Seahawks Coaches Should Learn From Dave Aranda on Jamal Adams

Not playing for seven months provides the opportunity for Seahawks' coaches to do other things, like watch coaching clinics. Former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda provided fascinating insight into the challenges of coaching a star like Jamal Adams. Matty F. Brown details how the Seahawks coaches should learn from Aranda to better deploy the strong safety in the future.
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No Seahawks football until August 2021. That’s a scary prospect that’s only just starting to sink in. In these worrying and troublesome times, sporting events are much-needed bright moments of escapism. What else is there to look forward to? Sure, we have the remaining NFL playoff games, basketball, and some soccer, but it’s not the youthful energy of Pete Carroll on the sidelines. It’s not action green-laced. It’s not Seattle football.

Turning a negative into a positive is possible, though. Distraction, thankfully, can arrive in other forms and the early end of the Seahawks 2020 season provides an opportunity to look at coaching clinics. The other day, I loaded up a Dave Aranda session. Aranda provided lessons that the 2021 Seahawks coaching staff should have applied to their methods by the time the team plays in the fall. These specifically relate to star strong safety Jamal Adams.

Aranda is currently the head coach at Baylor University. He’s one of the most thoughtful and introspective coaches I’ve heard talk. Frankly, it’s refreshingly unusual to witness this approach, given most successful college football coaches present themselves differently. In Aranda’s 2021 Lauren’s First and Goal Clinic, he revealed his decision to take the Baylor job in 2020 “was about being a better person,” while looking “to win with character.” He also spoke about this Barack Obama quote.

Prior to Baylor, Aranda was one of the highest-paid coordinators in college football, calling LSU’s defense from 2016 to 2019. The clinic where he mentioned Jamal Adams took place at the University of Colorado in the 2018 college football offseason.

Before talking about LSU’s defensive install, Aranda spoke to the coaches about the communication challenges he’d experienced in the job. It’s all great showing what a unit is supposed to do with play drawings, but if the coach can’t get this across to their players then it’s all worthless. 

Coaches must make sure each player is certain of their alignment, assignment, and technique. Ideally each player understands more than that, with comprehension of how their cog fits into the entire machine. Furthermore, away from the Xs and Os, coaches must deal with each player effectively, finding ways to motivate them and understand them. Management skills are crucial.

In short, Aranda spoke of the difficulty of communicating with the NFL superstars LSU attracts and his successful methods.

“The football that they know ain’t the football that we’re playing,” reflected Aranda. (I really would suggest watching both videos for the full context— they're fascinating) 

(Video transcribed at end of article)

Aranda moved towards Jamal Adams as an example. Aranda coached the safety in his junior year, Adams’ final season at LSU before declaring for the NFL draft. Adams, in Aranda’s eyes, possessed an alpha mentality and almost a reality TV show nature that would see him nod his head in group settings to maintain his image. Crucially, this was done without Adams fully grasping the coaching point. For Aranda to get through to players like Adams, he had to communicate one-on-one. At this point “he was a great kid... and now you could reach him."

(Video transcribed at end of article)

We have seen in Seattle that Adams is a bundle of highly confident energy. The 25-year old transformed the defense. There were a lot of fantastic moments, yet also times of uncertainty though. The 2020 Seahawks defense was plagued by assignment busts and missed checks, particularly in coverage. The shortened, weird offseason provided little time to establish chemistry or for Adams to get fully integrated into the system, which certainly didn't help.

The truncated offseason also meant less time for Seahawks coaches to understand Adams as a person and how was best to communicate with him. It could be that the Seahawks coaching staff worked out how to get through to Adams as the season progressed. However, it’s also reasonable to speculate some “head nodding” occurred in group meetings that ultimately resulted in poor coaching results.

Pete Carroll preaches a culture of players being themselves. Adams, like many newcomers to the Seahawks, appeared to enjoy his move to the loving and expressive program Carroll has constructed. Carroll clearly has a plan to unlock the true potential of Adams’ talent.

"He wants me to be free a little bit more and I'm trying to get used to that," Adams said of Carroll after Week 13 versus the New York Giants. "Just trusting my instincts at times because again, I'm still learning everything."

