When Emerald Ridge (Wash.) High School senior running back Tyler McBride looks to the sideline for instructions, he can be forgiven for not knowing who to search for. While most offensive players would only have to find their head coach or offensive coordinator for an adjusted game plan, McBridge just has to look for the head man. The issue is that he has five of them.
Emerald Ridge is in the first season of a unique set up, using five head coaches who wield equal power to try and resuscitate a moribund football program. The Jaguars are currently mired in a multiple-year, 17-game losing streak, but co-head coaches Darren Erath, Adam Schakel, Torey Donovan, Brian Anderson, and Troy Halfaday are doing their best to bring the program back to respectability. While there are plenty of other programs in the country that have co-head coaches, most traditionally share power between only two men, and it's believed no other schools have five co-head coaches.
While it might seem hard for Emerald Ridge's pentagonal power structure to deliver a single message, McBride told the Tacoma News Tribune that's hardly the case.
"It takes a lot of trust to hop on board with that," he said. "I was wondering, ‘Who's the authority figure? Who's going to step up and take charge?' " [...]
"What I've seen is that it's one effort; they are one team," the running back/defensive back said. "They all share. There's no one guy. It's so much better that way. They're going to see a lot of success here because of that."
Part of the way the coaches have been able to craft a clear message is by sticking to a single storyline, pitching the Jaguars as a long-term investment in building success, all the while convincing their players not to become swayed by bad results on the scoreboard. The other part, it seems, comes from clearly defined subroles for each coach. In additional to being head coaches, each coach has some unit he leads ... or co-leads. Erath and Schakel serve as co-offensive coordinators, where Schakel is the team's game manager on the sidelines while Erath takes in the action from the coach's box upstairs. Anderson is the team's defensive coordinator, getting help from Halfaday with the linebacker corps. Halfaday is also in charge of special teams, and Donovan focuses on coaching both the offensive and defensive lines.
Because of that intricate breakdown, Emerald Ridge players still know where to look when trying to decide what they need to do. And the co-head coaches insist there's no power struggle because each man focuses most on the students he's accustomed to working with.
"We established roles in beginning," Halfaday told the News Tribune. "Your turn comes up, you take the leadership. [...] We've had conflicts, but every staff has that. Iron sharpens iron. We're sharpening each other every day. There is accountability."
Pushed further by the News Tribune, here's how Halfaday described how a key sequence might play out during a game:
If the Jaguars have the ball at midfield with about a minute left in the first half, who's calling the shots? According to Halfaday, the situation would go something like this:
If a timeout was in order, Schakel would call for one. From the coaches box, Erath would relay the play call to Schakel, who would send it to the huddle. Meanwhile, Donovan, who's also in the box, would provide the coaches on the sideline with information on the offensive line. All that's left is for the players to execute.
It sounds simple enough, and the five coaches' execution has won over their players. The only question now is when Emerald Ridge's new mentality and game plans will bear fruit.
"We're buying into it," McBride told the News Tribune. "It might not look like it on the scoreboard, but we're about more than that. The coaches always tell us, ‘We build champions first and championships come later.' We're going to get that success."