There was a time when coaches would diagram plays in an old-fashioned notebook. Maybe that old-school method still exists to a certain extent, but the digital age is changing the way football coaches do their jobs.
Many coaches — both young and grizzled veterans — have embraced the change.
Advancements to technology are dictating what coaches do to compile and share information. No more 16mm projectors for long film-study sessions. No more over-sized binders full of Xs and Os.
Everything is in the computer.
"I think it has really changed the game and will continue to. The data that you can input, breaking down other teams, we live by it and really puts us in a position to be successful,' Episcopal Academy coach Todd Fairlie said. Fairlie guided the Churchmen to a 10-0 record and an Inter-Ac League championship last fall, and is the face of the new school coaching regime in Delaware County.
"We film from two different angles in practice and in games. The kids here, they learn all day and they like to be educated, and this is another way. We hold them accountable to learn football, just like they would in class. The technology available is unbelievable. I think it's changed the game of football. I think now it's available to high school coaches whereas, in the past, it would only be available to college coaches, in terms of the costs.'
Hudl.com is a website that gives coaches and players an outlet to share video highlights, upload playbooks and create video playlists for film-studying purposes. Fairlie, for instance, uploads his playbooks in PowerPoint and Excel format.
"Everything we do, basically, is on PowerPoint. The best thing about a program like Hudl, you can upload your own PowerPoint onto Hudl and it's right there in an instant,' he said. "We can print them out, but they're all right there on the computer for them and they can access them anywhere. Our scouting reports are there, too. We can put all of that up on Hudl, so we're not just always wasting paper.'
Moreover, Hudl is a customized platform for players to create personal highlight packages, thereby showcasing their resumes, so to speak, to prospective college coaches.
"The kids make their own highlight tapes up off the Hudl program. They all have access to the Hudl program,' longtime Marple Newtown coach Ray Gionta said. "They make their own highlight tape, but before they send it anywhere, I'll review it with them. Just because they made the tackle or gained the yards doesn't mean it's going to draw the attention of a recruiter.
"But you can just send that stuff out. There's a little button you can hit and send it all over the country for someone to take a look at.'
Players are getting more exposure than ever, beyond the old-school methods such as physically mailing videotapes and highlight reels to college programs. Gionta explained how a program like Hudl enhanced the exposure for some of his recent players hoping to continue their careers beyond high school.
"Last year, we had a kid flying under the radar, (offensive lineman/defensive end) Corey Power. He had great grades and I thought he could be an Ivy League-type kid and he played that well, too,' Gionta said. "I called everyone on the phone and the next thing you know I had Brown down here ... and any Ivy League school he was interested in. I think we had Cornell, Brown, Princeton and Penn. He wound up going to Penn and that was all off of Hudl from an email that I sent from his highlights.'
For Gionta, who is old-school to the bone, embracing new technology and methodology might have been cumbersome at first. Yet, as he explained, it's necessary in this new-age of coaching to keep up with such advancements to not be taken advantage of come Friday night. In the past, high school coaches may not have had access to certain resources previously only provided to colleges and professionals.
"It plays a large role. Scouting is easier because you do it with a camera and put on (Hudl). So, from and Xs and Os standpoint, everybody has a pretty good idea of what everyone else is going to do,' Gionta said. "It's easier to prepare for games and prepare for kids and harder to get any tricks by the opponent.
"If you had told me 10 years ago that I would have an iPad and I would be on the computer doing all the stuff that I do, I wouldn't believe you. I'm not on Twitter or anything like that, but it does force you to become more digitally aware.'
Marple Newtown has a team of top-notch online technicians that have created MarpleNewtownFootball.com. Strath Haven (Havenfootball.net) also stands out on its own as a fantastic reference and informational guide for its team.
Strath Haven's Kevin Clancy, the winningest coach in Delaware County history, has changed with the times, as well. For instance, sharing game film with coaches — the Delaware County Football Coaches Association holds a weekly meeting for this very purpose — is less of a burden.
"I used to have to pack things up and go to a post office and send stuff off. It used to be Super 8s and you only had so many because you only had so many,' Clancy said. "Now you just give them a login number and they can get it on the Internet, so that's obviously a big plus. You couldn't make multiple copies of that. You had one copy, and you had to rely on college coaches to send it back to you.'
Clancy hasn't had to drastically alter his coaching techniques. As the cliche goes, don't fix something that isn't broken. If nothing else, it can be said that coaches are combining elements — old school and new school to their coaching schemes.
"Certainly the things we're doing offensively have been done for over 50 years or so, so I think most people would put me in the old-school category,' Clancy said. "Things are new, technology is new. There are new technologies that we end up using. There are different elements of scheme and plays that we steal from. I still have the old-school roots, but we'll steal from the newer things that ... we can try to use.'
At what point does it become a concern to coaches that they are sharing too much information? That, says Fairlie, isn't the problem.
"I think it's something where, nowadays, every game is watched anyway. There's nothing you can do about it,' he said. "The team you're playing four weeks from now. They're going to have a guy there to watch or be able to exchange film with someone because certain schools have a deal with Hudl. As a coach, you can be a little leery about that, but the way we operate, we'd rather trade film with everybody and take a shot with the film we have on them and coach up on that side instead of worrying about what they're doing.'
If coaches have any worries at all in regards to relying too much on technology, it's precisely that. Having instant availability and communication tools at their hands is all well and good, only if it doesn't deter from teaching the game.
"My one worry is, are we so worried about coaching that we're not coaching enough on the field? Are we not getting back to the basics, which guys have made a living as great coaches for years?' Fairlie said. "The Xs and Os and the technique of coaching on the field, it's something you can't stop doing as a coach. That cannot be replaced by technology and never will, so it's important to maintain that. That's the line you can't cross.'
Make no mistake, however, the game is always evolving.
"Good or bad,' Springfield coach Tom Kline said, "it's the reality. And we, as coaches, have to continuing to adapt and embrace what's happening.'Daily Times assistant sports editors Terry Toohey and Matthew De George contributed to this story.