The latest piece in EA Sports' football gaming puzzle is NFL Head Coach, a game that takes the focus away from the stars on the field and places it squarely on the guy wearing the headphones and holding the clipboard. As EA puts it, Head Coach is a 3D sports strategy game, with an emphasis on the strategy. While the actual in-game action takes place using the Madden NFL engine, you don't control any of the players on the team; instead, you're on the sidelines, calling plays, adjusting strategy on the fly, and motivating those players who aren't cutting it. Of course, before you can even get to game day, there's a ton of work to do behind the desk to make sure your team is prepared.
To get an insider's perspective on the NFL Head Coach experience, we turned to our created NFL Head Coach alter ego, Vick Dozier. Coach Dozier has seen plenty of ups and downs in his long career holding the clipboard, but has finally managed to claw his way up from division II-AAA college ball (where he led the South Daly City University Fireballs to three straight division titles) into the big time. Vick's going to have to hit the ground running if he wants to prove he belongs with the big boys in the NFL, so, without further ado, take it away, Coach!
The Dozier Report, Part 1
By Coach Vick Dozier
You know, before I begin, the first thing I'll say is that I don't need to be prompted to begin my coaching report by some namby-pamby Atari 2600-loving couch potato who looks like he's been smuggling cheesecake in his gym shorts. The next time I need an introduction from a lightweight like him will be the day I hang up my jockstrap for good. And yes, I do wear a jockstrap--morning, noon, and night. If anyone has a problem with it, I swear to Christmas I'll have you running suicides out by the utility shed faster than you can say "Joe Gibbs."
Now, on to bigger and better things--like football. See, there's only one thing I care about, and that's football. I knew that when I finally got the call up to join the ranks of the NFL that my philosophy would be welcome in the professional leagues. And even though my former assistant coach Bill Cartwright cursed me as "the next Rich Kotite" when I announced I was leaving the team, I'm convinced that my "no excuses, no surrender" attitude is going to play well with NFL players. Those boys seem like a good, hard-working lot, after all.
On to my first few days in the NFL. Once I got the call up, I knew I had to dress the part. After all, there are few people who dress better than Bill Parcells. And even if the Cowboys coach isn't in NFL Head Coach, there's no reason I couldn't emulate his dapper style. For that reason, I chose sweat pants as the cornerstone of my coaching attire. Of course, you have to dress for multiple occasions in NFL Head Coach--around the office, in practice, on game day, and in cold weather. And that's exactly why sweat pants are at the very heart of my NFL look. After that, it's simply time to slap on a shirt--any shirt--and grab my Steve Spurrier-style visor, and it's get to work.
With my wardrobe picked out, it was time to interview for jobs. Now normally, I don't go calling folks and begging for employment. It was South Daly City who called me, after all. That said, this is the NFL, so even if I have to subject myself to a humiliating 20 questions, I'm game. So, I get on the phone, and this mealy-mouthed suit starts asking me questions like, "How do you attack zone coverage?" and "Do you double-team on the offensive line?" While I wasn't about to let this jackball know all my trade secrets, I tossed him a few bones to keep him happy. Handy meters in the upper right-hand side of the screen told me that he thought my strategic skills and work ethic were pretty high, but then again, I could have told him that myself.
After the interview, it was simply a matter of sitting back in my Barcalounger and waiting for the offers to roll in. And boy, did they roll in--big-time offers from teams like the Saints, Rams, Texans, and Jets. And then, there it was. The offer I'd been waiting for: a two-year, $5.8 million offer from the team that I grew up loving, the Chicago Bears. It wasn't the biggest offer, it wasn't the longest contract, but I knew I couldn't pass up a chance to coach the Monsters of the Midway.
What a feeling it was to walk into the Bears headquarters on day one of my new job and step into my plush new office. Compared to the last place I worked at--a dingy pit that perpetually smelled like cabbage and Ben Gay--it's a big step up. I've got my own desk; an inbox for incoming messages; a computer I can use to check up on things like the salary cap information, depth charts, and the offensive and defensive playbooks; and even my own telephone I can use to call agents or other NFL teams. If things get overwhelming, I turn to the big-screen TV in my office that has handy tips on the various characters I encounter on the job, the different periods in the calendar year (such as the restricted free agent period and the unrestricted free agent period), and so on. Not that I need help with that stuff, you understand.
After acclimating myself to the swank new office it was time to meet with the owner, Rashaan Adams. It turns out that Mr. Adams is just about as no-nonsense as I am when it comes to turning the Bears' fortunes around. In fact, practically the first question he asked was how I thought the season would turn out. Now, I could have been honest and told him that bringing the Bears back to Ditka-era prominence is going to take a lot of work and a lot of luck, but you can bet that isn't what he wanted to hear. Instead, I played it safe and told him I expected the team to make the playoffs this year. The big point Mr. Adams wanted to get across to me in our first meeting was the importance of trust in an NFL team. If your players and staff don't trust you, he said, your whole season can suffer. Luckily, it's easy to keep tabs of the trust level you have with your staff and players as the season wears on.
