How We Coach is a weekly series that deconstructs how coaches run their program: we explore their unique process, habits, practices, and coaching philosophies. Find out what keeps coaches up at night, how they teach, and what they do to improve every day. #HowWeCoach
Today we are talking to Barry Hoover, co-Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach at Vernon High School, a small 1A school in Vernon, Florida. He started his blog, Coach Hoover’s Football Site at http://coachhoover.blogspot.com, as a way to help other coaches. It has football coaching articles and lots of other resources. Highly recommend that you check it out.
Could you provide a brief description of your background?
2016 begins my 16th year in the coaching profession with experience in both Florida and Georgia. I have been both an Offensive and Defensive Coordinator and have coached every position at one time or another.
Where did you grow up, go to school?
I grew up in Pierson, Florida and went to Taylor High School. Pierson is the fern capital of the world as well as the home of former Atlanta Braves star, Chipper Jones.
How did you end up coaching football?
I played high school football at Taylor High School in Pierson, Florida and I tore my ACL my senior year, ending my playing career. John Ruskin said that, “The highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it,” and it is for this reason that I owe so much to the game of football, even though my playing career ended in disappointment. I learned what hard work it took to try to be the very best at something, and I took those lessons and used them to succeed in my professional career.
A book by former Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne, called Faith in the Game, also helped me decide to become a football coach. He said, “Unless people are willing to invest in young people and give them a chance, many of them will become liabilities to society rather than assets…Being on an athletic team exposes many young people to discipline and structure that they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. We live in a society that lacks discipline and stability. Being part of a team requires young people to discipline themselves to arrive on time for practice, perform certain rigorous activities, and operate within a set of rules.”
This book exposed me to the life-changing impact a coach can have, and how the game of football can be used to teach discipline, teamwork, character, and the value of hard work to young people. I felt the Lord leading me in that direction, and I resigned from my higher paying sales job to become a teacher and football coach in 2001. My motivation since then has been to help young people to be successful in the classroom, on the football field, and in life.
Can you give a bit of background on your program?
I have been at Vernon for just one year. The 2015 Vernon High School football team had only four returning starters but won a District Championship by thriving on adversity. We won two games this season on the very last play of the game, and we did it versus our two biggest rivals. This was a really big deal for me because the year before at my previous school we had lost two games on the last play of the game.
The difference between winning and losing is often razor-thin and comes down to intangibles. Our players at Vernon were mentally tough and did not flinch when the pressure was on. We knew that if the game was close, that it was ours. I feel this was due to great Senior leadership and because we as coaches were intentional in making sure our players were prepared mentally to not just look to survive adversity, but to expect it and thrive on it. Our Offense turned the ball over six times in our first round playoff game and our Defense didn’t complain—they fought and fought and fought, and then made big plays at the end to help us win the game by one point, 8-7.
It is a lot of fun to coach a group of players that care enough to give everything they have to find a way to win close games like that. Our fans complained about the anxiety of watching us go down to the wire every week, but as a team, we loved it because we had confidence in our ability to fight until the end as well as confidence in our preparation. We didn’t win a state championship—we got beat in our second round game, but it was an amazing season for our team that wasn’t expected to do much.
As a team, what are your core tenants/pillars?
Character and Overcoming Adversity, Accountability, Commitment to Excellence, Investment, Competition, Fundamentals, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), Mental Preparation, and Love.
What’s your main philosophy as a coach?
If you help your players to become better people, they will also become better players. Former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel said, “Before I can do, I must be. We tell our players that before they can become champions, they must master the things that champions embody.” I believe that team success is built upon the following foundations: Character, Academics, Investment, Trust, Accountability, Love, and then Success.
I love the adaptability of the TCU 4-2-5 defense. Gary Patterson said that the one characteristic of every good defensive team is that they play with great leverage. Having three Safeties allows us to have great leverage and angles to surround the run game and be able to force the football inside on all outside runs. We also want to change the direction of the ball carrier and make the ball bounce outside to our force players on all inside runs. I want to be able to play fast and to attack the offense with as much speed on the field as possible. I want us to play smart and with great fundamentals—playing with great leverage and pursuit, destroying blocks, and being great tacklers.
