Being a Defensive Coordinator by Calling Offense (The “What If” Factor of Coaching)

I had always fancied myself as being a so-called “defensive guy”. Coming out of college, I thought I knew defense. I had grown up in a family were football, especially defense, was king. My dad, Ned Panfile Sr., was the head coach at Manville High School and, later, Head Freshman Coach at Princeton University for a number of years and always emphasized defense. However, until I called offense for 15 years in my job at Mendham High School, I found out I knew very little about defense.


I began my coaching career as the Freshman “Defensive Coordinator” at Mid-Valley Regional High School in Olyphant, Pennsylvania. I was working for my cousin, Stan Kucharski. I was there as a junior and senior at the University of Scranton. I only called defense and did not pay attention to what we were doing on offense. The idea of calling offense was foreign to me. That trend continued at Mendham High School where I became Junior Varsity Defensive Coordinator and the Special Teams Coordinator. Little or no thought went into offense other than  to stop it. That all changed when we hired a young, out of college coach named Mike White. Bill Carpluk, the Head Coach at Mendham,  thought it better that in his young career, he would have an easier time making the transition to coaching by calling defense. I made the switch to offense on the JV. For five years, I called the offense before moving back to defense. It was the hardest thing I ever did, yet it made me a better defensive coordinator.


Calling offense made me see what offensive coordinators see as inherent weaknesses in our defense. It gave me patterns to which other offensive coordinators use in the run and pass game they felt would beat our defense. I spent a lot of time with our defense showing them these weaknesses and how the offense attacked it. I liked to show them how we would counter it. Part of my weekly preparation was a series of what I called “what ifs”.


These “what ifs” were specifically looking at the offense that we were facing, asking myself and my staff, if you were facing us as the offensive coordinator, how would you attack us. In calling offense, I learned those weaknesses in each of the different looks and what hurts the offense to counter it. When I dealt with the “what ifs”, it gave me a backup plan in case we were being hurt by the offense we were going against.


I think every defensive coordinator prepares to defend their opponents’ base plays they know are the bread and butter of the opposing offense. I found that most high school offenses will run their bread and butter to the defense’s inherent weakness. The first “what if” every week is if we can’t stop those bread and butter plays out of our base defense. What are we going to go to? Are we going to blitz? Do we have personnel that we can replace or switch? Can we change alignments in the defensive line to stop this? Can we man them up?

Another example of a “what if” would be against our base G defense. “What if” they run away from the free safety successfully. What are we going to counter with? What blitzes are we solid in and will they work? How do we get the free safety back involved in the run game? Do we have an answer to this inherent weakness?


A third example would be in the pass game. The G defense is inherently weak against the three-step short game passes. We are betting that you can’t make a living on completing those passes down the field. What if they can? What is our answer? How do you keep the free safety in the run game and take away that short pass game? Should we mask coverage?


Personnel is another “what if” question we all face. We hope and pray that they don’t find this or that player. “What if” they do? We can hide players based on what the opponent does, but “what if” they find him? What do we do? This is a good one to ask your staff. But, what do you do?


The idea of “what ifs” comes from calling offense on the JV for five years. Looking at the opposing defense and taking the first step on how do we hurt this defense allowed me to realize that inherent weaknesses exist in all defenses. It also helps to understand your defense’s inherent weakness. I usually begin the “what if” part of the week after our Wednesday defensive practice. We will be in base for most group drill work with about 60% of team.(I script all sessions). Even with a look squad that is running at a lower level than a varsity squad, the bread and butter of the offense vs. inherent weakness of your defense will expose itself.  I always ask myself, if I was the offensive coordinator of this team (opponent), how would I attack this offense? Once I have what I think will hurt us, I try to organize solutions to your “what if” questions.


>I thought I would add my typical week and spur discussion about what everybody else is doing.


My Typical Week:

Sunday: film, prepare scouting report and preliminary game plan.

Monday: coaches meeting,  scouting reports, introduction of game plan.

Tuesday: offensive day (I’m also the wide receiver coach), prepare scripts for defense, revise

game plan.

Wednesday: defensive day, finalize game plan, begin “what if” process.

Thursday: team offense/defense/ special teams, “what ifs” and odd situations (i.e., trick plays).

Friday: run through any last minute changes.