Manny Matsakis

Episode 11: Dan Connor (Widener University)

Interview with Dan Connor

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Manny sat down with Dan Connor (Widener University) at the AFCA Convention for this episode of the podcast. Former NFL Linebacker and Penn State Nittany Lion, Dan currently is the Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers coach for the Pride. Manny and Dan discuss his experience as a player, how he got into coaching, his philosophy for coaching LB’s, and much more. A great listen for any coach interested in hearing about a different path into coaching.

Manny: 0:00- Intro

This is the Manny Matsakis show with me Manny Matsakis. Where you gain insight on how to win on the field and optimize your life. This is episode number 11. In this interview done at the AFCA a in Nashville I speak to Dan Connor, Dan is the defensive coordinator at Widener University just outside Philadelphia. Coach Connor as a player was a two time all American at Penn State and an NFL veteran having played linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Giants. He was also, ready for this. The 2007 recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in the country. This guy is outstanding and I'll tell you what I love about this is that Dan is quickly establishing himself as a premier defensive coordinator at Widener, he has the opportunity, being there, which is the home of Billy “white shoes” Johnson, by the way. Some of the young guys may want to go back and check out who that guy is. he has the opportunity at Weidner to utilize what I call a chemistry set mindset, he can experiment, do some things and come up with some really awesome defensive concepts that he can create there with this creative mind that he has enjoy this episode, as we each get a chance to learn from an up and coming star in this profession. Welcome Dan, How are you doing?

Dan: I'm doing good!

Manny: Alright good! My man at Widener. So excited for you guys. you have a great opportunity out there in Chester and, you know, I, as I said before in the intro, you know you have a really interesting career path to me. And there's so many different ways to get into this and this profession is. It's tough. You know it's there's a bit of a grind to it, you know, and what I think that people out there watching and listening to this, the intriguing part of your background is one. Everybody knows, Dan was, I mean, you're a fantastic football player. And not everybody that was or that is a great player definitely transitions into the coaching profession right. I see it all the time it's like oh I was the best, you know I was all American. You were all that stuff. I mean, you know, you think about it, I mean, you know, you win the national Defensive Player of the Year Award winner at Penn State.

Dan: Yup.

Manny: Okay, so you weren't bad. You go on you do all the everything in the league with the answers and the giants and the cowboys and so all those years of experience you had, and you know guys like earn the pros when you're done you're, you're in a much better state financially than a guy that didn't.

Dan: Right, sure.

Manny: You're able to have some things and, and when you're smart and you can invest it, put things away, then you had an opportunity and at some point, what clicked to you to say hey, I want to coach football?

Dan: 3:36

I probably don't into my fourth or fifth year in the NFL. You know you always have in the back of your mind that it can end at any point.

Manny: Really?

Dan: And you’re always one injury away, You're always one, you know, cut away from trying to find a different job. My dad had been a coach, you know, coach at Widener, coached at Swathmore college ,coached at Penn, and then he was a high school coach and still is coachig high school, at Strathaven. Both my brother's coach, so I knew coaching was my transition, you know what I wanted to do after playing. So, you know, going into my fourth, fifth, sixth year as I was finishing up I was keeping separate notes within our meetings, you know, with the Panthers and the cowboys and the giants of coaching stuff. So I knew what I wanted to get into. I wanted to kind of set the stage for it, make sure I had a good foundation. And when you're... when you have that in the back of your mind you, you're kind of listening differently than a player, would listen to it and you know what I mean you're, you're kind of picking up themes like what you know what's the head coach What's his theme of the week. Why is he using this to motivate us, you know, you see it from a different lens, which helped me as a player to be honest with you and then, and then it made my transition a little bit, a little bit easier, because it is just like you said, it doesn't mean just because you were a good player definitely doesn't make you a good coach.

Manny: Oh no.

Dan: a good coach as a teacher. So, I knew I didn't get that GA work. You know the grind work early on that guys get when they're 21/22.

Manny: Sure

Dan: So I knew I had to do a lot really quick to try to just build my confidence, find my voice as a coach and find my style and my philosophy on that stuff. So I really started you know as I was finishing up my career in the NFL thinking, looking down the road and seeing what I wanted to get to. I knew coaching was just what I wanted to do. I had to be around football.

(05:14)- Dan’s Start to coaching

Manny: Okay,and you came back home.

Dan: Yep.

Manny: you know, so, you know, for you being in that area outside of Philadelphia gave you a certain comfort level. It’s where like your parents, you know everything. Family is all there

Dan: yeah

Manny: and you know so you got into coaching and sort of take us through your path, you know like, where you went and a few things so

Dan: 5:43

so I finished up in 2014 in like January playing the NFL. We moved back. Next we moved in with my, my wife's been together since high school so her She lives in the neighborhood so we moved back with my son, my oldest son and her parents lived at their house. And I kind of knew football, I was so banged up and you know my neck was in bad shape and I, I didn't really want to pursue it anymore. You know, so I was looking for that next transition. I just started reaching out to some of the context I had within the Philadelphia area. Bills one was one guy that me and my dad's known for a while. So I reached out to him, he said come out in spring and volunteer. And we'll see how it goes.

