Not just the X’s and O’s or Jimmies and Joes

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


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”.

18 thoughts on “Not just the X’s and O’s or Jimmies and Joes

  1. dont want to name my school but we played with old equipment. it is a catholic league school and not the one named. thanks for a good read. i really like this site it is different


  2. Schools don’t allow coaches to have bank accounts because it could lend itself directly to theft or PIAA violations. Also, had the donor went to the school after his donation and said “I want that to be used for football” they are bound by non profit rules to do just that. Maybe Joe wanted his donor to restrict the money, but it doesn’t sound like the donor wanted that to happen. No disrespect but the Roman Catholic portions of this article seem really out of place, and quite frankly really one sided.


    • 2 points to your comment:

      1- if you think PIAA schools whether it’s in Philly or anywhere else in the state don’t have Bank accounts then you’re being very closed minded. The amount of money that flows from the upper echelon private schools is substantial that you must have a bank account. Or big balls to have that amount of cash/checks just laying around

      2- If the school gets their “percentage” required from the football team, why do they care other wise about what they do with their money?

      Money and administration support win CONSISTENTLY at the high school level. End of story. Can Roman have a winning team again? Sure. But to stay at that level over a period of time like Lasalle, Prep, and Wood is highly unlikely. Joe had success 3-4-5 years into his tenure but could not sustain.


      • There is no doubt that teams have bank accounts. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a violation. And if Roman is trying to abide by rules to prevent theft and PIAA violations can anyone blame them?

        And why does the school care what football does with their money? Well I dunno, maybe because they are a non profit and have rules to abide by, and are audited every year to be sure they are not violating finance rules. If a donor donated 500 dollars to the Roman Football bank account, Roman is responsible by IRS law to issue an acknowledgement letter.

        And you are absolutely right to win at football you need money and administration support. But what if Roman decides the sport isn’t worth dumping what St. Joes prep dumps into it? They would rather just be competitive and use that money for something else they prioritize as important to the needs of the institution.


      • Well Anonymous, then I’m sure you can understand the frustration that Coach McCourt went through and its voiced in this interview. Why not just be up front and honest that your priority is “just being competitive”. I don’t disagree with that statement you made, but maybe now you can understand both sides of the argument.


      • I’ve always understood both sides. I’ve been a local coach for a long time. I think sometimes us coaches lose perspective. We have a 60-100k program being budgeted and school administrators have a 6-7 million dollar budget they need to be concerned about. This article reeks of Joe wanting to be treated like he’s the coach of St. Joes prep, when frankly he wasn’t.


      • If you’re a local coach then you are entirely misinformed and need to wake up and smell the coffee. The budgets between the Prep and Roman football programs are so far apart it’s not even worth getting into. The Prep travels 100 players/coaches across the United States to play football games. Also just built a brand new practice facility. Oh yea, and these 2 teams play in the same league. I’m pretty sure Coach McCourt just wanted what was fair.


  3. I’m not affiliated with Roman at all, but know the school well. I appreciate the offer to jump in, but I wouldn’t really be qualified to do that as I can’t speak for the school.

    And CL fan, I agree with everything you said, the difference between what the Prep is doing, and what Roman is doing is that one is totally capable of doing it, at least in the short term (at some point that prep football machine will spiral out of control and implode). Roman football cant compete with what the Prep is doing, but guess what, most other schools cant either. It’s not schools refusing to prioritize football, it’s schools not willing to prioritize football over almost everything else. Every coach in the Catholic league save La Salle, Prep, and Wood is fighting the same fight Joe was. You might argue if Wood can do it why can’t Roman? The answer is Wood is a school filled with almost entirely kids who pay tuition, Roman is not.

    At the end of the day the inner city and Delaware county schools are fighting to have some money in the bank and increase enrollment. Is it fair they have to compete with St. Joe’s Prep and schools of a somewhat similar ilk? No probably not, but place the blame at the schools willing to push the boundaries on PIAA rules, not the schools abiding by them.


    • I’d be very surprised if all of the Wood Players are paying tuition. And I think you would be surprised of how many Roman players are not paying tuition


      • You keep extrapolating little pieces of what I said. You know I didn’t mean that every Wood player was paying tuition, my point is a school with 800-1000 kids has mostly full tuition payers given where they are located. That means the school has additional funds to use to support programs. A school like Roman which pulls kids from all over I would bet is offering millions of dollars in financial aid every year. They don’t have the sort of cash a school like Wood might that can afford to invest in its football program the way they do. For schools like Roman its an either or scenario, either we support Football to become an absolute powerhouse, or we support some other educational program that would be beneficial to Roman academically. Wood can afford to do both.


      • Ok I agree with you. But now let’s go back to your original post about this being a one sided argument. Wouldn’t you say there is a high probability this article is accurate considering that Roman is more concerned about running a school then winning on the football field? And all the comments made by the former coach could very well be accurate and his frustration with how things were handled is warranted.

        I think what Dave Shipton was trying to convey is the abundance of responsibility put on a “volunteer” high school coach. Let me ask you a question, would you want a coach who is making 3-5k a year handling money upwards to 40-50k every year? There seems to be a catch 22 with the whole bank account policy. The school wants their money but the people handling the money cant put it in a safe place to hold the money

        This is a well written article and I agree with all points


  4. I just think a lot of Joe’s arguments don’t make sense. Like not being able to have his own bank account, or mentioning a donation that was miscategorized that could have easily been changed had the donor so wished. No financial auditor in the country would think it’s a good idea for school employees to collect donations and use as they see fit with zero oversight.

    I think the stuff about coaches and all they do is great, but I think bits and pieces came off like Joe airing some grievances about his former employer. Again he might have reason to be upset, it just feels like almost two different articles. One about Joe and his Roman beefs. The other about football coaches and all they have to do.


  5. My only conclusion to your comments is you’re trying to protect Roman and/or the administration by the way they handled their business.
    This was an article about budgets and one coaches perspective. You seem to be taking this way personal then needed. You are pinpointing parts of the article to make your case. What’s your stance on the equipment issue? What’s your stance on the field rental issue? What’s your stance on having a volunteer coach handle 5 figures of cash? The fact that the coach wants to put money in a bank account and not want thousands of dollars laying around in his house for safety purposes is mind numbing. Or you must have an Arsenal of weapons to protect yourself.


    • Dave did an excellent job writing this article. He wrote about the heavy duty some high school coaches have to deal with along with the budget it takes to run a football program. He used Joe McCourt and his experience in the Catholic league as a source for information he may not have known. Of course this article seems one sided because it is the brutal truth about what goes down at some of these high schools. Roman Catholic, or any school for that matter has every opportunity to reach out to me or Dave for a comment.


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