The following is the eighth in a series of articles about how high school football has changed in Alabama over the last decade.
he National Federation of High Schools, the governing body for most prep athletics in the country, shocked almost everyone in January of 2015 when it announced that teams could use video replay on the team sideline during games. It was not a surprise from the technology end, but was a complete reversal from the previous NFHS stance. The governing body had recognized that some schools with lesser budgets would not be able to afford the equipment needed and had always rejected the idea. But in the fall of 2015, teams suddenly geared up and coaches had to learn new techniques themselves about how to coach during the games.
It has radically changed the way the game is coached on Friday nights.
Before 2015, coaches who could look onto the field and digest what the opponent was doing strategy wise was a valued member of the staff. The offensive line coach had to be able to watch each play and quickly figure out the alignment of the defensive front and linebackers. Defensive coordinators needed to be able to figure assess how the offense was blocking a certain play or how that receiver got so wide open. Each school employed a coach up in the press box who has a better look at the overall picture of all 22 players and could give the coaches on the sideline information on the alignment and strategy of the opponent.
Now teams need coaches who can watch a play on video and be able to show players and other coaches what actually happened on a certain play and make quick decisions. They simply wqit the four or five seconds until the last play loads and many times can watch the last play on their ipad before the next one begins. One 3A offensive assistant coach said, "when the game is over, I have already watched the entire thing offensively on video."
The money issue still exists. Teams who have plenty of it have elaborate set ups on the sideline with ipads and big screen TVs. Those who don't have the money for the technology still do it the old fashioned way. A 1A head coach said he couldn't believe that the rules makers would ever give an advantage to the richer schools. "It is certainly an advantage," he said. "It can be the difference in winning and losing a close game."
The sideline technology rule also helps out the bigger schools where players play on just one side of the ball. It is difficult to show an athlete something on the ipad when he is always on the field. Bigger schools now have big screen TVs to show the entire defense how the offense scored on that play.
Coaches can also show their team the video during timeouts when they come to the sideline, as well as at halftime. It has changed teaching procedures during those breaks and coaches must decide quickly what they want to show the players during those times. Or maybe show them nothing at all. It is not unusual during a timeout to see the defensive line coach showing his guys a play, the linebacker coach showing his athletes a different play and the defensive back coach showing his players who has each receiver in man coverage against a certain formation.
Teams on the road now carry with them TVs, ipads, chairs, tents etc. to prepare for the sideline technology. Weather is a factor that must be considered to protect your equipment. Some teams use products like Huddlbox, which allows you to store all of the equipment in a large case and just roll it out on the field to set it up. Technology gurus on the coaching staff or student managers with techno skills have become necessary personnel.
Hudl Sideline is one of the companies that can supply the software to make it all happen. Teams pay a yearly fee and can pipe in video from the press box or end zone shot on their own wifi network. “It's just such an important tool to be able to get instant feedback and for your kids to see what's going on or why mistakes are happening," a 6A coach said. "It allows you to make adjustments way faster and more accurate.”
One successful 6A defensive coordinator said, "it is without a doubt the most helpful tool I have used in my career."
That is, when it works. Getting the system set up, operating properly with all of the tablets and TVs, and keeping it going throughout the game is essential to team success. There are nights when there are issues that are difficult to resolve. If your system isn't working, there is no rule that says the opponent has to give their system up. So tech gurus on Friday nights have become critical to team success.
The old coach that seemed to have that incredible ability to take in what he saw in the first half, make some adjustments at halftime and win the second half is still a valuable coach. But now he just doesn't have to wait until halftime to make the changes.
But 1A and 2A coaches in particular say that this rule change has not been the game changer for them that bigger schools see it as. "Occasionally we can show them something on the ipad while we qre punting, but with the kids playing both sides and with limited coaches to start with it is just tough to get a lot out of it," a 2A head coach complained. "One night I turned to ask my offensive line coach what happened on the last play, but he was dealing with a sprained ankle. We are all pulling double duty on game nights already."
Everyone expects technology to get better, from cameras to tablets to wifi in the coming years. Schools are already giving supplements to teachers for being responsible for football technology. At then end of the day, your technology is only as good as the people who make it happen. But sideline video is here to stay and has really changed how we coach high school football each Friday night.
"The days where we had to wait until we watched the film on Saturday to figure out what happened are long gone."