Manny: And this is at Weschester?

Dan: Yeah, Westchester University. So I went out and they knew spring ball got my feet wet. They had an opening for a restricted earnings position on staff, you know, open it up in the fall. It was locked. I mean, to be honest, when you look back on it you know I didn't know the coaching profession and anything coming out but it was extreme luck to find a great job in the area I wanted to be in and it was right there for me once I finished, I was really fortunate to have that transition. did two years at Westchester as a linebacker coach. Then I got hired to Archbishop Carroll High School in the Philadelphia Catholic league as the head coach and a guidance counselor within the building. I did that for two years, just to see if High School was where I wanted to be. I really didn't know what I wanted. So I tried it out. I enjoyed it and I learned a ton. I mean it really molded me as a coach and it really forces you to find your voice because you're not speaking to a position group of eight linebackers Yeah, you're speaking to 60/70 kids, you're having to recruit it's you know it's the Catholic League so it's a free for all. But after those two years you know I finished out, you know, I knew I wanted to get back into college. I built a you know somewhat of a relationship with Coach Kelly coach Mike Kelly. Having recruited at Westchester and gone to some of those Villanova's recruit days and all that. He gave me a call and position opened up and then, and then I started at Widener and that's another, it was just luck you know I happened to be looking for a job and had a good relationship really, you know love working with Coach Kelly, loved my interactions with him prior and. And then you know he hired me and just finished up my second year there.

(08:13)-Dan’s Playing Days at Penn State

Manny: Wow. Yeah, he's a fantastic coach.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: Absolutely, you know, I learned a lot from him myself, you know, in the Canadian league and, you know, as you went through all this. Let’s just flashback a second, in your playing days at Penn State. Now, you guys are really good.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: Defensively Great, you know, Linebacker U, you know, right. And what are the things that you learned there that you can even carry on here, working with that specific position group because I mean that is that's the heart of any defense, I mean you're as good as your linebackers you know, obviously you need help up front and on the back end, but you're in the middle of the whole deal. Yeah. So what are some things because I know you know regardless anybody thinks out here I mean you play for Coach Paterno.

Dan: Yep.

Manny: And, you know, just let the cat out of the bag I mean, Jerry Sandusky was there, you know at the time, but you know you guys had great players, and you just play great team defense I just remember, like, Holy smokes

Dan: yeah

Manny: You know those guys are always… I mean it’s the Penn State way.

Dan: Yeah.

(09:12)- Things taken from college coaches

Manny: you know. And what did you pick up there that to this day is like hey this is how you do it?

Dan: 9:26

I mean, Coach Paterno did a great job of just instilling character in his players. he would recruit the right type of guy. And then from day one you stepped on campus, it was all about hard work and toughness and you hear that repeated every day, the entire time you're there, which built, you know the foundation. That's what the foundation of the program is and that became the identity of the program from the defensive side you know so we had that good foundation from Joe defense side Coach Tom Bradley and coach Ron Vanderlin and yeah you know Larry Johnson, Brian Norwood I mean, the defensive staff was incredible. And you know we had good players too. They were big on keeping it really simple and being incredibly fundamentally sound and that's what I took we played. Not many defenses, you know, we had a bunch of checks and wrinkles and it made sense and you know the third down package but it was very simple. The emphasis was on running to the ball. The emphasis was on fundamentals, and it lets you play somewhat free, and you know, looking back on college I don't remember thinking during the game much because it was as simplified as you could get it you could just line up and play like you were in high school. It might look, you know, relatively complex to an offense but you know we were running what we've run. We're detailing and out and you can play free, and I took that you know as, as a transition to a coordinator, I like that philosophy, you know, I don't want to go out I want to recruit really good kids I want to recruit really good football players. And I want to let them play football, you know, maximize their potential by by fundamental in the heck out of them and making sure they they got all the skills necessary but at the end of the day they're the ones making the plays, I don't want to hamstring it a guy you know trying to put too much in so I try to keep it similar to Penn State, let's be, vanilla, let's try to mix our looks a little bit so you know we keep the offense off balance but let's let our players play and let's coach him up coached fundamentals tackle, run to the football and kind of harp on those things.

Manny: 11:31

So, when you're out there and talk about recruiting a certain type of player and so forth, what do you look for in a linebacker that you know, once I get that. I can develop that guy to where he is, potentially.

