Champion coaches share tips on establishing culture

Champion coaches know that the groundwork for successful seasons is laid long before the state championship game. Winning programs have cultures that outlast graduating classes.

Saguaro High (Ariz.) coach Jason Mohns

It’s tough to argue any high school coach established a better winning culture from 2013 to 2018 than Scottsdale Saguaro head coach Jason Mohns.

“The thing that has allowed me to be successful with culture-building is the ability to form genuine, strong relationships with the people who are important to the program,” Mohns said. “Once you have those strong relationships, it’s easier to put a plan in place and say, ‘Our program is based on hard work. We’re going to love and treat each other with respect, but we’re also going to push and hold each other accountable.”

Mohns cited three examples of ways in which he emphasizes the importance of relationship building.

Hiring coaches with dynamic personalities.

“It’s not just about me building relationships. It’s about assistant coaches having relationships with players at their position groups. I want each position coach to be his position players’ favorite coach. The head coach can’t be everyone’s favorite coach.”

Coaching staff retreats.

“We do an annual coaches trip. Before COVID, we took a trip to Austin, Texas, and visited UT and A&M. We also met with Todd Dodge at Austin-Westlake (High). We stayed in a vacation rental house with coaches sleeping on the floor. We ate dinner together every night.”

Take the players to camp.

“We take the kids out of state to a camp in California. We have a senior bonfire, and the seniors talk about what they want from their senior year and their future goals. One day, we let the kids go to Six Flags and have fun together. It’s good to show the kids there’s a time to be loose and have fun, and there’s a time to work hard.”

St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio) coach Steve Specht

Steve Specht has led his alma mater, St. Xavier, to three state championships. His favorite one came in 2016 when his team started 5-5. That was the perfect example of a team that called on his winning culture to overcome adversity.

“We have a mission statement at St. Xavier that I’ve adopted with the football program,” Specht said. “We want these kids to develop their faith, their leadership and their character. They’re here to be men for others. We want them to understand the reason they’re placed on Earth is to make a personal sacrifice for a cause bigger than themselves. It’s called leading a purposeful life.”

Specht shared three ways in which he can tell if a particular team has a winning culture.

Players police each other.

“At the beginning of every year, I meet with the senior class, the captains, in particular. I make sure they understand. ‘Look, I was asked to be a steward for the program. So. it’s my program, but it’s not my team. It’s YOUR team. You need to police it. If you police it, we’ll have a pretty good team and a pretty good season.”

Coaches and players are accountable.

“It all starts with trust. If you’re accountable to teammates and the coaching staff, they have to trust you. You have to build that trust. You don’t build trust by pointing fingers and laying blame. That causes more dissension. We preach that we all have permission to fail.”

Make it look right.

“We have one rule: It better look right. We harp on: Don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Show me. If a member of ‘The Long Blue Line’ comes back to practice, walks into a class or the weight room, what should it look like? If you come back in 15 years, you’re going to want to make sure it looks right.”