I believe you must be balanced and be able to best utilize the talent you have been dealt with no matter what level you coach at. I want to be able to attack defenses with the same base plays and personnel from multiple formations to make it difficult for defenses to align correctly and properly defend both the run and pass for the entire length and width of the field. Bobby Bowden said, “More football games are lost than are won.” This is one of the most simple, yet most profound statements ever made about the game of football. We will teach our players, and especially our QB, first how not to lose a football game. I am big on Ball Security and everyone who carries the football for my team must know how to do it properly.
Special teams philosophy?
I want attack on Offense, I want to attack on Defense, and I want to attack on Special Teams. Southern Oregon and former Nease H.S. (FL) Head Coach Craig Howard shared his Special Teams formula of “ATT = EKG.” What this formula means is that Attitude, Time, and Talent equal an Excellent Kicking Game. You must have the attitude that Special Teams are important and you must show your team that it really is important. You must make it fun for your players as well and provide incentives to make it truly “special” to be a part of. Special Teams takes a commitment with practice time and with talent by using the best athletes on our team.
How many are on your coaching staff?
We have six coaches on our staff, three on Offense and three on Defense.
When does a new season start?
ASAP. Bob Ladouceur said, “Football is a very violent, physically game that requires a year-round commitment to conditioning and weight lifting. You can’t get guys in good enough shape to play football if your conditioning program starts in June. We want to get started as soon as our previous season ended by getting bigger, stronger, faster, and mentally tougher in the weight room and with our conditioning. We want our players to be competing to get better every day. If our players are not playing basketball or baseball, they are on the weightlifting team and on the track team.
How do you kick off your planning and preparation?
Our Head Coach took our staff on a retreat before this season started where he laid out his expectations for our program and helped our new staff to bond as well. After our season ended, we talked about goals for our program and the off-season action plan of how to achieve them. We are looking at where to best place our athletes, projected depth charts, and adjustment of schemes to best suit our talent.
What is your main focus areas during the off-season?
We want to gain strength and an early priority is to make sure we have the proper technique and flexibility to squat correctly. We want to make strength and weight gains early on. Conditioning will be more mat drills until the weather warms up, and then we will do more running. Speed is a priority, but football speed, which is speed in all directions and the ability to change directions quickly and efficiently, is more important. We emphasize training this football speed year-round with our core training and agility drills. Olympic lifts are the final piece of building our athletes, but these lifts only help if they are done correctly. We make sure they are physically ready before they begin this phase. Also, if you want to play with high tempo, you must train with great tempo in the off-season.
In-season, how does a normal week play out? What are the key “milestones”?
We start off the week by using the game film to evaluate our players and fix our mistakes. Coaches have Saturday off to rest, grade film, and spend time with their families. I type out a spreadsheet to give my players while they watch the game film with detailed notes of each play. It takes me three hours to get the job exactly how I like it, so my players know exactly what they did well and not so well. Once that is done, our staff will look at our opponent’s film and begin tagging plays. Once we have finished, I will then export the data from Hudl to an Excel spreadsheet and begin to look at what they like to do. I tag more things as the week goes on. If they are a big passing team, I will look at protections and be sure to tag them. As a defensive staff, we compile a scouting report. Our DL Coach will write a detailed report on their personnel for our scouting report. Our LB Coach will put together a hit list of every formation with all of the plays that our opponent will run. He will also draw up our opponent’s best runs. I coach the DBs, so I draw up their best passes. We talk about what our opponents like to do best and how we will stop their favorite plays. We discuss how we will line up to defend their formations and any coverage adjustments that need to be made to defend their best plays and best players.
I then look at the Excel data and plan out what scout cards I will draw up and then begin to build our practice scripts. We are a small school and had a lot of players going both ways this past year, so we had very limited practice reps. This magnified the importance of scripting plays. I draw up the cards on Playmaker Pro and I do all the scripts for the week on Excel. I pay careful attention to how many times we run a play in practice with the limited reps we have. You often cannot script everything an opponent does, but you must take away what they do best and focus your practice reps on that. I also change the formation every play so our players can get good at adjusting and getting lined up quickly.
I was relieved to read that Bob Ladouceur at De La Salle often had a generic gameplan early in the week and then narrowed it down later in the week. I would like to get everything done before Monday’s practice, but that just isn’t always feasible. I spend most of Sunday getting the scouting report ready and getting the scout cards and script done. I don’t really get to study the data and watch the film enough times to get inside my opponent’s head until later in the week. It is then that I feel like I have a firm grasp on what I want to do and then can create quizzes and tip sheets for my players as well as a game call sheet with specific calls vs. each personnel group for Friday night. Having experience as an Offensive Coordinator is extremely valuable for me in being able to defend offenses and have insight as to what they will do and how they will try to attack us.