Dan: 11:48

My only question you know I always go through the high school coach and I'm I don't like going through Twitter or anything like that I like to talk to the high school coach and I got to figure out if he loves football and that's that's the biggest question that I have and that's the biggest thing that you know you learn at the division three level is, it's hit or miss you know there's some kids that are good at football and they like being on the football team but do they really love football. That's what I look for and I try to, I try to talk to the coach and pry it out of them you know as much as I can, if the kid is really about it if he's really committed. And if I know that that's the first thing for me that checks a big box, then from there you know if it's the linebacker position. I want to see is he you know can bend his knees, is he playing square, does he have an edge, does he play with a little chip on his shoulder. Does he run to the ball every play and I try to you know, we try to watch Game film not just highlight so we can kind of see him and put them into perspective but. But if he has all those characteristics you know. What his 40 time is, I don't really care. what he benches, I don't care. I look to see the pure football side of it. Does he love the game. Is he good at playing the game and try to reduce it to as simple and black and white as possible and then when he comes on campus, right now we got to cover all our bases. Let's get him bigger, stronger, faster, let's hone in on his skills but uh but those things those characteristics are critical, you know, for anyone who's going to get on the field for us.

Manny: 13:11

Does it ever come into play because I know whenever we look at guys and different places I've been a lot of times you want guys that have been, you know, that are played offense and defense you know those types of guys

Dan: Sure.

Manny: is there any, that you like?

Dan 13:22

I love that at linebacker I love a guy that plays running back. You know

Manny: I know you were a running back.

Dan: yeah and I played in and I feel like at linebacker your vision is a running back you know if you're weaving through and you're kind of sifting through a play you're seeing it like a running back might see it you're looking for the opening that's about to happen not already you know opened up. a guy that plays running back for me linebacker that's a that's a big plus. You know I know he can do some stuff playing other sports is another big plus for me if a guy plays basketball. Even wrestles ,baseball, other sports multi sport athletes at high school tells me he's, he's lived that life of, you know, an athlete, he's used to the commitment, you know it's not just one season, and then, you know taken off it's it's he's playing three seasons multiple sports, both sides of the ball, you know he's on special teams that type of thing is, that type of thing that those are game changers if you can get a guy like that.

Manny: 14:16

Okay, so now you've got this player you know this player x you know he's got these skills and so forth, at least these precursors to what you want when they come into the program. What fundamentals, drills, skills, what are some things you can tell people out there, you know that you know what's your drill kit, what are you doing with guys, so they can start out at Ground Zero and eventually, you know, get on the field for you what do you do

(14:33)- Fundamentals for players

Dan: we start from the basics you know we'll get them there and training camp and we'll spend the first day pretty much on stance, you know, just to make sure they can bend. Get low, be balanced, you know not be too wide in their base, to tighten their base so I'll put a good amount of time just on that basic, you know fundamental, and then it's all developing your shuffle. I mean that was the biggest thing I got out of Penn State is having a great shuffle is going to keep you square, and it's going to give you a base on contact you know whether it's block destruction or making a tackle. So, so we try to convince the guys, you know, even though it's probably not true that they can shuffle as fast as they can run. So most of the drill work we're doing will loosen them up. We'll do some athletic stuff because I still think you can, if you do athletic movements, you can improve on your athletic ability. But once we get into the drill work, a lot of it is, you know, pursuit of a ball carrier, maintaining your shuffle, or crossover run which is an alley regaining your shuffle, you know from speed coming to balance that type of stuff. But I would say the first day, you know, that first week on campus with a raw High School guy. I got to get them in a stance, I got to get them to be really comfortable playing the entire game in that stance, which is essentially that shuffled position with low pads square shoulder pads.

Manny: So that's where it all starts

Dan: That’s how I start it off to build from that right, how do you how do you help

Manny: how do you help a guy become a better tackler? What's the deal there?

Dan: I mean, it's you can technique it, you can talk through that a lot of it is the want to and you can see it off of his high school tape. You know, you see a guy that wants to. He's tough and he's proven that he has production in high school that's a good start. And then we work the fundamentals of you know a close quarter tackle we'll just call the chill the old school way and then we'll rugby, you know,

Manny: you guys use the rugby style?

Dan: We rugby, we Gator roll in space you know we have the big wheel coach Kelly got. we mix that in. So, tackling to me is, it's a lot of it is want to and toughness. And then the other aspect is the pursuit. Your pursuit to get there, you know, staying on the you know the back hip and working with your leverage and and getting coming to balance prior to contact your foot fire, your shimmy, all that stuff is pretty critical to tackling but the at the end of the day I couldn't stress enough it's our best tacklers are our toughest players.

Manny: 17:01

Yeah, no doubt. I mean that’s, I see that at every level. And so now you've got that, I see how you're developing that particular position but now as a defensive coordinator, I mean now you're drilling in and you're you have a philosophy of what you want to do on defense. So what are some things after having gone through being a DC that you wish you would have known before you started at this point, at this point?

(17:18)- Prior knowledge to help before becoming a coordinator

Dan: Right. Good question. I mean, the biggest thing I have to work on is being able to delegate to my staff on my side of the ball.

