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An Open Letter to Coach Patric Morrison of Madison, Indiana, (and all other parties concerned) May 23, 2019

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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Dear Coach Morrison and hiring committee:

                As a Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School football alumnus (Class of 1998), allow me to congratulate you on your recent promotion to associate athletics director.  I also wish to extend congratulations on a job well done as head football coach, within the context of that with which you and the community have had to contend.  You have shown good vision in your player development; you have demonstrated that you deeply cared for your players; you were also forward-thinking in your team-building measures, too.  In my day, for example, it would have been unheard of for a head coach at Madison or some place similar to take his team all the way up to Canton, Ohio to engage in some team-building/skills-building drills.  It remains a surprise to me that such creative measures did not translate better into the wins column come that season.

Be all that as it may, I have observed the progress from afar of Madison football off and on as any concerned alumnus would for his former team.  During my college years, I served for three seasons as a staff member on the Purdue football team, and I learned through working with Coach Joe Tiller and his able assistant coaches about what it takes to build a winning program.  Over time I have come to some conclusions with regard to the challenges the program continues to face and what sort of coach it would take to effectively address them.  This is to build on the firm foundation you, Coach Morrison, have diligently set in place.

As most of us are aware, Madison faces one systemic challenge of being the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference.  Moreover, while some rival schools are in conferences with growing, more dynamic populations (e.g., Floyd Central and Jeffersonville), the town (pardon me, “city”) of Madison’s population has been stagnant, if not gradually declining, for the past two decades.  Bottom line:  our pool for talent is already limited compared to the competition.  Other environmental factors – too many, too complex to list for now — on top of that stack the proverbial deck even further against us.  Can we even win at all in such a situation?  I believe we still can.  Here’s what we need:

As is the case in college football, it all starts with the coach.  In the high school and college games, the coach plays an outsized role in program success compared to his factoring into success in the NFL (though the head coach is still vitally important there, too).  At those levels, players first have to want to play for the coach (indeed, in college, the players literally choose to play for him and his assistants).  Moreover, at the high school level (and yes, college, too), the coach, in addition to being sufficiently adept at the X’s and O’s, also needs to be the team’s spiritual leader, for lack of a better term.  That is, he must be ever-vigilant in keeping the team motivated and keeping its morale high.  Superior morale is an absolute must-have for Madison football.  The boys need to be amped-up and excited to take the field more so than the other team.  It is one of the few advantages they can leverage.

That means a coach capable of lighting a huge fire under the team’s collective arse.  It means giving extra-rousing motivational speeches in the locker room before kick-off and at the end of half-time.  That also means a coach who will encourage the guys on the team to celebrate on the sidelines during a successful series.  Not only will such things sustain good morale, but it will create a fun environment that everyone can see – including able-bodied male students in the stands who would come to realize they want to be a part of that, and contribute to the team in so doing.

MadisonFootballLogo

This logo, only several years old, is one befitting a good high school program.  What Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School needs to do is find a coach to match; one who is sufficiently dynamic and has a singular vision to create a winning culture.

Snazzy uniforms also help for good morale at that level.  To that end, I must once again commend Coach Morrison, this time for the neat-looking uniform image he has crafted during his tenure (they’re light years better than the generic rags my teammates and I had to play in).  His successor must keep this good look going, and the only changes he should be making there, if any, should take things even further, provided they do not exceed the bounds of good taste (no need for the Oregon unis of 2007 with the anti-skid patterns on the knees and shoulders, please!).  Yes, that means it is important to press candidates on their uniform-styling philosophy.  If the potential new hire confesses in the interview that he is a “Penn State uniforms kind of guy”, that’s an automatic deal-breaker.  He’s gone; next candidate.  Period.  Why?  Because a predilection for such generic uniforms shows that he is unimaginative and rigid against change.  What we need is a coach who is the exact opposite – very imaginative and willing to pivot on a dime in terms of offensive or defensive strategy.  I know this from experience.  We failed to win a single game my junior-year season (1996) because the head coach and his staff were too inflexible to make changes that desperately needed to be made.  Such changes ranging from re-shuffling the offensive line to strategic offensive changes that would have played to the strengths that we had at the time would have minimized our weaknesses and actually would have put us in the position to win games, which is a coach’s number one job, lest we forget.

