B.J. Payne is all too familiar with the eye roll.
One of his good friends brings his family down for a week on Hilton Head Island, and inevitably the conversation is going to turn to football. Maybe it comes up while cooking burgers in the back yard; perhaps while grabbing some beach time.
“Even though we’re with our families, at some point it always goes back to football,” said Payne, the Seahawks’ fifth-year coach.
Especially when your guest is Marcus Freeman, Purdue’s co-defensive coordinator. No casual chit-chat here — rather deep Xs and Os.
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Sorry, girls, this could run on a while. Catch up with you and the kids later?
“It’s kind of funny,” Payne said. “They kind of do the eye rolls — ‘There they go again. Boys will be boys.’ But they understand completely. They know at the end of the day, it’s going to come back to (football).”
If you’re a football coach, to riff from a popular TV commercial, you dissect football. It’s what you do. And just as summer is a time for players to venture out in their quest to get better, the same goes for coaches.
“It’s something that’s with me probably 20 out of the 24 hours in a day,” said Fred Hamilton, Battery Creek’s once-and-again coach. “I’m probably sleeping the other four. But yeah, it’s always on my mind.”
Hilton Head Christian coach Matt Smith acknowledged: “My wife sometimes tells me to get off the phone because I’m calling somebody to discuss run/pass options — ‘This is what I do, what do you do?’ ”
No matter the league or level of success, coaches know there’s always something that can be done better. It doesn’t take long to find someone’s brain to pick, especially with the wealth of information available at the click of a mouse.
Smith frequently exchanges clips with his network of contacts via the online service Hudl, which leads to those extended conversations his wife isn’t always fond of.
“Then I have to sit down and draw (the plays) up with my players’ names there,” Smith said. “Then I learn, yeah, you can do that because you have a 280-pound lineman that runs a 4.7 (in the 40-yard dash). We’ll cross that one off the list. It goes back and forth. I go through a lot of paper.”
For most, though, nothing beats the chance to observe and ask questions.
A year ago, Payne tweaked some of his special teams based on what Ohio State was doing. This year the Seahawks have a new pass-catching drill he discovered on a visit to Toledo. Whale Branch has tapped into Clemson and others for ways to spread things out offensively after facing too many seven- and eight-man fronts.
Beaufort coach Mark Clifford, a proud Clemson alum, also likes to see what Dabo Swinney is up to when he visits his alma mater. But he’s also a little sheepish about who else he spent time with this summer.
Let’s just say he’s a former Florida coach who made his bones as a defensive coordinator at places like Texas and Auburn.
“He’s a friend of the family,” Clifford said of new South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who played for his brother in high school. “He’s a genius, I think. I love his staff. My defensive coordinator (DeVonte Holloman) played there. So I spent a good amount of time there.”
Tigers fans certainly understand. We think.
Florida Atlantic was a favorite stop of John Paul II coach Kevin Wald when he was coaching in Florida, making the 45-minute drive to pick the brain of Howard Schnellenberger.
The gravel-voiced coach led Miami to its first national title, resurrected a dormant Louisville program and built FAU from scratch. If there’s a guy with knowledge about how to build a program from the bottom up, it’s Schnellenberger.
“I used to go down and spend a lot of time with him in the spring and early part of the summer,” Wald said. “I would (drop by) the University of Miami when Randy Shannon was coaching, too. But Schnellenberger was probably the most influential guy for me.”
Hamilton, who also spent several years as a college assistant, has made the rounds with such coaches as Tennessee’s Philip Fulmer and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer. More than Xs and Os, though, he draws on the lessons learned under Wofford’s longtime coach Mike Ayers.
“I learned a ton from him,” Hamilton said. “He was very patient with me early in my career and taught me a lot of football.
“Coaching style is a big part of it, too,” he continued. “The way you approach kids, how you deal with certain issues. You can know all the Xs and Os in the world, but if you don’t have a coaching style and how to coach kids, it’s not going to matter much.”