Manny: Okay

Dan: and that's something that I'm meeting with coaches and DCs here to figure out how they gameplan. how they go into it, how they split coaching responsibilities. You know Westchester I had a little piece of that at the high school level I had all of the defense and all of the scheme and the scripts and the cards and everything like that. So when I transitioned to college. I had that same thought, you know, it's gotta be me, I trust myself to do it so I'm going to do all the work and it’s a grind, you really can't. I couldn't sustain, you know, so. So what I'm learning, you know, even up to this point that I know I still have to improve on is trusting my staff, giving them, you know, a big piece of the game plans, the breakdowns, you know the scripting of practice. And, and let them run with it you know I have a really good defensive staff. they're all young guys and and you know, they might be their first year coaching or third or fourth you know there's they're still getting their feet wet in the profession. You really gotta, you gotta trust them. You got to let them fly and let them show what they can do and, and, you know, gotta define it, you have to give them exactly what you want and then yet, you kind of hope in the back of my mind or I want to see if they cover their work have what they need and then they go above and beyond. And that gets them involved in, you know, the game and the game planning. it's a piece of them at that point they're not just coaching you know a position. They're part of the attack, they're part of what we're doing and I think that gets bought in, obviously with them. And I think when they're fully bought in and they have a piece in their signature on on the game plans, the players in their room buys in even more, so that's that's one thing going into it you know in hindsight, I should have done better and I probably wouldn't be as burned out at the end of the season as that trip to

Manny: You need that trip to the Jersey shore.

Dan: Exactly! Get on the shore and take a week

Manny: That's interesting that, you know, I mean we all learn things. And I think it's a constant. I mean, the best coaches are learning all the way till they retire.

Dan: Oh absolutely.

Manny: Right. And so when you do that, and you put it all together. And let's say, it doesn't work out, right you play the game and hey, look, I mean, we've seen great teams on defense, always, they just get shelled one day, it doesn't matter. It happens right, you know, the best of the best that happens right. So it's obviously you feel terrible when it's over.

Dan: Yep.

Manny: And then you come in on Sunday. Look at the film or, you know, and so forth, you're like you feel even worse.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: And then, how do you handle that and how do you get out of that situation, because you got another game coming up on Saturday.

(20:15)- How to handle a loss and move on.

Dan: Right, and the way I look at it you know I have two sons. that your players look at you like you're their dad or their parents to see how you're going to react in an adverse situation, and they will feed off of you, whatever you show. So if I, you know, feel like crap which I do and I'm pissed at them, I'm pissed at myself. The face I have to put out to them, needs to be one of strength and confidence and accountability. Yeah, when we look at a game we didn't play well, you know, I'll give them a recap. And, and we'll call it, you know, as we see it you know if I if there's calls or a plan that, that, that didn't work out schematically. I take full ownership of it, you know, and I let the players know it's okay to do that, you know, you don't have to be in denial, you don't have to point fingers you just own what it is, hey we shouldn't have been in this coverage, whatever it is I shouldn't have left you alone on this play. The guy's a good player and you need help. I made that clear to them, to try to try to just kind of nurture that environment of ownership and accountability so then when they watch the film. They're not pointing fingers at each other or, or you know they're, there's me or the position coach, they go yeah that's me I gotta get better. And I feel like if you have a team or a side of the ball that really prides themselves on that type of accountability, owning up to it positively or negatively, and knowing when and where to point the finger. I think that's how you improve so I like to go out, call it how it is, learn from it, be accountable and know where your room for growth is. And they get the day off, which is great. Yeah, for them to kind of reset their brain and then we come back, you know, on Tuesday, which is, which is that first work day. Clean Slate, looking to go 1-0. you know what I mean, so you try to have as short a memory as you can, it's, it's, it's hard. It's not easy but uh but it's how you got to play, and the kids feed off your energy and they feed off your message.

Manny: Okay So, as you say that you know what comes to mind is. I remember saying and I don't know if coach Leach Mike Leach ever. I don't, I don't know that he created it, but he certainly has quotes galore. But, you know, he always would say to our coaching staff and he had a big sign in his office, it was “ you're either coaching it or allowing it to happen”

Dan: right yeah

Manny: yeah so it's like I think that ownership comes from like, Okay fine, this, I've always felt when I would interview coaches, the best interview for me is their film.

Dan: Right. Yeah.

Manny: Where you coached, how do they look on film? What were you trying to teach, show me something that you didn't do well and how would you fix it. Right. That's a resume. that's not like what you see on papers. It's just paper it's paper

Dan: it's paper especially if you have the experience and you've done it. You got to be able to show it and they might have deficiencies you know they might need to improve in some aspects but you show it you put it out there and you say here's what we're in here's what we're thinking, here's where we got to get better. Here's where the schemes got to get better, here's where we got to get a guy who can get that job down or whatever but yeah the film does not lie.

Manny: No, and it doesn't it's just as much as applies to coaches, so many players, you know, at a small college level, they aspire to get to arena ball, to the CFL, to the XFL, today any of this stuff. But what they don't realize is, you can go to all the, you know, they have tons of these tryouts paying money for it. And I get it and the shot there is a million to one. But your film is your resume.

