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’re going all in on the Wing-T with Chris Brooks from WingT-Coach.com. Chris has a fascinating background, which includes being VP of Technology for WebMD, and he is now coaching youth football in Portland, Oregon.
Could you provide a brief description of your background?
I’ve been around football coaching for about 12 years, though my day job for the last 20+ years has been working in high tech. My career after undergraduate studies and grad school started as an Air Force officer, and since I left the USAF I’ve worked primarily for software companies. One great thing about working in software is that you can work in many different problem domains. I’ve worked in semiconductor manufacturing, circuit board manufacturing, online banking, solar energy and stormwater management, and healthcare. I’ve got two sons in college, both played football in HS but both went on to play different sports in college (javelin and orienteering). I’ll be married 25 years this coming May.
Where did you grow up, go to school?
I’ve lived all over the US and changed high schools five times. Changing schools in the fall each year made football difficult (I wanted to play, but it was hard having the confidence arriving at a new school each year). So I played mostly individual sports like cross country and golf. I graduated from North Central HS in Indianapolis and went on the study computer science and electrical engineering at Washington University in St Louis.
Current coaching assignment?
This coming season I’ll be coaching 8th grade football with the Lincoln Youth Football association in downtown Portland, Oregon. This is a big change for me as I’ve only coached in Sherwood, OR to date.
How did you end up coaching football?
Like many other under qualified youth coaches, I got a phone call from a board member asking if I could step in to fill an open spot. Other than some flag football coaching I did in high school and college, I had zero experience. The idea was intriguing though and sounded much more interesting than baseball which I had coached for a few years. I felt that the team aspect would be much stronger in football, and that my organizational skills would be more leveraged in football.
Can you give a bit of background on your program?
I’ve been fortunate to grow up as a coach in one of the strongest programs in Oregon. Sherwood is a perennial contender at the high school level, having won two state championships in the past 6 years and probably playing in 3 others. Sherwood moved up to the highest classification two years ago but has done well, reaching the state quarterfinals then semifinals in its first two years.
This excellence carries over into the youth program, and I had amazing training and support from the HS staff and other youth coaches over the years. Sherwood sets the bar for Wing-T football in the state, and I’ve studied under many great minds to learn this offense.
As a team, what are your core tenants/pillars?
We want to develop the values of Integrity, Respect, Pride, Responsibility and Teamwork through learning and playing the game of football.
What’s your main philosophy as a coach?
I want to create an environment of structure, accountability, and focus on the little things that can lead to success. The kids thrive in this sort of environment and learn that fun and pride result from this hard work. This hopefully keeps them coming back next season.
I’ve been the defensive coordinator for the past 8+ years and have learned so much from my mentors at Sherwood HS. I coach aggressive, adaptive defensive play and love finding hard-nosed athletes that will fly to the ball. We’ve focused on the Hawk tackling approach the past few years and I think the improved low contact instruction techniques have helped build more confidence in hitting for those middle to lower caliber kids.
My based defensive scheme is a 4-2-5 with cover 3 and man free coverage. This season I want to dramatically improve pass coverage and DB play and am in the middle of deep study of read coverage, press man, and pattern reading concepts. Can 8th graders handle this? I think so.
Wing-T all the way! I’m a believer and love teaching and running this offense. I coach the offensive line but also work closely with my co-head coach and offensive coordinator on overall scheme, tempo, and huddle/no huddle.
Special teams philosophy?
In youth football it is hard to find the time to practice most special teams sufficiently to make a big positive difference, so I like to focus on simplicity and minimizing potential negatives. Example: we rarely punt and when we do it is a run / pass / rugby style punt option. I’d rather throw an incomplete pass than kick a 25 yard up to into the hands of their best player.
I used to spend a lot more time on KO returns but find so many teams just onside now that we don’t bother other than using KO return as a conditioning drill. We instead focus on recovery drills.
Where we do spend time is PAT and FG kicking, especially if we have a talented kicker. PAT kicks are worth 2 points in our league so this can be a game changer.
How many is on your coaching staff?
Usually 5 or 6 coaches total, with 3 of us really driving the show.
