As the Dobie coach interviews kick-off, we sit down first with
arguably the most successful coach so far in this young GD world.
In six seasons of the Dobie world, gt_deuce has played in five national
title games, winning three including the two most recent 1A
crowns. While many users know him as the guy who does the “sweet
Media Guides” before each season or as the guy who pops into the forum
to offer advice, gt has amassed a very impressive coaching resume as
well. Coming into this season, gt’s Dobie record stood at 100-4
and allowed him to move to what is arguably the most coveted elite
program in any world, Penn State. And, even though he has started
this season out with 2 early season losses, it’s only a matter of time
before Penn State is building another case for the trophies.
Lou: First…the basics: Name?
gt: I was just going to give my first name, but I went back and looked at my old interview and apparently I wasn't concerned about giving out that info then, so... my name is Aaron Henderson.
gt: I am 30 years old. (At least last time I could say I was under 30. Not anymore)
Lou: Where are you from/where do you live now?
gt: I am originally from a little suburb of Chattanooga, TN. Right after the Olympics, I came down to Atlanta, GA to attend Georgia Tech and I've been here ever since.
Lou: Married, single, kids?
gt: I am engaged to be married on July 5 of this year. So that's coming up really soon.
Lou: What do you do for work? What do you do there (spare us non techies the tough details)?
gt: I work for a large tech company, but specifically within the group that designs and manufactures our cable boxes. More specifically, I work on the team that designs the chips that are the "brains" of the cable boxes we make. Is that non-technical, yet informative, enough?
Lou: Where did you go to school?
gt: Oops. I guess I let the cat out of the bag a few questions ago. Anyways, I went to Georgia Tech and majored in Electrical Engineering. I graduated in December of 2000.
Lou: What are some of your favorite activities (Non-WiS related)?
gt: My favorite non-WIS activity is, by far, softball. From late-February through mid-November, you can find me roaming the outfield on a softball field a couple of nights a week. Before I became not-single, I played on as many as eight teams as once and ran all over this city, from one field to another. I was referred to as a "softball whore."
Other than softball, I enjoy relaxing with the future misses, reading, watching nerdy stuff on Discovery and History HD and watching movies.
Lou: I guess softball whore is better than what it could be…do you have anything you would consider a hobby?
gt: I guess you could call softball my hobby. And, of course, GD is a huge hobby. Other than that, I don't really have any hobbies. Does that make me a little pathetic? I don't know.
Lou: How 'bout video games…any semi-single guy has played at some point. How about favorite video games? Current, past or both.
gt: No question -- Tecmo Bowl (the original). This is my unquestioned favorite video game of all time. I'd say Contra and Zelda are close second and third, but Tecmo Bowl has to be the one. As for more recent offerings, I really have enjoyed the NCAA Football line from EA Sports. And Gran Tourismo is a lot of fun if you have a lot of time on your hands.
Lou: How about some of your favorite foods?
gt: I'm a sucker for Italian food. Unfortunately, it's not terribly healthy, so I don't let myself indulge as much as I'd like to. I also like spicy foods -- hot wings, certain Thai dishes, jambalaya, etc. And, naturally, I love some good old fashioned Southern cooking.
Lou: Southern cooking (says the northerner)? Anyways…moving on to something completely and wholly different…Moment (or moments) that you think best typify your generation?
gt: Oh gosh... there are so many of those moments that just stick out. Moments you remember so vividly, like you're still there: the Challenger tragedy when I was much younger, the first Iraq War, the Columbine shooting (certainly not the only one, but for me, the first I really paid attention to), of course 9/11 and the ensuing wars, Katrina, the baseball steroid scandal. On the positive end of the spectrum, the Internet and technology explosion, ummm... I guess we don't really remember the positive things as much, huh? That's sad to me that I can't think of more positives.
Lou: I think that’s the human condition though, to remember the downs more than the ups. I’m going to poke a little…you previously said that your favorite sports figures are gt: Roger Clemens and Big Mac…hows that goin for you about now?
gt: Next question!
Seriously, though... it really has been sad to watch my childhood heroes -- players that I loved to imitate and aspire to be -- fall from such lofty heights and out of grace. At first, I didn't want to believe that either was guilty of the charges leveled against them, but eventually I had to resign myself to the fact that they were front-and-center of the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. I've lost a lot of respect for them, but I haven't turned my back on them. So many of my childhood memories of the game of baseball involve those two. Regardless of their use of certain substances or not, those are fond memories for me.
Lou: Favorite sports teams?
gt: Pro -- Atlanta Braves, Chicago Bears and Boston Celtics (been a fan since the late 80s, when I picked it up from my Dad, who is from the Northeast)
College -- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Tennessee Volunteers
Lou: Favorite sports moment (non-WiS related)?
gt: Either when Sid Bream slid home with the winning run to send the Braves to the World Series in '92, JUST ahead of the tag from "Spanky" Lavalliere …or...