Dan: Yes,

Manny: and that's just like you alluded to before when you're looking at a player in high school, you want to watch their full body or you want to watch a whole game film a half. How does he do on every play? Right?

Dan: How does he respond when he's, you know they're down 40. Is he still playing harder, you know, or they're up 40 Is he trying to sub himself out or. that stuff is interesting.

Manny: Yeah, it really is.

Dan: It says a lot about his character and it's, it's all about trust. you gotta be able to trust the guys you put on the field. And when you get a profile from the coach of what the kids really like. And then you see on the tape in, you know, within context the game, you get a feel for what you're getting you know in that kid and, and it varies I mean highlight films live.

Manny: And that's all you see anymore.

Dan: That's all you see.

Manny: Highlight film after highlight film.

Dan: Yeah, exactly.

Manny: Okay and especially at Division Three level and you know you're recruiting more players generally.

Dan: Oh yeah.

Manny: you know, then, and you know the D1 level you only have so many scholarships, but D3 is all financial aid based so you know to get, you know, I don't know how to bring what 35-40 kids in a class or so?

Dan: Yeah that’s right. We bring in about 40.

Manny: Yeah, so I mean just to do that you're recruiting. Maybe 800 kids.

Dan: Yeah, probably even more. Each coach will have about 150- 175 kids in his little Google Sheet. But you know we still we're pretty strict on, you know, how we get our guys we make sure they're good guys and good players and we’ll turn kids down that might be great players but they come on a visit. And they're not a fit for us you know they don't like it and we will pull back you know because we're not like we say you know in recruiting we're not part of admissions we're not trying to bring in a hundred kids. We're trying to bring in the right kids, and then go from there so yeah. Recruiting at Division Three it's, it’s a grind

Manny: Yeah. And what I've noticed is that it is different at Widener, than it is at other colleges. I mean there's some schools like out in Ohio like Mount Union. I mean they bring in 120 to 140 kids every year, their roster. Their rosters 220 to 230 kids on their roster.

Dan: Yeah, that's tough to manage.

Manny: They have a 10 game JV schedule.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: yeah, so I mean they've got a lot of coaches and all that but they're a national power and that's their way of doing it.

Dan: yeah sure

Manny: You know, and then Widener can certainly do it but just at D3, it seems to be, to me, the most inequitable situation, there's not a lot of parody.

Dan: No.

Manny: Everyone's not doing it the same way and you know at least in D1 they say hey we've got 105 kids on the roster, 85 scholarships

Dan: Right,

Manny: That's it. Yeah, you know,

Dan: Yeah, you know, it's different. Yeah, each school's got their own philosophy going in it's different levels of, you know, support from administration,

Manny: Sure!

Dan: How you package, it changes school to school so we try to find our niche and how we want to do it and go with it.

(26:24)- Niche and Philosophy at Widener.

Manny: 27:00

Yeah What is, what would you say is your niche at Widener?

Dan: We like, if numbers wise, I want to hit the minimum amount of kids that we need to bring in. You know that's kind of what we're looking for, we don't, we can't really withstand bringing 120 kids and they just don't have the staffing and, you know, the fields and all that stuff for. If we can keep that number low and keep our roster hovering around 85/90. But good kids but the right kids that we want to get to the point where we're able to really, you know, almost turn guys down, because we have the right 25 or 30 kids coming. I'd like that, It always worries me as a coach to bring in, like, you know, a hundred something kids, managing them, managing egos, managing playing times and you get a kid who might be a cancer on the team. you are just running the risk of a lot of stuff. If you're just bringing in bulk. Um, so we try to fit you know the kid pretty good, and make sure it's the right kid for us. So, the locker room is good. We're surrounding our kids with good kids, and our coaches with good kids and saying that you know the coaching staff. It's good people. So that's how I like it you know and aministration might not like that

Manny: Administration might not like that.they might want

Dan: they might want 70 or 80 but,

Manny: But in the end, you know, it's still highly competitive and you want to win. I mean, kids want to win right, you know, the kids want to win. You don't want to foster anything but a championship environment. You know as you do this, this is a question that. And I think about oftentimes when I've talked to guys that are defensive minded, defensive coordinator, even head coaches that are defensive guys you know is, you know, based on your experience or how you feel. It seems to me that the type of offense that you match up with the defense you run can directly affect the success of the defense. Right. I mean, for instance, so you look right now in the college game at the highest level you've got some great defensive coordinators, and I've seen a lot of defensive coordinators get fired in the big 12. Alright. Happens all the time, as they get these high powered officers they're just cranking it tempos and everything.

Dan: Right, right.

Manny: They're basically hanging out to dry the defense. you know, it's always intriguing to me, I haven't found it. I just want opinions on this yeah they asked us like how did the defensive I think because if I look at it like early in my career as an offensive coordinator, I was about scoring as much as possible, going as fast as I could. That was years ago.

Dan: Right.

Manny: And I didn't realize the stress. It put on the Defense.

Dan: Sure.

