Building a successful High School Program about more than Coaching and Players
Bear Bryant, legendary coach of the University of Alabama and winner of six National Championships had a famous saying when it came to winning football games. He said “it’s not the X’s and O’s but the Jimmies and the Joes.”
His point being that no matter how good a football coach you are, you still need kids with talent to win and to win consistently. Whether or not he was being modest or just deflecting the attention away from himself, I think he was partially right.
Winning football games requires a combination of good coaching, talented players who can run a 4.4 40 and as LeSean McCoy says, “cut on a dime.” In order to win games a Quarterback who can throw a ball through a car wash and not even get it wet and Linemen who weigh 300 lbs and can bench press at least their own weight, preferably more, much more, are also required.
Those attributes are almost minimum requirements at big time Universities but more and more we are seeing these requirements filter down to the high school level.
There is another element that exists in order for a high school team to become successful. That element is the support from the administrations at the schools.
Football is the most expensive sport to play at any level but at the high school level it eats up bigger chunks of the budget, percentage wise.
It’s a well known fact that at many Universities, football is a losing proposition. We don’t have to look far to see it first hand with Temple University. You don’t have to be an accountant to know that this will be Temple’s most successful season financially. You also don’t need to be a football coach to see that it was also Temple’s most successful season on the field either. The football Gods and whoever was the AD at the time Temple’s 2015 season was being planned are to thank for the bounty they received this year. Having both Penn St and Notre Dame on the schedule in a year when the Owls fielded their best team in maybe forever was not just good fortune it was simply magical! It had to be a financial bump that Temple football sorely needed and when all is said and done I would not be surprised if Temple still lost money this year. I hope it’s not the case but like I said I would not be surprised if it were.
Now let’s look at football from the perspective of a high school team in the city.
It takes on average around $100,000 to field what I would call a quality high school football team. I’ve heard of some programs where they could spend much less but it doesn’t take long to notice that team on the field. They usually have very low numbers in turnout. Equipment is probably very bare bones bordering on the unsafe in a sport where safety has become a very sensitive issue and rightfully so.
Coaching, an area that’s extremely important in organizing a group of high school kids into a team, doing all the things you would expect from a coach like installing plays, conditioning them for the rigors of a very physical sport, running practices, teaching the correct way to block and tackle, how and where to line up is probably down to 3 or 4 coaches and in some cases less.
Coaching has taken on an even more important role when it comes to the safety of the kids now. With all the concussion issues we’re seeing with the NFL, parents want to be sure that the coaches are doing all the right things to keep their kids as safe as they can be in the sport. Teaching correct fundamentals when it comes to tackling have gained a new emphasis in the game today. Fewer coaches mean less supervision and less teaching the correct way of doing things.
In the end the team who doesn’t have the support of the school’s administration more than likely will not be successful on the field and could possibly not be as safe on it either in terms of coaching and equipment.
So assume we’re ok with the $100,000 it takes to run a quality program in the city. I’m sure there are a couple of schools that go over that mark but for now we’ll say that’s the magic number for a program. How is that split between the team and the school?
I talked to former Roman Catholic Coach Joe McCourt and he said he doubted that in the Catholic League at least, the school does not foot the entire bill for the season at any school in the league. There is a split. McCourt told me his split was 60/40. He was responsible for 40% of the total budget for the football team in a given year. So McCourt had to raise on average, $40,000 every year to field a team. That number could rise some years according to needs which mostly would be equipment related.
Every school charges a fee to play sports at the school but in many cases that fee is only partially paid. You have to understand that the areas some of these schools draw from are not the most affluent of places. As McCourt told me “you gotta know the kids you’re getting.”
McCourt told me that one year he had not one but two kids who were working night shifts a couple of days a week just so they could help their mother with tuition.
Coaches have to get creative to ensure they are able to raise the money. McCourt said at one point in his tenure he put in a requirement that players had to have a relative at the games to take them home. The reason for this was to save money on transportation from the games. Every way he could find to save a buck he did it.
