MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Too often we forget that these men who coach football, perhaps because they wear a whistle around their neck, are dressed in sweats and shorts and are called coaches are, in reality, teachers.
And, too often as well, we base the success their players or units have on the systems in which they play rather than on how well they are taught as individuals by these coaches.
Jordan Lesley, who serves West Virginia as its defensive coordinator, understands this concept, as he showed during Monday’s Zoom presser in which he offered up a most astute observation.
“Football,” he said, “is a simple game complicated by humans.”
This is probably something one of his former coaches said to him or, perhaps, something he learned while taking a course in coaching as an undergraduate.
Yet it becomes basic, especially at this time of year when football teams are regathering after a long off-season, when there are new players who have never played college football coming in along with transfers from other systems and, in Lesley’s case, a couple of new coaches from other systems.
They have to learn the schematics of their new system, the terminology, which often is different; and the players, each of whom needs some kind of individual approach to effectively communicate.
WVU has a couple of new defensive assists in defensive line coach Andrew Jackson and defensive backfield coach ShaDon Brown. First off, before they can communicate with their players, Lesley has to communicate with them.
“You try to keep it simple,” he said. “What I always tried to do with new coaches, especially guys who have the knowledge that AJ and ShaDon have is if their terminology makes a little more sense than what I’ve been using, I’ll use theirs. If they like their terminology and works with us, we’ll use it.’
That, of course, makes it easier on them to work with their players, which is where the emphasis is placed in the spring.
“In the spring what you are looking for is personnel and fundamental development and evaluation,” Lesley explained. “That’s more important than schematics. We’ve done a lot of things to simplify this defense, even from last year. That will help us. It will allow us to play fast and allow us to coach fast.”
Of course, while WVU is working on itself, its opponents have their analysts pouring over game film and statistics trying to break down what WVU does and figure out ways to attack it.
It becomes a game of cat and mouse ... or does it?
Lesley isn’t so sure, especially in the spring when he tries not to worry about what the opposition might be doing.
“A lot of time it hard for coaches and for players, especially older guys who are confident or have accomplished a lot ... but the biggest thing is you have to focus on the negative and forget the positive. For us, the positive was we played extremely hard last year,” he said.
“The biggest reason for our success wasn’t because of what we were doing but how we were doing it, so that has to continue. The schematic stuff, you always have to be complementary to your personnel. Bad coaching is asking them to do something they can’t do because it worked on a whiteboard or piece of paper.
“Everything works on a whiteboard or when you draw it up but if you are asking a guy who can’t play man-to-man to play man-to-man when he can’t do it, that makes you a bad coach. Then you are not allowing the kid to be successful.”
So in the spring, WVU looks inward, not outward.
It looks at what needs to be corrected, not bothering to contort itself into a position to pat itself on the back for what it did well in the past or what others are doing to counteract what it did well in the past.
“We’re not trying to stay ahead of anybody or worrying about what everyone in our league is looking at,” Lesley said. “We just have to focus on what we were bad at. Obviously, there’s a reason we were bad at it. We have to get better at it, fundamentally, how we were going about things or do we need a schematic change. Let’s do something our personnel allows us to do.
“We don’t go around saying because the Chiefs are doing it or because the Patriots are doing it or because Alabama is doing it, their personnel is quite a bit different than ours. While we’re not going to make wholesale changes because people are looking at us, you’ll see in the first game how people scouted you and are attacking you.
“Then you have an idea of what they are going to do. But you have to be who you are, stick with who you are and go with it,” he concluded.
And that is what teaching is in the football environment.