Manny: and until I became a head coach I'm like, you know what, I'm gonna slow down a little bit, I'm gonna vary the tempo, do some things because if you guys are on the field because of three and outs, or two plays and we score, right, and you're on the field all the time, it's got to put a lot of stress on those guys.

(29:37)- Pressure on D from tempo.

Dan: Yes, It does. We're a tempo offense and, you know, behind closed doors as a staff, you know, we get in fights on that.

Manny: Sure, I can see that.

Dan: Of how we see to handle it and you know their perspective on the offensive side is to score as many points as possible, we work best at a high tempo. And I see it, you know, kind of how you were saying you know if you, if your two plays in and score or three and out, you're not eating time of possession and, my big thing after the games I'm looking at time of possession I'm seeing where we can get better, you know, on, on third downs or shorter numbers, whatever it is, but eating clock i think is critical and we've had a couple of games where we go into that second half, with a lead. Yeah, and we keep the foot on the pedal, you know, which some games works out, we might blow out the team now, but you know some teams kind of sit in the pocket. Make some good adjustments and, and, and they're able to come back

Manny: Yeah.

Dan: Because we're not just eating time or eating the play clock so I, it's a good point. I mean I absolutely see it is critical to protect your defense and really if you're the offense is better, you know, and for us last year our offense was really good. It's one thing go out score, you know, get in a good spot but, uh, but my argument was always let's let's in that, you know, early for fourth quarter whenever we have a comfortable lead let's find a way to take some of those tempo, you know principles but let's snap it with five seconds on the clock

Manny: Or like four minutes or something.

Dan: Right. Exactly.

Manny: Exactly.

Dan: And we did it. Dell Vows when you know we thought we wanted to do it, give it a shot. Because they're the number eight team in the country and we played them and we had a team game plan there was Let's eat that shotgun, you know they're good on offense let's keep the ball out of their hands. And it worked out really well for us, you know, 14-14 during the fourth quarter and we were in a good game, a really good game with a great opponent. Um, so that's when we kind of applied it. I don't think you live by them. I think mixing tempos, you know, is a good way to keep the defense off balance and still having the ability to just burn time, put together a 15 play drive and just eat a quarter. I mean, that to me is-

Manny: Yeah, isn’t that crazy? You know what's funny Dan is like,, I have so many friends that are, you know, whatever they're there all over the country coaching and I can see you know I look at two guys that I consider friends you know one guys, here's a guy like Mike Leach you know he's known for Airaid, fast tempo we're just gonna crank it, and I've seen him Throttle people. I've also seen him lose the game in the second half because he's up and he's still like launching it with no, I don't wanna say no concept but no regard for time management, clock management. So I see that.

Dan: Yeah

Manny: And then I've got another buddy of mine, Mark Stoops at the University of Kentucky. And you see them. they came in his first, first two years they were Air Raid because Kentucky Historically, was known as air raid, fast tempo so he hires coordinators to do that. Great. And then they move on, or you know there's a restructure of the staff, and then he brings in, I think it was year three, brings in Eddie Gran. Obviously who will be on this podcast as well as Coach Stoops will be but it's like, you know, now, Mark is a defensive guy.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: I mean he played at Iowa on defense And then he just said okay, we are going to find a way to slow the game down. Regardless, and that's what they did, I mean this past year, they lead the nation in rushing for a non Academy team.

Dan: Wow.

Manny: And they just do that so the creativity, they know, like This year they had a guy who was a national Player of the Year. Lynn Bowden, okay, and his quarterback run game is- and you watch them when they beat Virginia Tech in that bowl game, and it's like, he's getting, he's carrying the ball, and they just grind every single play, and they have great defense.

Dan: Yep.

Manny: So they're out there fresh, and they nail it.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: And, I don't know which way is better

Dan: I don't know either. Part of it, you know, when I look at it I see it from their perspective too. you know obviously I'm gonna be a little selfish and see if I'm trying to protect my guys on my side-

Manny: Sure.

Dan: -but I think it's game to game, is kind of what I'm learning as we're going. We might have a team where I feel really confident you know when we have a staff meeting, we can stop these guys you know we can hold them go nuts on offense, you know, you guys. Go get it and we feel good. But if I'm going in and you know it's a similar opponent, a better opponent whatever, you know, the biggest change I think we're going to really look into this offseason going into next year is how do we control a lead, you know how do we get up two or three scores. How do we just control the clock, you know because I don't want to take away from what they're comfortable with on the offensive side, you know if you're a tempo guy and a spread guy. He can't change what you are, you know, because if we’re trying to eat clock the whole game, we're not putting up points and we can lose games that way too. So it's a situational thing game to game and it's definitely half to half, you know, with how the game is going. And the team's got to be on the same page, you know, if the offense is grinding it, and an eating clock on defense you know I don't want to be hyper aggressive I want to be safe keep the ball in front and just burn it out you know let's put a little drive together try to stop in the red zone and then go from there. But, uh, but it's been an argument. I'll tell you that in our staff meetings because it's a tempo offense and, and, you know, it's good we're growing from it, no matter what.