We do a lot of install on Monday, a lot of hitting on Tuesday, and we expect Wednesday to be the day where we have everything down. Thursday is a walk-through. We watched our practice film immediately after practice, which was a crucial factor in our success. It is easier to identify and fix a mistake early in the week than between possessions on Friday night.
Do you use analytics as a tool when game planning or self-scouting? Do you see this as something that is coming to the HS level any time soon?
Yes, it is already here at this level, at least, to some extent. I spend a lot of time looking at the Excel data as a Defensive Coordinator. The analytics in football are behind that of baseball and basketball from what I understand, so I would expect this area to be of even more importance in the future.
How do you run your scout team?
Our Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator runs the Offensive Scout team to service the Defense and the other co-DC and myself do the same for the Offense. It is important for the Scout team to do their jobs correctly to give the absolute best look, so having a Coordinator do it is a great idea. I ran the Scout Team as a position coach at a former school and I had our guys watch film so they know what the plays were supposed to look like before they got out on the practice film. If you have a young guy who will take pride in it, he can do the job well, but having the Head Coach and Coordinators do it really shows your players the importance of the Scout Team’s role in your team’s success.
How do you work with in-game adjustments?
It is tough on gameday with a small staff, as I am the only coach in the pressbox. I try to talk with both the Offense and Defense back and forth the best I can, as well as making sure we have eleven on the field for Special Teams plays in between possessions. Ideally, you would like to have at least four coaches up top—two on each side of the ball, to help make adjustments. One coach can watch the guys up front and another the guys in the back. My philosophy on Offense is to concentrate on the back end, as I am more interested in the 40 yard play than the 4 yard play. Other coaches can argue for an entire quarter about whether the guy is in a 2 or a 2i technique, but I’m more concerned with looking for opportunities to score TDs.
Defensively, I want to make sure we are lining up correctly and playing with correct leverage and forcing the ball with the proper angles on the outside. I also watch to see if we are controlling the line of scrimmage, but I need to do a better job of identifying problems in our defensive front more quickly. We do not have a system of being able to watch film of the previous possession with our players on the sideline, but that is something that I would really, really love to have. A Coordinator could be able to stay on the sideline to communicate with his players and still have the advantage of the birds-eye view from up top.
It is harder at a small school to make adjustments with a limited number of players. We had injuries early in the year in the defensive backfield and put in Cover 3 on the fly because we only had three guys left who weren’t hurt. Actually, it was two DBs and whoever else we could find on the sideline without a lineman number to play Free Safety. It worked thankfully, but that’s the kind of stuff you see in small-school ball which makes it agonizing at the time, but is fun to laugh at once the game is over.
Young players today are they different from 10 years ago?
It is often said that kids are worse today than ever, but it’s not the kids who have changed, it’s the parents who have changed. It’s families that have changed, with more single-parent homes and more kids being raised by grandparents than ever before. Former Texas A & M Head Coach Mike Sherman said, “The kids are the same, in my mind. And they’ll do exactly what you ask them if you make them accountable.”
How do you maximize their learning and engage them?
Legendary Grambling Coach Eddie Robinson said, “Coaching is repetition, explanation, illustration, imitation, correction, repetition and that is the way you’ll do it.” Coaching is teaching, and our coaches must be the best and most prepared teachers in the building. The use of a SMART Board and video is important in teaching concepts. Video must be used not only weekly but daily to emphasize great execution and to correct mistakes. One of my biggest strengths as a coach is the ability to use video as a teaching tool to accelerate learning and get players, especially young players, to perform at a high level very quickly.
I have NFL and college cut-ups of the drills and football plays that we use. This is a great way to introduce a skill or concept. Kids learn best when they understand the concepts behind a play: why we run the play, what offense or defense this play attacks, and what are its strengths and weaknesses. We will show a diagram and then use video to introduce the play, as we ask and answer questions. Then on the practice field, our teaching progression is to perform the skills in Walk-Through, then Individual period, Group period, and finally in Team period.
What’s your process for getting players into the playbook?
