How We Coach: Brandon Houston, Rockdale High School (TX)

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

If you’re a football coach you have most likely visited today’s featured coach more than once. Brandon Houston founded the popular football forum in June of 2005 as a way to grow as a football coach.  He wanted a place where coaches could share ideas, ask questions, correspond,  in an effort to promote both the game of football and better the quality of coaching.

Could you provide a brief description of your background?
I’ve been a high school football coach in the state of Texas for 20 years.  I started my career in the mid-90’s in Odessa, TX – home of the “Friday Night Lights”.  I’ve also spent time coaching on the Texas coast, the north Texas metroplex, and central Texas.  I started in June of 2005 as a way to grow as a football coach.  I wanted a place where coaches could share ideas, ask questions, correspond, etc. in an effort to promote both the game of football and better the quality of coaching.  My wife of 19 years is also an educator and both her parents and mine work in the education arena.  

Where did you grow up, go to school?
I grew up in a small town in central Texas – basically halfway between Dallas and San Antonio.  I went to college at Tarleton State University.

Current coaching assignment?
I just accepted the position of Offensive Coordinator/QB coach at Rockdale High School.  I spent this past season as the Receiver Coach at Belton High School but prior to this I was the Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach at Lorena High School for quite some time.

How did you end up coaching football?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be involved in the game of football.  Like many kids growing up in Texas I dreamed of being a professional football player.  However, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my athletic ceiling was pretty low so that dream faded.  I was fascinated with the mental aspect of football, the schemes, the moving pieces, etc.  As a high school player I really wanted to know the “why” behind everything we did.  I truly became a student of the game while I actually was a student playing the game.  Going to college for a career as a teacher/coach was a foregone conclusion – I never really thought about doing anything else.

Can you give a bit of background on your program?
Since the program I’m going to, Rockdale, is relatively new to me I’m not fully able to get into the culture of the program, the inner workings, etc. with much depth.  What I know of the school is based on my experience growing up in central Texas and while at Lorena we played Rockdale a couple of times in the playoffs.  The school has been relatively successful in the past 30 years, winning probably about 60% of their games and, if I remember correctly, won a state championship in the late ‘70s.  

As a team, what are your core tenants/pillars?
I am big on sayings/slogans that people can grab onto and use as motivation/focus as they go through their daily routines.  But, not only do I use them, I believe in them and try to convey their deeper meanings to our players and try to continually tie them together.

You vs You / You vs Yesterday – focus not on beating an opponent but, rather, focus on simply being the best person you can be.  Can you be better than you were yesterday?

Details Matter / Little Things – it’s easy to see that a team wins on Friday night, but it wasn’t because they were just bigger, stronger, faster, etc. or that they pulled out some grand scheme to win.  Success is determined by subtle, unseen actions that must be mastered every day.

Trust the Process – I firmly believe that winners love the journey more than the actual destination.  It’s the “getting there” that makes the “arrival” better.  Again, the process involves You vs You and Little Things.

Do What We Do / Focus On Us – another version of You vs You.  Basically, we can’t control what the other guy is doing, the weather, the officials, etc.  You have to play the hand you’re dealt, so stay focused on the process, the details… we control our effort, our attitudes, etc.  

Win The Day – in the late 90’s we used to say, “Start fast, stay focused, get a win today” as our daily “breakout” saying.  Over the next few years it got shortened to, “Start Fast! Focus! Win!”  With the arrival of Oregon as a power we just rolled our slogan into theirs… “Fast. Focus. Finish. Win The Day”


What’s your main philosophy as a coach?
I think teams that have great teammates will be the most successful programs.  Culture truly does beat scheme in the long run.  We spend so much time throughout the year trying to find teachable moments where we can point out the power of being a teammate, culture, team before self, etc. (see above slogans) as a way to instill pride of being part of the program.  Ownership creates buy leads to greater effort, commitment, and energy, which breeds success.  And, success breeds success.  We all know teams that make us say, “Man, if I had their athletes…” that aren’t meeting the expectations that we have for a program with “those athletes.”   If it was only about being athletic then let’s just roll the ball out on game days and see what happens.  However, I believe character counts. Little things DO matter.  So, my philosophy is to focus on these intangibles while training their athleticism.

This isn’t to say that all you have to do is motivate a kid and he’ll instantly be a state champion.  However, without character that kid can’t reach his potential.  You win with character but you’ll lose with characters.

