Video: Recap - Sierra Canyon School vs. Serra, 2016
See highlights of Sierra Canyon battling for a California state title.
Coach Jon Ellinghouse has been at Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.)
for 10 years, and has brought the program from a group of eight kids meeting under a tree for their first practice when the school opened to a multi-state championship program. The most recent accomplishment for the trailblazers was a perfect 16-0 in 2016, including a California 2A state championship.1. What does your program do differently from others in your league, conference or state that helped you win a state championship?
I am not one to speak about another program, or say we do it better. So let me tell you how I like to run our program, and what makes it great in my mind. In our program, we have one coaching staff. If you're an incoming ninth-grader at SC, I will be your head coach for four years. This is the same for all of my coordinators and position coaches. We are one team, one program. Each of my coaches gets the pleasure of coaching multiple games in a week. In the beginning we did this by necessity, but now I wouldn't change it for anything. Our young kids learn what we expect at a young age, they learn our techniques, and they learn our exact offense, defense and special teams. Nothing gets lost in translation. Having one coaching staff is one of the best (and different) things at Sierra Canyon. Nobody slips through the cracks here, because we coach every kid every day. 2. What do you consider to be the most important aspect of your state championship?
Those kids loved one another. They were such a tight group of friends. We faced so much adversity this season (losing our starting quarterback, etc.), but these kids had fun and enjoyed themselves. If a player ever gets sick of practice, or doesn't come with passion every day, your season is over. Our coaches are best friends; we honestly haven't had a staff argument in years. When we are working on a Sunday you would swear we were a bunch of 14-year-olds hanging out. I like to think that the players notice that, they notice the staff is all on the same page. I know I mentioned it in the last answer, but there was harmony on our team. Nobody was out for themselves, everyone put the team first. That is very true of our coaches as well. I would also say that Bobby Cole was one of the best leaders we have ever had. Not only is he a monster on the field, he is a kid that all the players and coaches respected. When it was a pressure filled moment, he was a calming force because you knew you were going to get his best.
3. What is one piece of advice that you would give to a coach wanting to win a state championship?
Don't talk about winning state. Every team thinks they are going to win state. Focus on this week, focus on the little things in your program, and manage the mood and mindset of your team. If we are playing the worst team on our schedule, my team will never know that. We watch an equal amount of film, coach them the same in practice and we never look ahead. I will never talk about who we play next week, or wanting to win CIF or wanting to win state. The other piece of advice would be not to be a control freak. I used to call offensive plays, tell my defensive coaches what to do, etc. You can't manage the things you need to do properly when you are doing too much. I trust my coaches. They are all great at what they do, and I would work for any of them. I have focused on letting them coach. I control everything in this program, but I do that by hiring guys I trust who are great motivators of kids. 4. What kind of offense did you run? How did it give you an advantage?
One of our biggest weapons at Sierra Canyon is we have smart kids. We run a complex offensive system. We like to think we have 18 or 19 offensive starters. We change personnel groups at least every two plays. We do this because we have several kids playing both sides of the ball. This helps keep our kids fresh, all the while keeping the defense on their toes. We are a 100 percent no-huddle team. At times we like to play fast, when we are playing fast I have yet to see someone faster in high school. However, we are equally efficient using the whole clock. We develop our offense around our talent, opposed to forcing the system we have on kids that don't fit that skill set. Offensively, we are incredibly balanced. We pride ourselves on being efficient passing and running. Our quick pass and screen game is a staple of our offense. We have a saying that any pass under 6 yards is a run play (we strive to be 80 percent or better in our quick game). You will see our quarterback under center, in the shotgun and in the pistol. We pride ourselves on versatility. This allows us to change our stripes. Another thing we do is we run our "rocket" tempo in every practice and passing league we do. We never practice any other tempo. I think this was another huge component to us winning state. There were several situations where we needed to score quickly at the end of the game. We weren't running a "hurry up" offense. Our kids were calm, cool and collected because we were running the tempo that we had been running since our first passing league game in April. We never huddle and we always hurry so that it is second nature when we need it to be, which happens to be the most pressure-filled point in the game. Our kids were comfortable in that pressure situation.5. What kind of defense did you run? How did it give you an advantage?
Defensively we run a 4-2-5 and this also allows us to be very versatile. We are a pressure-style defense. We like to make the offense feel uncomfortable. We play several different coverages in the defensive backfield. Man coverage is something that our DB's must be very proficient at.6. Which of the special teams was most valuable last year, and why?
Our special teams coordinator Mark Serve is a stud. We start every practice with special teams, and then do another period in the middle. Special teams are not a second-class citizen in our program. We play starters on every special team. We have won a good amount of games on special teams because we emphasize it to our kids. Punt block is the special team that we hang our hat on. We have had a great amount of success at getting to the punter.7. Do you incorporate some type of character development in your program?
I ask every team at the beginning of every season if they want me to treat them like men, or like boys. We know the answer I get, which means I am able to hold them to a higher standard on and off the field. At Sierra Canyon we are fortunate to get great kids. There is honestly not one kid in our program that I dislike. We harp on them about not wanting to have a jock culture. Kids that come to Sierra Canyon want to be students, or they wouldn't be here. We constantly are talking to our kids about life lessons, and how to be ready for college and beyond. 8. Do you incorporate some type of leadership development in your program?
I hear coaches say all the time "Our leadership sucks." This forces me to ask "What are you doing to coach it?" You're not going to convince me that a team of 50 kids does not have one person capable of leading. We identify possible leaders early, and sit them down and coach them on how to develop that potential. I sit down with captains daily and help them cultivate their leadership style. The best leaders are kids that play the game and act right. I could care less if they are loud. In fact, I prefer them not to be. 9. What is the No. 1 obstacle you face in building a championship-caliber football program in your community?
Depth. We are a small school, we have 400 total students (both genders). We play at the Division 2 level. Every team we played in the playoffs was four times our size. We have to coach to always be protecting our depth. We need to be creative with how we substitute. We have to make every kid feel important so they want to stay. We have to have a program that people want to join, want to be a part of. We are proud to be small, that gives us a chip on our shoulder, it gives us an edge. But we also have to alter practice to keep everyone healthy. I wouldn't change anything about this place, I love coaching here. It is us against the world.10. Who do you consider to be your main mentor in this profession and what about that coach do you try to emulate in your program?
In my early coaching career I was fortunate enough to coach under a man named Ben McEnroe, now the head coach at Cal Lutheran University. When I started working for him I thought I knew everything. I quickly found out I knew nothing. I learned a lot of my leadership style from Ben. He had a commanding presence at all times. You always knew he was in charge, you always knew he had the answer (even if he wasn't giving it). He is a tough guy, and he demanded a lot of his staff, but he made everyone better. He was one of the guys that would get on you, but you always knew he cared. His players loved him, and so did I. I learned a lot about the game from Ben, but I learned even more about management. I will forever be grateful for the time I spent under Ben, he helped make me the coach I am today. Chris Fore is a veteran Head Football Coach and Athletic Director from Southern California. He consults coaches and programs nationwide through his business Eight Laces Consulting.