When Marquis Grissom caught the fly ball in left-centerfield for the final, clinching out of the '95 World Series for the Braves... or...
When the Vols won the National Championship in '98 over the Florida State Seminoles. Good times!
Lou: Absolutely, I might not have the same ones, but I definitely understand. Moving on to the WIS questions…How did you find out about the WIS website?
gt: I found out about it from the guy that just walked into my cubicle -- gaheel84/xatomsmasher. He's a co-worker of mine and he had been telling me about this game for a while. So one day, which happened to be the first day of Stagg, Season 1, I signed up and the rest is history.
Lou: How did you come up with your user name?
gt: My original name, gt9766b, was my ID number at Georgia Tech. This name is just a variation of that name, by including the 'gt'. The 'deuce' part is twofold. First, it's to signify that this is my second username. Second, "Deuce" (or #2) is my nickname in softball, since I wear the number two.
Lou: Do you play any other WIS games? if yes, which ones?
gt: I played one season of Hardball Dynasty, but gave that up, due to time constraints. I'd consider getting back into it, now that I've scaled back my GD teams. Perhaps once I get clear of the wedding/honeymoon and a few other events coming up this year, I'll think about giving it another try.
Lou: Do you have any other WIS IDs that you use?
gt: Well, I used to use my gt9766b ID, but I just finished out all my teams on that account last week, as I retired from Warner and Stagg D-IAA. I have, at various times, co-coached with others under alias accounts. I co-coached at Virginia State in Stagg D-II for a LONG time with birdieparma, under the alii of "lombirdie" and "az4lifenotr" (we borrowed AZ's account for a while). I also co-coached with gaheel84 under the "asics" alias. We were rebuilders over in Camp for a while, before life got in the way (for me) and I retired. He took that account and now uses it in various places for his own coaching. I'm no longer affiliated with any of those alias accounts.
Lou: What are your favorite GD moments?
gt: That first NC -- Stagg D-II, Virginia State, co-coach w/ birdie -- was SO sweet. However, I don't think it was quite as fulfilling as my first SOLO NC, which I won at Elizabeth City in Bryant D-II. I couldn't stop smiling for like a week! My first solo NC (after birdie left) at Virginia State was really nice, too, since I'd been at that school for so long. This run of (completely unexpected) success in Dobie has been quite a thrill, because I never thought I would be able to achieve success on this scale. These were my first D-IAA and D-IA titles, so those have been really a lot of fun.
I can't leave out my first D-IA job -- Georgia Tech in Stagg. That was a huge excitement for me; to not only reach D-IA for the first time, but also to get to my alma mater. I had a lot of fun coaching them.
Lou: What you look for when applying for new teams?
gt: I think it really depends on what I'm looking for out of the experience. There are three categories of teams I have looked for over my career: rebuild, long-term job and short-term (or move-up) job. For rebuilds, it's really easy - find the worst team you can, in terms of talent and history. Go from there.
For a long-term job, I'm really looking for a great recruiting location. This could be in rebuild mode or in succeed-right-away mode.
For a short-term job, I'm looking at the talent that I have on the team right now, combined (to a lesser degree than a long-term job) with recruit availability. What I want is a team that has most of the pieces in place, but one where I can fill the (few) gaps with strong recruiting, so that I can position myself to succeed right away. This is what I did in Dobie. For me, succeeding right away hinges on three positions: RB, OL, and DL. I want strong, deep lines and I want workhorse RBs that can pound opposing defenses into submission. This is my M.O. and I largely stick to it. It's a proven formula for winning, so that's what I look for.
Lou: How do you decide when it is time to move onto a new team?
gt: For a new world or a fast-track to D-IA, it's all about just succeeding at a high enough level to get the resume to be able to move up. There are no other determining factors but that. But in some cases, it's just about boredom -- sometimes I want a change of scenery. Or even about taking on a new challenge. For instance, when I was rebuilding under the asics account, it was about taking a horrible team and turning them into a perennial contender and one that would be an attractive location for a new coach to take over. Once that was complete, I'd move on. Some people take that to the extreme and stay until they win a NC. I have a lot of respect for the coaches that can pull that off, but I've yet to ever take on a job where that was my goal. Maybe I will someday.
Lou: Do you look to run all their teams the same way, or do you run each one differently?
gt: By and large, I run all my teams the same way. I come from the plague school of GD -- run first, run last, run always. And build an impermeable defense to stop the other guys. I feel like once I have the time to recruit the OL and DL I want, plus develop a stable of running backs, I can contend on any level. Like I said before, it's kind of my "proven formula" for success, so I don't really stray from that. Someone once told me that it must be really boring to run an offense like that. If winning NCs is boring, then yeah... I guess they were right.
