August 9, 2019
By Grant Lindsley
Office Hours – A Q&A with Empire Coach Bryan Jones
Bryan Jones loves thinking about Ultimate. This year alone, he has coached the UConn men, Pride of New York, and, of course, the New York Empire. He’s coached in the AUDL before (two seasons with the now-defunct Rochester Dragons), but this is his first year with Empire.
It has been a success. He led the team to an undefeated regular season – the fourth in league history – and earned the top seed heading into the season finale in San Jose this weekend. Our conversation looked back over the season, ahead to Championship Weekend, and beyond to the future of Ultimate:
How has coaching pro compared to coaching club and college?
The wide field makes defensive tactics different. Even though it's fundamentally similar to club, certain things just aren't as effective. For me, in this second AUDL stint, I feel like a completely different coach. I also do a lot more thinking offensively than I do in club.
What factors do you attribute to Empire’s success so far this season?
Really good players and a willingness by those players to take smaller roles than they might take elsewhere. Unselfish player attitudes help us celebrate each other’s successes and do the small things right in order to eke out victories.
Can you share any of your game plan against the Indianapolis Alleycats?
Indy's a good team. Travis Carpenter does a great job of being the main QB on their O-line squad. Keegan North is also a versatile, multi-dimensional player who will be tough to stop. Their other pieces fit in nicely and don't try to do too much. It's easy to see why they've had so much success.
Are you looking ahead to potential finals matchups or focused entirely on the semis?
I’m looking ahead to the finals match-ups only so we can do some things in practice to be ready. In terms of game-planning, the focus is on Indy.
How much do you tailor defenses for individual offensive players?
I tailor defenses a lot for systems first. Those systems often feature a few players who are more active than others, so I try to figure out a team’s plan A and then limit that.
Who have you looked to as an example for defensive strategy?
Lou Burruss and Bill Belichick are both minds I've looked to in terms of defensive strategy, whether it's nuts-and-bolts tactics or mind-set. Sometimes you need a little inspiration to take a small thought and expand it into something that becomes a cornerstone of defensive strategy.
What's the future of defense in Ultimate?
The future of defense is a lot of rotation and switching – looking to change the throwing windows and squeeze offenses into repeatedly tough throws and tough decisions. Person defense will still be effective for the long term, but having a sort of person/zone hybrid mindset will be crucial for sophistication.
You hold "office hours" for players to talk with you on the phone. How do you dedicate so much time to that, what do you talk about, and what benefits have you seen as a result?
I drive a lot, so office hours on the phone come quite easily. I started doing it because I found that it created trust between me and players. I can be a rather intense guy on the field, so office hours serve as a time with players to clarify expectations or talk about issues where we aren't seeing things the same way. The benefits are closer bonds with the players, clearer expectations, and a better overall team.
Will you be back to coach Empire next year?
It's been a really fun, rewarding year. I'd like to be back.