Big and Bright-Chapter 11 Excerpt: Cedar Hill Longhorns

…Regimentation isn’t part of the Cedar Hill program… The kids work hard, but at their own pace. Some wear black, others red, still others are bare-chested as they do hang cleans and side lunges. TTHL is painted on the wall, “Turn Those Horns Loose,” a common mantra within the program (Hook ‘em Horns is trademarked by UT). TTHL is especially appropriate for a team that thrives when playing with abandon…
 
…“Let’s go, LETS GO!!…LETS GOOOOO!!!” McGuire yells as he steps on the artificial turf at Longhorn Stadium Monday afternoon. “We’re going to have a GREAT DAY!!!” As the music is turned up, he grabs various players in headlocks and bear hugs, looking like an excited kid on Christmas morning. The enthusiasm of a Longhorn practice is something to see. Music is always blaring, coaches are dancing as they run drills and players are encouraged to be loose and have fun between reps. Good-natured trash talking is common and the defense celebrates when making plays vs. scout team.
Practice often begins with McGuire playing DJ from the pressbox, joking and encouraging his players and coaches over the speakers during warm-ups.
“We need a great practice from you today, Quincy!… Jaleil Davis is in the house!…, I love you, Larry Hill!… It’s a Great Day to be a Longhorn!…” Longhorn safety Tadarrian Luster says, “The coaches are crazy and fun to be around. I look forward to coming to practice every day.”
McGuire came from Crowley to Cedar Hill in 1997 as an assistant under a coach with a more disciplinary style. The ‘Horns had talent but poor numbers and didn’t play with much emotion. McGuire decided to do things differently. Football can be a grind, full of routine and tedious repetition; the season is a long slog and practices aren’t always fun. Only 31 when he got the head job in 2003, McGuire was the youngest head coach in the Texas 5A. He immediately implemented his philosophy, part of which included trying to make the day-to-day fun.
This staff would treat kids as individuals, not robots. They’d find ways to make the necessary drudgery more enjoyable. Music would be played during practices and pre-game. McGuire would hire and encourage like-minded assistants who could function within this style. Family is a big part of the Longhorn program. Like a healthy family, there’s a place for the whole gamut of emotion and fun is high on the list. McGuire sometimes sends half-joking emails to staff members when he sees them getting too tight, in the vein of, “Coach so-and so, If you can’t come to practice with energy and a positive attitude today, I may have to send you inside.”
Besides making things fun, the philosophy creates a level of trust when McGuire reprimands his players. McGuire blow-ups are frequent and impressive enough that the coaching staff immortalizes each one with a ‘Mag’. A sheet of paper with a capital “M” is hung on the office wall with the date and a relevant phrase for each. “Who let in the twirlers (?)” and “I’ll call your mamma” are some of the more benign examples of the dozens of Mags lining the wall by the final week of the season.
Seeing a few players and coaches get “Magged,” I can attest it’s something to witness. If it were possible for smoke to come out of ears, it would happen here. McGuire looks like he’s going to come out of his skin. For all the anger, however, McGuire hugs and loves on his players much more than he chews on them. His fury dissipates as quickly as it rises and everyone seems to know the outbursts aren’t to be taken personally.
“The kids know I care about them and they know where the yelling is coming from,” McGuire says…

…The new coaching style paid off quickly. After McGuire arrived, numbers in the program steadily rose and the Longhorns began winning. In 2005, Cedar Hill made their first playoff appearance since 1994. In 2006, the Longhorns went 16-0, winning the Class 5A championship. Since 2005, the ‘Horns have made the playoffs every year, never failing to survive through the bi-district round.
With success come offers and McGuire has had chances to move both to other high schools in Texas and the college game as well. But raising a son and a daughter, he’s wanted a more stable environment. “This is where I feel like I should be.”
As loose as practice sessions are, they’re also beautifully organized, and the staff does outstanding work at fundamental skills. Three four-minute segments each Monday and Tuesday has the defense running through two separate circuits of basic skills. The players rotate through five stations. Scoop and score, stripping from behind, open field breakdown and a variety of tackling drills are all worked daily. Across midfield the offense is busy with their fundamental drills as well. Receiver Coach Kevin Benjamin spends two segments on stalk blocking (a block where the receiver mirrors the DB, staying between the ball-carrier and the DB), a skill too often overlooked in receivers, using drills I’d never seen before. When I complement Benjamin in the drills, he tells me he learned most of them at clinics at Texas A&M and Kansas. He brings me a DVD of the drills the following day…

…The loose atmosphere continues into the post practice talk as players frequently interrupt by blurting out comments, McGuire uses his whistle to settle the kids. It’s something you wouldn’t see many other places, where a coach’s talk means absolute silence, if not hands clasped behind backs and nothing but, “Yes, Sir’s” at appropriate times. That traditional show of discipline is not what McGuire is looking for this time of year. Longhorn discipline will show itself in more meaningful ways and situations during the weeks to come…

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