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Inside the Grad Assistant career forum at the AFCA Convention

The big names may draw headlines at the AFCA convention (look, it's David Shaw! hey, it's Mark Richt!) but it's the lower-rung guys that this event is built for. With that in mind, I stole a seat at Monday morning's Graduate Assistant Career Forum to see how graduate assistants advance from their current position to, as the panel put it, running their own room.

On the panel were Chris Thomsen, most recently seen as the interim head coach in Texas Tech's bowl win over Minnesota, ULM head coach Todd Berry, Missouri S&T head coach David Brown II and Buffalo cornerbacks coach Maurice Linguist. 

The session crammed more than 60 years of collective experience on all things big and small and crammed them into two hours. It would be futile to relay the entire two hours so, with that in mind, here are the highlights:

On the importance of working camps and networking throughout the summer...

Linguist: "When you get two or three weeks off in the summer are you going to just go home and hang out, or are you going to go visit a coach?"

Brown: "(Other coaches) are going to see you work, and that's how you get hired. You learn how to coach. If you screw up with 12-year-olds, nobody's going to know. You can get your coaching voice, see yourself in the mirror as a coach without your head coach or coordinator being critical."

Berry: "You can get exposed to different people and different systems early on and see what you really believe in."

On the application process...

Berry: "I don't want to have to tell a guy to send his resume to human resources. If you've done that ahead of time, it shows you're proactive."

Brown: "Be strategic. If I'm set in a man scheme, I'm probably not going to get on at a place anchored in a cover-two."

On the interview process...

Berry: "Find that one guy that can champion you. As a head coach I don't have time for 15 calls, that drives me crazy. But I do have time for one call."

Brown: "Be over-prepared. Some schools are going to ask you a bunch of questions, some are going to give you the mic."

Linguist: "If you don't know how to answer a question, say so. Don't answer a question you don't know how to answer. Don't embarrass yourself. Don't open that can of worms."

Berry: "If you don't know an answer to a question, the best thing to say is 'My special teams coach handled it this way, and this is how I felt about that.' It shows you've been thinking about things."

On when a graduate assistant is ready to become a position coach...

Thomsen: "You're not going to hire someone that you know can't control a room."

Berry: "If I walked out of a room in a recruit's home, is he going to finish the job? If I left a meeting, is he going to handle himself well with other coaches? I can't be in his meeting room, so is he going to have his guys ready to play?"

Linguist: "It's like getting married. You know when you know."

On whether it's better to be a Division I GA or a Division II full-time assistant...

Brown: "Don't think about levels. Be a full-time head coach, have benefits. There's a big difference in Division I. There's Idaho, and then there's Alabama. If you have a level as your goal, what are you going to do when you get to that level?"

Berry: "If your ultimate goal is to be a I-A guy, you've got to have that on your resume."

On putting in long hours as a GA...

Linguist: "Hide your watch. You've got to know your role - that I'm here to help."

On when and when not to look for jobs....

Berry: "If I see a guy take a job, and then leave to take another job two weeks later, I cross that guy off my list as a no-call guy. I know then I can't trust him. I will give any coach all the help he needs from the end of the season to March 1. If a guy interviews after March 1, he'd better get the job because he's not about to have one with me."

On managing down time in the office...

Linguist: "If a guy walks into your office, are you on FootballScoop every other minute or are you doing your job?"

Brown: "You've got to work on your circles. It sounds like a little thing, but it's huge. Not everything is done on paper or the computer. Sometimes you have to go draw something up on the white board."

On managing career and family....

Berry: "It's managing your career versus managing happiness. What does my family need at this point in time? It's difficult. There's a special place in heaven for all coaches wives, because it can be hell on Earth."

Brown: "If I'm offering $30,000 to a guy with four kids I'm like, 'Come on man, why?' If your your wife has a job that can support you not making much money for a while, that's great. For me, I wanted to coach ball, so I got married at 35. I'm 40 now with three kids, so we started pretty quick."

Closing thoughts...

Brown: "If you're a d-line guy, stay in the room for 7-on-7 film. If you're a DB guy, know your run fits."

Linguist: "Two or three quality relationships are better than 20 or 30 acquaintances."

Thomsen: "The investment you make in people is the most important thing."

Berry: "Don't think we don't take notes. Somebody's always looking."

 

Sonny Dykes' keys to being a successful head coach

I arrived at Presidential ballroom B at the Gaylord Opryland on Sunday night expecting to hear Tony Franklin talk about quarterback play. He didn't make it. Instead, I arrived to see Sonny Dykes speak on the three things he has learned that are important to becoming a successful head coach.

