The 10 most effective college football steal lessons

The Athletic

The video evidence of Michigan’s signal-stealing efforts was shared relentlessly Tuesday, surpassing 17 million views in 36 hours.

This image, posted by Ohio TV reporter Adam King, shows Michigan analyst Connor Stallions standing next to defensive coordinator Jesse Minter before the game and staring at the Ohio State sign. Once spotted, the Stallions responded with a signal of their own to aid the Wolverine defense on the opening drive of last year’s game.

The strong feeling among many was: Gotcha! Here was the damning evidence of Michigan’s in-game cheating.

He also watched the college football sign stealing video on Tuesday. I didn’t find it.

Why are people worried about this clip?

The ongoing Michigan challenge is being viewed with fascination by coaches and industry personnel who have been stealing marks for years. Although the practice was legal and well-documented in the past, the Stallions’ violation of NCAA rules by buying game tickets and sending people to draft future opponents has brought significant new attention.

This coach will work at a Power 5 program without Michigan this season. In return for participating in this story, he asked to share other identifying information; He is not trying to give up strategies that opponents can copy.

As he watched this story unfold over the past week, he was seeing a lot of misconceptions about the unique art of sign stealing and what is and isn’t allowed. If the allegations are true, the Stallions crossing the line will give all signal stealers a bad name and make it harder for them to do what they do best. But this coach wonders more than anything else: How did people not notice what they were doing on Saturday?

“With a clip going out that looks like every aspect of what I’ve been through in America, I’m like, ‘Shoot,'” he said. “I think people don’t pay attention to it.

While he has some secrets to keep to himself, the staff is allowed to tell the Athletics as freely as possible how this play works in the game. Here are 10 lessons from the most effective signal theft.

1. It is not illegal

Let’s start with the Ohio State video. To the uninitiated, it looks bad. But Michigan coaches weren’t breaking the rules. Our token stealer thinks he knows exactly what happened in the game.

Michigan carries a white logo with the Nike Swoosh. That tells the defense not to jump offsides on a hard count because Ohio State is going to be checked on the sideline. The signal goes down. CJ Stroud and the Buckeyes’ offense will look to their side for the call. The Michigan staff reads it and points to the sky. A new sign featuring Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young will go up.

“When you think that pass is coming, it’s probably their pass board,” the signal stealer said. “By the way, everyone is pointing to the sky right now. This is their passing sign, another gesture to warn people.

“If I’m at Ohio State, I see it right away and I’m like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go to the wrists now. They know it. “I don’t know how they know, but they do,” he said.

Now, how the suspended Stallions collected the intel is the subject of an NCAA investigation. This is the important difference to remember. There’s nothing impermissible about using Michigan intel for in-the-moment decisions and in-game adjustments.

What does it hurt? Video evidence of a man sitting on a chair split by Stallion filming the team side on their phone.

“It makes people in the industry go, ‘Oh, they’re f—ed,'” he said.

Go Deeper

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Gentle: Jim Harbaugh Promises ‘Gold Standard’ Instead, Michigan faced more trouble.

2. Your favorite team is probably doing it

The lack of awareness of this activity is puzzling, especially given some of the extreme reactions we’ve seen in the past week. Again, there’s a clear distinction between what Michigan allegedly did illegally and what other coaching staffs do to steal signals. But they should pay a little attention to their own side, which is upset by the theft of signs.

“The average fan is like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at them cheating!’ Well, wait until you see your team do it,” he said. Because I promise you they will this Saturday.

During a game, it’s easy to identify a worker with that particular skill if you need them. Some may be sitting in the coaches’ box taking notes, but most are close to the action. It is not a secret what they are trying to do.

Because of this, this coach has little interest in some of the anger that comes from Big Ten coaches. Totally agrees that off-campus signal scouting is wrong. But he doesn’t want to hear rival coaches deride routine signal stealing as abuse or a matter of integrity.

“They all do it to each other,” he said. “That’s what’s so stupid about the whole thing to me.”

