Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth didn’t utilize many X’s or O’s as he spoke to members of the Louisiana High School Coaches Association on Tuesday afternoon about building a successful football program.
He told the coaches attending the annual LHSCA clinic that diagramming his version of a particular play or making a sales pitch for a certain scheme during his 50-minute presentation wasn’t going to win them any more games.
Instead he focused on big-picture tools he has used in a dramatic two-year transformation of the Ragin’ Cajuns program.
“The main thing to remember is you can’t learn how to be a coach or learn a system in two days,” Hudspeth said afterward. “But if you can walk away with one thing that makes a difference in your program, you’ve made yourself a better program.”
Hudspeth took over a program that lost nine games in 2010, and he led it to a school record-tying nine-win season in 2011 that ended a 41-year bowl drought. The Cajuns defeated San Diego State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and Hudspeth’s second team followed suit with another nine wins — giving the school its first back-to-back nine-win seasons — and another New Orleans bowl triumph.
“As we got going, we had some early bumps in the road, and some players left the program,” Hudspeth said. “They didn’t like change. A lot of people don’t like change. But the ones that stayed really bought in. Obviously now they’re glad that they stayed because they’re wearing two bowl rings.”
Hudspeth emphasized making maximum use of time and instilling “core values” in his players for use in everything they do.
One of those values is to “use good judgment,” which Hudspeth reminds his players of via a group text at 9 p.m. the night before each game.
To help achieve another core value — “play harder and with more passion than the opponent” — Hudspeth turns virtually every drill into a competition with tangible consequences. Whether it’s a one-on-one blocking drill, or a seven-on-seven passing drill, each has a winner and a loser, and each of them is clearly identified in front of the whole team. The result is the winners relax and hydrate while they watch the losers do push-ups or run gassers.
Hudspeth’s coordinators — Jay Johnson on offense and James Willis on defense — focused on the particulars of their schemes in separate presentations.
Johnson was an offensive assistant at Louisville in 2008-09 under coach Steve Kragthorpe, now a special assistant to LSU coach Les Miles.
“The last year, I ran the offense, and I leaned on Jay to help me coordinate,” Kragthorpe said. “He’s really smart. He knows not only the offense, but also how the defense will try to stop it. And he knows how to teach.”
Johnson, a dean’s list student at Northern Iowa who earned a master’s degree at Missouri, said a key for high school coaches is to develop systems that fit their personnel and can be easily taught to their players.
“Once you find what fits,” Johnson said, “you have to figure out how you can package it all together in a way that not only makes sense to you but that you can teach to the young kids. It’s got to make sense to them.”
Johnson said he and Hudspeth tailored their offense to the personnel they had initially, most of which was inherited. They opted for “The Pistol” offense, which suddenly became in vogue in the NFL last season with success of quarterbacks Robert Griffin III with the Redskins and Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers.
“It took us awhile to find our niche,” Johnson said. “The second half of our first season, we realized who we were and where we were going. Since then, we’ve focused on recruiting to that niche.”
Though Hudspeth’s background is on offense, the No. 1 item on his six-step “Plan to Win” is “play great defense,” which includes winning the field position battle through effective offense and special teams.
Hudspeth said special teams are fertile ground for “tactical advantages,” especially for high school coaches.
“You know how it is,” Hudspeth told the coaches. “Most teams are going to find a place for the principal’s son to play, maybe on the kickoff team. So find that principal’s son.”
Hudspeth began his presentation with a freshly produced video unveiling a $115 athletics renovation at ULL — “a humongous commitment,” he said — for which ground-breaking is scheduled Oct. 1.
Though the renovation, which will be completed for the 2015 season, includes other programs, Hudspeth said 80 percent of the work will involve football facilities, including a two-phase expansion that will increase seating at Cajun Field from 31,000 to 50,000.
“That’s going to get us in doors we didn’t get into before (in recruiting),” he said. “We can not only sell back-to-back bowl wins and nine-win seasons, but also one of the nicer facilities in countries.”