Lou: When taking over a team for the first season, do you have any kind of plan in place? (i.e. Are you going to be there for a set number of years or look to recruit a certain way?) What would you suggest to new players taking over teams or players moving up divisions? (editor’s warning: book follows…haha, but well worth the read)
gt: Wow. There's a lot in this question. OK, let's see...
If I'm going to be at the school for a long time (or it's in D-IA), I really think a conservative -- but not overly so -- approach to recruiting is really the way to go. Take your time in identifying your targets -- recruits that fit the system you want to install -- and scout them. Then slowly build your class up, with recruits that get overlooked. The plan here is to get solid recruits for a relative bargain, while you save money to become a real player on the recruiting market in a few seasons. Especially at D-IA, I think this is necessary, because long-term coaches will ABUSE a new coach, so you have to really take your time and develop a stash of money with which you can make your presence known. And don't think that means you have to necessarily win any battles you enter once you decide to unleash your carryover. Believe me, you can lose the battle but win the war, so to speak, by making another coach spend FAR more than they wanted. The next time around, they'll think twice before battling with you if you've proven yourself to be a formidable foe. Once you've established that, you can then begin to get a few of the real big fish and go from there.
I think, as you take over new teams, it's really important that you don't have a preconceived notion of the way things are going to be. You can have a general idea of what you want to do -- formations, tendencies, practice time, etc -- but I think you really need to learn a team's identity and go with what works. I've found myself trying to force my tried-and-true gameplans onto new teams before, only to have them fall flat. Then, after a few tweaks, they'll start playing well. Sometimes, I don't know why the different tactics work, but if they do work, go with them. Don't be afraid to play around and find out what your team does best. You may stumble upon a bit of unexpected information about how the game works in the process.
Also, when you're choosing your team to move up, you can find one that has the talent in place to do what you like. I think sometimes people get so caught up in grabbing the best prestige school that's available, then try the "brute force" approach to installing their preferred offense/defense. This won't always work. Look at the teams' rosters out there and see if there's a team that has what you're looking for. Like to run the Wishbone? Find one with six RBs already on the roster, so you don't have to recruit five at once. Like to run 4-4? Don't pick the team that's only returning one LB. Or, conversely, you can take the opportunity to learn a new system that you, perhaps, haven't used before. I did it with both my Jackson State and Bowling Green teams, because they didn't have the personnel that I needed. At Jackson State, I didn't have enough WR, so instead of the Trips formation, I ran the Pro Set. At Bowling Green, they didn't have enough LBs (and I needed to recruit other positions more heavily), so I ran the 5-2. I think those worked out pretty well for me. :)
Lou: What kind of split do you like to have on team vs. individual practice time?
gt: I might start a Holy War, but here goes... I think Individual Practice is more important at the lower levels. In fact, at D-III, I think I'd probably put ALL my time in Individual Practice. I don't coach down there, but I know more than one very successful coach who's employed this strategy with great success. On the flip side of the coin, I think Team Practice is more important at D-IA. The players usually already have ratings at/near the "ceiling" and won't experience much growth, no matter how much time you dump into Individual Practice. At that level, I think you have put more time into Team Practice to really distinguish yourself. And, of course, the degrees vary at the two levels in between. That's my philosophy on practice and it's exactly what I employ on my own teams.
Lou: How do you decide what aggressiveness setting to use?
gt: This is something I'm still trying to learn about. It's not something that I really have a 100% clear idea of what I always want to do. Basically, I have some set combinations that I use against various offenses and tendencies. I'll go with my "default" setting (note: this is my own default, not the default of the sim that comes pre-programmed) in the first half, then I feel like that gives me a good idea of how to adjust for the second half. And I don't always adjust solely based on what my opponent is doing, because I know they'll adjust as well.
And it really varies from team-to-team. I'm closely working with a coach in Warner to help him with his game. I came in with the idea we'd try some of my defensive tactics with his teams, but quickly learned that his players didn't respond to what I was trying to do. So I just changed a few things, including the aggressiveness levels, to see the results and they worked much better. This alludes to what I was talking about earlier -- different teams respond to different styles and tendencies, so I think to a large degree, it's something each coach has to play with and tinker with, until they find what works.
Finally, I'll say one thing about gameplanning. I think most coaches have this notion about what certain settings mean in the game. For instance, "Always Pass" on defense against a passing game. I think people would be well-advised to go back and re-read the FAQ statement on this and see what it REALLY says. I don't believe "Always Pass" is the way to defend the pass, at all. In fact, I NEVER use this defense anymore.