Manny: I mean, I think in the end. You want to win.

Dan: Right.

Manny: Well yeah, and I've always felt like you know what you can have the number one offense in the country. But if you're a 500 team, what is that? Or, you know, or losing record. you see it all the time, a lot of times I see a passing offense it's like we're the number one passing offense in America. Okay, but you're 3-7, you know what I mean?

Dan: Absolutely.

Manny: Yeah, I've seen it.

Dan: Yeah, and I think a head coach would, you know, it's hard I'm saying you know I say to the offensive guy, his job is to go out there and score and if his way to do it is quick he's gonna do it. You know, it's one of those things I think a head coach might have to try to put it into perspective and talk both sides kind of find a middle ground between those two things. But yeah, I mean, we've faced those situations where we're in that fourth quarter and I'm going, man let’s just run the ball. but we have weapons out there and it's hard because teams load the box and it's hard not to take advantage of it.

Manny: Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. Now with you, You know we talked earlier in this podcast about just the grind of coaching how, it can wear a guy, you know, what are some things because I was always impressed that you were able to know in the offseason let's say you're able to get away and go to Jersey Shore.

Dan: Yeah.

(36:45)- Ways to disconnect and be with family

Manny: you know you're able to disconnect, you know, just to clear your mind to do some things and all that. What do you do, I mean what do you do? I know family is really important to you. And, you know, how do you balance this deal out?

Dan: You know, during the season it's tough. It's really tough you know it's, it is what it is. And I've been fortunate you know my wife knows, since I was a player in the NFL, what the schedule is like during the seasons and knows I'm not, it's tough to be around much. The hours are tough and it's a three month sprint to do it. So, in the offseason is when I really make sure I carve out a lot of time just to get down the shore and I'm fortunate enough to have gotten a house down there in Ocean City. So every single weekend in the offseason if we don’t have a recruiting visit or anything. We'll go down the shore. And then I'll try to get home, you know, in the offseason at 3:30 or 4:00 so I can hang out with the kids. Sometimes I can take them to school in the morning. So, you know, you try to find times in the offseason is one of the best times it's you know small school football, you're able to do it a little more I would assume then you know, you know more than me but the big schools, might be an all year round.

Manny: It can be, you know, but there are some guys out there. When I think about Bob Stoops for instance is obviously a Hall of Fame coach and all that and he is the head coach at Oklahoma for forever would drive his kids to school, you know, and he would pride himself. That's just how he handled it.

Dan: Right.

Manny: you know, and he would be if anybody on the staff and children. Guess what? you have to do that too.

Dan: Right.

Manny: And then we push the staff meeting back to nine o'clock or, or however they would do it. It was always family first and you never want to miss you know your child's recitals, games anything like that, especially in the offseason yum. And I even know like my brother Louie who's special teams coach at Kentucky they, you know, he does on Sunday, he knows the work he has to get done after a game. This is during the season, and you know he's gonna manage his time to do it but if his son Michael is playing a soccer game, or Nicholas is playing a football game. He is there,

Dan: he's there

Manny: and Mark Stoops would expect him to be there

Dan: right

Manny: He’d be disappointed if he wasn't there, because he'll come back in and he may work till midnight,

Dan: right

Manny: that night. But the work is gonna get done. and you just manage your time.

Dan: It's great when you have a head coach like, you know, Coach Kelly was great with this coach Barainyak head coach now's great with it. You know Halloweens, we can adjust practice schedules so I can get home and they're really flexible. They were really flexible, I could have my kids at the office you know during the day pop in for, you know, around lunchtime so that stuff's critical and yeah you got to carve it out during the season and I would usually during the mornings would drop off and then lunch, because I wouldn't see him we are you know we get home at about 10 o'clock at night. But you got to carve it out and like you said it might extend your, your Sunday or Monday or whatever but but it's worth it, you know, to see the kids to get balance in your life and make sure that part of your life is handled

(39:58)- Balancing coaching with a spouse

Manny: Now, that’s kids. Okay now I'm gonna put you on the spot. Because, you know, our profession there, man, I think there's probably more broken marriages than almost any profession I've ever seen just because of the work and you, you sort of lose each other you know your wife and the way things go in your in your world, she’s in her world or she doesn't feel involved in it and so forth. What is you know what would be something that you say here is a great way to keep in the passion, the relationship, you know with your wife, right, because-

