Manny Matsakis

Inside Access: Develop Your Chemistry Set Mindset

How and When to Experiment with new ideas

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On this Inside Access, Manny discusses the Chemistry Set Mindset that has helped him during his career. He explains the origins of his use of this mindset at Emporia State, while expanding on how, why, and when you should implement this way of thinking. A very informative look into the thought process Manny has used in developing some of his offensive schemes throughout the years.

Manny: Welcome to inside access. This is the second episode, “Developing Your Chemistry Set Mindset”. I’ll tell you what I love about this concept is, chemistry sets are all about experimentation and I believe I have been very fortunate at different times to have this type of mindset.

And what was pretty interesting for me is, years ago, when I was the head coach at Emporia State University, in Kansas. A friend of mine, Shan Zinger, who was a Gaduate Assissant with me at Kansas State. He was working at Kansas State and fundraising and he came down to Emporia State, walked around the track, at that point we had turned around the program at Emporia State to a top ten team in the country and he mentioned to me, he goes wow! He said, this is an awesome situation that you have, you basically have a chemistry set. It dawned on me that that opportunity that I had if I kept utilizing some of the insights from being able to try different experiments, it would give me a chance to continue to improve my program, and in this case, my career at that time. So what I want to share with you is something that I did at Emporia State, unbeknownst to, to me why I did it this particular way.

But I had been there after the first season, and we were after my very first season there. We were number one in the MIaa, which is the conference we were in and pass number one in total on offense, so pass offense total offense, and we had a 1000 yard rusher who was only a freshman. So you would think that things were going Pretty well there. We had a 4-7 record, but it was my first head coaching job and I had been recruiting on spring break out in Long Island and a friend of mine, Russ Sellin, the head coach at Freeport high school had given me this book that was written, oh my goodness in the early 19, I'd say sometime in the 1950s. And it was written by Dutch Meyer, it was called Spread Formation Football. And what was interesting is, as I was going through this, here's this guy that at that time, I didn't know who Dutch Meyer was. Dutch was the head coach at TCU. And he had written this book and he had prolific offenses there, was a running system that was what you would call a spread wide open system. A lot of no- backs that I saw in there and I saw a picture in there of a guy He was coming across in motion. And what happened was the quarterback or you might have called him the fullback. And what would have been sort of like a single wing spinner series, he gets the ball, he turns around, and that's all I had to see. There was no video of this. It was like, sequential photography of this guy coming across, boom, that's all I saw. And I kept thinking, Man, you know, it was interesting that we were so good on offense statistically. But the problem that kept bothering me was this 4-7 records. So I had this image in my mind that spring and I'm kept thinking to myself, well, there's got to be a way to balance the Run & Shoot offense, which was what we had done the first year. And up to that point, we're pretty much you know, when I was at Hofstra and then Emporia State, in the Run & Shoot, it always led The conference we were in. And, and you know, we're really good as far as total offense. That was something we had. It was rare to get a 1000 yard rusher for us. But you know, I was thinking, hmm, there's got to be something in here. And let's treat this as an experiment because I had all types of reasons to say, I don't know if this will work, I'm going to put the quarterback under the center, I'm going to bring this jet sweep, which we didn't know that's what it would eventually be called. Bring that across the formation and then we're going to take this little running back we had and we're going to develop a series that may help us balance the Run & Shoot, but it was all about a chemistry set experience because I had at one time run the triple option with the Run & Shoot During the last season I was at Hofstra in Long Island I saw a lot of benefits that but at that point, I had a quarterback that could run the option and was a great passer. So it made sense. But at Emporia State, I had a tall quarterback, fellow by him and Pete Jelovic. A really good quarterback, but he was, you know, 6’4/6’5 you know, his 40 time was nowhere it was maybe 5.3, I'm guessing I, you know, somewhere above that, but not a guy that you would think you could run the option with. So I was obsessed with understanding how I could combine all these facets at that point, because I thought if we could just balance things out. Just maybe we could turn the program around completely. And so what I found out was a few things and that that was back in the spring of 1996.

