Coaching and Canadian Rugby
“Shag,” famous McGill coach, reveals some of his bag of tricks, gives some sound advice, and picks Warren Snyder as Canada's greatest all-round player.
J. L. ROUNTREE
"The race is not always to the swift-— "The battle to the strong—”
HAD there been no truth in the well-known lines which appear above, there would have been no necessity for coaches in any line of sport and more especially in Canadian rugby football.
If it were just a matter of the strongest team—that is, from a physical point of view—winning, all that would have to be done would be to employ a scout to round up the biggest men he could find.
But coaching is necessary; and that is proof of the statement made in the two lines with which I preface my remarks on coaching as I have experienced it in connection with football with McGill University since 1912.
As everyone knows, a coach has to take green and perhaps light material, and mold that material in order that a heavier and more experienced team may be caught up with and eventually beaten. This, of course, does not always happen, but one has only to remember the Queen’s University team when that squad won the Canadian championship two years ago. Against the heavy Argonauts of Toronto, with Lionel Conacher, the “big train,” almost impossible to stop, the Queen’s team seemed miserable and weak. But greater team play, machine-like combination, pulled the lighter crew out on top to annex Dominion laurels.
But there is really a more important matter that a coach must always keep in his mind, and which I think he should pay more attention to than anything else. It is protection of the members of the team he is looking^after against injuries on the field. A coach should insist upon every athlete going on the field well padded as to head, shoulders, knees and ankles. And every one of those players should be directed to report to the trainer and coach immediately even the slightest bruise or shock.
When a man shows the slightest effect from a hard tackle, I belie-ve in removing him from the gridiron at once. Men who go into a game for which they have had their training carefully supervised and their equipment Properly selected certainly have a better chance of emerging from that game in good shape than the poorlytrained members of another team improperly equipped.
always been that I cannot imagine this ever happening. Possibly I think this because the American game would not give as much protection to the men on the field as the game we have here now. And then, again, the Canadian game is so much more attractive in every way. It would be foolish to change our present style of open play to the slower and concealed style in vogue across the border. The mass play in the United States would certainly not tend to lessen accidents here, and, besides that, spectators would not see the ball half as much as they do now.
While we are talking about the open Canadian game, I would like to dwell for a moment on what I consider the finest piece of work and the prettiest dash for a touchdown I have seen since I became connected with Canadian football. It is an instance of how attractive this
game of ours really can be.
It was back in 1914 at Kingston, when George Laing, of Queen’s, dashed down one hundred and ten yards for a touchdown. He caught a kick-off right on the goal line and started on his victorious rush. One by one he eluded the opposing players, until he had run through them all and over the line for a touch. It was a wonderful thing to look at, and the gathering of rugby enthusiasts were as a crazed mob.
But while that was the finest play those who witnessed the University of Toronto-McGill play-off in that same year at Toronto must admit this was ore of the most exciting of struggles, and would have converted even the most blasé into a red-hot fan. It was another instance of the attractiveness of our game.
In this battle of the gridiron, “Red” McKenzie, ’Varsity’s great kicking-half, saved the Blue and White colors of the Toronto institution of learning time and time again with wonderful punting and running. McGill got into the lead by scoring a touch with only one minute to play. It seemed to me that all was over. But with only thirty seconds to go, an offside gave ’Varsity possession and “Laddy” Cassels went over for the try that won the game.
Cut Out Massed Buck
THERE is still a change, however, that we could make that would help the players, and that is to do away altogether with the massed buck. We have certainly cut it down to a great degree; but it should be done away with altogether—that is, the ball carrier should not be given any impetus from behind, but should go through on his own weight after he steps through the hole that has been opened for him.
Allan Arless, of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association team, was killed a few years ago stopping one of these plays and last year McGill University barely escaped
losing a player in like manner. The sooner this buck is done away with the better it will be for the game.
