Play-Calling : A Closer Look with Mark Miller
Photo Courtesy of WHBC

This week I want to talk about play-calling. I really get tired of fans complaining about the coach calling the wrong play. People that say the play call was bad AFTER it fails drives me crazy. Of course, everyone knows it was the wrong call then. Like the former Purdue head coach Alex Agase said in a Monday press conference. “Don’t tell me after the fact I made the wrong call. Everyone knows it then. Instead, tell me the right play during the game and you have 20 seconds to do it.”
Coaches prepare plays and gameplans for weeks and months before they are ever run during a game. Much discussion, meetings and practices are needed for a play to be ready for prime time – Friday night! Many factors determine if a play works or not. Some examples:
1. Is the play sound? Can you block the expected defenders.
2. Can your players pull it off? Don’t ask your QB to throw a 20 yard comeback if his arm is not
strong enough.
3. Run plays your best players do best. If you have a fast running back, let him get to the outside
and outrun people. A strong-armed QB – let him throw it.
4. The defense prepares and gameplans too. Sometime, the call is good and the defense just beats
you on that play.
Reminders: do what you do best – occasional surprises are fun but the basics win; it is good to break tendencies sometimes – if the defense can guess what you will run, they have an advantage; when in doubt or going for a game winning score – put the ball in the hands of your best player and let him run
his best play.
Game planning and play calling get way more complicated and difficult from high school to college to professional football. You would be shocked to see the volumes of computer reports on the head coach and coordinators desks as they begin game prep each week. Stats and tendencies by down and distance/field position/personnel groupings, self-scouting, defensive breakdowns, etc. all come from film study. It was not out of the ordinary for me to watch each game on an opponent 10-12 times each
week. If you can find even one thing to exploit on game day, it is well worth the time. Coaches work hard, much harder than fans would expect or believe. They all want to win and they are all intelligent men. They know their players better than anyone and have spent the time to get them ready. Failure of a play is almost always due to some factor other than the coach making a bad call. So don’t blame the coach for all the plays that don’t work. There are many other factors involved, most of them out of his control. The bottom line in play calling is this. It is not the play call that succeeds but the players, and the team with the best players almost always wins.