Tony DeMeo

Winning the Six Minute Games

Everybody has a system of Game-planning. Some coaches script the first 15 or 20 plays, some coaches like Paul Johnson wing it based on his experience. Coaches color code & highlighters became their life-blood. But how about time-management?
Well of course everyone has their 2 minute drill ready or their 4 minute victory offense and the word “Tempo” is a popular buzzword used hundreds of times per game by the “experts”. But as someone once said is that all there is?
I had the great fortune of working with a strategic genius, who could have also been a stand-up comic, Jim Valvano. Jimmy used the clock like Picasso used a pastel. He used up-tempo or slow down stall ball based on opponent or situation. His adage that I took to heart was: “He who controls the pace, wins the race” – basically when facing a superior opponent – shorten the game BUT if you had the superior team then put your foot on the gas & make them play. I soaked up everything I could in the 4 years I worked with him. I’ve spoken often about idea of Tempo-Control & even had a chapter about it in my book: Commonsense Rules for Everyday Leaders. Tempo is not a philosophy, it’s a tool to use.
Another great piece of Valvano Wisdom that I used throughout my career was: “The Six Minute Games”. Even though “V” was a Hoops Coach, there were many of his ideas that were very applicable to football.

The Six Minute Games

In every game there are 4 key Six Minute Periods that your team must control. They are:

  1. The first 6 minutes of the game
  2. The 6 minutes prior to the end of the half
  3. The first 6 minutes of the second half
  4. The last 6 minutes of the game

Those were the 4 areas that Jim thought you had to control.
This was my approach to a game using these 4 Six Minute periods:

  1. The first 6 minutes of the game was really our real scouting report. We were always unique on offense so how a team defensed a previous opponent didn’t tell us too much about how they were going to defend us. So we always attacked with a broad front, showing a wide variety of formations & motions. Once we knew how they were going to line up, the fun began & we attacked based on their adjustments.
  2. The last 6 minutes of the half was designed to go into the locker room with Big Mo going with us. But as Harry Gamble used to warn me when I worked for him at Penn: “Don’t lose the game at the half” Great advice. In other words, don’t be careless with the ball. However, if we could get in position for a score, we’d go for it. But if we were struggling on “O” we were not going to let them get the ball back.
  3. The first 6 minutes of the second half. Time for “The Second Half Surprise” – I’ve done an entire article on this tactic.
    The idea is to use something that our opponent did not discuss at half-time. The longer you can use your “Surprise” the more likely your opponent’s players will forget their half-time adjustments. The key is to gain control of the second half during this period. If you have the lead, the goal is to use the clock while adding a possession lead. For example if you’re up 7, a field goal adds a possession to your lead. Conversely if you are trailing, you must get the lead or at least make it a one possession closer to the lead. This period will set the tone for the second half.
  4. The final 6 minutes is the period you either get the lead while killing the clock or maintain the lead or add a possession to your lead while killing the clock. The most important part of this period is killing the clock regardless of your situation UNLESS you are behind by 2 possessions. Then it’s high tempo to cut it to one possession as quickly as possible. But the entire game-plan should get your team in position to win the game with 6 minutes to go. So ideally, at this point in the game, your team either has the lead or is in one possession from the lead.

This was a very helpful blueprint for me, as a head coach, to break a game down into more manageable segments. Using this along with use of Meaningful Stats help us with four College turnarounds.