When does a new season start?
We may run some weekend clinics in April and May, but the non-contact camp part of the season begins on August 8 with our first games on Saturday, September 10.
How do you kick off your planning and preparation?
We’ve already started our preparation for the coming season. We are introducing a new (to us) tempo and huddle/no-huddle system so a lot of coordination and homework is required. This is requiring us to fine tune our playbook and reduce the number of plays we will have in our inventory, which is probably a good thing anyway. We will have some coach meetings in April and May, and I’m even thinking about doing an on-field coach meeting so that we can get our new assistants ready for the tempo and approach we use in practice.
Specifically, how do your coaching staff do your planning?
My co-head coach Brian and I take on the bulk of the work. I do the practice planning and everything related to defensive coordination. Brian scripts everything we will do on offense during practices. Our coach meetings on Sunday are very focused on what worked, what didn’t, what do we need to do for our next opponent, what will we change, and how will we implement it in just 6 hours of practice.
What is your main focus areas during the off-season?
Bigger system-wide changes are always the focus (like the tempo changes I already mentioned), though this year moving to a new youth organization we will have new assistant coaches to bring into our fold.
Could you provide a short summary of the different phases and priorities?
Let’s focus on the system-wide changes. Initially the work is done on paper (usually by me), and I do a lot of research online and with books. I’m a member at X&O Labs and Joe Daniel Football, plus a frequent participant at bucksweep.com (the Wing-T forum site) and I validate ideas there through reading and interaction with other coaches. I really try to scrutinize and critique myself on paper with any new big concept I’m considering.
Next I will rewrite any new plans and walk Brian through it. Brian is a visual, interactive learner and usually if I can explain it to him I can make it work with players as well. He is a great foil to my ideas and will challenge assumptions and demand simplicity.
Then we focus on implementation and installation plan. We try to phase things in with the core concepts first, including the why of what we are doing. 8th graders need to understand why and not just be told what to do (most of the time). The installation plan will usually start with weekly goals, then we will drill down and do daily plans and goals.
How does a normal week play out in the off-season? What are the key “milestones”?
Off season it really just coaches collaborating infrequently. Personally, I might spend 5-8 hours per week offseason in preparation work.
How does a normal week play out in season? What are the key “milestones”?
A normal week will usually have a structure allocated to offense (50%), defense (40%), and special teams (10%). As I said before, I’ve de-emphasized special teams over the past 5 years because the payoff isn’t there. If I was an HS coach I’m sure it would look more like 40/40/20 split.
Do you use analytics as a tool when gameplanning or self-scouting? Do you see this as something that is coming to the HS level any time soon?
I’m a youth coach and I do use analytics. But I’m a data geek and a computer scientist so I suspect I’m an outlier. I know HS teams are using analytics. Even “old school” coaches at the HS level track things like play efficiency to critically look at themselves and how they can improve. In terms of scouting other teams, I wrote about my approach last year and I was heavily influenced by Jeff Floyd.
How do you run your scout team?
I prepare scout cards for a simplified playbook for the opponent, run plays and passing plays separated. I script everything we do, including scripting my defensive calls for each offensive play so I can setup specific conflicts on the field to evaluate and discuss. Depending on how big my team is (usually 20 to 24 kids, but sometimes there are injuries) I may also need to prepare a half-line script (e.g., running plays to the right). Note I will only worry about their best 5-8 run plays, and maybe 4-6 passing plays each week.
How do you work with in-game adjustments?
This is an area I want to work on in the coming season. I’d like to have more if-then statements written into our play callers this year, especially to help Brian who makes the offensive play calls.
How do you work/manage your playbooks today? Paper/digital/don’t use playbooks? Are the playbooks of old still around in 5 years?
I’m pretty handy with manual playbook building tools (I publish playbooks) so I’ve been using tools like Visio, Omnigraffle, PowerPoint, etc. over the years. During the season, especially when creating installs for scout offense, I love simpler tools that allow me to do it quickly and integrated video. I’ve used Hudl’s tools and have started experimenting with XO Wizard.
