Coach's Corner: Sam Knopik 6/24

Sam Knopik

By Sam Knopik Pembroke Hill Head Coach
Posted: June 24, 2011 - 11:14 AM

Dan Stanley, a Missouri High School Hall of Famer, who was the first coach at Winnetonka and later Missouri Valley College, has provided me with sage advice over the years. One piece in particular was to the effect of how I was spending my summers.


Like many coaches, I was burning the midnight oil with various summer football duties. Work with 7-on-7, weight room, camps, staff meetings, and field maintenance never seemed to be completed.


On top of that, teachers have the luxury of an additional seven or eight weeks to earn a little more income and some of us try to find odd jobs that a glorified PE teacher with a shovel and a wrench can earn a few bucks doing. However, before we blink its August again. Time to check out the equipment, paint the lines and begin the week to week test that we have been preparing for since the previous November.


Coach Stanley said to me, “Get away from this. We know all these jobs are important but find a way to get away and see if you don't come back with more energy and desire.”


As much as I wanted to heed his suggestion I have trouble getting past the words on my wall of Henry Longfellow, “The heights by great men won and kept/ Were not attained by sudden flight/ But while their companions slept/ Were toiling upwards in the night.


That being said, I still find my way to the school most every day in the summer, but I have made an effort to relax away from the game. Side jobs keep me busy but an honest day’s labor away from my “real” job almost seems like being at summer camp when I was a kid.


What I like to do more than anything else, when I have time, is to read. Summer is my reading time. I like to knock out books I've been putting on the back burner in these precious weeks. Thanks for the advice Coach Stanley, I'm doing my best to take it easy this summer. Thus for the next few issues of Coach's Corner I decided to share with you some of my favorite football coaching related titles from my shelf.


Long gone are the days where high profile coaches would write solid, sound football coaching books. With multimillion dollar contracts those guys don't need to write. Now the closest thing we can find from a “big-timer” is a treatise on leadership principles.


Seasoned coaches will know the truth that rarely, if ever, is there a new concept introduced to football that hasn't been seen before. Out of print coaching books help remind us of this as well as share timeless insights that somehow have been lost on our contemporary play-by-play and color commentators. Younger coaches should take a look at any out-of-print titles and simply read the introduction and concluding chapters. In these brief pages you will find a goldmine of philosophy and football wisdom that no on-line, podcasted, Mega-Clinic can provide.


What follows are some of my favorites, not a top ten list or a ranking that would be too hard as there are too many good ones. Not all of these are football coaching books but they are all football related. Some you may be able to find at the bookstore while others you may need to hit eBay or the library.


No. 1 Football: Principles and Play by David Nelson © 1962 The Ronald Press Company


This may be the most important book regarding coaching the game of football ever written. David Nelson was the long-time coach at the University of Delaware as well as the chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee. Coach Nelson's book begins with a remarkable defense of the game as it should be taught on campus across America. “A football program, wherever it is, or under whatever system it may be conducted, should be based on principles which have been constants in successful football for decades. Coach as players who fail to realize the importance of these foundations of the game usually fail to attain the prime objective of the sport.”


One of my favorite passages deals with circumvention of one of the primary rules of the game. “Holding is prohibited by the rules because it does not belong in the game of football. It is unfair play. It eliminates skill. The slowest and clumsiest man on the field could run for a touchdown on every play if his teammates held their man long enough. The object of the game is to advance the ball by strategy, skill, and speed without holding one's opponent.... If your coach cannot show you how to advance the ball without holding your opponents, it is fair to assume that he does not understand the basic strategy of the game.”


WOW! Deal with that one the next time you stand in front of your players to extoll the virtues of following rules, and making good choices in life.... Oh, but we can tell ourselves it's OK to grab within the framework.


On the topic of rules, Coach Nelson's other book The Anatomy of a Game: Football, the Rules, and the Men Who Made the Game is a remarkable year-by-year account of the game's history as told by the rule changes. When you consider the game, what really is it than the rules that guide it? Of course we as coaches attempt to emphasize the culture and character building benefits but really our game is simply the rules that separate it from soccer, rugby, and basketball. Seeing as how Coach Nelson served on the NCAA Rules committee from 1959-1991 much of this book comes from a personal first-hand account of his seat in the front row.


If my wife were to pass a new rule our house, which happens from time to time, in which I was allowed only two football books on my shelf Nelson's would be them.


Sam Knopik is the head coach at Pembroke Hill High School.