Roll Tide: The Process and Principles

Ever since 2009, I have taken a huge interest in Alabama football because I had the privilege of editing Dr. Kevin Elko’s book Touchdown during my freshman year at the University of Rhode Island in 2008-09. I had this cool privilege because my dad published the book in 2010 and, with athletes and coaches being the target market, I was the perfect sounding board that Dr. Elko wanted to hear from. This was just prior to the first of four Alabama National Championships with Dr. Elko as their performance coach.

I carried that book in my backpack for the entirety of my college football career and it helped me as a sort of meditative exercises before I knew actually what meditation was. Like transcendental meditation, Elko gave me mantras like “NO JUDGEMENT” to repeat to myself during winter workouts and focus on a mantra rather than how terrible winter workouts were.

At the time I edited the book, Darren Rizzi was our head coach at the University of Rhode Island and he had come from Rutgers and the Butch Davis tree by way of Greg Schiano. This was before he left to become the Dolphins’ Special Teams Coordinator, which is a position he still holds, having survived two head coaches being fired; likely a testament to who he is as a coach and person as I know that new head coaches typically like to bring in their own guys. Rizzi brought over some of the philosophies that Elko had helped implement at Rutgers in the process of that program going from the bottom of the entire sport to the 11-2 season in 2006 that established them as a program that expect to be playing in bowl season every year.

Those philosophies were simple, but deep, things like T.B.A., which doesn’t mean To Be Announced, but rather Trust, Belief, Accountability, three simple words that can seriously guide everything you do as an individual or a team. Trust your Process, Believe in what you’re doing, stay Accountable to your team, to yourself and to your goals.

Another one comes from an essay that Rizzi would have us read before every team meeting in training camp and sometimes he’d call on us at random points throughout the season to remember the main quote just to ensure that “No Excuses” was ingrained into our core. We also wore NO EXCUSES Keaney Blue wristbands, just so that all he had to do was raise his right wrist to prove his point (and make us feel like the children we were likely behaving like). Below is the essay with the main quote in bold, I can’t find the author, but I believe it was a guy named Spencer W. Kimball:

Any excuse for non-performance however valid, softens the character. It is a sedative against ones own conscience. When a man uses an excuse, he attempts to convince both himself and others that unsatisfactory performance is somehow acceptable. He is – perhaps unconsciously – attempting to divert attention from performance; the only thing that counts is his own want for sympathy. The user is dishonest with himself as well as others. No matter how good or how valid, the excuse never changes performance. The world measures success in terms of performance alone.

No man is remembered in history for what he would have accomplished. History never asked how hard it was to do the job, nor considers the obstacles that had to be overcome. It counts only one thing – PERFORMANCE. No man ever performed a worthwhile task without consciously ignoring many a plausible excuse.
To use an excuse is a habit. We cannot have both the performance habit and the excuse habit. We all have a supply of excuses. The more we use them the lower our standards become, the poorer our performance. The better we perform, the less plausible our excuses become.
Next time you want to defend you sub-par performance, say instead (at least to yourself):


It’s this kind of philosophy that made Nick Saban preach to his players, “you deserve to be here, but you’re entitled to nothing.”

Something that Elko told me over and over in the time we’d speak about my college career was to control what I could control. Every athlete is tested to do this every day and I most certainly was.

At the time, the mantra of “control what you can control” was incredibly valuable, but something that I could never fully grasp until years later after learning through more experience. It’s still something that I try to preach to myself each day as we’re all a work in progress on that front with the landmines of distraction everywhere.

The summer after I met Dr. Elko, I started training at DeFranco’s Gym and I found another great teacher in Joe DeFranco, another guy who understands principles. Joe has an encyclopedic knowledge of strength and conditioning and, like what I try to do with the cap stuff, he takes that knowledge and finds creative ways to build stronger, faster, more explosive athletes.

Over the years, I would watch Joe come up with new ways to torture us and I’d ask him question after question to figure out why this or why that. I’d see him target lateral speed and movement by loading up a prowler and having us drag it sideways. Rather than put 400-pounds on the squat rack and see how much we could lift, we would put 315 and do 10 sets of two reps on the box squat as explosive as possible. Over time training with Joe, I saw how we incorporated increasingly more functional strength movements like heavy ass sled drags that put us in the same plane of motion as sprinting does. We even had some exercises where we would do these drags with some lateral movements.

