Every once in a while, a complete underdog stuns a far superior opponent and shocks the world. All were unfathomable outcomes, but somehow they happened.
> The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey victory over the Soviet Union.
> The University of Michigan football team loss to Appalachian State.
> The New England Patriots loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42.
These games were played on the largest stage, but major upsets happen throughout all levels of sports. One such occurrence was the Pima Community College football team’s victory over Kilgore College in the 2004 Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl.
Facing extraordinary odds, legendary football coach Jeff Scurran developed a plan and a team atmosphere that led to a shocking victory. He tells the story in his book One Game One Time.
STACK: Tell us about your coaching background.
Jeff Scurran: I’m one of, if not the only, high school football coach to ever work with three different 0-10 teams and take them to the playoffs in my first year. I’ve also coached at the junior college level, and specialize in rejuvenating programs quickly.
STACK: What is the driving force behind your success?
JS: I realized as a graduate assistant that having a foundation and focusing on the details is critical. It all comes back to your base. My teams have always been sound at the fundamentals. For example, my team this past season only had three turnovers.
Also, I spent time working for the U.S. Olympic Committee when the winter training center was in Squaw Valley, California in the 70s. I noticed every athlete had a basis in training, no matter what sport they played. And my brain put two and two together. So I make sure that my athletes have the basic body positional and movement skills and training required for the football field.
STACK: Set up the game situation for us. What were the odds you were facing?
JS: Pima had a fairly new program in 2004. We were able to cobble together a team from around the country. And somehow, we rose to national prominence and got a bowl bid to play Kilgore College, who was a national powerhouse. The odds against us were 44 to 1. When I called my college recruiting and coaching friends, they thought we were crazy playing that game. But I had a lot of kids and coaches who wanted to make a splash.
STACK: What was your plan going into the game?
JS: The plan was to get to the fourth quarter within seven points. And we would save five plays for the last drive where we’d win the game. To do this, we had to go back to the basics and focus on our conditioning. We did pre-season style training, which most teams never do for this type of game. We developed a hard-nosed approach. Some kids didn’t buy in and we cut them from the team. Most kids wanted to prepare, and we put the hard work in. We spent almost a week on just conditioning and fundamentals before we even got into the game plan.
STACK: How did you get players to buy in?
JS: I’ve always relied on the number 3.4. If you gain 3.4 yards every play, then you’ll probably never lose because that’s 10 yards every four downs. It won’t get players much attention from coaches and scouts, but it gives you a chance to win. If players buy in to this concept, then they have a good chance for success.
STACK: Did everything go as planned?
JS: It was one of those rare instances when it worked out how we drew it up on paper. We won the game on the last drive. The score was 10 to 7.
STACK: Tell us about the quote, “One Game, played One Time, For Everything”
JS: The first key to winning is to not be afraid to lose. We knew we weren’t going to go out and just beat those guys. That was not an option. They were that much better than us. But, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a way to win the game. Nine out of 10 times they would slaughter us. But we didn’t play them 10 times. We played them once. And I constantly reminded my players of that fact.
STACK: What’s a common thread you find among your successful teams?
There are no two situations that are exactly the same. But there’s at least a part that remains the same. It’s always that fundamental training, adherence to detail and knowing your role in the team. And it’s always in the day-to-day drill where it comes out. When the pressure goes on, it falls apart, so you need to fall back on fundamentals. If you do that through your training program, then you’ve really got a good chance.
STACK: What can athletes do to succeed individually and in a team setting?
JS: I believe there are four parts to this equation:
1. You can’t pay attention to the Hall of Famers in your sport. That’s not reality, and they have unbelievable natural talent and a fighting spirit.
2. You need to surround yourself with people, places and things that motivate you. Kids need to go where they believe in the system. If you don’t, then you are slogging uphill in the mud. You don’t always need to “like” a coach, but you need to respect him.
3. One of the key things about sports is it should be fun. “All work and no play make Johnny a pretty dull boy.” Most of the work isn’t fun. But games are fun, training can be fun and going to practice with your friends should be fun.
4. You have to do the work. It’s not negotiable. It’s the essence of getting any job done. You could be the best of the best in your town because it comes natural to you. But if you go away and play somewhere, then you’ll be playing with the best of the best. If you don’t have that work ethic, then at some point you will be in trouble.