Aug. 5, 2009
as told to SKIP MYSLENSKI, NUsports.com Contributing Writer
It goes from being an on a need-to-know basis to you need to know everything. I think that's the biggest difference (from being an assistant and a head coach). I realized that from day one.
Number one, (I've learned) not to micro manage. You've got to surround yourself with people you can trust and the first person you have to be able to trust is yourself.
The analogy, I first heard it from Gary (Barnett) in a little different light, then it continued on with Randy (Walker). If I put a two-by-four on the ground right here, can you walk across it with your eyes closed? Of course you could. C'mon. But put it up between the uprights and now let's see if you want to do that with no net to catch you. But you've trained and you've prepared and now you just have to go out and do it. Trust yourself. That's what I learned the most.
I'm surrounded by so many great people. So, number one, I don't have to do it all on my own. And, number two, (I have) to trust the coaches, trust the players, trust the support staff. Give them a plan, give them direction, lead them, adjust accordingly, but most importantly trust them. I don't think I did a very good job of that initially. I really didn't. I think we're in a totally different place from three years ago.
Part of my plan when I took over was to talk to all my mentors, talk to people that I call "in the know". . .guys I really trusted, obviously Gary and coach (Joe) Paterno and some other guys.
The biggest response I got back was be yourself.
You can ask them that dumb question and not feel you're an ass.
What would you differently? Gary, when you left for Colorado, what would you have done differently? Joe, rewind back, tell me about your biggest failures. What did you learn in those first two years where you went, 'Wow, that was terrible.'
The only person you told that to was yourself. But he (Paterno) was awesome. He was great. He said, 'It was everything. I was terrible.' And he goes, 'But you know what? You will (go through the same thing) too. You'll be awful. And then you'll go, I won't do that again. Or, Wow, I learned a lot and I'll do this.' He went, 'You're prepared. You're ready to do this. The leadership of the university wouldn't have put you in this position unless they felt that way. Now go out and do it. Do things well. Fail on things momentarily, but grow from them all and keep moving.'
On the field, I broke my cardinal rule. I took points off the board in a game (against Duke in 2007). That's an easy one. That's serve and volley. I watch games and I go, 'Take the points, move on, live to fight another day.' I've been doing that since I was in high school watching football with (his wife) Stacy.
Stacy knows me so well, before the press conference (after the Duke game), she said, 'You broke your rule.' I said, 'Yeah, I did.' But I felt it was the right thing to do. . . I broke my rule, we lost, so it was dumb. But I learned from it. Would I do it again? I doubt it. I'll never say never. But I broke my own rule.
Off the field, I don't know. I don't know. I'm trying to think. Not that there's not a lot of them. There's so many.
The one thing that I've learned to do is say no. That would probably be the biggest thing I've learned off the field. You're like elastic. You're stretched so thin in this role. I've learned that I have to say no. I don't want to. But I have to be the husband and the father and the leader and the coach that I want to be. I have to say no.
I sleep great. Phenomenal. Yeah.
I feel, when I wake up after a loss, that there's a challenge more than ever. You get to be more critical of yourself than ever. After a win, I'm excited. . .but now your focus is different. How am I going to keep us humble? What little things can we learn from it? We all feel really good about ourselves, but there's little things we can grow from. Let's go find those little things and get better at them because the guys are going to be excited to work. Whereas after a loss, a lot of times, you have to lift everybody up.
That's why we have our 24-hour rule. The game's over. You move on.
(It's) probably easier to play, without a doubt, because you're in control totally of your thoughts, your emotions, your preparation, your play. All those things are out the window as a coach. You're planning it, you're putting in the structure and you're giving all those things to the players. But, at the end of the day, it's still that trust. I trust our guys. But if you ask me, it's easier to trust yourself than it is to trust others.
Not that I feel I'm a control freak. But I just remember when I was a player, I didn't care what the coaches said. I was ready to go, let's go. As a coach (you're always thinking), 'If I articulate it this way, is it wrong?' There's all that constant paranoia. 'Where am I taking the team?' 'What are they listening to?' 'What are they hearing?'
That's one aspect of it. Then there's, 'What are they hearing away from us, what are they listening to away from us?'
That's what the whole off-season is about. People say, 'Don't you just hang out in the off-season?' No. You're analyzing.
We go back and, for instance, if you're on defense, you look at plays you gave up that were explosions, 15-plus runs, 20-plus passes. All right. Was it a structural issue? Did they out-scheme us? Was it a concept issue? We thought going into the game we should do this, but, really, we were in the wrong coverage. Was it a technique or fundamental issue? Did we have the wrong personnel on the field? Should we have been in a nickel when we were in regular? You go through this checklist of self-scouting. What can we do better as teachers to coach our guys to be at a better confidence level between their ears to execute plays.
You just take what you learned, you see the strengths of who you are and then you hopefully surround yourself---
I have a great mentor, someone I meet with frequently, probably twice-a-month in the off-season and once-a-week during the season. Don Prentiss. He's a professor here, he's a CEO consultant. Don said you're fortunate here. Whatever number you think you are, it doesn't matter how you self-assess. I'll say you're a five and you've surrounded yourself with sevens and eights and nines.
That's what good leaders do. Insecure leaders think of themselves as that seven, eight and nine and put twos and threes around them.
In high school, I did (dream of being a coach). Tom Seliga, who was my high school head coach, was a phenomenal man, an unbelievable teacher, a great leader. It's about the players, developing the players and preparing them for life. And my position coach saw things in me I had never seen. Those two people along with our sophomore coach at Sandburg, Mike Navarro, if you survived sophomore football at Sandburg, you deserved the right to play on Friday nights. He was a tough guy, Sandburg grad, played in the Big Ten. Those three guys really molded me to believe I wanted to be a coach.
It's been a lot more than I thought it would be. You think you're giving a lot. But you get back tenfold. Like (former running back) Tyrell (Sutton) was here (the other day). We're sending him out now. He's got his degree. He's going out to play professional football. Give him a big, ol' hug and wish him luck and remind him this is always his home.
I hope they feel they're ready. But I know we feel that we have them prepared and that's so rewarding, it's unbelievable.
Wins and losses come and go. That's 12 days of the year, 13 when you go to a bowl game. You're with the guys the other 352, 353 days of the year and then you multiply that by four. That big part of it is so much more than those 12 x 4 or 13 x 4.
I get asked a lot, I think because of our age difference, could you see yourself being Joe Paterno. I'd love to be. But I don't know, the way the business is going, if you can do that. I just don't know that. I don't have a crystal ball.
We're national recruiting. That wears on you. December and January just really wear on you. I'm all over, pretty much in a different city (every day). That's the grind, that traveling in December and January.
I'd love to do it until they say, 'Coach, it's time to move on.'