Five Keys for a Coach Leading a Rebuilding Program

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

Rancho High (Nev.) football coach Tom Pletsch has a formula for program-building, and he’s put it to the test twice at his alma mater.

First, Pletsch revitalized the Rancho baseball program after his hire in 2006. In 2010, he led the Rams to the state tournament for the first time since 1977.

Pletsch was again tapped to overhaul a struggling Rancho program in 2015 when he was hired to become the school’s head football coach. At the time of Pletsch’s hire, Rancho was in the midst of a multi-season 29-game losing streak.

Pletsch didn’t take any shortcuts in his rebuilding effort, investing time and energy into promoting the program within the largely Hispanic community and school. Rancho snapped the long losing streak, which had stretched to 30 games – in just his second game on the job.

The Rams finished 3-6 in Pletsch’s first year, and the size of the team – in terms of participation numbers – grew from 52 to 118. Pletsch believes in this five-step plan for rebuilding a program from the ground up.

  1. Visit the middle school. Pletsch went to physical education classes at Rancho Middle School in January to “get a hook in the kids.” He returned in May to explain the summer training schedule. “A lot of freshmen in the past never showed up because they didn’t understand football was an opportunity for them.”
  2. Share your facility with youth league teams. Pletsch found that the most efficient way to recruit youth league players was to bring the players to him rather than going to the players. He gave the youth league teams opportunities to play on the Rancho turf and use the locker rooms.
  3. Recruit within the high school. Sometimes the best players are walking around the same building as your coaching staff. Pletsch had a 6-foot-5, 330-pound player, Frankie Rodriguez, in his class, and recruited him to be his next left tackle. “Once he committed, he never missed a day and was a heck of an offensive tackle.”
  4. Help players overcome off-the-field obstacles. Pletsch learned that the biggest obstacle for new players joining the team was getting an updated physical. Many of his potential players could not afford to pay for physicals, so he arranged for transportation to a physician who was willing to provide free physical exams.
  5. Keep promises to players. Losing programs often experience coaching turnover, which can result in unfulfilled promises to players. Pletsch made a promise to players to improve the locker room and weight room, and fulfilled the promise by seeking out donations from alumni. “Once those things happened, there was a buzz.”Do you have a thought about this article that you would like to share? If you do, email managing editor Dan Guttenplan at Tweet us @fnfcoaches.