Now that the pep talk was over, it was time to get down to business. The contracts of two of my staff members--my running backs coach and my linebackers coach--had expired, and Mr. Adams said my first order of business was either getting them to re-sign or find replacements. After a bit of poking around on my PC, I got a pretty clear understanding of both coaches' abilities in a number of different areas, including motivation, strategy, and player evaluation, as well as an overall effectiveness rating. The research was clear: While I needed to retain my talented linebackers coach, the other guy had to go. With my first big staff meeting just minutes away, what better way to break the news to the poor sap?
You see, I've always been a straightforward kind of guy. I appreciated it when the first coach I served under came straight up to me and, in no uncertain terms, informed me that I was not performing up to his expectations as coach of the Pee Wee League Menlo Park Roughnecks. He also was stand-up enough to add that he had been carrying on a 16-year affair with my wife. Though that last bit of news was hard to swallow, I still respected his straightforward honesty; so I shook his hand, thanked him, and resigned immediately. And it's that direct approach that I took to my first meeting with my assistant coaches. I took no pleasure in standing Tim Spencer up in front of his colleagues and telling him that his service would no longer be required, but I also hoped that it sent a message to the other coaches in the room that this would be the start of a new era in Chicago Bears football.
With that bit of ugliness handled, it was time to get to restocking my coaching supply. Bob Babich, my linebackers coach, was the first order of business, so I brought him into my office and we began talking cash. His initial salary demand was, frankly, a bit of a slap in the face of the Chicago Bears organization, especially for a guy who doesn't do much more than let Brian Urlacher do whatever he wants on the field, so I talked him down a few digits. Eventually we settled on a number and contract length we could both agree on. After that, it was time to find a new running backs coach. Now, this guy would need to be someone special. After all, since Walter Payton, the Bears haven't had that much luck with running backs. Do the names Rashaan Salaam and Curtis Enis ring any bells? I wanted a guy who knew how to evaluate talent and get the most out of his runners. With Cedric Benson back on the mend, there's no reason the Bears couldn't have a top-flight running game again, especially with the right leadership.
After holding several interviews with different candidates, I was disappointed. Some of the coaches I spoke to were more interested in talking about the vertical passing game than the running game; I knew they weren't the right ones for the job. It wasn't until I talked to Calvin McFarland that I knew I had my man. When asked how he would improve the Bears' ground game, he said strength conditioning and stamina were the keys to his regimen. In other words, the guy was tough as nails. When asked about the tight end position, he said that the only position he cared about was running back. Right answer. I hired him on the spot.
With the coaching staff problems solved, it was time to move on to the roster--specifically, deciding who to sign, who to drop, and perhaps most importantly, who to draft in the upcoming 2006 NFL Draft. You frankly can't prepare too much for the draft, and luckily, there's plenty of office time to work through your depth charts, set players you wish to scout, and generally get a feel for the team you've got heading into the preseason. My coaching staff, too, was a big help here--offering advice during staff meetings on which players we needed to concentrate on keeping. In the end, we focused on four players we needed to retain for the following season--safety Mike Brown, defensive end Alex Brown, outside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, and left tackle John St. Clair. A few calls to their respective agents cleared up deals with everyone but Hillenmeyer, who was looking to play the free agency field a bit.
Frankly, I consider speaking to sports agents only slightly less distasteful than speaking to my ex-wife, and thanks to the judge's injunction, I am not required to speak to her. So, with three of our targeted players signed and ready to go, I let my assistants deal with the business of sorting out the Hillenmeyer mess. I had more important things on my mind, like the upcoming NFL Draft. Now, Mr. Adams had made it clear to me at the beginning of our time together that he expected a few things from the team with me at the helm: First, we would need to improve our red zone offense; second, we had to draft a star quarterback. With Rex Grossman's papier-mache legs and Kyle Orton's neck beard, the Bears need a new field general, and fast. The only problem: It's not too likely that a Vince Young, Matt Leinart, or Jay Cutler would be around come the 26th pick, which was out turn.
On Draft day, we had the Bears' war room all to ourselves--me and my offensive coordinator. Mel Kiper and his gigantic head were on hand, giving up-to-the-minute commentary on each pick in the draft. Interestingly, he didn't see much of a problem when the Houston Texans picked Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk as the number one overall pick. He didn't even see the conflict of the New Orleans Saints picking Matt Leinart with the second pick, and passing up on phenom running back Reggie Bush. As it turned out, Bush wasn't chosen until the ninth overall pick, by the Detroit Lions. After Leinart, the second quarterback picked overall was the underrated Kellen Clemens from Oregon, who was scooped up by the Miami Dolphins. I was hoping we could steal him for our pick, but with Vince Young and Jay Cutler still inexplicably on the board, I figured we still had a chance.
Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler was chosen just a few picks later by the Kansas City Chiefs, so you can imagine my surprise when it came to the Giants pick (#25 overall) and Vince Young was still available. With Eli Manning firmly entrenched with the G-men, there was no way I was going to miss out on the phenomenal Texas QB. I'd have a marquee name, a guy who could put butts in seats, and please my ownership in one fell swoop! Come on, New York, make your pick!
"With the number 25 overall pick, the New York Giants select quarterback Vince Young."
Boy, just thinking about it tightens my jaws. In fact, I don't think I can continue this little journal anymore today. Instead, I'm going to go to the practice facility and work out some aggression on the special teams squad. So if you'll excuse me, I've got a punter that I need to see run some wind sprints. Until next time, maggots!
We'll have more adventures of Coach Dozier in the next installment of our NFL Head Coach journal next week!