Defensive philosophy?
I prefer a 3-4 defense that bases its coverage on a 2-deep zone, pattern-match concepts.  I feel like you can be more versatile with the 3-4, which isn’t to say a 40 can’t be multiple, but in high school so many kids are the same, they have the same build, etc.  I think you can get more of these “cookie-cutter” kids on the field in a 3-4.  Depending on the build/ability of, say, the outside backer kid you can mold the philosophy into what fits the kids that year.

I like 2-deep but don’t believe in “covering grass.”  Pattern-match is, in my opinion, a great way to play “man” without having to put cover guys in 1-on-1 situations at the snap.  It also lends itself to mixing up the coverage –  2-man, 0-man, roll to cloud 3, quarters, etc. – with little adjustments.

Above all, it will always be about: Alignment – Assignment – Execution … and in that order.  Again, details matter.

Philosophically, we use the adages “bleed slow” and “make ‘em snap it again.”  We strive to eliminate the big play with the old mindset of “bend but don’t break.”  This isn’t to say that we don’t blitz, bring pressure, etc. but we try to be smart with when we do it.  We prefer to attack protections, run fits, etc. rather than just “bringing the house.”

When you go back and watch film of your offense – any offense really – you begin to see that the defense didn’t necessarily “get a stop” every time the offense didn’t score.  A false start on 2nd and 7 pushed the offense back to 2nd and 12 then the receiver dropped the ball on the next play.  3rd and 12 is a roll of the dice but the QB missed the wide open receiver on the post.  So, the offense punts but nothing the defense really didn’t get a stop…the offense shot itself in the foot.  This is why we prefer to “bleed slow” so that we can force the offense to snap it again because we feel that, sooner or later, they will fire that bullet into their own foot.


Offensive philosophy?
I like to think I’m an “option” coach with all the zone read and RPO stuff we do.  Much of our thought process in putting players into certain positions, game planning, etc. is based on option football principles when you get right down to it.  We want to run the ball and use play-action to put defenders in conflict.  The playbook is rather small as the emphasis is on out-executing rather than out-scheming.

I am always stressing to our QBs, “be needy not greedy.”  Be content to take 4 yards over and over.  Goes back to “Little Things” and “Do What We Do.”  There is no need to make the “sexy” play because winning is the “ultimate sexy.”  If you want to make a highlight reel then, by all means, go flashy.  However, if you want to make a run at a championship, take the pedestrian path.

Game planning is about getting your personnel correct and about matchups.  Our offense only has so many bullets so we want to make sure we’re firing the right ones at the best targets.  We spend a lot of time determining who we need to attack, who we need to stay away from.  Formations are the initial way we get there then we look at what type of read game, RPO, and/or play-action we’ll use from this alignment.  To me, it’s about putting a guy in conflict.  You can’t have fast feet with a slow mind, therefore we try, as best we can, to make defenders think on their feet.  Put the “chaser” LB in conflict by having the run action away with read or RPO coming in behind him.  Run the play-action post with run action & post to the fast-fill safety.  Simple stuff, I know, but the game really isn’t that hard.  Who makes it hard?  We do – us coaches.

Special teams philosophy?
We spend the bulk of our time focusing on punt protection/coverage and kickoff coverage.  While all aspects of the kicking game are important we really feel that these two have the biggest impact for us in flipping the field and setting up our defense.

We focus on these two so much because on both of these we are giving the ball to our opponent and they both have the potential to involve large chunks of yardage in this change of possession.  Anytime we are kicking the ball to our opponent we want to flip the field at least 35 yards.  We want a net punt and a net kickoff to be 35 yards.  The idea is to make the opponent take more snaps to get points by having to drive further down the field – it fits with our defensive philosophy.

To be sound throughout the kicking game we start with protection.  We don’t want to lose yardage when we are kicking by having it blocked.  Therefore, protection is foremost.  From there, we must be consistent in our coverage assignments, landmarks, etc. so that we can limit the return.

We will carry several different fakes and specials from our punt formation based on how the opponent is attacking our protection or assigning their personnel in the blocking assignments.  We always want to get a fake on film at least every 3 weeks.  Most opponents will scout our last 3 games and we want them to know we aren’t afraid to fake it.