These two things would be a solid start.  But what about the deficit of talent?  With limited practice time, talent on the field often becomes the deciding factor, after all.  Herein thus lies the core challenge.  In addition to being good and keeping up team morale in all its facets, the next head coach at MCHS must have a combination of boundless energy and a Messianic complex where he is bent, in part, on maximizing the turnout within the school.  To accomplish this, he’ll need to win over the support of the community – not an easy task for a town susceptible to complacency.  He’ll have to attend every community function, every community festival (e.g., Old Court Days, the county fair, the Madison Regatta, etc.), every local church cookout, and spread the word about the new mission of the team.  He’ll have to kiss a hundred babies and shake thousands of hands as if he were running for high state-wide office.  In this process, he will have to sell as many folks as possible on his new, winning vision for the program, and how this new, winning vision will help put the town on the map.  Such is what it will take to win over supporters within the community and thus build up the support infrastructure – support that in turn will encourage an improvement, and ultimately, a maximization of turnout that the team desperately needs.

This aforementioned Messianic complex will also be necessary to withstand blowback from parents who might be incensed that their son would be utilized less or in a different way.  If you have to replace a drop-back QB for an option QB, for example, because therein lies the opportunity to start winning games, you’ll have to brush aside the ruckus raised by parents as so much background noise irrelevant to keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize of winning games.  Vince Lombardi was right:  winning isn’t everything, but it is the only thing.  Otherwise, why put in all the effort?  Yes, a more detailed exploration of this side-issue merits another article for another time.

The next step after that would be to continue the change in organizational culture.  All currently-available evidence shows that Coach Morrison made great strides in changing the team culture towards a supportive one.  The next head coach needs to take that and translate it into a winning one.  This is arguably the toughest challenge of them all – changing an organizational culture from a losing one to a winning one.  Where to begin?  Those in charge of hiring need to look at coaches who have turned around organizational cultures in the past.  A great example is what Barry Alvarez did at Wisconsin.  For years, they were a doormat of the Big Ten Conference.  Nowadays, they are perennial conference contenders and routinely win bowl games.  You and the hiring committee need to study what he did, then ask your coaching candidates if they would enact similar things.  You could also provide necessary guidance-as-support to ensure that you are on the same page and are pursuing the same goals together.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that if you are truly committed to building a winning program at MCHS, you must consider what you need to do attract such a candidate, and make any accommodation necessary to bring him in. Given the unique dynamism that a head coach will have to exhibit at MCHS to build a winning culture, is the hiring committee willing to make the necessary accommodations to attract such a leader that the football program needs?  Are you willing to pay a little extra?  Are you willing to clear whatever path is necessary with regard to his teaching skill sets?  Are you willing to create an environment at school that gives the new head coach ample opportunity to interact with this players/students?  Shoving him off to the side as a junior high study hall monitor like you did with Coach Getts back 2001 is not going to cut it.

That might mean twisting a few arms and cajoling a few members of the school board to see it your way.  But this might be the only way to bring in the coach you need who will reliably win games.  This will take political competence and the power of persuasion on your part to accomplish, but it’s also important that you do so.  Sell them on the idea of this being the opportunity we’ve been looking for to put Madison “on the map”.  The last thing we need is for some narrow-minded warm body to foul things up because they cannot see past their own complacency.

                To summarize, here are the bottom-line guiding suggestions for Coach Morrison and all others who have a say in the hiring decision of his successor:

  1. Ensure the coach is proven to boost and maintain high morale on the team, within all facets of the game, from game-time celebrations to sufficiently-stylish uniforms (the latter of which is already headed in the right direction, and good on Coach Morrison for this).  Can he light a fire under the team and keep it lit all season-long?
  2. Ensure the coach is both imaginative and flexible.  Is he willing to change offensive strategies mid-season if that’s what it takes to win games?  Is he willing to think creatively in what that new offensive strategy might entail?
  3. Does the coach have the necessary tunnel vision to withstand or brush aside blowback and keep his, and the team’s, eyes on the proverbial prize?
  4. Gauge the level of the coach’s energy.  He will need maximum energy to campaign as if he is running for political office so as to maximize the team’s turnout.  Once hired, guide him on all possible opportunities in the community to spread his message and thus his vision.
  5. How good is the coach at changing organizational cultures?  More than anything, this could help him build a lasting legacy of program success.  Can he cite examples he knows of regarding what other coaches have done to convert losing cultures into winning ones (see:  Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin).
  6. Lastly, are you and the powers that be willing to do your parts in creating the environment the head coach needs to succeed in his mission?

Does this all sound like a tall order?  Initially, yes.  But the further one implements this list, the more doable it shall appear.  All of this is necessary to overcome the systemic challenges that Madison football faces.  If the hiring committee is not committed to the last point, then then they will fail in passing muster with the previous five points, for it shall prevent the attraction of the uniquely dynamic coach you need to properly build on what Coach Morrison has already put in place.  Either you are committed to doing what it takes to bring in this sort of head coach, or you’ll end up settling for some guy who seems nice enough and enjoy being a whipping boy of the HHC on a weekly basis in the fall.  The choice is yours.  Let’s choose to build on Coach Morrison’s supportive legacy and do what it takes to create a wining culture.

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