Friday, March 7, 2014

A conversation with Gene Nudo, Part III.

Coming to Fenwick from the Arena League must have been a big change for Coach Nudo. I asked him what the difference was between coaching pro and high school athletes.
"Five or six years ago I was recruiting kids from PAC-12 schools, Big Ten schools; now I’m looking at kids from St. Isaac Jogues. But I believe coaching is teaching anyway. Whether you’re a pro coach or a college coach or a high school coach, you’re trying to sell what you do to the people you’re presenting it to. Our kids bought into it."

Is it difficult, I wondered, to predict success at the next level?

"Absolutely. I have a 6 foot, 190-pound corner named Aaron Garland. He's a junior, but the services are saying he’ll be a safety. Why, because nobody needs big corners in big-time college football? A big corner is like a piece of gold! Usually these guys are all singing midgets. They’re 5 foot 7. Robert Spillane, I believe, is going to be a tailback at Western Michigan. He’s 6’2”, 225. Guess what? He can carry the ball and run. He’s going to punish you. There aren’t a lot of guys walking around like that. And you don’t know how a kid’s going to continue to grow. I think Spillane will be a running back in college. He might end up 6’4’’, 250 and be an inside linebacker. But I think they want him to carry the ball. He’s fast enough and he’ll be bigger than most of the guys trying to tackle him. That was the big advantage we had last year. We ran a lot of two-back stuff.  A lot of these teams don’t see that anymore. Everybody wants to spread it out. So we put a 210-pound kid in front of Spillane -- 225 following 210 running full-speed at you. You’ve got to man up! We were lucky; we had great kids. You put a 6'5", 245-pound tight end out in the slot and now you’ve got three big people. And we had a quarterback who could throw the ball to them."

What about the recruiting aspect of the job? 

"It’s changed. A lot of it is poor planning by parents. All of a sudden they think, ‘My kid is graduating and I don’t have any money saved for him!’ It’s a tough world to live in. College was $4,000 a year when I was growing up, but today a private school can cost forty grand. So parents try to get their kid exposure. There’s pressure on me and pressure on the college coaches -- when you don’t get a kid, you have to answer to somebody. I wouldn’t want one of those college jobs. My wife always tells me, you should have taken one of those. ‘Yeah, if you don’t ever want to see me again.’ Those guys – when they have a day off – they’re always on the road."

Sounds like the recruiting process has been mixed for Coach Nudo.

"Take Pat Hart, for example. He was another great player for me. He was a quarterback when he was a sophomore here and we wanted to make him a linebacker. Pat was as good a linebacker in the state of Illinois as anyone last year. I told everybody he was the real deal. Nobody would offer him anything. He walked on at USC and was a third-string fullback as a freshman. He calls me up and says, ‘Coach, I’m in Hawaii right now.’ All these schools and no one would offer him a dime. But he winds up at USC. And they're redshirting him so they must think he’s got value. Or take Ryan Smith, 6’5”, 245 -- I think he’s the best tight end in the state of Illinois. Couldn’t get anything until late. He’s going to Miami of Ohio, though. He’s going to get a great education and be a great player for them."

Has coaching become a 12-month job? 

"It has -- it's a year-round thing. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been logging in every play we ran last year. Sideline and end zone so we have a video playbook for our guys. The down, the distance, the formation, the play, run right, run left – every play. I’m up to the Brother Rice game. The kids can type a play in. All the times we ran that play will come down. I’ll refine it to the ones that were run properly. They now have visual backup. That’s a big part of what I’m doing."

Nudo showed me his computer screen.

"First and ten, we’re on the right hash, we’re in a twenty formation, running marine west, lead to the left. We go east and west; they don’t number plays like they used to. It’s all here for the kids; they watch a lot of films."

What's a "twenty formation"? I asked.

"Twenty is two backs and no tight ends."

Now I felt like I was being let into the Inner Sanctum. It was really cool!

"Here’s the same play from the end zone. When the kids look at it I say, 'Where are you going? What are you doing? Why?' It’s a nice tool. The problem we have is we don’t have meeting time for these kids; they’re in school all day long. During the season, on Tuesdays the defense meets with the defensive coach and has lunch with him and watches the tape. We have 20 minutes of video time. At Fenwick, we’re about the kids going to school. We even get heat about the 6:30 a.m. weightlifting time. Everybody’s tired. But the rest of the world is working at 6:30!

Do you change your offense from year to year? 

"You have to." 

Are there trends? 

"Everybody now runs from the spread."

Will you ever adopt a no-huddle offense? 

"We can. Everything we do is with words. Originally when we set this up that was the idea. Wheaton North ran a play every 20 seconds against us. Their belief system was, 'We're in better shape than you and we know where we’re going.' We may head to that next year. The nice thing is we have smart kids. There’s key words in everything we do."

There's only one drawback.

"Teams that signal it in have a dummy coach. How do I tell a guy you’re the dummy coach? Nobody’s paying attention to you but you’ve got to do all this stuff?"

Nudo laughed.

"That’s the great thing about being here; the kids are smart. You tell them something once and you’d better tell them the same thing tomorrow because they’re going to call you on it. 'Coach, that’s not what you said yesterday.' And that’s good. It keeps you on your toes; it keeps you young."

How do you manage the parents? 

"Parents are great but you have to be firm and consistent in the rules. Parents will take as much room as you will give them. My first year at Driscoll parents were everywhere! So the first day I painted a circle on the field. I said 'Guess what guys, stay in the circle until we leave the field.' Nice thing is, I’m a parent too. I’m sure I thought my kids were better than they were. Why would I think that? I was never a great athlete. If the gene pool wasn’t working for me why would it be working for them? I had a kid ask me once, ‘Coach, how come you don’t tell us what a great player you were?’ Because I wasn’t!

"There was a Division I player at another school last year whose mother was a problem and the coach couldn’t get his arms around the situation. The high school coach is the professional. I had a dad one time who told me his kid wasn’t going to play football; he didn’t carry the ball enough. I won’t tell you how to be a plumber; you don’t tell me how to be a coach. Maybe I’ve had a little easier time with that because of where I’ve been. Even when I hadn’t accomplished much, I wasn’t going to let myself get pushed around. I’m always going to do what’s in the best interests of the kids. Parents come and go. I tell the kids, ‘When you guys have your 25-year reunion, I want to be there even if it’s in an urn! I want to be at the party.’ 

"When I was the head coach of the Arizona Rattlers, I was also coaching my son’s Pop Warner team. On that team I had a quarterback who's now at Washington State, a tailback at Arizona State, a guard at Wyoming and a linebacker at Florida Atlantic. It was the worst year of my life. I got fired from the Rattlers. I had a worse time coaching that Pop Warner team than I did losing my professional job. The quarterback wasn’t getting enough throws, the running back wasn’t getting enough touches, etc. We were winning every game 30-0 at the half so we had to run every play tackle-to-tackle in the second half. It was not what I signed up for. It was really sad because I felt bad for my own kid. He was the one coming home with me and I was not in a good place. 

"But I love coaching kids."

Next week: The virtues of football far outweigh the dangers.

No comments: