Matt Bowen played college ball for Iowa, then split seven years in the NFL between St. Louis, Green Bay, Washington and Buffalo from 2000-06. In 77 career appearances (30 starts), Bowen collected 164 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. (Though I followed the NFL closely during that time, I'll admit he passed through the league without my becoming aware of him. Not that it matters. I assume Bowen has never heard of me, either.)
Bowen now analyzes The League for ESPN while also coaching defensive backs at a Catholic high school in Illinois. Heading into his second season on the job, Bowen penned a post explaining how his knowledge for the game and appreciation for coaches has grown through his time in coaching. That tends to happen when your responsibility grows from knowing what you have to do to knowing what everybody has to do and why.
I thought I'd share a few points, starting with one that, as a college football die-hard, gave me a bit of satisfaction after years of NFL types looking down their collective noses at the spread offense.
The spread offense is legit: Yeah, I was one of those guys who used to look down on the college and high school spread systems. I didn't see it much during my time in the Big Ten at Iowa or throughout my seven-year career in the NFL. It was pro-style or nothing. And I wouldn't budge.
But my view has completely changed at IC Catholic due to our offense -- an up-tempo, no-huddle spread system. We play fast, now. Super-fast. It's a two-minute drill for four quarters. And this is the same playbook you will see at UCLA or Oregon.
RPOs (run-pass options) are the future of football, but there are plenty of pro-style route concepts in our playbook. Think of Snag, Flood, Hi-Lo, Smash-7 (corner), etc. This is really the same stuff Tom Brady and the Patriots run on Sundays. Sure, there is more window dressing based on alignment, formation and pre-snap movement in the spread, but in my opinion, the quarterback reads and progressions aren't that different when compared to NFL offenses. And the same goes for the run game: zone, power, counter, zone-read. With the quarterback in the gun or the Pistol, there are a ton of ways to create advantageous angles in the run game. This stuff works -- and you'll only see more of it filter into the NFL in the coming seasons.
Calling plays isn't as easy as players may think.
On Friday nights, I will flip over to the offensive headsets and listen to our coordinator, Tony Navigato, run our no-huddle system. It's amazing the way he navigates the chaos. No panic, no fear, just go. It's the same on defensive with coordinator Roger Kelley and linebacker coach Mike Calcagno. These guys are vets. They are relaxed, focused and ready to adjust.
Me? Forget about it. I expected to be like my old coordinator, Williams: mad scientist stuff with the game plan. But I'm a long way away from being able to call a game on defense without feeling like my heart is going to explode. Plus, I would probably blitz on every down.
Neither is drawing up a practice plan.
Just like the pro coaches I played for, I have the staple drills that I want to get in every time we practice: The W-Drill, open angle drill, drive the one-man tackling sled across the field (brutal). But I wish I had an hour, maybe an hour and a half, everyday to work with my defensive backs. There is just so much I want to do as a coach. And the planning part, the daily routine that needs to shift constantly to create new competition, isn't an easy as it might look. Yeah, I need to get better at this.
As always, it doesn't matter what knowledge you have clanging around in your head if your players don't understand their basic alignment, technique, etc., responsibilities, it doesn't matter. And just because one player needs you to get in his face with some tough love doesn't mean that tactic will work with every player.
I can come down hard on some of my players. And there are others I have to whisper to. Some guys are visual learners. Chalkboard stuff. While others need to see it on the field in a practice setting. And skill sets are different. You can't coach in a box and expect to see your players develop. There is versatility in coaching too.