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Erasing A Decade of Disappointment: The Transformation of the Mustangs

by: Rich Holzer
Head Coach, Meade High School (MD)
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A lot of coaches like talking Xs and Os, which is the easy part of coaching. The scheming and game planning is the chess match we all signed up for and love to do. However, as head coaches, we take on a little more than just the scheme these days. When you get your shot to be a head coach, for most of us, we don’t inherit a program that wins and is used to winning. Rather, it is usually a challenging program, one that has not won or doesn’t do so consistently. This presents us as with an entirely different challenge aside from Xs and Os. What I am hoping to do in this article is present young coaches, like myself, with insight on what worked for us turning a program around, and diving into practice organization as well.

As a new head coach at a school that is not winning, you have several challenges - our main one being structure. I really believe that discipline solves many issues. When you arrive at a school most often you find that there has been a lack of accountability. Now discipline can refer to many things and you must choose your battles as a coach, but one thing I believe is paramount is to establish a set of clearly defined expectations and routines.

Young adults are looking for discipline and structure. Discipline is not yelling &and screaming. I was at a program that did that and all you got were underachieving, beaten down players who were scared to make mistakes. One of the ways that helped us was to establish clear guidelines and a discipline matrix. Every player was handed a manual that clearly outlined what it takes to be a “Mustang”. We posted that on line for the parents as well as on our team web site. We had every player read, review and sign the consent page at the back, as well as their parents. Second, we established clear routines. We set a schedule and followed it. We didn’t leave players guessing. Every coach in our program had a schedule every day and we were on the same page.

That seems simple, but when you are not winning the first thing you do is try different things. You have to have the fortitude to stick with your plan and know it is right, even in the face of criticism. We posted our daily schedule on our web site as well. Often, our players did not even need to check the site because they knew from expectations what was going on. Third, we established firm unbending consequences to rules. For example, if a player misses turning in his weekly grade report, he knows that Tuesday afternoon he will be completing our “Fence Line Run”. If they try to skip study hall, the player will sit at a desk and study on the 50-yard line during practice. This sends the message to our team that grades are #1 in our program and they will be held accountable.

Fourth, we established an incentive program for our athletes. I stole this idea from Coach Jeremy Plaa at Downey High School. We use Pride Points. We award players “PRIDE Points” for a variety of activities such as earning A’s in class, community service, camps, workout attendance, fundraising, and many other activities. Players use these points to earn rewards. The rewards range from keeping their jersey to first choice of equipment. Fifth, we established toughness within our program and do not accept anything less. We train to develop mental and physical toughness. We did activities such as having the US Marines put our players through their Combat Fitness Course. We did not allow our guys to back off or back down from any challenge we put forth. Sixth, we made competition a premium. During our off season training, we provide opportunities for our guys to compete every week against each other. We use “Platoons” and have competitions each week. We held an event the players look forward to every week called “Mustang Wars” on Thursdays to end workouts. Our guys competed with their “platoons” in events and we keep track of results.

Another major component to developing our program was changing the way they had practiced. The team had been a triple option flex bone team. We implemented a no-huddle, spread attack. Initially we had planned on using the Air Raid scheme, but because of our personnel, we transitioned quickly to a fast paced zone read attack. In practice we emphasized tempo of practice and coaching on the run. We rarely slow the pace down. We want our assistant coaches to coach off film or sub a player out to coach them on a mistake. We attempt to platoon our players, but we do have certain players who play both sides of the ball. There is zero down time for our players. For example, during special teams, we have our special teams coordinator running the drills with the assistance of 1-2 other coaches. The rest of the staff takes all players not involved and gets back into group drills, such as pursuit, pat and go, routes versus air, etc. It is a rare occurrence to see a Meade player standing still on the field. However, in general, we try to have players practice their position 5fivedays a week. Here is a generalized example of atypical game week organization:


1.     Coaches Arrive – 7:30am

2.     Players Arrive – 7:50am

3.     Players Strength Workout (Bell & Leach) – 8am

a.     Varsity Staff Film Breakdown

b.     JV Staff Hudl Tagging Previous Game

4.     Film (By Unit) – 8:45am

a.     JV Staff Continue

b.     Corrections – Previous Game

c.     Next Opponent

5.     Players To Field – 10:15am

6.     Special Teams Shake Out – 10:30am

7.     EOP – 11:15am

8.     Opportunity Assignments (Rolls, Tower Run, Etc) – 11:20am

9.     Head Coach Email – 7pm Sunday (Final Plan, Schedules & Depth Charts)



LOWER BODY WEIGHT ROOM: 3x8 Superset 1 – Squat with Pull Ups, 50 Twisties

UPPER BODY WEIGHT ROOM: 3x8 Superset 2 - Bench with 25lb Plate Twisty, 50 Sit Ups

Conditioning: 10-Minute Run

Shake Out Schedule:

1)     Special Teams: Corrections - 15min

2)     Special Teams Call Outs – 10min

3)     Special Teams Adjustments – 20min





3:30 – FLEX

3:45 – SCRIPT


5:00 - EOP



1.  2-Point Plays

2.  Punt – Regular, Quick Kick, Fake

3.  Punt Return – Block, Clamp, Safe

4.  KO – Pooch, Squib, Onside, Surprise

5.  KOR – Left, Right

6.  Onside Recovery Team

7.  Hands Team

8.  PAT/ FG – Kick, Fire, Fake

9.  FG Block

10.  Hail Mary

11. Heartbreak

12.  Clock Play – Spike and Kill Time

13.  Take a Safety

14.  Gadgets

15.  Victory Defense

16.  Victory Offense


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