Such is life at the AFCA convention.

Instead of three things, Dykes ended up listing nearly 20.

Such is life at the AFCA convention.

Here are a few nuggets I found intriguing.

Morale is critical. Dykes told the story of this year's Louisiana Tech team, which started 9-1 and finished 9-3. Louisiana Tech had gotten to 9-1 behind one of the nation's top-ranked offenses and lowest-ranked defenses. Through 10 games, Dykes knew his team had issues forming between the offense and defense, and that his defense was losing confidence in itself. Despite knowing that, Dykes mistakenly did not want to rock the boat of a 9-1 team, and the Bulldogs dropped their final two games. Next time, he won't be afraid to changes things when change is necessary. 

Short practices. Dykes' teams are never on the field for more than two hours, and by the end of the season sometimes practice as short as 40 minutes.

Execution is much more important than scheme. Dykes relayed an anecdote from when he served as a GA under Hal Mumme at Kentucky. The Wildcats had spent all August practicing two scripts, one 11 plays long and the other eight-plays long, with some situational plays (third-down, goal line, etc.) thrown in. For Kentucky's season opener against Louisville, Mumme brought just the eight play script, two third down plays and some goal line plays, bringing the total to 14. Running nothing but those 14 plays, Kentucky scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions.

Don't let it become all business. Dykes said that his teams try to have fun whenever possible, and that he has his staff do something to lighten the mood every day. 

Coach turnovers. Dykes' coaches emphasize turnovers in every period of every practice throughout the season. During Louisiana Tech's 9-1 start, they committed only eight turnovers, and quarterback Colby Cameron set an NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception. In their two season-ending losses, the Bulldogs committed six turnovers.

 

Brick Haley teaches LSU's defensive line philosophy

Things fully got underway Sunday at the AFCA Convention, and I had the pleasure of sneaking in to hear Brick Haley disperse LSU's vision of defensive line play on Sunday evening. I was far from alone, as the Gaylord's Presidential A ballroom (capacity: 670) held close to 750 minds eager to borrow a bit of LSU's defensive line success for their programs.

Anyone who follows college football knows NFL rosters are stacked with former LSU players, but it really hits home when Haley acknowledges before his presentation that every player shown on LSU's game tape is either in the NFL or on his way there. That is a lot of talent.

One of Haley's key points of emphasis was to show players that what their coaches ask of them works on film. "It' important that kids see what you're doing, and that they can have success with it," said Haley.

Haley went through a number of drills LSU employs (heel line pursuit, six-point explosion) regularly in practice and provided answers throughout a lively question-and-answer session. One thing Haley, like all other coaches, stresses continuously is effort.

"I'm not going to spend an hour and a half every practice yelling at people to run after the ball," said Haley. "If you don't pursue the ball, you're not going to play. If you want to watch, sit in the stands."

Haley said that LSU stresses that each masters three pass rush moves instead of leaning eight or nine. "We don't ask a 300-pound player to learn a spin move. That's why they call us coaches."

With a handful of LSU's defensive lineman departing for the NFL knows he has a lot of teaching ahead of him. "I guess we'll find out how good of a coach I am."

Update at Nevada

UPDATE: Texas A&M special teams coordinator Brian Polian has been offered and is expected to accept the head coaching job at Nevada per Bruce Feldman.

Nevada is currently the only open FBS head job out there and there are a lot of people interested in (and openly campaigning for) the job. 

Chris Ault is not leading the search technically; but he is serving as a significant advisor to the President. The University is using Todd Turner's search firm College Sports Associates to aid in the search and Chris Murray reported that Turner and the committee interviewed a number of candidates in Dallas late this week including Brian Polian, Chris Klenakis and Tom Mason. 

It has been widely speculated within the coaching community that Jim Mastro would be the clear choice to succeed Ault and we had confirmed from sources at Nevada that the interest was very real from the University. Mastro, however is in a unique situation working for a great friend of his in Mike Leach. 

We reached out to Mastro today and he said, "I'm very grateful to the University of Nevada for their interest in me becoming their next head coach. However, I made a commitment to my good friend Mike Leach and I intend to honor that commitment. I love working for Washington State University. I have provided my input to members of the community and trust they will make a wise selection." 

We'll keep you posted on The Scoop as this one plays out. The University hopes to have their new head coach in place by Friday the 11th. 

The Scoop on Stats - National Championship Edition

Monday night's tilt between Notre Dame and Alabama will be the 15th title game in the BCS era. In studying trends from the previous 14 games, what are some trends we may glean to predict how this year's national championship will unfold?

