethic not many will take on anymore. Learning from and taking different perspectives from others who have been around like you do is key. 

You have got it together and I'm sure everyone around you appreciates it. I know I do and I'm an outsider. I love to see people strive for excellence, and that's exactly what you do. 

We owe it to our kids to give them their best opportunity to win. The good thing for me.... this is not really "work".  Have loved football since picture day at Lafayette, 1968. I was 3 years old. 

I sure do appreciate your kind words.

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13 minutes ago, BEChargers said:

What if the coaches hair is too long to the point he can't see his scripted plays?   Asking for a friend.

The Pastor is a rockstar. I am crazy about him. Any guy that rolls in, Wednesday, 5 am , already has his helmet snapped up and says, "What is the Western Hills fight song?" is alright with me!

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All you coaches in the stands and armchair quarterbacks out there... read that post and then read it again. This is a big reason why I always think twice before criticizing a coach. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I bite my tongue. It's way more work than most realize. The work ethic, attention to detail, and organization here is impressive. 

Well done, @ChiefSmoke

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22 minutes ago, DevilMayCare said:

All you coaches in the stands and armchair quarterbacks out there... read that post and then read it again. This is a big reason why I always think twice before criticizing a coach. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I bite my tongue. It's way more work than most realize. The work ethic, attention to detail, and organization here is impressive. 

Well done, @ChiefSmoke

Thank you so much for the kind words & thoughts in regards to being critical of coaches. Very much appreciated!

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13 hours ago, DevilMayCare said:

All you coaches in the stands and armchair quarterbacks out there... read that post and then read it again. This is a big reason why I always think twice before criticizing a coach. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I bite my tongue. It's way more work than most realize. The work ethic, attention to detail, and organization here is impressive. 

Well done, @ChiefSmoke

Amen!

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This is the stuff I love to read, as my son gets older, I foresee continuing to help him by assisting as a coach and who knows.. once he is grown I may stick with it. So these types of insight are always so fascinating for me to read.

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