How College Football Coaches Can Change the Culture of a Program

Cory McCune@@corymccune11Contributor IIIMarch 29, 2013

Nick Saban has rebuilt Alabama into the top program in the country.
Nick Saban has rebuilt Alabama into the top program in the country.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In the college football world there are basically two types of cultures: a winning culture and losing culture. There is no in between.

A program is either progressing or regressing, they can't be stagnate. 

Winning keeps everyone happy and makes the program enticing for high school stars. Losing makes everyone involved miserable and isn't exactly attractive to recruits.

But how can coaches change a losing program into a winner?

Just look at Ohio State, the Buckeyes went 6-7 in 2011 and were headed downhill. Then Urban Meyer stepped in, changed the culture and brought the Buckeyes an undefeated 12-0 season.

Meyer, Nick Saban and Pete Carroll have all turned around major programs by changing, or bringing back, a winning culture. Any coach that is looking to turn around a program needs to do three things that those three coaches did: Recruit better, create competition and change the attitude.


"It's not about the X's and the O's, it's about the Jimmy's and the Joe's." - Unknown

As that popular quote says, the talent of the players on the field is more important than how good the coach is.

No coach seems to understand that, or at least publicly express it, better than Meyer. Not only has he placed a large focus on recruiting his entire coaching career, he is now challenging the rest of the Big Ten Conference to improve their recruiting efforts.

Meyer is one of a handful of great recruiters around the country that have won games due to their ability to recruit the best "Jimmy's and Joe's."

Saban has won three of the last four national championships thanks to his outstanding recruiting. Carroll had USC on top of the college football world for five years due to his ability to attract talent to L.A. In the last decade Mack Brown, Bob Stoops and Les Miles have consistently kept top-notch teams thanks to their recruiting efforts.

Thanks to quality hires at Michigan, Notre Dame and UCLA, those programs are looking to move back to the top of the college football world thanks to their recruiting efforts.

But the biggest surprise of the 2013 recruiting class had to be Ole Miss, where Hugh Freeze went out and brought in one of the top classes in the country before his program showed much success on the field.


"So many times people are afraid of competition, when it should bring out the best in us." - Lou Holtz

Just recruiting players with great potential doesn't make a team become great. The players have to develop, and the team has to come together.

What coaches like Meyer, Saban and Carroll have all done is create great competition among their players in practice.

Competition is one of the main reasons why Alabama is on top of the college football world. Saban has not only been successful in bringing in one great recruiting class after another, but he's created a level of competition that no other program can match.

Carroll's "practice is everything" philosophy showed the importance he put on competition every day. 

Meyer has shown his love for competition by routinely calling out players that are not living up to expectations. The most recent of these public challenges was aimed at upperclassmen that have been "getting free training tables" and "need to give something back." 


"Attitude reflects leadership, Captain" - Remember the Titans

 This may be the toughest of the three factors to change. The toughest selling job for a coach isn't just getting hired, it's getting the players, the fans and the recruits to buy into what the coach is selling.

Carroll changed the attitude of his USC program with flair. He embraced the fun-loving lifestyle of L.A. Instead of adding to the pressure that was always on the hire-profile recruits he brought into the program, he relived the pressure.

Whether it was bringing in Will Ferrell, playing pranks or just singing together, USC was always loose under Carroll.

It could be argued that the program was too loose due to an ill-advised lateral and NCAA sanctions, but the Trojans were winners on the field during the Carroll era.

At Ohio State, Meyer hasn't run loose program, but he has run a rather open program, in which he will openly challenge his players to improve. This may not seem like much, but having the confidence to be able to publicly scrutinize a player and expect that player to respond positively shows a strong relationship and a good attitude.

The Blueprints

There isn't a set way to achieve the goal of changing the culture of a program. As the examples of Meyer, Saban and Carroll show, it can be done with different approaches. 

Carroll did it with a fun-loving, Southern California type of attitude that was perfect for USC. Saban has done it with factory-like efficiency, while Meyer is building his program by challenging his players more. 

But like those three did, any coach looking to change a program's culture and build a national power will have to do it with recruiting, competition and an attitude change.


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