Justin Alumbaugh

Justin Alumbaugh, De La Salle HS FB

De La Salle football is one for the books

By Jerry Rhoden
Eastbay Team Sales Staff Writer

Eastbay Team Sales: Congratulations on your state title in your second season. You got to the title game in your first season but came up short. What did you learn from that experience that helped you take that final step the next year?

Justin Alumbaugh: First of all, we lost to a great team. Every team we've faced in every state title game was great. St. John Bosco was great, so was Centennial. Both those games were on a razor's edge - they could have tipped either way. We had a great season in 2013, and we had a great team. A lot of the little things we had talked about throughout the year, like cutting corners here or there, added up and sort of cost us in the end. A couple of penalties, a couple of mistakes - those were things we definitely wanted to shore up for the 2014 season.

EBTS: You're following a legend in Bob Ladouceur. There are a lot of coaches who've been in a similar situation. How do you balance maintaining what worked for him with putting your own stamp on the program?

JA: He's one of my closest friends. His desk is literally connected to mine; our computers are a foot away from one another. But I'm my own person. I'm different than he is. And that's certainly not a bad thing.

The integrity of the program, the fundamentals - discipline, camaraderie, dedication, accountability - that's the backbone of what we do. As far as the day-to-day stuff there's not a whole lot of change.

The program is something that's instilled in me, and that's something that provides the backbone - provides the framework - for everything that we operate on. So we don't deviate from the major ideals of what made us successful.

In that same respect, we're receptive to change, not just me but our coaching staff as well. Coach Lad was always open to change as well. So our program is different every year, but the fundamentals are the same.

EBTS: Coaches often find more teachable moments in a loss than in a win. How do you pull those moments from wins? How do you balance enjoyment of victories with just enough dissatisfaction to motivate improvement? How do you keep your players - and coaching staff, for that matter - from buying into the hype?

JA: We don't focus on wins, to be honest. We focus on the process that results in success. And that process, if not done correctly, results oftentimes in failure. It's the day-to-day stuff that we're trying to work on. It's the day-to-day grind.

Our focus isn't necessarily, "Did we win?" In fact, that's not really our focus. We take a look at the total output we have in the game and the total output we have from the team, whether things are coming together the way that they should, whether there's a great spirit about them, how they're behaving outside, in the classroom, around the school community. Those are all things that matter a lot to us.

We don't really measure the total team success from wins and losses. Most of the time, a win or a loss is simply the byproduct of all the other work that we've done. So we focus on the little things that add up to it.

EBTS: So you really break it down to segments within the game.

JA: Absolutely. That's why we put so much time into our Commitment Cards. Our kids are committed to one another. They have practice goals, they have game goals, and they have strength-and-conditioning goals.

Our school holds kids accountable as well. And if their grades and their behavior isn't something that's acceptable, then ... it's not Little League. Not everybody gets a chance to play. Not everybody gets a chance to be on the team.

You've got to earn your right to be on this team, you've got to earn your right to be at this school. And we look at the steps in the process that go into it. We could have a game where the score maybe reflects that we won but we're not happy about it in any way, shape, or form.

EBTS: How do you balance the enjoyment of the victories with allowing just enough dissatisfaction to motivate improvement?

JA: We give honest feedback. If the kids are doing something that we're happy about, and our young men are performing on and off the field in a way that makes the school proud and happy, and reflects that the program is going well, then we'll tell them. There are games where we don't have to find things that are negative.

There will be mistakes. People make mistakes, and we're cognizant of that. But if the kids do a great job, we'll tell them, "Hey, you're doing a great job tonight."

On the other hand, if their effort's not there - dedication, accountability - when those things are breaking down, that's when we really have an issue.

EBTS: You may have just touched on this, but ... look, it's De La Salle. You've won every section title since 1992, you have two 2003 books out about your program, the movie "When the game stands tall" last year. You know you're good. Your players know you're good, your coaches, etc. How do you keep everyone from buying into the hype? How do you balance confidence with overconfidence?

JA: Practice. Football is the most humbling sport around. The moment you think you're better than you are, you get put in place pretty quickly. We film every one of our practices, and we go over the film of every practice. We evaluate it; effort can be evaluated. It is a fine balance.

The confidence is earned, really. It is earned in the weight room, in the conditioning that we do, and in practice. If you earn confidence through all those things, I'm happy for you, I really am. If you've worked yourself into a state of confidence, that's a good thing.

However, we call it "sabre rattling," when you're full of yourself and haven't earned it. There's nothing worse and nothing more divisive for a team than that. We immediately try to discourage and immediately try to kibosh it. The best way to do it is to point it out during practice. Throw on the practice film and say, "You're acting like you're this."

