Coach's Corner: Sam Knopik 7/16

Sam Knopik

By Sam Knopik Pembroke Hill Head Coach
Posted: July 16, 2011 - 4:34 PM

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. 3 More Than Winning, by Tom Osborne © 1985 Thomas Nelson Publishers


Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska in the 1980s meant one thing: Game day Saturdays were sacred. Like most young boys I lived and died with the fate of my favorite sports team. (On a side note, I have found it interesting that these emotional ties have all but disappeared since I began coaching. I think it has something to do with seeing what is behind the curtain, so-to-speak. It’s not as magical as it seemed when I would cut out every game photo from the Sunday World-Herald to pin to the wall.)


Coach Osborn’s book is not a football coaching book but more than a memoir. Looking back I think it may have been a written explanation for the events in Miami of January 2, 1984. The Cornhuskers, that’s what we called them back in the day, were sporting an undefeated season, a Heisman Trophy winner and a stable full of stallions on both sides of the ball.


After beating Oklahoma, which was never a small achievement, they simply needed to finish the season against upstart Miami undefeated. Undefeated means no-losses, ties if necessary. Precedents had been set where championships had been won with ties on their record: Notre Dame in 1946, Notre Dame in 1966, Nebraska in 1970, USC in 1974, Colorado and Georgia Tech in 1990 are the latest.


So, as the Cornhuskers faced a fourth quarter comeback they found themselves down 31-30 with less than a minute to play and a choice: kick the PAT, tie the game, win the National Championship or go-for-two, make it and earn the National Championship or fail and finish the most remarkable season in college football with 1 loss and no championship. Coach Osborne would later explain his decision to go-for-two, “We don’t teach or promote tying football at Nebraska.”


Osborne opens his book with a detailed first hand, sideline account of that remarkable fourth quarter and the two-point play.


Turner released the ball into the night sky. The roar of the crowd crescendoed. And for an instant it looked as if we would connect and score. But the man covering Irving saw Jeff running to the outside, left Irving and started for Jeff. He slipped slightly, then regained his balance and lunged desperately for the ball. He got two fingers on the ball and barely deflected it, causing it to bounce off Jeff’s shoulder pads as he made a futile effort to turn and clutch it.”


The first eight, or so, times I read this book I was a fan. The recap of the two-point play from the coach’s perspective was priceless. However, there was really no way I could appreciate the next passage until I had a team of my own. Osborne continues, “I just closed my eyes, leaned over and put my hands on my knees. When I opened my eyes, I saw the trampled ground and noticed my dirtied shoes and bright red slacks. Then I stood erect, began clapping, and welcomed our players back to the sideline with encouraging words.” As I mentioned before, More Than Winning is not a coaching book, however, there is quite a bit of coaching wisdom in that often overlooked passage.


The photos included in this book are a lot of fun including Osborne’s playing days at Hasting College and classic action shots of Dave Rimington, Turner Gill, Irving Fryer, Mike Rozier and Dean Steinkuhler.


Coach Osborne wrote two follow up books titled On Solid Ground and Faith in the Game. Both continue to chronicle the 25-year career of his Nebraska program but also provide some insight to the coach looking for some clues on sound coaching principles.


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