Learning Players, Personalities Key To Wright’s Approach
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The words flowed from the mouth of West Virginia’s new outside linebacker coach Dontae Wright’s mouth easily.
“Football is football,” he said, shortly after he began coaching on the field at WVU and shortly before spring football was canceled.
It’s so simple a concept, yet at the same time so complex.
We often forget it’s a game, often played by little kids. We have complicated it, yes, but in the end football is the legendary Vince Lombardi standing there at chalkboard explaining the famed Green Bay sweep,
“You get a seal here. You get seal here. And then you run the ball in the alley,” Lombardi says as he designs the play on the chalkboard.
It’s as simple of that, but it isn’t as simple as coaching it.
Oh, the mechanics of football are not as complex as coaching clinics would lead you to believe, but as Wright said, “football is football” and coaching it isn’t really football, it’s teaching and leading and a complex web of interpersonal relationships.
Think of it the terms Wright is now facing, coming in to a new program, having a new boss in Neal Brown, a new and sometimes very interesting and intriguing defensive coordinator in Vic Koenning and a new bunch of athletes with whom he has no background.
He has to learn and adjust to all of them and they to him.
Is it tougher to adjust to those above him or those he is teacher, the players?
“My players getting used to me,” he said as spring practice opened. “The most important thing is me getting learning my players. I have to figure out who they are if I want to coach them — and I told everyone my philosophy is tough love.
“Well, if I want to get to tough love I better figure out who those people are. If I don’t figure out how they are as people and how they tick and what makes them go, I have no chance to coach them.”
It’s an art, this coaching thing, part teacher, part father away from home, part friend and part drill sergeant.
“I can yell, I scream, I can do whatever and they’re not going to listen,” he said. “But once I know what makes them tick and how to get to them, now I got a chance to get to what we both want, success on the field and off the field.”
At the same time, though, he is trying to grasp what Koenning wants and how the veteran defensive coordinator goes about getting to it.
It isn’t familiar, for Koenning runs a unique defense and has unique way of teaching it to others. He is a down home philosopher, spinning tales like an old time southern football coach.
That, in part, is why Wright uses the phrase “football is football.” And he doesn’t stop there, adding “At the end of the day, it all has the same rules.”
No matter how unconventional, no matter the words coming from Koenning, it’s still the game he played as a kid back home in Louisa, Kentucky, and at Lawrence County High with new offensive coordinator Gerad Parker.
“Coach Vic is as unconventional as you can get, which is a great thing,” he said. “I’m excited to learn the system and the whys of this system. When you look at it on film, you are thinking ‘What are these guys doing?’ But when you get there you realize ‘Wow! That really makes sense. We’re trying to take away things they are trying to do rather than just using blanket coverages, like a lot of guys do.’”
The WVU defense adapts to each opponent, gives a different look and different assignments, which makes scouting difficult for the offense.
The first time he delved into it was eye opening.
“It was an ‘Ah ha moment’. It was this will linebacker is here and this guy is here and whatever it will be … it was different than I’d done it. He was putting a Will in this position because it makes more sense to have a bigger body there when he’s dealing with a run,” Wright explained.
“You do that instead of putting a corner or a safety there when he’s not built for that,” Wright added. “It was something I’d never thought of before but I realized it made more sense. It looks all complex — and it looks complex to the offense, which it’s supposed to — but to us it’s not complex at all.
“It’s simple. You use people in a way that fits their skill sets. If they are supposed to be in there stopping a run, let them do that. If they are supposed to be stopping a pass, let them do that.”
But in the end it comes down to how he gets it across to his linebackers, and that’s what this spring was supposed to be all about, winning over their confidence and friendship.
“On my first day I talked to every one of them and told them the most important thing from now until spring ball starts, is that I want you to come into my office every single day. It doesn’t have to be a meeting, one-on-one where we close the door,” he said.
“But come into my office and talk about your day. Come in and tell me something about what’s going on off the field so I can get to know you as a man. I really believe that’s important. They have been good about it and we feel each other out. That’s how you have to do it. You have to spend time.”
And last week, before play started, they went out as a group to dinner.
“That gets us time together away from the facility,” he explained.
And the tough love he shows now will continue whenever football gets restarted.
“I will not pull back.” he said. “My approach might be different in the fall, once we get a good relationship, but the option of pulling back isn’t there. When your head guy and you and your philosophy is about attention to detail, you don’t let details go. You have to correct things and fix things.
“You can’t let it go because once you let it go and try to talk about it at another point it’s gone. It doesn’t mean as much. You have to knock that out right now. You have to be on them right now and not let that get away.
See, if I don’t do it now I won’t be able to do it in the fall. This is what is expected of you. How do I do it? That may change in the fall when I know the best way.”