How many is on your coaching staff?
This varies from school to school based on the size of the program.  I’ve been on staffs with as many as 17 assistants and as small as 7.  Next fall, our staff will include 8 assistant coaches – 4 offense & 4 defense.  Along with our Head Coach, we will all coach the varsity, junior varsity, and freshmen teams.  We have 4 coaches that coach our two junior high teams.

When does a new season start?
I’ve been fortunate to play through Thanksgiving most years.  This means that we only have a few weeks left before school lets out for the Christmas break.  The first week after we’re eliminated from the playoffs is spent collecting equipment, cleaning up the locker room, exit interviews, goal-setting, etc.  Basically, we are taking a week off from anything related to physical activity.

The second week, we will usually divide the returning players up into teams of about 8 or 9 and play a variation Ultimate Frisbee with a football.  We’ll set up some type of tournament during the athletic period where kids can just have some fun, blow off steam, and recharge their batteries.  We’ll do this most of the week.

The final week we will do some light lifting one day, run a little the next, and try to get a baseline test of where our kids are so that we will have something to work off of when we get back from the holidays.

Our philosophy is to take some time off and let the kids be kids.  It’s a long way to August and we need everyone to have fresh minds, fresh bodies, etc.  There’s plenty of time to “grind it out” (I hate that saying, by the way) once the new year rolls around.  Coaches have spent a great amount of time and energy on the past season.  Players have committed as well.  We all need a little time to decompress, get our minds off football (OMG! A coach just said that?), and relax.  We feel like this break will allow us to better refocus and recommit in January when it’s time to go to work.

How do you kick off your planning and preparation?
The first week or two we are back in school our staff will have discussions about our program.  Where are we currently?  What is our personnel like?  What were some issues for us last fall?  What strengths do we have?  We are trying to brainstorm what things we need research, what we need to focus on, etc.


Specifically, how do your coaching staff do your planning?
January and February are “research” months.  Each of us might be responsible for gathering information on a specific topic or several topics that we are looking to explore as a staff. I’ll go to clinics.  I’m the Director of the 3 Glazier Clinics here in Texas so that allows me to visit with coaches from all over the country about how they practice, how they game plan, schemes, etc… basically all things related to a football program.

Other coaches will do similar research.  We’ll reach out to friends in the coaching business to discuss with them.  We’ll contact schools and coaches through email, phone calls, message boards, social media – any means we can – to pick their brains. As we gather and discover tidbits of information we’ll share with each other in informal discussions and meetings.

March is about trying to find ways to implement things we’ve learned and plan on keeping into our system.  We’ll have staff meetings twice a week to examine what we can feasibly use, how we’ll integrate it, etc.  We’ll begin mapping out a plan for spring ball.

April is about personnel as well as a continuation of our discussions on what we’ll make our focus during spring ball.  Who needs to change positions?  What formations, motions, schemes are we adding or tweaking?  Terminology adjustments?  We will have our “playbook” set at the end of April.

May is about introducing any new or adjusted schemes, training any players to new positions, and focusing on the core concepts of our schemes.

What is your main focus areas during the off-season?
January & February are where we focus on getting stronger.  Our main areas we focus on are the core, the legs, and the shoulders.  Running work is limited to either a partial speed workout or some type of base, cardio conditioning.  We’re in the weight room the entire athletic period, typically, 4 days a week.

March & April are more about speed and agility.  We’ll devote entire athletic periods to being outside on the field.  We’ll lift 3 days a week – sometimes the entire period, other times split between inside & outside – and be outside 2 days.

May is more about football skills with strength & conditioning sessions limited to 2 or 3 days a week and rarely the whole period.


How does a normal week play out off-season? What are the key “milestones”?


Mon – weight room. Lower body weights; Core/balance station

Tue – weight room.  Upper body weights; core/flexibility

Wed – outside. Combination of 2 of these. Cardio type conditioning. Plyometrics. Hurdle/Hip flexion

Thu – same as Mon but different exercises

Fri – same as Tue but different exercises


Mon – weight room.  Total body lift

Tue – Outside. Speed work

Wed – weight room.  Total body lift, different exercises than Mon

Thu – outside. Agility stations

Fri – weight room. Either today body lift (will do a circuit lift every 2 weeks)

How does a normal week play out? What are the key “milestones”?
Monday – zone & power runs (inside runs) and play-action are the focus.  This is our “on schedule” day in team, i.e. 1st & 10, 2nd & 6, etc.
Tuesday – draws & perimeter runs plus screens and dropback.  This is our “off schedule” and long yardage day.
Wednesday – counters & misdirection plus sprintout.  We also work goalline on this day.
Thursday – scenarios and “playing the game” type of situational stuff

How do you run your scout team?
We have two types of team vs scout setting: scripted and unscripted.  Regardless, we always put the defensive terms into the terms our defense uses.  This helps players understand the scheme being run much better and further develops our future players.

