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AFM Magazine

Your Take – “My Hail Mary Pass”

by: Len
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Let me start off by saying I can’t believe I’m writing something that football coaches will see. I’ve always had a fascination with the profession. If it’s not recruiting, it’s practice. If it’s not practice, it’s preparing game plans. And then there’s the “baby-sitting” aspect of playing father, spiritual guide, and disciplinarian for any number of problems that crop up. And oh yeah, by the way, there’s a game to be played with strategy, substitutions and clock management. And then, if you win, all the credit goes to your players. If you lose, it’s all on you. So here’s to you guys. It takes a special kind of guy to do what you do. And now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Here’s what really annoys me about some coaches. They get all caught up in trying to outsmart the guy on the other sideline. So, as a result, all they do is screw things up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it. A couple of examples. I went to Syracuse when Syracuse football was something special. My fraternity brother was Floyd Little, and for my first college game as a freshman I sat in the stands placard cheering while Syracuse took on the great Gale Sayers and Kansas. Floyd proceeded to score five touchdowns and I thought, “National Championship, here we come.” It didn’t happen, and it hasn’t happened since Ernie Davis and 1959. Anyway, as a reward for my work at the college radio station, I got to go with the team to the 1966 Gator Bowl, featuring Syracuse and Tennessee. Syracuse was still coached by Ben Schwartzwalder who had guided Syracuse to that national title. Late in the game, Syracuse was driving for the winning score when they faced a critical 4th and 1. Ben had Floyd Little in his backfield but he also had Larry Csonka. How about that? Little and Csonka in the same backfield. 4th and 1. No brainer. So, what was the call? An end around to a little wide receiver who fumbled the ball and fumbled away the Gator Bowl.
Fast forward 10 years. I’m now a sportscaster in Boston and the Patriots are taking on the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs in 1976. You may remember that game as “Sugar Bear” Hamilton got called for a controversial roughing the passer penalty on Kenny Stabler and it led to the Raiders winning touchdown. What you may not remember about the game was how the Patriots were kicking ass. Their offensive line, led by John Hannah and Leon Gray, was opening up gaping holes for the likes of Sam Cunningham. They were marching up and down the field. So what did coach Chuck Fairbanks do as the Patriots were driving at the end of the half? He called a double reverse and had his tight end Russ Francis throw a pass. He had never called that play. Francis had never thrown a pass. Yes, it got intercepted - killing the drive.
This is not meant to pick on either Ben Schwartzwalder or Chuck Fairbanks. They are not alone. It happens to most if not all of the great ones. I remember a critical Jets game against the Lions that would determine if the Jets would make the playoffs in 1997. Neil O’Donnell was playing well at quarterback for the Jets, but coach Bill Parcells decided to have rarely-used special teams player Ray Lucas throw a pass. He did the same with running back Leon Johnson. Both passes got intercepted. The Jets lost the game and went home.
The temptation for coaches has to be great. The other guy is watching all your film, you gotta come up with something new. And hell, it must have worked in practice, didn’t it? I guess it’s time to bring out one of those hoary clichés. How about “dance with the one that brung ya?” Tennessee didn’t have an answer for Csonka and Little in 1966, nor could Oakland stop the Patriots’ offensive line a decade later. And I’m fairly sure that if Bill Parcells had a second chance he would have done things differently in 1997, but trust me, he’ll never admit it. If you’ve got something that works, my humble suggestion is to work it. Forget about the gimmicks.
OK, my rant is over. Go back to your recruiting, film study, practice and baby-sitting. By the way, I’ve got this great idea for a triple reverse…..


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