Dan: it's tough

Manny: it is so what do you do?you know we have

Dan: you know we have every Friday since you know, Friday's a shorter day you're doing your walkthrough we're able to go out to dinner. So we do that during the seasons and sometimes it's with the kids sometimes, you know, they're dropped off with grandma and grandpa and we go out together. That's big. that gives you a weekly thing to break up the season a little bit. And it’s something to look forward to. Just getting that night, kind of just to hang out. And then during the day you know, what I'll do is anymore with texting and all that I finally got an iPhone so it's a little bit easier I can, we just will text back and forth throughout the day and you can FaceTime. there's a lot of stuff you can do now that probably couldn't, you know, two years back, which makes it easier to, to just have Constant Contact because you can't shut it off, you know you can't shut off your personal life in your home life during the season for a four month span it's just it's too much so you try to find a balance. You try to find those times within your week, within your schedule to build something to carve out time where it's a guarantee that you're going to get this every week. And then make sure they're involved. Like I said, my wife and kids come to the office and she's pretty much every day. You know, for 30 minutes, 45 minutes we'll run around the indoor facility error or the column to the office and bug all the other coaches but it's good when you have a supportive head coach that's okay with that you know what I mean with the kids being around and, you know, Coach Barainyak’s got a son, they pop by so it's been good for the program to be honest with you to see that type of environment. It makes you feel welcome, makes you feel at home and more comfortable in your job, where you’re not looking for your next deal, you're comfortable where you're at your family's comfortable where you're at. And I think it starts with that head coach support of that type of thing.

Manny: No question. I can see that, you know, I'll tell you what Dan it's been fantastic, having you on.

Dan: Oh absolutely, i appreciate it!

Manny: I love it. I learned so much and I know everybody out there you know you pick up so many great insights from our guests on the show and having someone like Dan Connor, now they can reach out to the emails on the Widener University website. You've always been very supportive and helping coaches out and. And I was just great to have you as part of this show, you know and and the key here is in all of these episodes where I actually do an interview with a coach. You know, that's a way I believe that we can help them, help you out there, win on the field and, but as we alluded to, at the end, it's about winning on the field and optimizing your life.

Dan: right.

Manny: And when I come back after this episode after this interview. I'm going to do a little segment, to help you, give you some tips, tips and reminders as we say, in coaching, how to optimize your life, get better balanced and so forth and take care of your health, because, hey, I don't like personally, you know, Guess how long you want to coach? forever. And I don't know it's not, it's not a job to me, you know, it's an adventure it's a passion. I can't, you know, I don't. This is my hobby.

Dan: Yeah. Right, exactly. It doesn't feel like you're working.

Manny: No, and it's great because you're around young kids, young guys, players, coaches that you enjoy being with. And that makes this profession great and I think, you know, in this day and age, over the few years I see a lot more guys and you saw it in the National Football League. A lot of guys are coaching into their late 70s.

Dan: Yeah.

Manny: sometimes, 80s, you know, right. And those guys are master coaches, you know, you get a guy that's in his 70s you know and like Dick LeBeau in his day you know it's like He's legit,

Dan: They find balance, you know, the coaches the old timers that I, you know, fortunate to be around, they'd find balance with you know their family would be at the facility, you'd see him working out, you know, staying healthy the routine was really good. It's, it allows you to go through though yeah you don't over grind yourself where he's waiting you know to get out the door. You find how it works for you and your family. And, yeah, it's, it's a good gig,

Manny: It is and I love it and I wish you all the success in the upcoming season and seasons to come in your career, and we'll be right back with our tips and reminders.

(45:07)- Tips and Reminders

Manny: Well I really enjoyed talking to Dan and I know you got a lot of that as well. And now it's time for some tips and reminders we'll wrap up each episode with some information that can help you optimize your life and everyone has a different approach to do that but my approach is primarily with essential oils and I want to do this and educate you on how best to use these, especially the one brand that I use the most. It's the only burn that uses doTERRA, which, which is a certified pure therapeutic grade oil hand that in and of itself is exciting to me, because it is so pure it's the purest essential oil on the planet. Now let's talk about an essential oil, I use often in the afternoon, and it's called Green Mandarin, okay green oil that I enjoy one I enjoy just the aroma of it. Inhaling it. It's fantastic just reminds me of so many good things that I don't know it just lifts my mood. The honest the way I use it. It's a great smell is granted. Inhale, or defuse it. If you have a diffuser. And the other thing that I really like to do is I like to put a couple drops over ice, and then put some sparkling water in there that it fills up a little bit, and it does have a tremendous amount of energy to it for a nice pick me up in the afternoon. So once again, thank you so much for joining me on this show. If you're listening to this podcast, make sure you subscribe in iTunes, give us a rating comment on the show. If you're watching us on YouTube subscribe just hit the bell in the top corner and you'll get notifications on YouTube every time we put out. If you'd like to get all kinds of updates on the website at Mannymatsakis.com all you have to subscribe with your email and there's a pop up on the first page and then there's also all types of forms in there and you can get your updates to that and there you will get an email every time. Monday podcast comes out Wednesday, currently I’ve got some inside access podcasts which are a bit shorter, and then Friday if there's a video we release it, on, on Friday of the podcast. A coach's guide to fill your stadium to capacity. This is available for a short time only, and then it will be taken off, so depending on when you are listening to this podcast, the opportunity may still be there for you to sign up. Have a wonderful day and we will see you next week!

Links to check out: https://widenerpride.com/staff-directory/dan-connor/322

https://www.doterra.com/US/en/p/doterra-green-mandarin

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