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Friday, December 21
Updated: December 22, 4:13 PM ET
The real work begins now

Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan and former Arizona coach Dick Tomey will put their coaching knowledge and skills to the test on Verge Friday on during the Culligan Holiday Bowl (Fri., Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Donnan and Tomey will also be contributing articles on bowl preparation and provide their game plans on Washington and Texas.

Jim Donnan
When the regular season is over, and you have managed to play your way into a bowl game, that is when the work really begins.

A bowl game is a winner take all .. a one game shot. If you want to win, you have some major preparing to do. Contrary to belief, teams don't have a month layoff and then just show up for the game. It's a little more complex than that.

When the season ends, you have exams week. It's important to keep your priorities in order. You don't want your kids missing exams just to practice football. You look at the schedule for final exams and adjust your practices around that. You also have to look at your recruiting schedule. A lot of times, coaches will schedule some practices on the weekend so incoming prospects can see the team practice and get an idea what a practice is like in a college environment. The teams that are not in a bowl are already out there recruiting so scheduling practices early in the day and then flying out or driving in-state to see prospective student-athletes is very important.

Being in a bowl is definitely a reward for your players but you have to look at all the hard work you will have to do. Once you are at the bowl site you have so many functions to go to and so many responsibilities. It is very critical that you get a lot of your work done before you even get to where you are going.

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan guided the Georgia Bulldogs to a 4-0 record in bowl games.
Of course, having several weeks between games poses a challenge. You have to maintain your sharpness. Most teams improve as the season goes on so you want to continue that trend and build on that momentum. At the same time, I've always used the layoff as a time to train our younger players. I would tend to not practice our first and second team as long, and let the other guys get in there. It's almost like spring practice. You have anywhere from 15-20 extra practices when you are in a bowl game for your younger players. That allows you to let your younger kids stay out and have a 25 or 30 play scrimmage everyday. Multiply that by 15 and that's a lot of extra time to learn.

Getting ready for a bowl is also a good time for self-evaluation. You look at what has worked for you and what hasn't and try to build on that, without overlooking the other team. While some of the coaches are out recruiting, the rest of the coaching staff is studying the game and the opponent. The first few days you start back, you are just doing conditioning and timing and then after finals you do the heavy work. By the time final exams are over you have your gameplan set.

With most bowl games, the gameplan can take on somewhat of a new face. In 1985 when I was the offensive coordinator with Oklahoma, we were playing Penn State for the National Championship. We were a wishbone team and never really threw the ball much. Keith Jackson was our tight end. Since we were down in Miami for two weeks, we worked on some other kinds of plays. I talked to our team and said there might come a time when we need to make up a lot of yards with some long range passing. They all laughed at me but sure enough we got two penalties on a series and were looking at a third and 21. We threw a 75-yard touchdown to Jackson. Coach Paterno, almost every time he sees me, teases me about it. "How could Oklahoma make a third and 21'" he would say. Point being, it's a one game shot. You give it everything you've got.

As the bowl date approaches, you give your players some time off to spend time with the family and then rendezvous at the site. If it's within driving distance the kids like to get the per diam and expenses and just meet you there. But the key is getting your hard work out of the way before you ever even get to the bowl site.

Once you are there, you are very conscious about trying to prepare your team but you understand there are lots of functions you have to go to. The players and coaches are tired and at the same time you have to fulfill your obligations. You have to keep a good perspective. Sometimes, the smaller bowls are trying to develop so they have even more functions than the old traditional bowls. Everyone is in the hospitality business. Certainly everyone gets enough to eat at a bowl game!!

One of the things we always tried to do early in the week was meet with the local authorities and talk about problem areas in the town and where to avoid going. You usually wait until three or four days before the game to use a curfew, but you let the players know if anything goes wrong, you will pull the reigns in. There have been times where I have had to send guys home. Players have to realize they are representing themselves, their team, their school, families, everyone.

When I was the head coach at Marshall in 1992, we were playing for a Division I-AA National Championship and I had a kicker who had some problems during the season with being on time. I told him he had to be on time or else. Well, he was late for a practice and we had to suspend him. Turns out the championship game came down to a field goal and I had to use a guy I had never used before. But he made it, thank goodness, and we were national champions.

You have to realize going in that all kinds of things can go wrong at a bowl game. You have to be prepared for anything. One of my coaches was at Maryland years ago and they were playing in Hawaii. One of his kids got on the wrong plane and next thing they knew he ended up in Puerto Rico. They finally got him back but he didn't realize where he was going! Another time, I remember practicing and we left to go back to the hotel and a guy missed the bus and we didn't realize it. He came wandering back into the hotel in full uniform later that day.

At a bowl game, anything can happen!

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