For Adams’ second season as a Seahawk, coaches should be interested in Aranda’s experience working with the strong safety. With better communication, familiarity greater, and a healthier Adams, the rewards are limitless.

Dave Aranda, Video 1

“So here’s the issue with LSU. And again, maybe I shouldn’t be saying this. I don’t, I gotta think of a better way to say it. Okay, I think some of the kids we get: academic prowess, football knowledge, football IQ. There’s much to be, I think, uh, wanted in those areas. Athletically, everything else, it’s great, okay? And so then what it becomes is, when they get to where we’re at, when they get to where you’re at, the football that they know ain’t the football that we’re playing. And it ain’t the football that they’ve been playing man. The football they’ve been playing is ‘hey, you know what, I know Rashaan, he can get me a ride up to Auburn for their pro day and I can get, you know I can be there,’ you know what I mean? Or ‘hey, I know John. And John got a guy that trains such and such and you can get your vertical jump better.’ You know what I mean? That’s football to them, a lot of them. Now, that was not the same. When I came up from Wisconsin, I’m getting guys texting me ‘did you see the goal line stand that Winona State made versus fricking Tarleton State?’ That ain’t happening right now, you know. I ain’t getting those texts no more. Okay? And so it’s different man, okay?

And so now, what happens, is now you get that kid that’s all kinda, he’s get his family, future - a lot of it - all on his shoulders. And this is a little bit of a bulls--- thing but it also is true, right? Because I’ve seen it. Okay. And he shows up, and the football he been playing ain’t the football you’re playing and all of a sudden ‘coach, we’re making an eagle call here?’ ‘yeah, and if they motion over here we’re gonna make a slide call over here, okay? And then if it’s empty we’re gonna check spy.’ And it’s just like [waves arms around looking lost], you know what I’m saying? It’s like that, okay? And so like, what do you do with that? Okay?"

"And then, so like, the other part is. When I’m coming to LSU and I’m looking at ‘hey man, they’re kinda like this, they’re kinda like that.’ And then all of a sudden they’re in the pros and they’re like all-pros and like where’s all that s--- when they were at LSU? Where was all that s---? You know what I mean? Where’s that? So they come in and the football they know ain’t the football that you play. And then they’re gone in three years, because they play as freshman. So right about the time they start to get it; f--- they’re out. So what do you do with that? You know what I mean? How do you do that? And so I think the learning thing is real, is big."

Dave Aranda, Video 2

“I think we’re at war every day with head nodders, man. I mean we can’t have guys nodding their head, in the back. You know what I mean? Not being involved, kind of being passively ‘I got it, I got this,’ you know what I mean?

There’s a lot of guys, I think we’ve got a culture, a little bit, of guys that come in and I feel like---Jamal Adams is a great example—so. Great kid, great pro, alright? Great player. Jamal ran like a 4 something 40, 4.3 40 (yard dash) at our pro day. And after he gets done with the pro day, his 40, he’s running like this [mimes running] and turns around, and he’s got like the SEC network and the cameras and some local tv camera and they’re all up, the lights are on him [mimes lights], they’re trying to talk to him about his 40-yard dash time and what that meant for his draft status.

That’s how I always saw Jamal. Everyday, he was like that. I felt he was like that. He walked through the halls and was just [swaggers] there was like a... I mean, there was always like a reality TV show for him. And so, when he was in a group structure [mimes group], right? For whatever reason— if you were looking at it from the outside - in you’d say that was an alpha guy — you know what I mean? So you’d be great to have on the backend because if you’re able to get through all the hardness of it, he was great. Because he would say s--- and he’d believe it and the kids would follow him and all of it. But to communicate with him was hard, because you’re talking about stuff, and whether he knew it or not, to stay with this [gestures at posture], he would nod his head. You see what I’m saying? And so, how do you? I mean, you had to get him one-on-one, you know what I mean? You had to get him one-on-one. You had to go... one-on-one, he was a great kid, all that would come down. Alright? And now you could reach him. But if you talked to him in a group, if you talked to him in a team setting like this, and it’s all like that [gestures spread out], he ain’t... he’s being Jamal man. And there’s something about that. I’ve never experienced that. But we got a fair amount of guys, particularly the skill players, that are like that. Okay? So one-on-one is a big thing, we’ve got to get it to them.”