Zone Read: More Than Just Coach Speak

Arizona Sports News online

This week “Zone Read” went straight to the source…because inquiring minds want to know.

We asked a number of Arizona high school head coaches, off the record, one open-ended question.

If you could change any one thing about Arizona high school football, on the field or off, what would it be?

“Allow kids to play where they want to play. AIA guidelines and rules do not keep up with the times. Seems like Arizona is always a decade behind. If a player chooses to leave or transfer from any particular school, they should be allowed to do so one time in their high school career without any penalty. You have different circumstances that arise as to why someone left.”

“[More] transparency with the AIA. I feel there’s a lack of transparency when it comes to a lot of things. Like, scheduling this year has been a nightmare. All of the lower conference schools were left out in the dark. We are supposed to be on a two-year block, yet there have been some massive schedule changes because people wanted to play out of state teams. If there are changes being made, why didn’t they let anyone know ahead of time? 

“Another thing is the playoff format and the ranking system. Last thing is the Open [Division] Playoffs. I feel like it should be done like basketball and it will have much more meaningful games and outcomes. I know their jobs are hard but this secrecy is making people (outside of the buddy system) question the legitimacy of the organization.”

“The transfer rule. Kids transfer out of good [programs] and they transfer out of bad [programs]. I don’t think there’s any data to show that “good teams” keep more kids. In fact, more kids want to play, so they are leaving schools in order to play. I believe there should be a penalty for “recruiting,” but not for transferring to have a better situation for that family.

“All coaches, schools, programs aren’t built the same. Coaches leave, families move. Too many things can happen over the course of four years. I would agree with “one free transfer,” then the next one would be a year. The five games aren’t hurting anyone but the kids. It’s not stopping anyone from transferring, that’s for sure. You have some people saying they should sit the playoffs. I disagree with that, as well.

“We want kids to play football. The sport is under attack already. We don’t need kids in the street because they’re stuck in a situation because there’s no way out. If it’s about the kids, let’s keep it about the kids. Help them get the best situation possible to reach their goals and dreams, while preserving the sport.”

This may be a little bit of a cop out but the one thing I would actually change about Arizona high school football is the collegiate influence over it. I think the pursuit of college scholarship offers has done more to negatively affect the game at the high school level. If colleges couldn’t offer a scholarship until a player is finished playing, I believe that would have a profound impact on several issues that we all have – namely transfers, social media, and parents. I believe that would allow us to get back to teams and team accomplishments and not as much on individual efforts, accomplishments, etc.”

“Something that needs to change is the lack of coaching pay in the state of Arizona. The amount of quality coaches who sacrifice so much of their time to give to their student-athletes and program need to be compensated accordingly. If you ask any head coach, they will tell you they are making less than $5 an hour for the work they put in. Between the X’s and the O’s, booster club, fundraising, academic eligibility, off field issues, college recruitment, off season training, and tournaments there is always something to be done.

Most head coaches aren’t getting more than a $5000 stipend for the entire year running the entire program. Assistant coaches no more than $3000 in most cases. You see other states like Texas, Florida, and a handful of others that are paying their coaches 10 times the rate we are getting paid in Arizona for the same work. The coaches in the Valley deserve more respect in the way they are paid. Money isn’t the reason we do what we do but a lot of coaches have to leave the profession because it’s not enough to take care of them and their families. 

“We need to take the next step as a coaching association to push for fair pay and multi-year contracts.”

“Honestly, my biggest hate is how everyone just tries to one up each other on social media. It’s dumb and counterproductive, and everyone  just does it to get kids to either enroll in 8th grade or transfer. Even the people who don’t like [social media], are forced to do it. Keeping up with the Joneses because, at the end of the day, if you don’t have players, it’s tough to win games. And if you don’t win games, you are unemployed.” 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot all day and it seems every issue I have comes down to one thing: misinformation. I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there on social media and even being driven by coaches, trainers, parents, etc. I know a lot of coaches are frustrated with the transfer culture going on right now in high school sports. A lot of information being peddled by coaches, trainers, and parents is a big part of that. 

A lot of people are selling kids on the idea of what it takes to get a college scholarship and what it takes to get exposure and NIL money. There needs to be more consistent messaging on this. We owe it to kids to point them in the right direction and be truthful and honest with them. But a lot of people today don’t want to be honest with kids. They would prefer to tell them what they want to hear as long as it serves their agenda. 

The reason for high school sports is to build a sense of community and a sense of family within a program. And it seems like that is getting lost. I’m seeing more and more mercenary football players going from team to team trying to serve their best interest. I just truly don’t believe that’s what football is all about. Especially high school football. It is frustating to see that not all coaches feel the same way.”

“I think one of the things I don’t like is we have become a D-1 or bust mentality. I have seen a lot of kids miss out on the joys of high school sports because they are so worried about offers and who is getting what. We are seeing kids care less about the team and only worried about college. These kids are missing out on the best time of their lives! I just wish more would stay in the moment.”

“I would change the pay. We don’t make enough for all the time and energy put into this. We’re a Top 10 state in the country and the pay doesn’t reflect that. I was a clinic this past weekend and a coach from Texas came over. He’s [making] well over six figures. He said as a head JV coach he made $92,000 a year. We work year round to build our programs and keep up, make parents happy, and become better coaches. 7-on-7 is all off season now. The list goes on and on. The top football programs are small corporations now.”