Observation Part 2

A while ago I did an article on coaching observation and BAFCA asked me to write another about my recent trip to Georgia Tech. I hope I can write a article that will help coaches and not just sound like a memoir of a holiday! I hope I can also walk the line between giving some interesting information and being respectful of the organisation which was kind enough to allow full access. I am very aware that an ACC team is a million miles above where we are now. I do enjoy learning in the drinking from a firehose style!! And the experience is something I enjoy and motivates me to improve. In my previous article, I encouraged coaches to build relationships and visit other teams, whether it is other UK teams or big ticket teams in NCAA or NFL. This becomes a little like compounding in finance. The more coaches you meet, the more coaches you get the opportunity to meet, and the more willing coaches are to share information with you. I am finding myself at that interesting stage now where I meet coaches I know at places I never expect.

This season a lot of the Temple football coaches followed Coach Collins to Georgia Tech, so I was excited to visit a staff I had been learning from, in a brand-new environment. It was not only a new for me, it was new for them. They were going to a team that had a very distinctive style and were going to change it. I arrived at the Stadium on Thursday afternoon. With some pre planning I knew I could watch 2 scrimmages and 3 practices in 10 days, plus a couple Sundays for tourist stuff. The coaching offices are in the Stadium and there was a huge reception area. This is always my most apprehensive time, what if the staff did not seriously think I would be coming. I was greeted by a receptionist. Anyone in sales knows getting past the “gate keeper” is a challenge, and I failed miserably. “They are in a meeting, I will let them know you are here, please take a seat”. Anxiety level x 100, I hope Atlanta has plenty of places to visit!!! “Simon” – Coach Thacker shouts over the balcony and all is well with the world again. I met Coach Thacker 3 years ago as the LB coach at Temple, and he has had a deserved promotion to DC first at Temple and now at GTech. I hope everyone takes the chance to meet him at this years BAFCA convention, he has a brilliant football mind (and sometimes…..most of the time! I have to slow him up to understand) and is so enthusiastic about teaching football.


During skelly period, the QB’s had cardboard cut out “pass rush”, and someone distracting them with pool noodles (pipe insulation).

I was given a whistle-stop tour of the offices and facilities and introductions to the staff. I had done my homework learning the staff names, but sometimes the photos are not clear. Some I knew before from Temple University, Coach Dixon I had met at Florida, and Coach Popovich I had met at a BAFCA convention (compounding). No time to think, straight into a staff meeting. The last few greetings, and it was down to planning Saturdays scrimmage. The level of detail in planning a practice is staggering. UK coaches could not achieve this yet, but there are so many small points we can take. An example? (I will try and add as many as I can). During field goal someone is assigned to throw down a “blocked ball” for the scoop and score man to pick up and score. I wondered how many coaches have thought “I am glad we practiced that” over the years. We usually have a few people that need a job in the special teams period to keep them focused. As Coach Semore (Defensive analyst) explained, they have about 70 staff to make practice run effectively, so we cannot expect this level of detail, but we can always improve.

With a reasonably prompt finish at 18.00 (Coach Collins prefers early start and decent finish), I realised I was pretty hungry and Coach Popovich and myself went to get some food. We caught up from when we last met. His football story was considerably more varied than mine with stints at Boise State and Indianapolis Colts. I borrowed Coach Thackers playbook for the evening. They are running Coach Collins defence which I am starting to become familiar with, but some of the language has been changed to match what the GTech players are used to. Coach Thacker believes that the paid coaching staff should be adapting their terminology to help the players, not the other way around. Friday we had meetings with players and more preparation for Saturday scrimmage. This was the first practice in the Stadium, most practices were down the road at the practice facility (an indoor pitch and outdoor pitch with huge garage doors between the two (usually open). This practice was in the Stadium and so a big recruiting day as well.


When DB’s do a drill, at every opportunity on return they “high point” a football thrown by a team mate or coach (GA)

The music blared at a level it was hard to communicate, as Coach Collins explained this is all to prepare the players for Clemson Memorial Stadium week one. The DJ is briefed as much as everyone else and lifts the tempo when required and reduces the volume during teaching periods. They have certain tracks for certain compete periods. Creating triggers or anchors (for those NLP lovers). The side-lines were buzzing, the previous staff had a completely different philosophy with closed practices and no media. Coach Collins has open practices, lots of high school players and coaches, observation coaches, media and alumni (including some with NFL experience signing autographs for the high school players). During my stay some very high-profile coaches visited (some had finished spring practice and some were outside NCAA) and I met some new and old faces. Another convention veteran Coach Verpale visited and he introduced me to the whole Kennesaw State coaching staff. The tempo of practice was exhausting. The players do not do any sole conditioning work during practice, they run at full speed, and are measured by Catapult software. Players that reached the most top speeds and did the most work got recognised in meetings and on production reports. Coach Collins is a genius marketing coach and sold this to the players “The NFL combine used Catapult for the first time this year.


Every competitive situation is also situational, making sure everyone knows the D&D, field position and score.

Rock Ya-Sin measured the highest out of everyone because he has practiced for a year at Temple working on this, knowing how every movement is recorded”. This was before the draft, but you can bet the day after the draft Coach Collins is pointing out the 2nd round pick position by the Colts. Every day the player meetings (positional and ST, O, D) are changed, and ideas brought to create learning environments. The swag coordinator (brand manager) creates images of players for rewards, and videos to illustrate coaching points. Players get up and speak to the team, and guests come in with brief focus on areas of expertise. Nothing lasts long, with complete respect for people’s time, the meetings start on time, and finish on time.

The budget is huge, but everything they do I am thinking internally of a way of adapting at a lower scale. Before I knew it, the visit was over, I had been immersed in football 24/7 for 10 days and learned so much. As always the shock is the more I learn the more I realise I do not know. However I am getting better at asking questions and understanding the defence. I was amazed when Coach Burton ran an impromptu clinic on their C3 with a staff of high school coaches, similar to Coach Collins one at the convention. And I was really comfortable with it (unlike the 1st time with Coach Collins when I was hoping I was not the only person in the room drowning under information). I guess as a coach I should not be surprised that comfort comes from practice, and I was brought back to earth pretty quickly the next player meeting when a new install was introduced. I hope this helps someone, and I am more than happy to answers more specific questions. And if you do anything for your development this year spend at least a day at the BAFCA convention. We are so lucky so many coaches want to visit and help us, and they genuinely enjoy coming so the experience is mutually positive.


Defensively they do not have many plays. However they have a lot of tags to call based on formation and alignment to put themselves in the best position possible.

All the best.

Simon Hatcher