The use of video is key because the players will see Jerry Rice or Ray Lewis executing plays on film that they can visualize themselves doing. I have a playbook on paper but I primarily use my video playbook for teaching. I will introduce the play, show the schematic diagram, and then capture a screen shot from the film with diagrams drawn on it. I will show the play full speed once, and then show the diagrammed screen shot again, and then finally replay the play one more time at half speed. The SMART Board is great because the players can draw and easily move players around as you quiz them and get them to demonstrate their understanding. Learning must be interactive to be most effective and I try to make it that way as best I can; at least until virtual reality training makes its way to the high school level. Back in the day, I put our entire playbook on Madden when you could edit playbooks, and I gave it to our QB to accelerate his learning of our Offense.
What’s your morning routine?
A great morning for me is to get up early and read my Bible for an hour before I get ready for work. My kids like to get up early and I like to make them breakfast and spend some time with them before I head to school.
The last thing on your mind before you sleep?
Not sure. I’m usually so wore out that as soon as I close my eyes, I am out.
What’s your go to play on 3rd and short?
Power. I visited Alabama this past year and Lane Kiffin had this quote form Bruce Lee in his meeting room: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once…but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” It all comes down to execution.
If you could only one play for an entire game- what would it be?
Defensively, I would like to be good enough in the secondary to bring six rushers every single play bringing two guys off the edge. Offensively, it would be whatever form of Power or Counter we were best at with a Run-Pass Option attached to it.
If you could run an NFL or Division 1 program, which program, and what would you do first?
I love my alma mater, which is the University of Florida and the city of Gainesville will always have a special place in my heart, but I would have to restore the glory of the Miami Dolphins franchise which has encountered some lean times the past two decades. When I was in high school, the Dolphins had the winningest record of any team in any sport—better than the Lakers or Yankees or anybody. That was due to having the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, Don Shula, in charge for 26 years. The first thing I would do is to spend stupid Dan Snyder money and hire the absolute very best coaches for every position I could.
What are your coaching influences?
Alex Kirby tweeted recently that if you don’t have a mentor, then you better read great books and be exposed to great ideas by great men. I have been helped immensely as a coach by learning from John Wooden on what success truly is; from Bill Walsh on organization, preparing players mentally, and persevering when treated unfairly; from Pete Carroll on competition and how practice is everything; from Tony Dungy on turning a program around and servant leadership; from Bob Ladouceur in running a high school program the right way and in holding players accountable; from Tim Tebow’s former Head Coach, Craig Howard, for sharing his football program manual with me so I could learn the important details of a successful program; and from being able to sit in on an amazing position meeting with Chuck Heater, who is undisputedly the best coach I have ever got to watch in person. He is an amazing teacher who believes so strongly and positively in his players that they have no choice but to be great.
Also, my buddies “OJW,” “Vass,” and “Duece” who let me clinic with them every year and learn from their great knowledge and experience. I would also be remiss to forget to mention the influence from CoachHuey.com, from where I got to meet great coaches such as Matthew Brophy, Jerry Gordon, and Chris Brown, who challenged me to think outside the box and from whom I learned so much from. Finally, I owe much to the access to NFL and college game film. Offensively, I have enjoyed the writings of Andrew Coverdale and have been able to pick his brain some over the years. Finally, if you want to learn the game, make and study install films of an Offense you like and then turn around and look at the techniques and schemes that were successful in defending that Offense. That helped me to grow so much as a young coach.
Who inspires you as a leader/coach?
Jesus Christ inspires me with His sacrificial love for me to glorify Him by doing my very best. My wife inspires me to keep football in perspective, my children inspire me to lead them and teach them and love them with all my heart and to try to be the person I want them to be, and finally my players inspire me to do everything in my power to help them to be successful not just on the field, but to be successful in life.
How do you envision football will change over the next 5-10 years? Any difference in HS/college/NFL?
I believe future success will be less X’s and O’s and more how you develop, teach, practice, and lead your Jimmies and Joes. It might have been Matthew Brophy or Chris Brown who said this, but it seems as if football is getting to the point where everybody has access to NFL and college film, everybody has nearly the same playbook, and everybody runs nearly the same plays. The X’s and O’s advantage of teams and coaches is being greatly minimized, but the importance of how you teach your players and how you practice and gameplan will be magnified. I am not a 100% Air Raid guy, but I really love and respect the relentless pursuit of excellence at fundamental skills that they drill repeatedly in practice every single day. It doesn’t really matter what scheme you run, if you are great at fundamentals, you will be successful.
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