Buccaneers Running Backs Coach Art Valero gave the coaches in attendance some Xs and Os they could really use
Tampa Bay Buccaneer coaches Jeremy Bates, Rich Bisaccia, Richard Mann, Rod Marinelli, Bill Muir, Mike Tomlin and Art Valero have spent many an hour watching film, diagramming plays and discussing strategy. Usually, however, it's in a room filled with NFL players.
On Friday, those seven Buccaneer instructors, along with Tampa Bay Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli, University of South Florida Head Coach Jim Leavitt and former Buccaneers assistant Frank Emanuel spoke to a different – but just as attentive – audience.
That starting 11 of football experts provided the instruction at the Buccaneers and National Football Foundation High School Coaching Academy on Friday. In attendance were dozens of Hillsborough County high school and youth football coaches, all looking to hone their own skills and pass on to their players this knowledge from the top.
Conducted at Raymond James Stadium, the Coaching Academy was designed to facilitate the growth of football, ensure the positive development of all those participating and elevate the quality of football coaching at the high school level. The program was a one-day, hands-on clinic focusing on several essential areas of football knowledge and player development. It thoroughly covered such areas as coaching philosophy, football skills and strategy, coach-player communication, life skills development and player health and safety.
The coaches took turns speaking from their own areas of expertise, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with Bill Muir, the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. All business, Muir set the event's tone by beginning at precisely 8:30, just as he would treat a position meeting at One Buc Place. And though his subject material started with the very basics, Muir believed it would help many of those in attendance.
"I know it's Football 101," he said, "but it works."
Muir's presentation didn't end quite as promptly as it beginning. Touching on such subjects as blitz protection, game-situation drills and fundamentals (a running theme of the day), Muir filled up his allotted time and even spilled over into the following session. No one seemed to mind; in fact, few noticed as the coaches in the audience were focused on ferociously scribbling down notes during the entire session.
Following Muir was Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli. The highly-respected veteran coach focused less on technique and more on helping coaches become better at their primary job: teaching. Marinelli stressed creativity in coaching but also encouraged the coaches to make their drills game-related and useful in developing football skills. He also spoke to the importance of communication and accountability.
Marinelli told the assembled coaches that he prefers to call his charges 'rushmen' instead of defensive lineman. "Our objective is to take the quarterback down," he stated. "If he's standing, he's insulting us."
Marinelli's fire-and-brimstone presentation was followed by a more subdued, if still animated session by Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin. In recent years, the Buccaneers' coaching staff has been lauded for how well it teaches the 'lost art' of tackling, and that was Tomlin's main point of emphasis, just as it is many days on the practice field.
Tomlin discussed different situations that require different types of tackles and the proper time, place and positioning for each style. Tomlin's message was that all great defenses – a description that has fit his secondary for years – have two things in common: hustle and sound tackling.
"I think a lot of the time we get caught up in the schematics and trying to come up with something new," said Tomlin. "In the process, we forget the basics: hustling and tackling."
After a short break for lunch, the coaches were treated to presentations by Leavitt and Emanuel. Leavitt spoke on the topic of building a team and a program, something he knows quite a bit about, having built the USF Bulls from the ground up.
"People are the key," said Leavitt. "You need to find your leaders and make them believe. Once they believe everyone else will begin to believe and that's when special things can happen."
Emanuel, who has coached on the high school, collegiate and NFL levels, spoke about playing the linebacker position and paying attention to details.
"There are two kinds of pain," said Emanuel. "The first kind of pain is the pain of discipline. The second kind of pain is the pain of regret. If you suffer through the first kind of pain, you don't have to worry about suffering through the second."
Valero, the Bucs' running backs coach and former tight ends coach, was next at the podium. His presentation proved quite practical, as he presented a set of play-action plays that are easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to run and most importantly, effective.
Valero had a great visual backup: continuous film of the Buccaneers gaining significant yards in critical situations using the same plays, including several first downs in Super Bowl XXXVII. Valero showed his pupils exactly what was expected of the running backs, tight ends, receivers and lineman in each formation and play call. The plays presented by Valero may represent only a small fraction of what is found in Tampa Bay's playbook, but they are strategies the coaches know they can fall back on at any time.
"It's very easy to teach and learn," said Valero. "But the best thing about it is that it doesn't take the most talented lineman or an all-star quarterback. The protection is simple and so are the reads. As long as everyone does their jobs, a positive outcome is almost assured."
Toriscelli, the Buccaneers' head trainer, took the stage next. His address centered on dehydration and muscle injuries as well as determining injury return time and developing creative exercises for players trying to regain their strength. Toriscelli fielded several questions and discussed the proper steps to be taken when medical problems arise on the football field.
The coaches actually peppered Toriscelli with more questions than any other speaker of the day.
"I thought the quality of the questions was excellent," said Toriscelli. "It shows that they were interested in the health and safety of their players and you can't ask anything more from a coach, from my standpoint."
Special teams was the next subject on the menu for the coaches at the Academy, thanks to the presence of Bucs Special Teams Coach Rich Bisaccia. Bisaccia showed footage of drills he runs during a typical practice and helped relate the material to the proper ways to teach special teams technique to young players.
Following Bisaccia was 23-year NFL coaching veteran Richard Mann, who has tutored such well-known receivers as Mark Clayton, Andre Rison, Ozzie Newsome and Keenan McCardell. Mann was on hand to discuss the finer points of catching the ball in the NFL. He talked about getting off the ball at the snap, making routes clean and crisp, looking the ball in to the hands and anticipating the pass.
Mann was the clinic's final speaker, but the coaches still had one more meeting to attend – a skills demonstration hosted by Bates on the Raymond James Stadium field. The attending coaches were treated to a how-to session on quarterback tutoring. Bates, who played at Tennessee and Rice during his collegiate career, showed the coaches an assortment of drills that would help improve play at that all-important position.
Among the position elements covered by Bates were proper throwing technique, accuracy (addressed through a rapid-fire throwing drill), backpedaling and overall awareness. It was a brief 15-minute session, but one that had many of the coaches talking.
"That's very interesting stuff," commented one coach. "It's definitely something we'll work on with our guys."
In fact, the high school and youth coaches at the Buccaneers and National Football Foundation High School Coaching Academy finished the day with many lessons to pass on to their players. In return, the Buccaneer and USF representatives who shared their amassed knowledge had the opportunity to pay respect to the men that coach Muir calls 'the life blood of our sport.'
"I'm just glad I could be a part of this today," said Tomlin. "My high school football coach was the single most influential person in my life and I know these coaches understand the magnitude of the influence they have and the importance of the roles they play in their player's lives."