As a coach that took 8 years to become a varsity defensive coordinator, I feel I have some expertise on the journey to get there. However, once there, I felt like a rookie coach all over again. It gave me a flashback to my days of picking up team meals and finding the other rookie coach that’s wandering around waiting for film trade at a Denny’s parking lot on a Saturday morning at 7am (I started pre-Hudl, dudes). So I’m going to offer 5 tips on how to be a new Defensive Coordinator.
Tip 1: Go light on scheme, heavy on fundamentals.
I know how it is guys, you want to jump right in and call the same stuff that Rex Ryan schemes up on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve been there. Heck, I’ve even done that- and by done that I mean screwed up and tried to run some over-complicated stuff that not even I fully understood (see:everything I did week 1 in 2012). But the real testament to being a good defensive coordinator is that every single kid that’s on that field understands your base defense inside and out. Don’t worry about having 5 fronts, 2 twists, and 3 coverages. Instead, worry about every Timmy and Jimmy getting into the flats on a pass. Worry Dave and Tom can check out of your quarters coverage when they see trips and have to switch to quarter-quarter-half (we need an easier phrase for this football coaches!).
Tip 2: Make sure you create a defense that you can check out of.
There’s nothing more important than understanding whatever defense you call may not even be run. It took me a while to come to terms with that. I might call some wacky coverage and blitz but if they come out in an empty set, I need my safety to see this and check everyone out of it ASAP. I’ve written a post about checks in the 4-4 G defense here and the 3-2-2-4 defense here. I am currently running my version of a 4-2-5 quarters defense.
Tip 3: Make adjustments, not wholesale changes.
Your style of defense should be good enough to stop everything your Jimmy’s and Joe’s can handle. Obviously if my Ducks went up against South Lake Carroll they would probably have their highlight tape played with JR Jim Ross’s infamous “HE KILLED HIM” dubbed in for sound. But if it’s Ducks vs Ducks I should be able to have something in that we can check to or call to stop every set we see. We run a 3-2-2-4, but we can stop the wing-t from it if our checks are properly ran and/or I put in and call the right front. We have a sweet little check I borrowed from 2-3 places, including my hero Joe Daniel, That turns our 3-2 into a 5-3 without much thought on the players’ behalf.
Tip 4: Educate your assistants.
You are now the boss of the defense. Build your playbook, create your terminology, figure out what techniques you want taught by your assistants, assign Hudl responsibilities, and send your guys articles from ironmanfootballblog.com or Joe Daniel that you think pertain to your scheme. You are their teacher.
Tip 5: Never forget this is a learning experience.
You’re going to struggle in some capacity your first year calling plays. It just happens. Legendary NFL DC’s get burned all the time, same for college, same for high school. It’s not giving up 42 points that matters, it’s learning where you went wrong in film session, practice planning, game planning, install, etc.