Meet the Coaches: Defensive Coordinator, Andy Whiteoak

February 23, 2021

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

Following the 22nd February announcement of the UK Government’s plans to end lockdown and return to normal: the Cambridgeshire Cats are eagerly awaiting the official word from BAFA on when Britball will return.

We’ve had a lot of enquiries throughout the year from potential new players, both rookies and those returning or transferring from another team. While we wait for the go-ahead to get back on the field, we’re taking some time to introduce some key staff so our new members will recognise some faces when we kick off again on Coldham’s Common.

First up is Defensive Coordinator, Andy Whiteoak.

How did you get in to football? 
I played Basketball through school and college – when I started University in 2004 I went from being the tallest person on the Basketball team to the shortest, even at 6’5″. I wasn’t suited to the game at the next level so decided to play a different sport: the options were American Football or Rugby!

How did you start coaching? 
I played in the BUAFL for the University of Sunderland Kings before moving down to the Midlands. I was contacted by the GM of the Peterborough Saxons in late 2009 about joining as a player and the laundry-list injuries I gathered through my uni career was prohibitive, so I started coaching as the Defensive Line Coach in the 2010 season.

What’s been the defining moment of your coaching career so far?
As Defensive Coordinator of the Peterborough Saxons we went undefeated to the 2012 Div 2 National Final, only to be beaten by the Sheffield Predators. That was a great season with an amazing squad. I would say a single defining moment that I am proud of came a couple of years later when, playing a road game in the playoffs with a depleted squad: the Defense spotted a tell in the Quarterback’s mechanics that gave away whether it was a pass or run before the snap. They didn’t get a single first down from that point on and we won the game on the way to *another* national final.

How do you approach coaching? What are the most important things to you in coaching?
I would hope my approach to coaching is defined by three things:

  1. Communication – being able to talk to every player, and making an effort to forge a player-coach relationship with everyone in the squad is important. Every player is different and is motivated differently: a good coach knows who needs to encourage, who to challenge, and who to just leave alone and let them self-motivate. I’m not a ra-ra, shouting cheerleader of a coach. I don’t believe any situation can be improved by raising one’s voice, so I don’t do it. I think I’ve shouted at players 3 times in 10 years of coaching. If I need to raise my voice to convey a message: I need to rethink the message.
  2. Breaking Convention – There are faults in conventional wisdom and the conventional ways of coaching. I encourage players and fellow coaches to test new approaches, to take risks in strategy and most importantly: to learn from them. Some moves won’t work, and may not meet with approval from everyone around you: but you can’t grow as a coach or a person without challenging your status quo.
  3. Self-awareness and self-evaluation are keys to success. I know I’m not perfect, and I know there’s parts of the way I coach that I could improve on. Being able to ask yourself, “If our opponents knew as much about us as we do: how would they beat us?” will throw up some interesting results and make you stronger.

Tell us about your best game as a player.
My best game as a player… It can probably be boiled down to my best quarter: University of Sunderland vs Paisley in late 2005. In the 3rd quarter I got 3 Sacks for 3 Forced Fumbles and 2 Fumble Recoveries. That was a good day.

What college or pro team do you support, and why?
As a total newcomer to the NFL in 2004 there were a couple of standout teams: I caught on with the Philadelphia Eagles part way through that season when they were an absolute powerhouse, finishing 13-3 on their way to the Superbowl with Donovan McNabb and T-O on offense, and a great all round defense led by Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter. They were a really fun team to watch. Of course, the wheels would come off after that and since then they’ve been fairly close to being a .500 team, but there’s been some highlights on the way.

Which NFL coaches do you respect and why? 
Andy Reid has built an excellent culture with the Kansas City Chiefs where his players love playing for him and are having fun while still winning a lot of games. I think culture-leading coaches like Reid and Frank Reich in Indianapolis often get overlooked in favour of coaches with innovative systems in today’s NFL. That’s not a knock on coaches like Sean McVay who has won a lot of games since entering the league, but a culture-led organisation is more sustainable: defenses continuously evolve to neutralise offensive strategies so the strategy can lose efficiency over time. A winning and positive culture keeps players engaged in the shared vision and their buy-in means they’re emotionally invested in finding new ways to win together.

Favourite NFL player, past or present?
Former Eagles DE, Trent Cole. He was drafted not long after I started playing and played the same position as I did. He was very effective, even though he never really got in to the discussion of the league’s best pass rushers, and his high-motor meant he was excellent against the run as well as getting to the QB. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but he’ll be fondly remembered by Eagles fans.

Are you superstitious about football? How?
I don’t wear anything with our team logo on game days. I have no idea why but it’s something I’ve done since 2013. I wear team colours but that’s all. That, and I listen to specific music on the way to games and in the locker room beforehand.

What are your goals for the 2021 season?
When I joined the Cats I wanted us to make it to the top tier of football in this country in 3 years. With the loss of the 2020 season: this is year 3. It’s time to win the Div 1 championship and take the Cats to the Prem.

What are your goals in your coaching career?
I’ve been involved in organising and running teams from University in to the adult contact leagues, and coached up to the Coordinator level. At some point in the future I want to lead an organisation as the Head Coach and help everyone to fully realise their potential as a winning football team.