Here's a look at a few stats and trends and how they correlate to winning college football's ultimate game.

Scoring first: The team that scores first is 7-7 in previous national title games. So if your team allows an opening drive score, don't freak out, as this has proven to have no bearing on who would score the most points when the clock hits all zeroes. 
WHO THIS FAVORS: No one. A stat that's been split evenly in the past is even heading into this game. Notre Dame scored first 11 times in 12 games, and Alabama is 10-for-13.

Leading at halftime: 13-0-1. Unlike the above statistic, if your team is trailing at the break, it is officially time to panic. Every eventual champion has taken a dream into the break, with the 2009 game between Florida and Oklahoma tied 7-7 at the break. 
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama. Notre Dame as led at eight of its 12 halftimes, but the Crimson Tide have led at every halftime except for the loss to Texas A&M.

Leading after three quarters: 11-3. 2000 Florida State, 2002 Ohio State and 2005 Texas have proven a bad third quarter isn't a death sentence, as each team lost its halftime lead but rebounded with a strong fourth quarter (and overtime, in Ohio State's case). 
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama, slightly. Notre Dame has led after nine third quarters, to Alabama's 11. Alabama followed Florida State, Ohio State and Texas' blueprint against Georgia, as the Crimson Tide led 10-7 at halftime, trailed 21-18 after three and won the game, 32-28.

Non-offensive touchdowns: There have been seven non-offensive touchdowns in BCS title game history, five of them scored by the team that went on to win the game. A Nebraska punt return and Ted Ginn, Jr.'s opening kickoff return are the only non-offensive touchdowns scored by a losing team. 
WHO THIS FAVORS: No one. More often than not, only the offenses find the end zone in this game and that trend will likely continue on Monday. In 25 combined games, these teams have scored only four touchdowns with its respective offense on the sidelines. Notre Dame has both registered and allowed one non-offensive touchdown, while only C.J. Moseley's 16-yard interception return against Michigan tips the scales slightly in Alabama's favor, 3-2. With that in mind, in the unlikely event one team is able to break through in this facet, it could very well mean the difference in the game. 

Winning the rushing battle: 12-2. A football truism has carried over to the BCS title game, with the exceptions coming in Michael Vick's scintillating 2000 Sugar Bowl and Nebraska's option in the 2002 Rose Bowl.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama, slightly. The Tide run for 40 yards per game more than Notre Dame, and allow 15 yards fewer.

Forcing more turnovers: 9-2-3. The eventual winner has either forced an equal or greater amount of turnovers every year since 2005.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama, slightly. Both teams succeed in this metric; Notre Dame has forced 23 turnovers and lost 14, while Alabama has forced 28 and lost 15.

Total yards: 8-6. Like scoring first, accumulating the most gross yardage hasn't historically translated to wins, although four of the SEC's six straight champions have posted more total yardage.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama. Notre Dame throws for an average of four more yards than Alabama, but on the whole, the Crimson Tide gain 18 more yards per game than the Fighting Irish. Alabama leads the nation in total defense, while Notre Dame is 40 yards behind at No. 6. 

Sacks: 9-3-2. In the SEC's current run, 2010 Texas is the only team to create more sacks without going on to win the game.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rank 15th nationally with 34 sacks in 12 games and place 28th with 16 sacks allowed. Alabama has created 33 sacks in 13 games, but rank 51st with 23 sacks allowed.

First Downs: 8-4-2. The ability to stay on the field and keep your opponent on the sideline hasn't historically been a reliable metric, but five of the last six SEC champions have won the first downs battle, with Oklahoma's 25-24 edge over Florida the lone exception.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Push. Neither team is particularly great at producing their own first downs, but they're elite at preventing them. Notre Dame averages 22.1 first downs per game, and ranks sixth with 16.1 allowed per game. Alabama ranks 57th nationally at 21.2 per game but leads the country with just 13.5 first downs allowed per game. 

Final note: Alabama comes out slightly ahead in most metrics, but it's never by much. These teams got to Miami with similar strengths and very few weaknesses. (In a historical oddity, Alabama's win over LSU last January is the only time in 14 games one team has won all eight of the above metrics.)

In the end, this little exercise may not matter come midnight on Monday night. Ohio State's rushing edge over Miami isn't going to help Notre Dame beat Alabama. Thirteen teams trailing at halftime isn't going to stop Alabama from overcoming a midpoint deficit. But it will be a fun thing to track throughout the game and, if nothing else, you can be the smartest person at your watching party. 

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