Lou: Your Season reports are one of
the things I (and many others) look forward to every season. What made
you start doing them and sharing with the GD community as a whole?
gt: I actually expected this question, so I was trying to remember today. I think it all began with an effort to create a program to download all the recruits to assist my recruiting efforts. gaheel84 spent a weekend creating a nice little program and gave it to me. I took it and worked thru the code, teaching myself how it worked, then looked to expand. Once I had that program, I knew there were other possibilities out there for the program, so I began the work trying to adapt it to recruiting rankings. At the same time, he had developed a program to download all the schools in a division and rank them. I took that and expanded on it to do all the things you see today. Eventually, through many hours of coding and debugging and tweaking, I came to the results you see today. A TON of the credit for what I do should go to gaheel, who pioneered the original programs that I built upon. Also, paranoid0's work while he was active in the game was also a huge inspiration. The interest and participation from the community -- how well they were received -- really made me work to get them right and keep them going.
Lou: Your success in Dobie is reminiscent of some of the great runs in GD, were their any coaches that you looked up to when you were first starting out?
gt: In my very first season, gaheel was a huge influence. He introduced me to the game and really showed me the ropes. At the time, lukagirl won that first NC in Stagg, so I watched how she built her teams and the things she did in her gameplans. Also, I ended up in a conference with andynomore, kingsx2000x and bronco2rings. These guys were really good, so I also aspired to achieve that level of success.
Lou: You have had so much success, what keeps you coming back to GD season after season?
gt: Sometimes, I'm not sure. Haha. For the longest time, I really wanted to get a D-IAA and D-IA National Championship, but now that I have them, I think I'm going to need new challenges. My goal in Dobie is to win a NC with my elite -- Penn State. I think stay at Virginia State in Stagg D-II now, because I've been there so long and I just can't imagine leaving that team to anyone else. It's my "baby"... it's almost a compulsion.
Lou: You have helped out countless beginners in this game via the forum (and no doubt sitemail), were there any coaches who helped you out when you were first learning the game? And if there were, do you still keep in contact with them or bounce ideas off of them every once in a while?
gt: I know I sound like a broken record, but gaheel was - and still remains - the biggest influence on my game. I also got a lot of help from andynomore and plague. I would sitemail them with a lot of questions and enjoyed talking about the game with them. I still talk with them every once in a while, but less and less, now that they aren't as active as they once were. I ended up taking over a team from showrunner in D-IAA, so he was a great help to me at that time.
Lou: You’re made GD commissioner (developer) for one day, what changes do you make?
gt: First of all, I'd stop (and undo) the continual reduction of talent. It's really creating entirely too much "downward pressure" on the middle levels of the game. It's changed the recruiting dynamic... and not for the better. The talent levels around Seasons 15-20 of Stagg were just fine. Next, I'd add more variance to play outcomes. There are not enough negative runs... or enough long runs. I think that, alone, would really help to keep the upper levels from being a war of attrition (who punts once because of an untimely, random penalty).
Lou: If you have to drop all your teams but one, which do you keep and why?
gt: That's tough. I've only got two now -- Dobie D-IA and Stagg D-II, where I've been since Season 6. I guess I'd keep Dobie D-IA because it's my first elite and the reward points are full at D-IA.
Lou: You're in a national championship game, who is the ONE coach that you would LEAST like to see controlling the other squad?
gt: There are a handful of top-shelf coaches that I dread seeing on the opposing sidelines: ddingo, plague, and jeffkahleb come to mind immediately. But because he knows all of my secrets and tricks and tendencies, I'd have to say gaheel. It's never fun going against a coach who knows exactly what you're going to do and exactly how you think about every aspect of the game.
Lou: From one Jack State coach to another, how closely do you follow the teams that you've left? And, are we living up to the lofty expectations (and a HUGE thank you for leaving us Alan Kennedy at LB)?
gt: I actually follow the teams I've left behind pretty closely. Throughout Dobie, I've paid particular attention to Bowie State, Jackson State and (now) Bowling Green. I've done the same thing in other worlds. I love to see the teams I've coached continue to succeed after I've left.
The coaches at Bowie State have done a fine job since I left there and still have that team doing very well. And, of course, you had a remarkable run in the playoffs last season at Jackson State. I was following and cheering for you the whole way.
It's fun to watch how the players I recruited progress and to see how they are utilized by the subsequent coach(es). Alan Kennedy was a lucky find for me (he probably should've gone D-IA) and I'm glad he can help bring Jackson State continued success.
Lou: We hope so too…Well, that’s a wrap on the first of the Dobie Coach interviews. I would like to thank gt for taking the time to so thoroughly answer these questions, giving us a bit more insight into who were are playing against, and how we might play the game a little bit better. Good luck and congratulations to Aaron and his fiancÚ on their coming marriage…and hopefully he can turn Penn State around before the GD time gets cut significantly in half.