With the way that I see UFC fighters starting to place an emphasis on movement training, I believe that DeFranco was one of the main pioneers of creative ways to get stronger using natural movements, rather than bodybuilding workouts. Joe is an example of how to build up your knowledge base about your industry, then bring your own creative stamp to improve on that industry. It’s what Chip Kelly, Art Briles, Urban Meyer, Bob Stitt, Mike Leach and damn near everyone else that Chris B. Brown writes about over at Smart Football has done in creating their systems. It’s why I so thoroughly enjoyed studying Chip Kelly last offseason, he’s the kind of person who is always asking, “WHY?” and those are the people who are never satisfied with “just because.” Sometimes it doesn’t take any more than asking why to set you down a path of radical, positive change through creativity. Asking WHY also forces you to understand the reasons behind why something is done, which then either reinforces your belief or causes you to change what you believe. It causes you to test your hypothesis, to be scientific about it.

One of Urban Meyer’s biggest motivations for creating his offense came from watching his star receiver and biggest playmaker David Givens cry after a loss to Nebraska because he didn’t get the ball and didn’t feel like he could help his team win. When you realize why a coach does something, you start to understand much more about his system and the principles that drive it.

Looking back at both of these relationships, I see how their beliefs influence my career and personal decisions every day. Joe was one of the first people to exploit the tool of YouTube and social media to create a massive Internet following through hours and hours of free content. He put out years of free content and today he reaps the rewards.

Joe has his own online platform called DeFranco’s Insider with James Smith, another strength guru. He co-owns The DeFranco’s Gym at the Onnit Academy with, which is unquestionably the best supplement company in the world. Onnit has the best slogan I’ve ever seen for a company in “Total Human Optimization,” which is a solid guiding principle for them and everything they do.

Joe works with the WWE as he helped them design and implement their strength and conditioning program down in Florida. His midnight workouts with Triple H and his wife Steph McMahon are becoming noteworthy little events on Twitter.

He’s got his hand in everything he could ever want to be involved in and it’s because he put years of work in before reaping these kinds of rewards. The knowledge of understanding what a high quality person and mind Joe was and seeing the work it took to get to where he is now, which is the kind of place where someone like me wants to be in my own industry, was a living embodiment of my dad’s favorite Dr. Elko quote, “it all happens before it happens.” Everyone’s process is about the mountains of work they put into it that helped them come to the thoughts that guide their beliefs as well. In sports, what we see on the field is almost like the result of all that work that’s been done over the years previous.

In much of what I am doing this offseason, I am trying to explain what the principles that make a Super Bowl champion are. This summer, I started reading Bill Walsh’s last book before his death titled The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh. Just in the title I’m reminded of Dr. Elko and the things he taught me, almost a kind of stoicism as Greg Bishop described in this great piece on Ryan Holliday’s The Obstacle is the Way. I’m working to understand the history of football more, but to the best of my understanding today, Bill Walsh seems to be the first person who came to the game of football with this systematic approach that the best coaches use today. I often feel like the spread offense itself is just building off of the principles of the West Coast offense, while every football coach or, for lack of a better word, football mind today is merely attempting to be half the intellectual that Walsh was, myself included.

People in today’s NFL are understanding through guys like Bill Walsh, Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Dr. Kevin Elko that there is a plan, a process that you’ve established over the course of your career that’s led you to where you are today. If you understand why you’ve established the system and the plan that you’ve put in place, then no matter what happens outside of you, your team and your organization, you have to trust your process, believe in it, and stay accountable to it every day.

I get so frustrated when I see coaches being fired a couple years into their tenure because it tells me that the organization either didn’t put enough concerted thought into the hiring process or they don’t understand what their own process is.

I used to refer to what Coach Rizzi did as “brain washing us with positive stuff.” Alabama is what happens when the principles of the kind of stoicism that Dr. Elko provides is ingrained in their core.

For awhile I’ve been trying to figure out how to say all of these things regarding principles in my own words, but today, after National Championship number four in seven years and Saban’s fifth with Elko considering the one at LSU, I remembered that I’ll never be able to say anything as well as Dr. Elko already put it.

Know your process. Trust your process. Believe in your process. Stay accountable to your process.

If your team isn’t there yet, but you believe in your process, it’s like Elko says, “it all happens over a long period of time all of the sudden.” Just continue to control what you can control and focus entirely on your objectives.

Understanding the principles of how to build a Super Bowl champion, which I hope to explain through the Caponomics research and work I’m releasing these next few months, will hopefully help explain how organizations who understand their own process can input this new salary cap information and help them build their teams in the manner that best suits their organization’s vision.

Zack Moore

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