Week 4 Hog Blog: The Brave New World of Sideline Video

Dateline Madison, Wisconsin, September 1978.

“Is the tackle blocking down?” That was the question an exasperated defensive coordinator named John Varaga was shouting at his underweight and outclassed defensive end. Madison Edgewood’s vaunted defense had just given up an 80-yard scoring drive on five plays, all five exploiting a weakness on the Crusaders’ perimeter. “I think so,” responded the overwhelmed defender named Rudy. While the coaching staff scrambled to make sideline adjustments, I turned to my panting teammate and whispered, “Did the tackle block down?”

It wasn’t until our squad gathered for our Monday film session, some three days after our 24 point loss, that we noticed the tackle wasn’t blocking down at all. It was the contact-adverse defensive end who wasn’t filling his assigned gap. All the shouting and screaming on the sidelines was in vain. Turns out Edgewood’s players and coaches were equaling clueless as to why their defense was leaking oil faster than a German U-boat.

“What you think you see isn’t always what you’re actually seeing,” explains Mt. Miguel Coach Troy Starr. “Any coach who tells you that they see it all with a naked eye is lying.”

Fast forward to 2018. Nearly every high school football team in the county has some sort of video set-up that feeds directly to laptops on the sidelines. In some cases, in near real time.  “(Video on the sidelines) is such a great coaching tool,” says two time CIF State Champion coach John Carroll. “It’s the ability to show instead of tell. Kids learn better when they can visualize what’s going on.”

Echo & Hudl Sideline are the two most widely used software elements in the rise of video access on high school sidelines. Ramona was one of the first schools in the county to commit to the new sideline technology. According to Head Coach Damon Baldwin, the Bulldogs have been using the Echo system for the last five seasons. Their sideline set-up features a 40-inch TV monitor for large as life coaching. “The Wi-Fi has to be good, but when the system is working properly, you can have video of a play sometimes less than 2 minutes after it happens. You can actually identify something that changes your play call on the very same drive.”

Scripps Ranch Coach Marlon Gardinera also uses the Echo system, the Falcon boss pretty much “echoing” his Bulldog counterpart. “Everybody used to use film to make adjustments week to week. But now with this technology we can make in-game adjustments. To me, you can’t be successful without it”.

A high end video system can set a football program back north of six thousand dollars. Which immediately raises the question of “haves” vs “have nots.”  At Mt. Miguel, Coach Starr’s staff has to be creative. “We’re feeding to the sidelines using cell phones at the moment,” he confesses. “But we hope to have something more appropriate in the next week or two.”  Starr adds, “It’s a critical part of high school football now. If one school has it (sideline video) and you don’t, they have a huge advantage.”

But affording the technology is only half the problem.  Finding tech savvy operators capable of setting the gear up and keeping it working order is actually the more difficult part of the equation. “Ramona has six student volunteers who are all dialed in. I can barely find three kids who can handle the chains,” said a laughing David Dunn.  The Lincoln Coach, like a lot of coaches from his era, can’t be relied upon to hook adapter 6c into receptor d3. “It’s an important tool. We use it. Just don’t count on me to plug it in or turn it on.”

“If I was coaching now, I would have one of those big sideline monitors just like Ramona,” says Carroll. The 13-time CIF champion adds, “I’d bring a kid over to the monitor, hand him a glass of water, and coach the living daylights out of him.  The technology is so good. What’s stopping a coach from calling a timeout with the game on the line and huddling his squad around the sideline monitor?”

And if this technology is so prevalent in 2018, what will it be like in 2025? “Remember the Jetsons?” muses Carroll. “It won’t be long before we’re feeding video to the player’s smart watches inside the huddle.”

Categories: The Hog Blog