In stating what a coach is needed for, I must go further than to talk about giving teams a knowledge of the science of the game and warning them about protecting the players; I must give a few ideas of my own on how players should get into trim for a rugby season.
The trouble with so many youngsters who aspire to gridiron fame is that they want to be players too soon.
The very first time I saw a club practising in Canada was in Ottawa about twelve or thirteen years ago. I shall never forget my first impressions of—as I considered— “how not to train for a rugby season.” The coach, as he was called, immediately divided his squad up into two teams and put them through an hour’s scrimmage. He never stopped to consider the damage that might have been done to the players, who had not been conditioned. And at the same time this could not possibly have done a green squad any good.
Get Into Condition
pOSITIVELY the first thing a man should do if he wants to play a strenuous game like Canadian rugby, is to get into condition. No one can hope to “play November football in September.” Trick plays, forma'tions and scrimmages come in time, but not at the start.
To get into condition there is no finer start than to get out and run.
Running is the greatest training anyone can have for rugby. Then there must, of course, come simple calisthenics such as raising one’s body on one’s arms, and to complete the early part of the training, attention must be paid to falling on the bad. The latter is perhaps more important than just learning it for the purpose of helping the team along. A player must learn to fall on the ball properly for his own good as well as for his team’s. He must be able to fall on the ball in such a way that in doing so he will not be in danger of breaking any bones.
These three points—running, calisthenics and falling on the ball— may be looked upon as the three primary points in the training routine, and they must occupy at least one week of the early work.
For the second week of training, all the time must be divided equally between punting, catching and tackling. Any team in Canadian rugby, the members of which can do these three things, is seventyfive per cent, perfect.
Three days should then be spent on defensive work against plays. The substitute line may be sent in to work the plays while the probable team will be used to block them. Each man has to be taught to play his position, to break through and shift to meet an opposing shift.
The last stage of the pre-season work starts with a few simple plays after the defence has been rounded out. It is a mistake to go ahead too fast with the plays. The fewer the better at first. The main thing is to concentrate on having each perfected and having each member of the team fall into his part of the manoeuvre at the right time.
Masked Plays and Muffs
THERE is one coach, Dobie of Cornell, who has perfected the off-tackle play in American football to such an extent that everywhere he goes, while each team knows he's going to use it, no one is able to stop it effectively. Once he gets his team into condition, he spends nearly an hour each day on this one play.
When all is said and done, I believe that, in the Canadian game, the team that is strong defensively, has a good kicker and good safe half-backs, need never worry about carrying a number of trick plays in its repertoire. If the quarter-back is smart enough to let the other team have the ball and make errors with it, he will find that his team will eventually win the game without any great effort to carry the ball.
Several of McGill’s rugby teams which I have coached have been very strong both offensively and defensively, yet we lost two championship contests in which we bucked and ran all over the other team. This was the reason: one or two muffs of punts on the part of our half-backs undid all the hard work put in previously.
In the play-off between McGill and University of Toronto at Kingston a few years ago, I distinctly remember that McGill made eighteen first downs to ’Varsity’s three; but two kicks fumbled by McGill backs were scooped up by the opposing wingmen, hustled over the line when the opportunity presented itself, to give the Toronto team the necessary margin for a victory.
Speeding Up the Game
BUT mistakes such as these are gradually being discovered and eliminated as much as possible by various coaches. In this connection it is interesting to look back upon some of the changes that ha\e been made in the game in recent years. Through some of these changes the game has become cleaner and cleaner until to-day the “dirty player” is an exception. Slugging, which was prevalent in the early years _ of my connection with the Canadian game, after I had played and coached the American game, have practically disappeared.
The snapping back of the ball and the reduction of from fourteen to twelve men on a team have speeded up the game tremendously. From a spectator’s point of view, Canadian rugby is the greatest spectacle found anywhere. The game is faster, more open and spectacular than any other game along football lines. As an illustration of this, we might glance over the statistics of a Canadian and United States game both played on the same day last year.
