FNF Coaches Talk — Jim McElwain’s Rebuilding Strategy, Small-School Roots Help Coaches Grow, TackleBar’s Safety Factor

FNF Coaches Talk

Happy Friday, Coaches. Here are a few stories to take you into the weekend.

1. How Jim McElwain is drafting a blueprint for changing a football program (Central Michigan Live)

Last season was one to forget for the Central Michigan football team. The Chippewas went 1-11 overall with no Mid-American Conference or Football Bowl Subdivision wins. Former coach John Bonamego got fired after the season.

Athletic Director Michael Alford hired new coach Jim McElwain in early December. By the middle of February, he had a brand new coaching staff outside of tight ends coach Tavita Thompson.

That alone makes the energy new. Defensive coordinator Robb Akey, however, was born with it, and the only way he knows how to coach is enthusiastically.

“With a coaching style you gotta be you, and this is who I am,” Akey said. “I talk to my players about it all the time, excellence isn’t just going to happen. It’s a choice that you make every day. If you don’t approach the world with energy, the worlds attacking you.
“I’d rather attack somebody than get attacked.”

The trending words going through the CMU coaching staff has been that all of the players — returning or incoming — have a “clean slate.” Essentially, this means they get the chance to compete with everyone and earn their spot.

It also gives the sense of a fresh era in Chippewa football.

Another philosophy McElwain has imparted early is that his staff works in a “brotherly” fashion, one he and the team believe in.

“I see a bond within the coaches everyday,” Jamison said. “Our staff is very competitive and they are very brotherly with each other, it’s a great atmosphere.”

What is one piece of advice you’d give a coach trying to turn around a program?

2. How small-school coaching in Ohio helped shape Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch (Norman Transcript)

Sometimes, we as coaches think it’s impossible to make the jump from high school to college, or from college to the NFL. We view ourselves as high school coaches, and if we want to become a college coach, we think we’ll have to start over as a quality control coach or graduate assistant.

That’s not always the case.

Successful coaches are often imagined to have taken the same golden escalator to riches and fame. A former Power 5 player turns Power 5 graduate assistant, turns Power 5 assistant, turns Power 5 head coach. But that’s certainly not always the case. The small-school path works.
In the NFL, the Buffalo Bills’ Sean McDermott and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin both graduated from FCS William & Mary, then started out coaching small — Tomlin at Virginia Military Institute and McDermott at his alma mater. John Harbaugh (Morehead State) also went that route. So did Mike Leach, who helped pioneer the Air Raid offense with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan College.

Small schools are ideal incubators, Leach explained.

“What’s good is you get your hands in there right away,” he said. “You get to coach a lot of guys. You get to be involved and develop your skills as a coach. It’s not like the higher division where you’re holding a clipboard. And you’re around some real knowledgeable people.”

In what ways has coaching high school football helped you gain experience you couldn’t get at any other level?

3. TackleBar drives participation, makes game safer (FNF Coaches)

Each month, we open our print publication to an inventor who has brought a product to market that makes the game safer or more enjoyable for players. For the April edition of FNF Coaches, we featured TackleBar. Jeremy Ling, Founder of TackleBar, wrote the feature.

TackleBar was developed with input from the world’s leading tackling experts, along with countless practice and scrimmage hours. My players graciously trialed prototype designs. In 2016, we piloted TackleBar football as our league’s game format for players 12 and under. We saw over a 40 percent increase in sign-ups when we made this pivot. The feedback at season’s end was very positive from our coaches, players and parents. This gave us confidence to launch TackleBar to the larger football community in 2017, and we now have thousands of players at the youth through high school level.

TackleBar can be used for practice drills, scrimmages, and passing leagues. It teaches players to utilize proper fundamentals without putting their body through the wear and tear of live tackling. As football programs are facing restrictions on contact, the TackleBar harness is the closest simulation of game-speed tackling.

Coaches tell us they are turning to TackleBar as a game format because:
  • TackleBar teaches sound form tackling fundamentals, where the players focus on the body.
  • It better prepares kids for the transition to tackle football.
  • Players wear helmets and shoulder pads, providing maximum protection.
  • TackleBar increases participation.
  • USA Football is promoting a Football Development Model, whereby players progress from flag, to a modified game, eventually transitioning to tackle. TackleBar is an ideal modified game.

What product would you like to see features in the FNF Coaches Inventor Spotlight?