Recently I was asked by multiple Twitter Followers to talk about game planning and setting up game/call sheets for opponents.
Here is my process... I am by no means some game planning expert... I have had almost no mentorship to grow from in this aspect of coaching but I have applied the few "good ideas" I was taught and I have reflected, learned, and evolved over the last 7 years coaching football, especially the last 3 in which I have had a specific hand in calling the plays (JV OC, then Assistant to the Varsity OC, and finally this year Varsity OC). These "good ideas" that were passed down to me I will refer to as "KEYS", as in KEY things to being successful.
Some might dislike what/how I do, some might like it.
This is how I think I look:
This is how I probably look:
Our Game Planning process starts Saturday afternoon in a typical week. We played the night before, watch review, meet with our kids all on Saturday morning. Late morning/Early afternoon we will trade film with our opponent for the following week. Almost everyone has HUDL so it goes pretty quick. I can usually be back home by 1:00 and ready to watch opponent film. This is where the process begins.
I watch a lot of film. I would guess on average I watch each opponent's game film at least 10x during the week. When I first get it I will make sure it is properly ODK'd and just give it a run through. I will watch the whole thing one time through. Since I only coach Offense , after that I focus on the opponent's defense. I will filter only their defensive snaps and watch them a few times through, noting the fronts and coverages on notepaper (I should be doing this on HUDL and it is my goal to use HUDL better this year). Along with their base looks I will make any player notes that I observe... A superior player, a weak player, a kid with bad technique, or one who is "cheating" to make plays.
KEY #1: Find out a defense's rules
It seems simple but I think it is overlooked. The most important thing I am looking for when watching film is trying to become fluent in the opponent's defensive rules. Every GOOD defense (bad defense's are usually just kids doing their own thing entirely) has a set of rules. Players are taught alignment and assignment and with a game or two of film you should be able to figure out their base rules.
Where do they line up?
How do they call strength?
What coverage is their base? Change ups?
How do they cover trips?
How do they handle motion/shifts?
Once you get an understanding of what their rules are, they become more predictable and then YOU can begin to control THEM. For example we live in trips. The ball is on a hash so often it just makes sense. One team we played last year ALWAYS brought their LB over from the weak side against trips to create a 3 on 3 match up to trips side. I was able to quickly see that this must be his "rule". I knew I could get rid of that LB simply by going trips. We went trips to the short side and would run sweep to the wide side and there was no force player. We were able to control their alignment because we knew their rules. That same team ALWAYS played in a stack against 2x2, but would bump over and walk someone down vs trips. Gave us the front we wanted to run our counter play. They allowed us to dictate what front they were in simply by formation. This is just an example of using a defense's rules against them.
*It is important to note that deciphering a defense's rules doesn't stop before kick off, this is going on throughout the game. They might have something special saved for the game or make a change to THEIR game plan. It is important to get a verification of, or find the change in their defensive rules in the first series. I once heard a coach explain it like this, "I am willing to essentially give up my first possession of the game, if it allows me to figure out the defense's rules that I can use against them for the rest of the game." That same coach always told me within his first series he wanted to show the defense something balanced, trips, motion, and empty all in their first 3 plays in some way. From there he would base his play calling off of what was either confirmed/verified or what new information was learned as to the defense's rules.
Draw up every single play. I got this from a late great DC I used to work with. He did this from a defensive perspective but I have copied it for offense. He would get 3x5 cards and draw up every single play the offense ran in every piece of film he had. He would go through this cards over and over again, drawing his defensive looks up against them and looking at their strengths/weaknesses.
For our offense I draw up every blitz/stunt I see on film. I draw up every coverage I see on film.
My OL is going to have multiple days of Blitz PU against every blitz you have ever shown. My QB will have thrown against every coverage you have shown. We practice against a number of looks throughout the year so the kids pick up things fairly quickly but as an OL coach I have more confidence in my guys when I know they know how to pick up everything the defense can throw at them.
I do most of this work Saturday night. We meet as a staff at one of our coach's house on Sunday morning. Each coach is responsible for watching film on their own and coming with notes prepared. We watch the game as a staff one time through, bringing up any points we want to make about a specific play or player. We share the ideas of what we each saw on film. Coordinators will bring up what they want to focus on for the week and seek input from position coaches if there was anything they saw on film that the coordinator did not address. Sometimes we are all on the same page, sometimes they bring something up, an idea I might have missed, sometimes they bring something up, I disagree and then shut them down. Sometimes our Sundays are calm, sometimes we get heated up and things get a little more intense but I think the important thing is after Sunday's meeting, it is over.. we have a plan, let's implement it.
Our general practice plan is fairly consistent but we will make changes or focus on certain areas if it is a focus for us. If I know a team likes to play man, our WRs will do more press get off technique that week. If my OL will see slanting, we will work more against that.
I do not script our team practice time. I call plays. I give our DC the fronts, coverages, and blitzes that I would like to see and tell him to have at it. I don't want to see my perfect play call against the perfect defensive look because how often do you get that in the game. I want to run a bunch of plays, fast, against the various predicted looks so I can get a sense of what is working and what we aren't running well.
I don't think of myself as an OC that is going to call the perfect play at the perfect time and fool the whole world. I am trying to become the OC that gets so good at teaching his offense and packaging it together that even when I am an absolutely terrible, stupid, idiotic play call... the kids do their assignments and we pick up 4 yards and the first down.
Setting up Game Day sheet:
I look at Call Sheets different than most. I HATE the situational call sheets most coaches use. I just can't see myself knowing ahead of time what the perfect call will be on 3rd&short, or 3rd&medium or any other situation coaches list on their laminated call sheets attached to their hip.
I feel like whatever call you make in a given situation has so many variables effecting it you can't make the decision until that moment. How much time is left? Score? What has or hasn't been working for you? Injuries? Momentum? I know most coaches prefer this method but it just isn't for me. I know it is designed to speed up the play calling process but I have seen coaches just stare into their call sheets like they're waiting for it to speak to them or send some divine message of the right play call. In my opinion "the right play" is constantly evolving, changing throughout the game. There is no way to know what the best few options on 2nd &5 are until you actually get there.
I know what play I want to run in a given moment, I just need to be able to find it quickly to send it in. This is a call sheet I used 2 years ago.
I have everything grouped by concept. I memorized the layout so I could find the play I wanted right away. Dropbacks in one location, screens in another, runs in another. It is laid out in a way that works best for ME. Our OC that year had a completely different game day call sheet that he had grouped by situations. I think you have to know yourself and go with whatever way your brain is wired.