In the McGill-University of Toronto battle played at ’Varsity Stadium, Toronto, a total of 208 plays were completed in sixty minutes actual playing time. These consisted of sixtyeight punts, sixty-two end runs and seventyeight bucks. This is certainly a great departure from the old days of two bucks and a kick, and shows how the encouragement of allowing limited interference has benefited the game.
Let us turn to another struggle which took place on the same day, when Yale and Harvard played their annual game. On that occasion a total only of 108 plays were completed during the entire game. It can readily be agreed that Canadian fans get more action.
Our style of play, however, exacts a great deal more from the player than does the United States form of play. McGill University has taken part in three games against American Universities, and while beaten under U.S. rules, all members of the Montreal institution of learning’s roster stated that the game, once you were trained to it, would be a “tea party” compared to their own. The reason for this is that in the American game there is no rule compelling the team to put the ball into play immediately, and as a result the teams are able to waste time after each play in order to recover their wind.
Another reason for the more telling qualities of the Canadian game is the greater amount of kicking which takes place over here. This, tells heavily on the condition of the players, for the wings have to be right up with the ball every time the backs send it soaring towards the opposing goal.
onag s Career
KRANK SHAUGHNESSY, a gridiron star at Notre Dame University, graduated from that institution of learning in 1906, and coached for some time in the southern states, both football and baseball teams. While he was still at Notre Dame he captained the college football team of 1904.
He coached Southern College for three years, and later played baseball in the major leagues. He played with the Washington Senators, now champions of the world, in 1905, and with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. From then on he has been acting in a managerial or coaching capacity, and has piloted the Syracuse Club of the International League for some years. While he looks after Syracuse baseball hopes in the summer, he is always back to try and push McGill University, of Montreal, to the front in both rugby and hockey in the autumn and winter.
It will be seen that Shaughnessy is nothing if not versatile. He is probably unique on this continent, for it is doubtful if any coach on the continent could show himself a master in football, baseball and hockey.
There is still one part of Canada that should show greater interest in our game than it does at the present time and that is the West. Teams that have come east in the past two years to compete in the finals for the Canadian championship, certainly showed that they
were composed of a fine type of player. Every man was big enough, and fast enough, but seemed to lack condition and the knowledge of the fundamental principles of the game. The men were weaker in the latter department than in anything else. Here is where coaching comes in. The men in the West have apparently been started wrong.
No team to-day can ever win by bucking and end-running, such as these “Young Lochinvars” do. As we have pointed out before, a good kicker is most essential, as are outside wings, and above all, a properly trained defense. This thought brings out another matter that has probably not been over-emphasized in this article so far. There is probably no department in the game that has changed so much of recent years as the defensive tactics. I can remember the first time I saw this Canadian game of ours, that the defense was lined up in one straight line against the opposing side with three half-backs spread out across the field about forty yards in the rear. There was no secondary line of defense to take care of the man suddenly slipping through a hole in the line.
McGill was probably the first team to make a change which brought two halfs away back to make a strong secondary defense. My theory is that one man really on the defensive can play against two men on the attack. Now practically every team in the East is using this system of defense. As a result it is practically impossible to make continuous gains where two good teams are competing.
Talking of defenshe tactics reminds me of one of the funniest things that I have come in contact with during my career as a coach.
It was away back in 1913 and in this year I had a man playing scrimmage who carried out every instruction to the letter. That y ear University of Toronto had a centre scrim noted for being able to get down under kicks. I instructed my scrim under no circumstances to allow this ’Varsity man to continue the way he had been going when there was a kick to run down under.
My man as usual carried out his instructions. The Toronto man after being blocked effectively three or four times seemed to lose his temper. My man said nothing; took the abuse handed him, and kept on preventing his opposing player from getting away.