I read an article about the Houston Texans and how they work on the gameplan. They said it was a collaborative process – how do you run it in your program? Is it also a collaborative process for your team?
Yes. We discuss and collaborate during our Sunday coach meeting, then I usually run with mapping out the specifics for defense on my own and Brian does the same for offense. There might be emails exchanged throughout the week or discussion at practice.
Which tools and process do you use when preparing for an opponent?
Hudl, Google Sheets, and Excel are the primary tools. I use Google Sheets for practice planning and all my defensive scout work. Excel I use for analytics (e.g., a pivot table on opponent breakdown data) but I could probably use Sheets for that too.
What’s your process for post-game follow-up?
Most critical is getting breakdown done of our next opponent. I try to stay on top of this as film comes in so that I don’t spend 6 hours on breakdown on Sunday. The later we are in the season the more film I’ll have, but I usually just focus on their last 3 games. We use Hudl’s live tagging on our own games so getting stats and our own preliminary breakdown is much faster now. I also use the Live tagging now to breakdown opponent film – faster than using the browser editor. Just start their game on screen and have your iPad or smart phone in with the Hudl app and tag the game as your go.
Young players today are they different from 10 years ago?
I was coaching bobble heads 10 years ago so it is hard to relate. I don’t think boys change all that much when you put them all in pads and helmets and strip away their smartphones.
How do you maximize their learning and engage them?
You need to be predictable, self-accountable and build trust. This means treating 8th graders like the young men they are and trusting them with some of the “why”. We make it fun but having every drill serve a purpose. We don’t do conditioning for conditioning sake – we will do a lot of exhausting conditioning work but it will usually be plays on air, our Bandit drill, etc.
What’s your process of getting players into the playbook?
With 8th graders, we can’t expect the same access and utilization of technology. My experience is about 50-70% of the kids will regularly get on Hudl, and while we strongly encourage it we can’t really require it at the youth level. So we still do some playbook printing and distribute to kids and parents in PDF form.
What’s your morning routine?
I work at home and my routine is to get up by 6:15am, each my first breakfast (usually 1-2 hard boiled eggs and some coffee), work out, then eat second breakfast (usually a 2 egg omelette with veggies). I’m catching up on news, football forums, Twitter, etc. This gets me ready to start my work day in earnest by about 7:30am.
The last thing on your mind before you sleep?
Depends on what I’m reading! Usually, it is a football book or military history, and that will influence what I’m thinking about.
Do you have any beliefs about football strategy that is contrarian?
Perhaps my views on special teams are at odds with the mainstream, but I think other youth coaches are coming to similar conclusions. I despise conditioning drills during regular practices that look like a crossfit class or track practice. Pushups, up-downs, and running lines won’t win football games. If I can get similar conditioning by running football plays or high intensity tackling circuits, I think my kids will be better prepared for the game.
What’s your go to play on 3rd and short?
The Wing-T Down play!
If you could only one play for an entire game- what would it be?
Probably Buck Sweep, but I’d probably cheat and make it a run-pass option with the QB reading the weak side OLB and CB and possibly running waggle or a quick slant!
If you could run an NFL or Division 1 program, which program, and what would you do first?
I can’t even fathom the time commitment required to coach at that level so haven’t given that thought.
What are your coaching influences?
I was born in Dallas and a Cowboy fan, so Tom Landry was my biggest early influence. High character and brilliant football mind that valued defense as much as offense. The early Wing-T luminaries like Tubby Raymond, newer ones like Denny Creehan. Defensively I’ve been gobbling up Rex Ryan’s philosophies and love his approach.
Who inspires you as a leader/coach?
I’m greatly influenced by military leaders, present and past. Men like Dwight Eisenhower (who was a great football player, by the way) who brought out the best in people and lead great initiatives while remaining humble and viewing leadership as a service to others.
How do you envision football will change over the next 5-10 years? Any difference in HS/college/NFL?
We will continue to see an evolution towards making the game safer. In youth football, this might mean doing away with plays that have kids running a long ways before hitting, like kickoffs. Technology and wearables will help in this area as coaches and trainers will have more data at their disposal to make quick judgments on risk to players.
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