Thomson: Tech-savvy coaches give programs an advantage
When he first began coaching football in 1980, Mike O'Donnell had an unenviable task. After games on Saturdays, O'Donnell and other nearby coaches would drop film at a firehouse on Central Avenue. The film would be retrieved by a Manhattan-based company, which took 24 hours to process it.
And that was only the beginning.
"I used to drive to Manhattan on Sundays and get the film," O'Donnell said. "I would bring it back to coach (Bill) Kane's house and we would watch the film on a sheet on the wall with his projector. There was only one film. You would Scotch tape it if it broke."
So much has changed in high school football since then. Coaches now upload high-definition quality film and clips can be available to them and their players within an hour of the final whistle, on both their computers and phones.
The speed and dependability of filming games is just one of several technological changes to high school football. In fact, the evolution is unrelenting. If coaching staffs aren't tech savvy, they and their players face a clear competitive disadvantage.
"To say you're not going to use it, you're really just putting the kids behind," Scarsdale coach Andy Verboys said.
Stepinac has been among the schools to best embrace technology. Not surprisingly, being forward-thinking has coincided with O'Donnell's best years.
This year, the defending CHSFL AAA champ jumped when the league adopted a new rule. For the first time, the CHSFL will allow teams to use sideline technology that sends instant replays from video cameras directly to a tablet.
(According to an e-mail from New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas, video replay technology is permissible, including in Section 1.)
Stepinac began testing various software on its first day of practice. They each follow a similar model, pushing video from a video camera to a laptop, which sends the footage onto a cellular network or Wi-Fi cloud. The snippet of video then transmits onto a tablet almost instantaneously.
During its first practice session last week, Stepinac had a coach standing with an iPad 20 yards from quarterback Tyquell Fields. The coach could review a pass Fields threw moments after he threw it.
"When you bring your team to the bench, you can quickly and easily show them the last set of downs — where opponents are lining up, where blitzes are coming from," O'Donnell said. "Coaches can get instant information on what is happening on the field. Normally, they would rely on what they saw or the coaches in the booth."
Innovative coaching staffs always look for the next edge. Verboys, who has been a computer teacher for 26 years, said his program actually recruits computer-savvy students to film games and practices and upload film into Scarsdale's system.
Like most schools, Scarsdale files game and practice film onto Hudl, a video analysis program used nationwide. It allows individual players to create accounts and watch highlights specifically geared toward them. Coaches also facilitate recruiting with Hudl, splicing highlight films quickly so they can be e-mailed to potentially interested college coaches.
At Scarsdale, the filming and analysis extends to the practice field, too. The Raiders have as many as three iPads running at one time.
They not only tape drills to teach proper technique and safe tackling, the coaches can quickly shuffle through their next opponent's scouting report. For example, if they want to show players the specific plays a team favors when the ball is on the right hash mark, they'll grab an iPad and find them already catalogued into that category.
"It's changed it immensely," Verboys said. "You can be really technical. In the past, it relied on the coach being able to communicate what you're doing wrong. Now, it's easier because if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. And, with video, it's done instantaneously."
Long-tenured coaches have been forced to adjust to this new reality. Not all of them have thrived, but they certainly can't be accused of not trying.
"It obviously has made the job a lot easier, but I'd probably ask my wife what she thinks," O'Donnell said. "I seem to find myself in front of a computer constantly."