A coach trying to build a championship football program can be compared to a chef conjuring up an award-winning meal. There are many combinations to consider, of which only a few will produce the desired result.
Chicken cordon bleu has the same basic ingredients whether it is bought at the frozen-food section of a supermarket or a fancy French restaurant. So why does it cost $2.95 at one place and $29.50 at another?
For the same reason that one Santa Clarita Valley high school football team is 25-2 over the past two years and another is 1-17-2.
It's called preparation.
Does Wolfgang Puck fling a pizza crust onto the counter at Spago, slap on some tomato sauce, sprinkle cheese on top and stuff it into the oven? Not a chance. Every step is taken with care and purpose.
Coach Harry Welch does the same thing with a football player. He thoroughly marinades the athlete in the Canyon High system, tenderizes him with a little conditioning, gives him a gentle pregame pep talk until his attitude is adjusted juuust right, and sends him onto the field in a screaming rage on Friday nights.
Unlike the world's great chefs, however, a football coach doesn't keep secrets. Mathematically, there are more than 39 million ways to arrange 11 objects and coaches seemingly have found all but a couple of them.
There are, however, a few key ingredients common to most of the best programs, including support from the school administration; continuity within the coaching staff; good local youth football programs; and an influential head coach.
And yes, a couple of linemen the size of Chef Boy-ar-dee doesn't hurt, either.
When it comes to cooking up a winner, Nick Hyder is perhaps second only to master chef Paul Prudhomme.
Hyder is the coach at Valdosta (Ga.) High, which means he has probably the most enviable job of any high school coach in the nation.
Since 1913, Valdosta has completed 71 football seasons (two were canceled because of World War I) and lost a total of 129 games. It has won 20 state championships, five national titles and 619 games in the same span.
Hyder, who is 143-24-1 in 13 seasons as coach, has at his disposal:
A 7,320-square-foot weight room and about $100,000 in weightlifting equipment.
A 1,200-member booster club that raises an average of $70,000 a year.
A football camp and training table for the varsity team during two-a-day summer workouts. (The players sleep on cots set up in the school's gym).
A junior high system that allows 10 of his assistant coaches to tutor 200 seventh- and eighth-grade boys on the basics of Wildcat football.
"If a player has some talent and he stays in our program from the seventh grade on, by the time he reaches varsity age he should be ready to play for us," Hyder says, understating the point.
Such a system couldn't work without the support of the school's administration, and Hyder says developing and maintaining that relationship is his No. 1 priority.
"It's a two-way street," he says in a thick, Southern drawl. "We make sure that God and family comes first, academics comes second and football is somewhere down the line after that. As long as we don't forget what our priorities should be, I think we'll always get along."
Administrative support has a domino effect on just about everything from a team's public image to the size and continuity of its coaching staff.
"The desire to have a good program has to start at the top--whether it be the athletic director, college president or high school principal--and permeate all the way down," Cal State Northridge Coach Bob Burt says. "If our student body and administration didn't care to put forth some effort to develop a good program with deeds and not just words, eventually the attitude of the players and coaches is affected."
Darryl Stroh, football and baseball coach at Granada Hills High, says that administrators can choose to either support, ignore or destroy a program. "I've always had good support," Stroh says. "I don't know if that makes the program any better, but I know it makes my job easier. The devastating thing is when you come up against an administration that sees no value in what you're trying to do. That's a fast way to kill a program."
A school's support for a program usually can be measured by the stability of its coaching staff; an abundance of walk-on coaches with no previous ties to the school is the sign of a program with little continuity.
At Carson High, Coach Gene Vollnogle has six full-time instructors on his varsity staff of 10. Of the four walk-on assistants, two are former players. The B team head coach and his two assistants are also former players.
"What we really have is a staff of head coaches," says Vollnogle, who is 55-5 the past five seasons. "I can step aside and our program would continue without missing a beat. We've been together so long that our staff meetings are over in less than an hour."
Vollnogle is also aided by a group of former Carson players who coach Jr. All-American football in Long Beach.