Now, I believe and we'll get back to some of this. There are four benefits to this chemistry. Set mindset. And the first benefit is it keeps you from thinking you have to get it perfect. And oftentimes, at places I've been, you get bogged down in analysis paralysis. It's like, oh, everything's got to be perfect before we put it on the field. And I think if you come in and say, hey, let's let's just try this as an experiment and see where we can take this. And I think that is a key in this. The second part of this, that I feel is really important, is experimenting with this mindset enables you to get data you would never get elsewhere. And what I noticed was in this as we were working on this series that we were developing, we came up on some things to communicate with our players, and we at that point, one of our players started playing With his splits, our offensive linemen were playing with their splits. And it became what today, a lot of option teams run it. They call it Tony DeMaio has done it. He calls it smart splits. We call it a accordion splits because our linemen are two point stances and we basically cut the shade, widen the three. we had a bunch of rules in there, that the linemen actually helped us develop, because they were literally in the trenches and creating a system where that was coming through. So that experimentation enabled me to get the data I would never have gotten by just sitting on a chalkboard or a white board and with my assistant coaches, hey, we could do this. And I believe that that made a big difference for us. The third aspect of this mindset that I think is important is experimenting enables those who are not yet sold to give it a try before committing. before fully committing and What I what I was dealing with at that point was, hey, we were good. And assistant coaches thought the idea was crazy. Why would you want to try something that we had no film on, nobody else was, that we knew at that point was doing it. And Lord knows somebody could have been doing it. And you know, I had a, there was no internet back then. So it was a little different. So we're like, hey, let's just do it off of a few pages in a book and give it a try. You know, my coaches were some of the coaches saying, if it wasn't broken, why fix it? You know, let's just keep getting better with these guys. And that may have worked, you know, but what I've noticed is and, you know, if you look at change initiatives in and of themselves, 70% of change initiatives fail, and research shows that, but I believe this, it's not that you just want to keep trying to change things all the time. You'll never get really good at them. But I believe it's because a large number of these failures are attributed to risk aversion, risk aversion of team members, because what happens is, you set up the resistance, and that resistance that some of the team members may have to change literally dooms the project. And I feel either way, you'll know more by just trying the experiment. And I believe experimentation is very powerful in that mindset. And the fourth benefit to this mindset is this. That experimentation allows you to change your mind. See, if it doesn't look good. You know, just chalk it up to experience and move on. And that's totally okay.

You know, and you have to try things, or it wouldn't really happen. It sort of reminds me of, oh, let me think Who was it? Oh, Rich Rodriguez. Rich Rodriguez was at Glenville state back when I was at Hofstra, and I remember him telling me you know, he was a Run & Shoot guy in his earlier days as a coach and and all of a sudden, how he had sort of an accident in practice helped him develop the zone read. So he is a coach that's willing to experiment. And that chemistry set mind sets really can help you out. Now, here's something that if you're out there, and you're listening to this and you and I want to tell you, I've noticed this. There is a good time to adopt a chemistry set mindset. So when is the best time to adopt this? And I think number one, it's when you find yourself procrastinating, not making progress. Let's say you're in a rut. So experiment, give it a shot and that may get the ball rolling for you. The second time I think you may want to try this and consider it is when you're trying to sell an idea to a reluctant audience. See at Emporia State, I had a reluctant audience in a couple of my coaches. And I didn't want to come in as some type of a dictator, we're going to do this. What I also had a lot of players are like hey coach, we're going to be really good. We'd started like seven eight freshmen on this offense, we were gonna get better, but they were a little reluctant that spring ball but by making an experiment, let's just give this a try. And guys, you know, they bought in at that point and it helped me to do that. And then the third, the third time you may want to consider this is when you need experiential input to get it right. Because like we like I mentioned before, just drawing the plays up on a napkin somewhere is not the same as having the guys go through it and hearing the input from the players because for me, this series that I now have called the belly series, with the input from the players was critical and refining that series, so we could have success on game day.

Now, I want to say something to you, in conclusion, to keep improving in your career, I believe, you need to look for opportunities to experiment. There are places in there to give things a try. Number two, emphasize the low risk in experimenting. It's just it's okay to try some things you don't have to be cut and dry and what it is you're doing, you may want to take a look. And then number three that I think is also very important as you want to set a specific time frame for me in that belly series that we're Developing in 1996 in the spring, it was, Hey, I'm just gonna give it those days of spring ball, we got a month of spring ball. Let's give it a whirl and we did so many wild things that ended up helping us develop a team that was a top 10 team in the country behind an offense where that mindset our players understood it was okay for coach to come in and tinker with things at certain times. So that made us better. And I think it was a great way and it is a great way to initiate change that can dramatically change the trajectory of your career. And in the end for me there, it was awesome. It was an opportunity where that super back that young man by the name of Brian Shea, you know, he had a little over 1000 yards his freshman year but for three consecutive years, he was over 2000 yards. He graduated there as the all time leading rusher in college. football history regardless of division, and he would not, there's no way we would have done it had we not developed that particular series. And then we had a couple other slots in there that were very dangerous Chet publish was one and Jerry Vito was the other and those guys between their ability to catch the bond the running, shoot and run those jet sweeps and play the way they played made us extremely balanced, and ultimately gave us an opportunity to fill the stadium and Emporium and that was fantastic. So if you find this information insightful for you, please comment on the website. If you have any questions. I'll do my best to answer you shortly because I do get an alert when somebody fires up a comment. In the meantime, keep pursuing your wins on the field while optimizing your life and I'll see you next week.

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