We’ve all heard the old bromide, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Besides be a grammar nightmare, the fundamental reality is that the advice is not actually bad. If you have something working, there is little reason to tinker with it, and certainly there is no reason to abandon it, altogether.
Well, there is also the opposite and equally true proposition that continuing to do something that isn’t working isn’t such a hot idea. There are sometimes when things look sound on paper; but the execution flat out fails. More often than not, plans and methods don’t completely crash and burn, though. They tend to fall apart for various reasons. This was a Karl von Clausewitz identified drag on operations that he called ‘friction’. It was often the cumulative effect of frictional actions on the execution of any plan that cause the entire operation (in this case game plan) to break down and fail.
Last Playbook Chapter we talked about the realities of dealing with the field, the formations, and the natural advantages of using the entire playing field in front of your team. We brought up the reality of handicapping your offense by being both predictable, and reducing the territory that the defense must cover to defend against your offense. We called that Boundary Side Bias.
This time, we are going to introduce two issues that make long term problems worse within the assembly and implementation of a Game Plan (implementation of a Playbook’s pieces). The first issue has to do with game planning itself, and then related in game adjustments. The second is not only a matter of leadership style but of effectiveness in communication and coaching.
No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy
Okay, let us put this into friendlier more 21st century football terms. No game plan survives the kickoff. The past four seasons the Hokies have suffered from inconsistent offensive game planning and a near tragic lack of effective adjustment to the reality of “von Moltke’s Dicta”. The current season is a case in point, in spades full. In fact, the offensive staff seems to have been better and more effective scrambling around trying to employ the “oh shoot” offense, than the operationally stable normal offense. If we break down each game, the only real clear “runaway” was the Boston College game, and that reality really didn’t occur until the mid-3rd quarter. The Hokie Offense still performed well enough, in the first loss to UNC, to not be thought of as the cause of the deficit in points at the end of the game. The NC State opener was no run away, and the Duke game presented its own issues.
The most drastic case of offensive non-adjustment was the Wake Forest game. It would seem at first glance that there were adjustments tried, but a detailed examination of the drive logs shows that the “adjustment” was more of an abandonment of the run game, and an attempt to advance the ball by passing. Those passes were often to very pedestrian pattern distribution and presented no major break in the normal Tech ‘big empty’ under the zone. If there were run plays, the were often the same run plays that are always run with a heavy emphasis on straight halfback delayed Read Option ISOs/Dives, and the dreaded slow developing delayed jet sweep. Sometimes the same formation was used with the same motions in place.
Obviously, adjustments don’t necessarily mean massive changes in emphasis. In the case of the Wake Forest game Tech’s offensive strategy needed to put more pressure on the over-pursuing loaded box defense that Wake chose. There are many running plays that can take advantage of those situations. Instead of working those angles, Tech chose to run away from the Herbert and Hooker on the ground combination and try to do things through the air. In doing that the pass plays were to predictable, there was no real play action, and the route patterns for the plays rarely included easy reads and simple throws for a struggling Hendon Hooker. Adjustments were definitely called for; but abandoning a methodical ball control ground game was not the sort of change that constituted a sound plan update.
Football is not Xbox, and Coaching Isn’t Good When Phoned In
The Virginia Tech coaching staff configuration and methods are not working. Yes, that results in a rolling undertone of discontent from the “firebird” group; but the reality remains that this staff has never settled down completely. Nor has it found a consistently winning formula for calling and controlling the offensive game. The one thing that highlighted the career of Bud Foster as the Defensive Coordinator was something that few people really notice. Bud Foster spent his entire career calling defensive signals and coaching from the sidelines. There was an exception in the 2018 season and a few games in 2019 that due to health reasons he operated in the booth. However, for almost his entire career, Bud Foster was a fuming, scheming, coaching machine on the sideline.
This has not been the case with the Offensive Coordinator for decades, and it shows. The Crow’s Nest concept of coaching is an extremely risky approach to getting the job done. It can work in some circumstances where the personnel on the field are near professional, and self-directed. This is extremely rare in college football and the lack of any direct presence on the field for certain position coaches is not an effective way to run an offense. Don’t get me wrong on this, you need a good solid game analyst with a couple of assistants to help chart plays, reactions, and get concepts rearranged depending on the situation. The problem comes in when the playbook is on the table, and the coach is a set of headphones on the sideline. I realize that Fuente is on the sideline and takes a few “group breaks” to pep talk or strategize; but he isn’t the designated Quarterbacks coach. And therein lies a huge rub. Cornelsen’s place belongs on the sidelines with his quarterbacks so that they have a direct resource to turn to during the game. The Head Coach is too busy to spend face time with a struggling QB while the defense is on the field.
Fuente’s staff was actually running games better when it was short handed and improvising. They were forced to simplify the game, and react to what was happening in front of them. The temporary situation helped to ablate the “calling my baby ugly” problem. Though Cornelsen still occupied the Crow’s Nest.
Whatever else doesn’t change on this football team, the Offensive Coaching staff and methods have not worked since Jerod Evans “one read and go” offense of 2016. Cornelsen’s game plans are not varied and sophisticated enough to fool well researched defenses. He is certainly not adjusting to the tactical conditions on the field effectively; neither the tendency to make no adjustments, nor the wrong ones. It might be worth a serious visit and fix because more than anything else in this Hokie football organization, the offensive methodology is definitely not working.
Fixes… Fixes… Fixes….
I posit an old rule from my old man, “if you have no solutions all you have are complaints and no one likes complainers”. So, I will keep this brief, as in a list. Chew it over and add something if you see fit… besides fire Fuente… No one is firing Fuente, and we don’t have the money to replace him, with anyone “better” so it’s how do we fix Fuente?
- Move Cornelsen to be purely the Quarterbacks Coach. Get him on the sidelines and get these kids some direct human interaction help. Take advantage of the excellent Offensive line and the first rate running backs we finally have. You’d see that from the field, not from the video game controller in the sky.
- Hire a new Offensive Coordinator who can build a playbook and game plan system that doesn’t draw laughter and derision when the talent hits the pros. The universal smack against Fuente’s offense at Memphis was that it was too simplistic to train quality quarterbacks for the pros. Take the hint.
- Put the Offensive Coordinator on the sideline with the rest of the coaching staff. No field coaches should be in the booth. The job of coaching is human to human, not video gamer to algorithm. There are plenty of good assistants, graduates and otherwise, who are capable of doing the observing, grading, and gross play selection. Talk to your players, see the game on the field.
- On the defense, there needs to be a concerted effort to fix the error of the panic Justin Hamilton promotion. Hamilton will be a fine DC, in a few more seasons. This was not the time to run an experiment. The Defense was running better with Teerlinck and Tapp working the line, Jack Tyler calling the linebacker work, and Ryan Smith handling the live game calls within that envelope. Whether Teerlinck gets a promotion to DC (Let Tapp coach the entire line.), or the program goes out and finds one from outside, the defensive coaching staff is just missing a piece. It’s close, but still not quite there.
Lots to chew on. Some of this is pure pogy bait (chewing gum for you Yankees) but it needs to be talked about. The Virginia Tech Hokies are a few plays a game away from an undefeated season. The team is “that close”, but there are some things that really aren’t working, and need to be fixed, pronto.