3. All you need is tape.

Signal stealing has worked for a head coach, rival schools can send people to his open practices or spring games to film signals. This kind of paranoia is common. He doesn’t believe the Michigan lawsuit is typical, calling it “next-level s—” that crosses the line.

“I hope I’m not naive to think he’s the only one doing this,” he said. “I do not know.”

In his experience, there’s no need to cross that line. If you spend enough time studying your opponents through a combination of broadcast tape and game tape, you will find patterns. The process of carefully observing signalers and recording everything they see is time-consuming and labor-intensive. It’s not easy to watch and crack these codes without an audio tape. But it tends to pay off.

Stallions was described as a “listener” and wrote on his since-deleted LinkedIn page that he incorporated “Marine Corps philosophies and tactics” into his work. Signal Stealing asserts that this skill is not that difficult for others to pick up.

“I promise you, you can take the average fan in one day and watch three telecasts with them and they’ll know the signs by the end,” he said. “We’re trying to show in theater what a college kid should understand. This is not rocket science. The symptoms are not ridiculously difficult to understand.

4. Results are not guaranteed

Let’s say you steal a signal and spend time and effort trying to decipher your next opponent’s signals. They go into Saturday believing they know exactly what to expect. The game started. You start spying on their side. You will immediately recognize that you have never seen these signs before. They are new.

For a seasoned signal stealer, few things are more annoying.

“At the end of the day, if you get to your game and change everything, that’s a complete waste of time,” he said.

He hopes to see repeat signs every time he watches tape and plays in multiple games. But some games may require 10 symbols, and others may require only five. Differences from week to week should be monitored. Is it the same person in every game? Do you change for a quarter or two?

Another talent required for a signal stealing role is the ability to see a signal directly, recall it instantly, and make a call. If you know the sign to get a Ohio State pass, that’s great. You still need to make a simple signal that will transfer the intel to the defense as quickly as possible.

Pointing to the sky and holding Trae Young’s sign up, Stroud gives the secondary nothing to throw the ball to. All he does is alert pass rushers to follow him. The viral clip doesn’t show what happened after the moment: Strode threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Emeka Egbuka to put Ohio State up 7-0.

5. Don’t get it

A few years ago, the Signal Stealer lost in conference play. What went wrong? They faced a team with an excellent signal-stealing defensive back.

“They knew every game,” he said.

It’s always hard to tell if that’s actually true, but it sure felt like it. Our coach calls this “finding.” The best indicator that you are getting? When players come off the field and tell coaches, the opponent is calling where the run is going or picking up passes. Especially simple information is when defenders recognize the signal for screen passes and easily stop them.

After this loss, the signal stealer spent a lot of time studying what he does off the field every game. The next time they played, their team used a different system for play calling. If you mark a game, you will never use the same mark twice. They won the return game.

6. If you get it, it’s better to change

It’s actually quite simple. If a coaching staff invests in sign stealing, they should have a plan to prevent sign stealing. If they don’t want to have it, they should be open to making weekly changes. In the previous example, the signal stealing team chose to go to the wristband system for play calling.

“Teams using wristbands have nothing to worry about,” he said.

There are more subtle ways to hide and avoid requiring players to learn new cues, such as sequencing, patterning and delivery of side markers, or introducing different dummy cues. Sharp signal hackers can figure out how to crack the new codes, but it takes time and repetition to do that live.

“As a signal stealer myself, if you don’t want me to download all your stuff from the televsion, change your signals,” he said. “If you don’t change your marks, we will keep your marks. Because I’m going to work to make sure we get your signal.”

7. If you don’t change, that’s on you.

Although the name of the person who stole the signal is not mentioned, there are certain coaches who have not changed their signals even after meeting certain coaches. He jokes that he can’t help but take that personally.

“It’s crazy to make your team like that,” he argued.

It seems logical that a head coach wouldn’t take signal theft seriously and change their calls, but in his experience some are bold enough to believe they don’t need to change. When asked about Michigan on Tuesday, Colorado coach Deion Sanders told reporters that he doesn’t fully buy into the idea that flagging affects the outcome of physical football games.