McCourt said that in order to get new uniforms one year he played his first six games on the road, traveling to places like Downingtown East and Coatesville. You would think it might be better to play a home game in order to raise the money for the uniforms but the exact opposite is true.
Like many teams in the city Roman Catholic does not have a home field so every game they play at “home” they have to pay rent for the field. For this particular team the rent money came from the $40,000 I told you was the team’s share of the budget. Now you would think no problem. They’ll recoup the rent money from ticket sales (that’s assuming they sell enough tickets to pay the number) and they’ll put it towards the purchase of the uniforms. There was a catch though and it’s a big one. The ticket sales from the “home” games go to the school so in essence the entity paying the rent gets none of the proceeds. The entity who gets the proceeds is the school. Sounds crazy but according McCourt this was the process.
Another time McCourt said he received a promise from the school that they would pick up a portion of the bill for new equipment but the promise was never honored. It wasn’t as if this was a luxury purchase either. He told me that he felt as did many others, that the equipment was so old it was deemed unsafe. In fact, McCourt said it was the same equipment from when he had played for the Cahilites and that he and his teammates at the time thought the equipment was old then. McCourt said that to him it was as if the school didn’t care about the safety of the kids by putting the burden on the team.
(McCourt in his playing days at Roman, Photo cred to Philly.com)
I was told by McCourt that there would be situations where donations to the football program that were sent through school first were often times miscommunicated to the football program about what came in. He went on to say “we knew of a large donation that was supposed to be designated to the football program for the purchase of equipment, however, because the donor didn’t specify where the money was supposed to go it got lost in the shuffle and the school kept it.”
That was a problem that could have easily been solved if the team were allowed to have their own bank account but the school prohibited it. McCourt said the school’s administration at the time had a “no bank accounts” policy. It was felt that the reason for that, at least according to McCourt, was that somehow opening a bank account would make it easy for the team to hide money from them. The only reason McCourt opened the account is because there would be times when he would have $10,000 sitting in his house and he felt it was the responsible thing to do to keep the money safe.
Raising money is just a fraction of the issues coaches have to deal with. They range from dealing with unhappy parents who think their sons aren’t getting enough playing time, worrying that kids are doing what they need to do in the classroom in order to stay eligible and graduate, plus minute details like arranging transportation to and from games.
Then there is the off-season. The game is a year round game and anybody associated with it knows that. If you want to be successful you have to have a solid off-season plan.
There is weightlifting and speed and agility training. They have to be monitored by a coach, usually the Head Coach. The monitoring is done not only to ensure the work is done but also from a safety standpoint. Almost every team does a camp in the early summer as a way of raising funds for the program. After that preparations for the upcoming training camp and season have to be made. They have to plan for every day of what they want to work on and how to schedule it into that day’s practices. Film work has to be done. This varies from team to team but the teams with more resources now film their own practices to critique themselves in addition to studying film of upcoming opponents.
So now you may ask what the compensation for all of this work is. Well, for most programs it’s just a few thousand dollars. For Assistant Coaches it’s half of that. I have heard of some places such as High School Football crazy Texas where some coaches are paid in the hundreds of thousands but those places are few and far in between.
At the high school level, for many coaches it’s a second or even third job. Put it this way; if you wanted to use the job as a main source of income then you better get ready for a steady diet of Ramen Noodles, and fully note that a Yale or Penn education is out for the kids.
All of the Coaches I know do it for the love of the game, sometimes to the detriment of things like marriages and sanity.
The demands the game puts on their lives and the lives of their families are great but the rewards are worth it to many of them. I’m not talking wins and losses either. It’s the relationships that are forged during the heat of competition that give them so many good memories and that is in the losses too.
Make no mistake. Joe McCourt loved coaching at his alma mater, Roman Catholic. I asked Joe on more than one occasion if he was against me using his name for the article. No doubt, using his name added weight to the article but he believed the article is according to him “an honest assessment of what basically volunteer high school coaches are responsible for and what they have to deal with”.