PHOENIX — As Ben McAdoo went through his first year as head coach, he and his staff kept a running list. They would reflect on what had been going on with the team at any given time and then jot down what they would change if they had a chance to do it over again.
This season, they have exactly that chance.
So as McAdoo embarks on his second season as head coach of the Giants, he’s looking back on his notes and making the changes.
Regrets? Yeah, he’s got a few.
“In the off-season alone there were over 100 things,” he said when speaking at the NFL’s annual meeting in Arizona on Tuesday. “Things from training camp and the season keep popping up, we’re going to keep making changes there. Some of them are subtle changes, some of them are big changes. We’re not talking scheme here, we’re not talking offense, defense, special teams. We’re just talking as a program.”
Over 100 just from the offseason. Likely three or four-fold that many when it comes to the regular season. The postseason? McAdoo may have an entire book full of self-critiques from that one week alone.
“I’m my biggest critic and contending isn’t good enough,” McAdoo said. “There’s only one goal, that’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re doing.”
Turns out he’s not the only one who functions in that way. Other head coaches said they too kept similar track of their first year on the job and focused on making changes in year two. Sometimes it was in a journal, sometimes on computers, sometimes on Post-it notes. The details may differ, but the process seems to be universal.
“There are definitely things where when you go through an experience the second time, you have a better knowledge of it,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who brought his team to the Super Bowl in his second season as a head coach. “I still do this now, after every sequence I write up an ‘after action.’ How could this segment have gone better? In the Combine, what would we like to do different? It’s almost like an audit. After my first year we changed where our hotel was, we changed some things about how we traveled. That was based on feedback from the players, too. Going through each phase of our year — training camp, in-season, postseason, combine, scouting prep, OTAs — how can those functions get better? We got better from year one to year two in a lot of those areas.”
Many players talk about making a jump between their first and second years in the NFL. They are more comfortable with the speed of the game, more aware of the structure of the season, and certainly more confident (if they have earned that) in their belonging.
Same too for head coaches.
“You can go into it with two thought processes,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of transitioning from rookie to second-year head coach. “One is saying ‘OK, I’ve learned enough to take me to the next level and I’ve arrived.’ Or you can sit there and say ‘Boy, I have so much more to learn.’ For me personally, I went into my second season thinking I still had more to learn. For a lot of those guys going into their second season they are going to reflect back like I did, look at their notes from the first year, and try to correct those things.”
That’s what McAdoo is in the process of doing now.
One of the subtle changes McAdoo said he wants to improve when offseason workouts begin next month has to do with scheduling and time management.
“Being able to maximize everything we’re doing, accounting for every second of every day in the offseason is going to be huge for us,” McAdoo said. He pointed to Phase II of the offseason program, when the offense and defense are on the field separately working against air while the opposite unit is in the weight room. This year, McAdoo is flipping the order in which they do those two activities “so our strength coaches would be able to use the time more wisely running in and out of the building, because you have two separate things going on at one time.”
Attention to those kinds of details is common in the head coaching ranks.
“We made some changes, particularly to our schedule,” Rivera said of his second year in Carolina. “I thought we didn’t spend enough time initially early in the days in certain aspects of our meetings, so I changed those. You will go back and look at the things you did, you’ll say that was good enough and that was not good enough, that needs to be changed.”
Quinn, too, made changes that most would overlook.
“Every offseason I have the staff do a 360 on me and the program from travel, team meetings, messaging, training staff, weight room staff, video, equipment, and see if I can get feedback from them,” Quinn said.
It’s also a neverending process.
“There are always new ones,” Quinn said. “This change we made was worthwhile, can we make any other adjustments to that? That’s what I’m still going through now as we’re planning ahead.”
Even Rivera, going into his seventh season as head coach, continues to reflect on his notes and make changes to his program.
“Later in my career, I’m going to have to evolve and change,” Rivera said. “Just because it’s working now doesn’t mean three or four years from now it’s going to keep working. So you just have to find the opportunity to adapt.”
For McAdoo, that’s what the second season will be all about.
“I’m always looking for ways to get better, whether it’s from assistants or coordinators giving me feedback, whether it’s from Jerry [Reese, the general manager], whether it’s from John [Mara] or Steve [Tisch, the team’s co-owners], it doesn’t matter,” McAdoo said. “I’m always looking to get better. If I’m not my biggest critic, then I can’t ask my players to be the same thing.”