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
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
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
"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
Nudo showed me his computer
"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
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
Will you ever adopt a no-huddle
"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
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?"
"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 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
Next week: The virtues of
football far outweigh the dangers.