“You can have someone’s whole game plan. They can mail it to you. You still have to stop,” Sanders said.

The signal stealer’s response to that takeaway?

“I hope we play Colorado,” he said. “Never change your signals or pointers and let’s see if the players beat the players.

Another thing to note: the coaching business is highly speculative. The signal-stealer’s coaching staff heard rumors about Michigan recruiting signal-callers before the original Yahoo Sports story came out. They don’t play Michigan. It does not affect them. They still knew. If a Big Ten employee had any knowledge of Michigan’s signal theft and did not adjust accordingly, that would be inexcusable.

“For me, the burden is on these teams that they know and they have to play to change their stuff,” he said. “It’s up to you to change your symptoms.”

8. Opponents know you are smart

This brings us to our next lesson: you don’t want a great reputation for token theft. It is not useful. If your enemies know that, they will make your job more difficult. The good must be careful.

Signal stealers study enough tape to figure out who the other signal stealers are. You’ll see things and you’ll definitely hear things about other programs’ signal-stealing operations. It didn’t take long for the Stallions to be officially recognized as the “mastermind” of Michigan.

Aside from the obvious issues facing Jim Harbaugh and his program right now, our signal-stealing raises another one: Regardless, Michigan has a tough time stealing signals the rest of the season.

Teams still facing the Wolverines must make pregame changes to their signs. Michigan State tried a safer approach against Michigan on Saturday: Their quarterback went to the sidelines for a play call and gave him a hug.

“We play teams that will change from everything they did that season,” the marksman said. “I guess you’ll take it as a compliment, but at the same time, that’s pretty bad after all the work I’ve put in.”

9. If done right, it changes games

The NCAA’s investigation into Michigan’s signal-stealing practice has prompted a question: How many scores were affected? How many losses did Intel win in unauthorized acquisitions?

“It’s a tough question,” said the signal stealer.

Because it is truly incalculable. These investigations will focus on the extent to which the Stallions or others organized off-campus, physically scouting prospective opponents, and whether Harbaugh authorized or knew about the scheme. Beyond that, there’s no easy way to prove how those stolen signals changed Michigan’s games beyond anecdotal evidence from opposing coaches.

Here’s how the signal stealer sees it: You can legally get it all off the tape. If you have enough good players and enough information, you can hurt teams that don’t switch marks. If the allegations are true, he agrees, Michigan should be punished. But it’s hard to gauge just how significant Michigan’s advantage will be.

“I guess the best way to say it is: sign a steal, if you have the stuff, it’s very, very effective and it can win you a lot of games,” the coach said. “If you go to these (opponents’) games, yeah, that’s going to have a lot of impact, because you’ll have more tape to release. But who’s to say that these groups they went and found hadn’t changed their sign by then?”

10. Will the rule change? no thanks

One understandable response to Michigan’s allegations has been renewed interest in allowing in-game, coach-player communication technology.

N.A.A.A.A. from 1994 The Athletic reported on Monday that a test run has been approved for the College Football Playoff bowl games, an experiment that was in the works before the Michigan revelations.

If college football staffs are gifted at stealing signs, they certainly don’t support their high-cost growth in the game.

“What Michigan was supposed to do was wrong. But the rest? Shoot, everybody does that,” signal stole. “So you’re going to make everyone change how they work?”

It does not mean that these employees will lose their jobs. All perform other training or recruitment activities in their official capacity and capacity. Signs of theft are just their side noise during the season. But the fact that they come well makes them even more valuable.

Our sign will not be stolen. He has been doing this to learn how to adapt. The good ones find a way to screw up whatever comes next. He predicted that even though technology will arrive next season, offenses that want to go faster will have to use hand signals at some point.

And when they do, he already knows them.

(Top image: Eamon Dalton for Athletics; Photos: Ronald Martinez, Rob Carr / Getty Images; Andy Lewis / Icon Sports via Getty Images)