Commentary

Old-school is OK with Maxfield

Updated: September 3, 2009, 12:04 PM ET
By Jeff Miller | Special to ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeMel Maxfield
Mike Eskridge\Burleson StarMel Maxfield has coached at Burleson for 23 seasons.

BURLESON, Texas -- Mel Maxfield's loyalties die hard. Some don't die at all.

The head man at Burleson (Texas) hated to give up his Kodak projector, clicker and all, for reviewing practices and scouting opponents. He made the transition to videotape and recently went digital, though he leaves the details to some of his younger assistants. Generation X, he calls them.

But no one in his 23 years as a high school head coach in Texas has persuaded him to forsake the wing-T offense, which he brought to this growing town south of Fort Worth seven years ago. Though some well-meaning dads suggest making an offensive change …

"Every year," he said recently with a laugh.

Maxfield's Elks have qualified for the Class 5A playoffs every other year. In 15 previous seasons at then-3A Forney, five of his teams went into the playoffs undefeated.

To twist the Bill Parcells phrase slightly, Maxfield prefers the wing-T because he cooks the meal but can't shop for the groceries.

"We don't recruit. We can't go sign free agents," Maxfield said. "I think it's very adjustable to the talent that changes from year to year in high school."

The wing-T relies on quick traps, sweeps and counter plays. It's known mostly as a running attack but can turn to the air when conditions are favorable.

Burleson's Heath Raetz became an offensive tackle at nearby TCU, which has put together one of major college football's best winning percentages in recent years. He described Maxfield's simple but effective philosophies on each side of the ball.

"You don't have to be stronger or faster. Just out-hit 'em," said Raetz, who graduated in the spring. "Offensively, the goal is four yards at a time. Defensively, you swarm to the football. No blitzing. Just work as a team."

Raetz particularly enjoyed when opposing defenses wore down late in games.

"The backs break runs for 15, 20, 40 yards," he said, almost relishing his old offense. "Downfield, you can hit guys that are a little smaller. And at full speed."

Elks offensive coordinator David Hunt came over with Maxfield from Forney and joined the staff there specifically for a chance to coach the wing-T.

"It's the great equalizer," Hunt said.

Maxfield grew up in the small West Texas town of Gorman and played college ball at Texas-Arlington, which dropped football in the mid-1980s. UTA's offensive line coach then was Bob Noblitt, an option devotee who helped instill in Maxfield an appreciation for establishing fundamentals as used by Army, Navy and Air Force.

"Coach Noblitt mentioned how smart those guys were, how much they adjusted," Maxfield said. "I love watching the academies play, how they execute."

Maxfield's office is a football library, containing books written about former University of Alabama coach "Bear" Bryant and NFL legends Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi. There's one written in 1957 about the elements of the wing-T that he got before he started coaching. ("We'll literally go back to it from time to time when we're stuck.")

[+] EnlargeBurleson High's football team
Mike Eskridge\Burleson StarSpread offenses are popular, but Burleson sticks with its wing-T.

He keeps some books in his desk drawer, and one requires special attention. "Darrell Royal Talks Football" is a softcover version of the 1963 book written by the former University of Texas coach with Dallas sports columnist Blackie Sherrod (price: $1.95). This one is held together with the help of a sturdy rubber band.

"He likes to tell stories about Texas and Darrell Royal," said Cody Nerius, who will be a senior tight end this season.

Maxfield also likes to tell his players to be good sons and good friends. Said Hunt: "Every kid, he wants him to walk away a better human being."

Maxfield tells them war stories and suggests books to read. Nerius said this season's book is "The Pep Talk: A Football Story About the Business of Winning." It's a novel in which co-author Kevin Elko employs principles that he has passed along in motivational talks to NFL and college teams.

"I'm always looking for something new out there," Maxfield said, half-apologetically. "I don't know what makes 'em tick."

Maxfield is a coach's son and considers coaching more of a way of life than a career. He recalls the story of a football coach whose daughter was about to head off on her own out across West Texas. The coach pulled out a map and identified the various towns along her route and who coached where. If you break down, he told his daughter, call the local coach. He'll be happy to help you.

"It's a pretty close-knit profession," Maxfield said. "That's not to say competing insurance agents wouldn't help each other out.

"Back to participating in Little League, I never had a bad coach."

Clay Beason played for Maxfield at Forney, has been in coaching for 10 years and readily credits "Coach Max" for inspiring him to pursue the profession.

"He's just a down-to-earth guy," said Beason, an assistant at Harding University in Arkansas. "He pushed all of us, but never overboard."

When Beason played for the Forney Jackrabbits, Maxfield read them the poem "The Man Who Thinks He Can."

Said Beason: "I've used it with my teams."

By the way, Maxfield isn't just being stubborn in missing that old projector. He has his reasons.

"Now you can pull up all the third-and-longs from the right hash, but you don't know what brought it to the right hash," he said. "I still like to watch the game in its entirety to try to get a feel.

"Do they go for a home run after they got a turnover? After they've given up a turnover, do they bring the house the next time? You can kind of get a rhythm."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.