EBTS: That's something every coach experiences; everybody has a couple of athletes who maybe need to be reined back in every now and then. What have you found to be the best way to keep them grounded?

JA: To be honest, the best way it occurs is through great senior leadership. We have great team captains - they are our hardest workers and our most humble guys. That doesn't mean that they're not confident, it just means that they're humble and they're not full of themselves. They're not egocentric and they have a better rapport with the athletes than we do because they're the athletes' friends.

If we have great senior leadership and great senior captains, they can kind of take care of teammates that need to be reined back in. They can go to their friends and say, "Hey, you're kind of full of yourselves, and this is dividing the team." The kids are going to listen better because they are around the senior captains and leaders all the time.

EBTS: What is leadership?

JA: Leadership, first of all, is taking care of your own business at an extremely high level. You can't be a leader unless you're taking care of your own stuff.

Second of all, realistically, leadership is broken down into doing what you're supposed to do and caring about other people more than you care about yourself. When you combine those two things, you're doing something right.

It helps if you're a great player, for sure. We've had great leaders who were not great players, but they maximized their own potential. They earned the respect because they took care of everything they were supposed to, and they showed that they cared about the people around them. That, to us, is leadership.

EBTS: You have a history degree from UCLA. What's your favorite historical period?

JA: World War II. I have a master's degree in history, too, from San Francisco State, and that's on World War II and the processes that actually enabled World War II to happen. I find that time period pretty fascinating.

EBTS: Some people think World War II started with Pearl Harbor, but it goes way deeper than that.

JA: Way deeper. You can go all the way back to the late 1800s, and some historians call the period between World War I and World War II "halftime" because there are so many things from World War I they didn't get right that made it extremely likely that World War II was going to happen.

That's what I really love, not necessarily the battles and all that stuff - there's so much carnage it's tough to "like" something like that - but the mechanisms that led to World War II. That's a real interesting time period for me.

EBTS: What aspects of your love for history are you able to apply to football and to coaching?

JA: Everything. I teach English as well. Being a thoughtful person is key in success in anything, including football. That's something we try to teach all our kids, and it's something our school takes a lot of pride in.

It doesn't matter if it's math, religion, history, English, etc. Being an educator is being an educator. And education spans all genres and all walks of life. I don't walk out of my English class and go, "Oh, I'm not an educator anymore" and then roll into my history class and go, "Oh, I'm an educator again." It's what I do as a vocation; it's what all of our teachers do, it's what all of our coaches do. We see ourselves as educators.

And you know, trying to be mindful, and trying to be thoughtful of the world around us is something that's massively important in everything we do. And that's something we try to instill in our kids as well.

EBTS: So just the nature of being a teacher would seem to flow pretty naturally into coaching, since coaching is teaching.

JA: Being an educator is being an educator. Coaching is teaching. You might not be in a classroom, but you're still teaching. I've been asked before, "How do you change your approach?" I don't really think about it like that. When I'm in US History class, or English I class or my English II class, I'm trying to get across to kids, trying to get them committed. I'm trying to get them to perform at their highest level, and it's the same thing I'm doing on the football field.

EBTS: In your studies of history, you've seen how things don't just affect the next step but can affect things well down the line. That would seem to play very well into game planning.

JA: For sure. It also emulates the process by which we want to build the team. It's step by step, it's layer by layer. All we really are is a product of our habits and our practices.

EBTS: Now, you love history and have carried that into coaching on the football field. But since student-athletes don't always share that love of academics, how do you encourage them to go the other way; to channel their love of their sport back into the classroom?

JA: That's why we are lucky to be at the school where we're at. There's a culture here that really embraces excellence in all aspects, whether you're in theater, whether you're in class. No matter what you do you should really give it your best. To be lazy or to be cutting corners in any aspect is something that's not really embraced around here.

The great question is, "How do you create a school culture like that?" and I don't know that I have a simple answer for that. It's just nice that excellence is encouraged. We had a team 3.22 GPA this year, which makes me as proud as winning the state title, no doubt about that - probably more. That's something that means way more. And that's something that we're really happy about, and it's something that our kids are really happy about, too.

EBTS: Can you give me an example of how Eastbay Team Sales has made your job a little easier?

JA: It streamlines everything. We're just a product of all the habits that we have and all the steps that make something great, and Eastbay Team Sales streamlined everything for us and eliminates a lot of extra moving parts for the coaches and the kids. It allows us to do what we're trying to do in the classroom and on the field. Eastbay Team Sales just makes it a lot easier.

EBTS: So you've seen the movie?

JA: I've seen the movie.

 

EBTS: Who did you want to play you in the movie?

JA: There's a guy that has my name in the movie. He didn't have any lines, but he was just standing there in the corner a couple of times, Coach Alumbaugh. I forget the guy's name, but they already threw a guy out there, so...