Monday, April 16, 2007

the New Guy | by Jay

The Sun-Times had a great profile of Corwin Brown over the weekend with all kinds of neat details: growing up on the south side of Chicago, playing speed chess in Harvard Square on his off days with the Pats, keeping in touch with friends of his from the old neighborhood, some of whom are in jail. It's a revealing portrait piece; be sure to check it out.

Along those lines, ND gave their annual clinic over the weekend to high school coaches. A friend of ours attended both of Corwin Brown's sessions and sent us this note. Enjoy.

Loved the clinic this year. Aside from picking up some coaching tips and tricks (and I picked up a lot), I also wanted to hear the new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown speak. At the clinics, the coaches are a lot looser than they are in the press conferences and you can really get a sense of the guys and what their personalities are like. I was really impressed by Brown: he's enthusiastic and smart. He gave an overview of his defensive philosophy in the morning session. As another coach said, you hear these kinds of talks all the time, and usually it's fairly useless, but it's the rare coach who keeps you in the palm of his hand when talking about "philosophy" and "motivation". Corwin Brown is one of those guys. You can tell he's excited about this next step up in his coaching career and he's chomping at the bit to get out on the field and see what his defense can do.

He kicked it off with a quote from Parcells. "What you say you are is your philosophy...what we (the coaches) see on film is your identity". I was reminded of what Charlie said on his first day: "you are what you are, and right now you're a 6-6 football team." We can only go by what we see.

Like many coaches he has a number of simple, foundational maxims that he always refers to ("Players first, then the plays", for example). But he isn't just paying lip service, either. He has a basic philosophy and drills his players on it over and over. "You have a philosophy, you need to talk about it! If you don't talk about it, if you don't think about it, it's not going to happen." By the end of his session every coach in the room could probably repeat Corwin Brown's philosophy of defense.

What is ND's philosophy on defense? Very simple.
1. Run and hit.
2. Attack the football. (If you're tackling, strip it. If you're covering, become the receiver and make a play.)
3. Go hard.

"If you ask any player on the team what our philosophy is, they will repeat this without hesitation, because we are always talking about it."

"Players first, and then the plays." Totally Parcells/Belichick. You tailor your plays and your scheme to fit your talent. If you ask your players to do something they can't do, you can't coach them, and you can't get mad at them when they fail. Brown relayed a funny story about how he used to have to cover Coach Parmalee on third downs in the NFL when Parmalee was with the Dolphins, and for some reason he never could quite do it. He could cover Marshall Faulk all day long, but never could cover Parmalee. And the coaches didn't get mad at him for it. He just couldn't do it, and they knew that. (Now, when he screwed up something they knew he could do, that was a different story.)

The defensive scheme, no matter what it is (and there are many ways to skin a cat, as Brown put it), all starts with "Page 1", a concept borrowed from Bob Sutton of the Jets and also used heavily by Belichick. Page 1 is the foundation of your defense. You may start there, and go forward, but you have to start there. And you can always fall back on page 1 if all else fails. When Corwin started practice at ND they put in 1 front, and 2 coverages. Practiced strictly that for the first three days. That's page 1. We can always go back to that. And we can get the job done with that.

He's a teacher. He would go off on tangents on occasion, talking about growing up in Chicago, or stories from the NFL, but he'd always circle back around and tie it to the main point. Just an excellent teacher. He sends his players to the whiteboard in study sessions, constantly quizzes them on principles and situations. Incoming LB Brian Smith was hanging out at the chalk talk on Friday night, and Corwin had him come to the front to demonstrate a technique or draw up a coverage. He nailed everything. "That's one of my page 1 guys. Not bad for page 1, huh? See, he wants to play. Those are the guys I want."

He's also a student. Talked a lot about his influences, from Parcells to Belichick to Groh to Sutton, etc. He used some chess analogies when talking about in-game strategy, and has a great memory recall of certain players, situations, sets, formations, etc. He's extremely smart, knowledgeable, and used lots of examples from his playing days. His mind is constantly going.

His enthusiasm is authentic, and infectious. I can't imagine guys not being excited to play hard for him. He talked a lot about belief: belief in the system, in the coaches, in the players. He believes in every player, because you never know where you're going to find true greatness. He had a great bit on this:

"Who rates players? Who makes guys 'five stars'? What does a 'five star' mean? Where did these rules come from? Is it standard? I mean, really, is it? You don't know. That's why you got to give guys a chance. I will tell you this: win, lose or draw, the guys that WE bring in here, in my mind, THEY'RE the best players. Because I think I can teach them to do the right thing. The guys coming here, I BELIEVE in them. And they're going to be the best. I don't care about some guy who's 'five star' and got a hundred thousand offers. Give me the dudes that want to play! That's what I want. Give me all the dudes that want to play. That's what I want more than anything else."

In the evening "chalk talk" (the small group breakout) he took questions and talked more specifically about X's and O's, diagramming some stuff on the whiteboard and telling some fascinating (and sometimes hilarious) anecdotes from his playing and coaching days. He also dropped a couple of tidbits about what ND's defense might look like, but without getting too specific.

But no matter what the scheme looks like, the team will be prepared and motivated. As Corwin said, "I don't know if we will be good, but I promise you this: we will run and hit, we will attack the football, and we will go hard."

I can't wait for this Fall.