There are two types of sessions at the AFCA Convention — those where every seat is filled and dozens more late-comers are forced to observe while leaning against the walls and those that are, uh, not. I walked into Grand Ballroom C at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center on Tuesday morning expecting to take part in the latter. An hour-long panel on discipline and accountability felt like volunteering for an oatmeal breakfast while chocolate chip pancakes were being served next door.
Turns out a lot of coaches like oatmeal.
Before a packed-to-the-gills ballroom, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, St. Thomas (Minn.) head coach Glenn Caruso, Minnesota defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist and NFL consultant Leslie Satchell — Morgan State head coach Fred T. Farrier served as moderator — dished on how to build and instill accountability and discipline within a program.
Let’s get right to it.
On the importance of discipline and accountability in a program
Dantonio: It runs through your entire program and speaks to how you play on the field. It also speaks to the big picture, how you life your life. We went through a tough year this year — I would say we lacked discipline. Doesn’t mean we won’t get it back. We’re accountable for every young man’s life when they walk through that door. You’ve got to ask yourself: are you accountable for pushing that young man’s life forward?
Caruso: I think accountability is the one that’s standing out right now. There’s a lot to be taught there and a lot to be gained there. The rest of society, accountability isn’t being taught. When I ask recruits, 18-year-olds kids, ‘What do you think the opposite of love is?’ Nine out of 10 say hate. I could not argue any more strongly that you’re wrong. The opposite of love is indifference. If I didn’t care about you at all I’d let you drift off into nothingness. If I love you, I’ll hold you to a higher standard than you think you’re capable of.
On the importance of pursuing a purposeful education
Satchell: It’s really said to see young men, 25, 30 years old, who don’t have accountability outside of football. We say, ‘He was here, he stayed late.’ But he didn’t go to class. We need to get deeper into making sure guys major in something they’re interested in. If the whole team is majoring in general studies, we’ve got a problem.
On how to build discipline and accountability as an assistant
Linguist: When you walk in the building as an assistant, you’ve got to ask yourself your vision for your unit. Their conduct on- and off-the-field. What’s your GPA look like? If there’s not a vision or purpose there, if the player doesn’t understand why discipline is coming down on him, there’s going to be some resistance. When you walk into your room, do your players know why you’re in front of them?
Farrier: Communication is going to be key to make sure everyone in your organization knows what the expectations are. They’ve got to hear it, hear it, and hear it. They’ve got to hear it.
On how to measure accountability as a head coach
Dantonio: Accountability’s about growth. How do we keep each other accountable? It’s a growth process. I always ask myself, ‘Am I consistent with something? Am I fair?’ I’m not looking to put pain into anybody. I’m looking for people to grow.
Caruso: I don’t think it’s as quantifiable as sacks, as total yardage. You’ve got to be intuitive as a head coach. As a coach you need to know what your locker room and what your kids need. It’s like anything else: you’ve got to recruit it, you’ve got to teach it, and you’ve got to praise it. We tell our players to run if they’re on the field. If you want to walk, take a walk around campus. If a senior stops two yards short of the sideline and a sophomore calls him out, you’ll know it. It’s like the wind — you can’t see it but you’ll know when it’s getting there.
Linguist: It begins with leadership. I think Coach D said it best — is it consistent? Leadership is top down, then it’s inside out. If there’s not leadership in the locker room, it’s going to be difficult. You’re looking for transformation over confirmation. There’s a difference between doing something different and becoming something different.
Satchell: I’ve visited a lot of teams, and the team that stood out most to me was Indianapolis under Coach Dungy. The Colts had a standard. He drafted guys based on a certain level of character and he didn’t sway from that once. They had the highest graduation rate and the lowest rate of off-field incidents.
On holding yourself accountable as a coach
Dantonio: When you have a bad season, you have to own it. You start taking it apart and you start rebuilding it. You start going back to things you did when you were successful. Winning comes because of other things. You get (players) at 18, when they’re 22 you should have prepared them for life. That’s a very, very scary for young people. The accountability and discipline factor is very helpful.
I don’t pick our leaders, our players pick them. I always thing a players-led team is better than a coaches-led team. They need to hand out discipline. It could be something as simple as running on and off the field. They need to handle that.
Farrier: We went on the road for our last game of the season and didn’t travel 12 of our guys. If you had told me in pre-season we wouldn’t travel these 12 guys I would’ve said we had no chance to win. We played our best game and won the game. (Morgan State beat Savannah State, 35-24). We had to make a decision to hold those guys to hold those accountable for their actions, and we played with guys that did what we asked them to do, and we won.
Caruso: One thing I think that’s important about that, it would’ve been the right decision whether Coach Farrier won or lost. You know what’s right and you know what’s wrong. The thing in the end zone with the lights isn’t going to dictate that. It may dictate whether we’re able to do our jobs, but it doesn’t decide what’s right or wrong.
Linguist: Ultimately, what are we doing and why are we doing it? If you’re a high school coach, they’re watching you. They may be a big recruit, but they’re still kids. As an assistant, I’m with those nine or 10 DBs every day. It’s like a moving body. When I took a job at Mississippi State, one of the first things I did was learn my guy’s birthdays. You’d be surprised, guy’s walking down the hall and no one knows its’ his birthday. If it’s quarters coverage, 3-deep and see you later, it’s not going to sink in. You’ve got to earn the right to coach kids hard.
Satchell: I teach the three E’s — education, getting guys into the majors they’re interested in; experience: they need experience out of football, guys aren’t integrating on campus; and exposure. We’ll bring in speakers so they can hear other experiences. I love to help coaches build programs, but they’re not just building programs, they’re building men.
Caruso: Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is an act of love.
Dantonio: The worst thing you can say to any coach is, ‘You have an undisciplined football team, and there’s no accountability.’ Communication is so important. The first thing I say to recruits sometimes is, ‘Everybody has a story. Tell me yours.’ We’ll start building a relationship where there’s trust on both sides right then.
Linguist: Find the gold in your players, find the good in them. Work on building sports where they need to get better.
Farrier: The end goal is to get these guys prepared for life. Discipline and accountability are huge in that. We’re preparing them for the next 40 or 50 years.