On scripted team settings, each offensive play is scripted vs a specific defense.  Monday it is the most common defense we are expecting.  On Tuesday, it is the worst case scenario defense where we put the offense at a disadvantage.  On Wednesday, we go back to most common and mix in some best case scenario so our kids start to feel pretty good.

In all team settings each of our coaches are on the sideline.  The only coaches on the field are those involved in setting the ball and setting the scout defense.  We spend Friday night coaching on the sideline so we can’t spend all week standing behind our team – this is our way of getting used to that view and being able to adjust accordingly.  Since the plays are scripted, I am responsible for spotting the ball while our HC calls out the defense the scout team will be using.  Our receivers coach and OL coach will be signaling to the offense.

In unscripted periods, I’ll be on the side calling and signaling the plays with our OL coach while the receiver coach does the spotting of the ball.  Our HC will call whatever defense he wants, usually trying to make me think on my feet.  Sometimes, we’ll have one of the defensive coaches come over and call the scout team.  We have unscripted periods so that playcallers can get used to seeing a defense, getting a feel for it, and making quick calls based on what is happening.

How do you work with in-game adjustments?
Each coach has something specific to look at.  During a series, I’ll ask specific questions and the coach responsible for that area will give a quick answer.  We don’t do any “run this play” during the time we have the ball.  It’s about answering questions.

When we are on defense, that is when discussions takes place about setting up our next series of plays, the typical “run this” or “try this” type stuff. We have a coach that charts the play calls & the gain.  He highlights any play that gains 5 yards.  His job is to remind me to “call it again”…

What’s your morning routine?
I wake up just at 4:45, leave by 5:15, and head to the field house to get a 30-45 minute workout in before the kids arrive.  Staying active helps me try to maintain an energy level and overall healthy feeling that keeps me going.  I feel much better when I keep a regular workout schedule.

The last thing on your mind before you sleep?
I go to bed pretty early – before 10 pm and occasionally before 9:30 – so there’s no telling what’s on my mind.  I try to leave the office at the office.  I guess I’m thinking about what the next day might bring but usually I’m pretty tired so I’m just thinking about getting a good night’s sleep.

Do you have any beliefs about football strategy that is contrarian?
I wouldn’t say I do.  The longer I’ve done this the smaller the playbook has gotten.  I have quit trying to run every cool player under the sun and focus on a core of 5 runs, 5 passes and make them work with some flexibility.  I’m definitely not afraid to say, “run it again” as most players and coaches that I’ve been around will tell you.  

What’s your go to play on 3rd and short?
Probably some type of Power out of a Wildcat formation or a Zone Read play

If you could only one play for an entire game- what would it be?
Zone weak with an RPO tagged to it and it might be Trips, Zone weak, with a Stick route on the trips side.

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What are your coaching influences?
I’ve been directly influenced by several coaches I’ve worked with.  They have shaped many of the ways I practice, game plan, handle players, etc. As far as coaches in the business that everyone knows… I like the way Chip Kelly isn’t afraid to think outside the box, the way he takes one simple thing and expands on it, and the way he looks at practice and training.  I like the methodology that Nick Saban uses in establishing a culture, a way of doing things throughout a program, and how he is constantly focusing on what they do rather than on the big picture of just winning a championship.  Art Briles has been a big influence when it comes to schemes, obviously, with him being a Texas guy.

How do you envision football will change over the next 5-10 years? Any difference in HS/college/NFL?
Honestly, I don’t give it much thought.  That’s something I can’t control and if big change happens I won’t be able to change it back.  So, rather than worry about what it might be, I just keep trying to do the best I can with what I know.  No job like the present, I guess.  I’m not opposed to change, though, as I know it is an inevitable part of life and this game will likely change.  Some things, I’m sure will be better and, of course, there will be things I wish were different.  However, how is that much different from right now, really?  So, it will always be about “do what we do”, “focus on us”.

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Michael Hoglund

One comment

  • Outstanding stuff from the coach who brought the entire Internet together for football coaches all over the world.

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