Finally the ’Varsity man went up to him after a play liad been completed and spoke to him seriously. “Say, what do you mean by holding me the way you are doing?” he asked.
Without a smile the McGill man replied: “If you want to go down under any kicks to-day, you’ll have to get Mr. Shaughnessy to change his instructions.”
Another factor which has contributed greatly to the progress of the game in the East is the efficiency of the officials. More especially is this true in the intercollegiate series. The officials are becoming more efficient every year and as a result the play is becoming faster and cleaner. It is years since any of the intercollegiate teams have had men ruled off for intentional fouls. This is the ideal spirit in which the game should be played. No man playing the game to-day can in any way help his team by intentionally laying himself out to injure an opposing player. On the contrary he hurts the game and himself.
Before I bring this article to a conclusion I would just like to say a few words about the best of the exponencs of the Canadian game that I have seen since my connection with it.
Billington and Snyder
THE greatest punter and undoubtedly the finest gentleman I ever had the pleasure of meeting here was Billington, who kicked McGill to victory in the championship race of 1912. I doubt if his equal as either a punter or drop-kicker ever existed; certainly not to my knowledge. But for the strongest all-round player, I name Warren Snyder of University of Toronto. He has the physique to take part in any play, his own or the opposing team might make. He is in practically every buck and end run started on the field. He seems to be just as strong at the end of the game as at the commencement.
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Some might take exception to this and claim.the honor for Lionel Conacher, who formerly played with the Toronto Argonauts and is now with Pittsburgh. Conacher was undoubtedly a great player, especially as a ball carrier and open field runner, but I don’t think he had the allround ability of either Snyder, Batstone or Leadley.
The latter two, of Queen’s University, Kingston, are undoubtedly the greatest half-back combination in Canada. The judgment displayed by these two players in combining with each other is almost uncanny. The addition of this pair to any fair team would almost surely result in that team winning a championship. Either of them can perform as a half-back should, and neither of them is selfish in the slightest degree in advancing his own interests ahead of those of his team.
Montgomery, quarter-back of McGill University for several years, was the greatest player I have seen at the keystone position. A great defensive man and a fine ball carrier, he had the wholehearted confidence of his team-mates. Only one other quarter classed near him,
and that was Evans of Queen’s University. The latter, while a magnetic quarter-back, lacked the physical qualities, “Monty” always' possessed.
I feel that I should not miss this opportunity of touching on one subject, which comes up every year in connection with intercollegiate rugby. The question is being asked right along: “Is there not a taint of professionalism creeping into the game?”
There is some talk of inducements being made to players to attend certain Canadian universities, but I would like to say right now that this is all “the bunk,” to use a vulgar yet expressive term. I know personally that Canadian universities are absolutely clean in the conduct of sport. I don’t believe there is an athlete in Canada who to-day could secure a position in a Canadian university that would even partially pay his tuition.
Athletes Good Students
AT McGILL University we find that the percentage of students who fail in their examinations is less among those who take part in sport than those who are out of touch with athletics of any kind. I believe in training tables and keeping men together more for the reason of building up morale in them than for any special good they may obtain from the actual eating at that table. When men sit at a table night after night, they are certainly going to have a good feeling of comradeship which will not only help them on the playing field but which will prepare them for their studies a good deal more than the dance hall and late nights.
I have been asked to write about Canadian rugby as a coach. Into my remarks may have crept the impression that the game is unsafe for the young manhood of Canada. But if this impression has been conveyed let me say in conclusion that it is entirely wrong. I may have dwelt on the ways and means of avoiding unnecessary injury to players; but I may also say that these ways and
means are converting the game into nothing more than a red-blooded sport, with no more chance of injury than most others. There are more casualties in baseball than there are in Canadian rugby. This has been proven. The Canadian game requires courage and physical strength, the former more so than the latter; but it is one of the greatest builders of character that we have at our disposal to-day. Parents who will not allow their sons to take part in the game should remember the good points as well as the bad.