Breaking Tradition at Frank W. Cox High School
To turn around a losing football program, it pays to think outside the box
By Kim Goss
Published: Summer 2004
Steve Allosso had it made. With an annual salary of $250,000 as a vice president and part owner of a successful company, he was living the American dream. But five years ago when his company went public, Allosso decided that he’d had enough of big business. He wanted to coach football.
“My dad was a firefighter, so I grew up with a blue-collar attitude, and that’s what I wanted to teach kids. “I’ve coached football before and I love working with kids, and my wife said she would support me in my decision to leave my business,” says Allosso.
Acting on his passion and the security that his business career had afforded him, Allosso found a teaching and assistant coaching job at Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A 3A, Division 6 program, this region is considered one of the toughest in the country. Some of the famous athletes who have come out of high schools in this region include Michael Vick, Dre Bly and Bruce Smith.
For Allosso, Frank W. Cox High School was his first choice because it was in his neighborhood, about a quarter of a mile from his home. Allosso even liked the fact that the football team had won only three games in the past two years, and had only one winning season in the past 23 years and 10 in the past 40! “I was challenged by the fact that they had never been successful in football. I wanted to make things happen.”
During his first year Allosso was a teacher’s assistant and an assistant football coach, but by the third year he moved up to take the head coach’s job, which had become vacant. He was ready for success. Unfortunately, the Falcons were not.
That first year under new leadership the Falcons continued their school tradition and won only one game, but Allosso stayed positive. After all, he had inherited a losing team and this was his first year as head coach. In the meantime, he showed that he was willing to “think outside the box” in his coaching: he hired Nancy Fowlkes as his assistant coach.
Fowlkes was the school’s women’s field hockey coach. “Believe it not, the word “women’s coach” never entered my mind in my decision to hire Nancy,” says Allosso. “I hired someone who had the same value system, the same work ethic, and the same level of intensity that I had. Nancy understood the psychology of winning, she had good people skills, and her teams were well conditioned and disciplined. Her win record was phenomenal, with over 300 wins and fewer than 20 losses, and she set a national record with 13 state titles – she even made the cover of a Cheerios box!”
The players responded well to Fowlkes. As a PE teacher, Fowlkes had already worked with many of the football players in her classes. “Nancy had a reputation as a proven winner, and the kids knew that she had a “take no bull” attitude – she’s tough, and no one disrespects her.”
But next year, despite the addition of Fowlkes, the Falcons won only two games. Allosso admits that he was “brokenhearted,” although not because of their 2-8 record. “I can handle losing, but I had wanted to give these kids tools for success in life, and I felt that the kids didn’t work as hard as they needed to,” says Allosso. “So I came up with a policy of what I was looking for in the kids, and I also decided to look for a better system for weight training.” That system was BFS.
In January the Falcons staff attended a football clinic where BFS clinician Ray Cosenza conducted a BFS session. “After that clinic I ordered the BFS tapes and the books. I watched the tapes about five times and read the books several times – I just loved the Be An 11 Guidebook – and decided that this is exactly what we needed.”
Allosso was so sold on the BFS program that not only did he require that his coaches study the material, he even gave them tests so they would take it seriously.
One aspect of the BFS program that Allosso appreciates most is that the qualities that make it a successful program are the same as those that make businesses successful. “Everything I did in business applied to football. Reinforcement, measurements, recognition, getting people to take ownership and most importantly, having benchmarks. That’s what I love about BFS: it gives us standards, and in this program our young players have to perform up to standards. Not in the sense that they have to rush for 200 yards or make eight tackles a game, but we do have expectations of them as people.” And living up to expectations is a challenge in Virginia Beach, as there are many distractions.
“We live half a mile from Chesapeake Bay and four miles from the best surf in the East Coast. Then there’s the Internet, the 30-minute pizza delivery, microwave ovens – all that stuff. Like Vince Lombardi said, a lot of people who are worth their salt like discipline, they like structure, and that’s what we give them with BFS.”
On March 3rd, Allosso introduced BFS to the team, following the program exactly as Dr. Shepard prescribed it. Les McGuire and Mike Nelson were the coaches primarily responsible for supervising the workouts. It would be an understatement to say that Allosso was pleased with the results.
“BFS had an immediate impact on our program. My previous experience as a vice president of a systems automation and technology company had provided me with numerous opportunities to attend many outstanding seminars and launch hundreds of great new products and programs. As wonderful and successful as some of them were, nothing compares to the success of the BFS program.”
As for his on-field football strategy, Allosso decided to abandon his multiple-pro I offense in favor of the double wing offense. He considers the double wing a “smash mouth” offense that would complement the gains the team was experiencing with the BFS program. “It’s also an offense built on teamwork and it’s built on practice – it’s built on the Be An 11 philosophy.” The new offense, coupled with BFS conditioning and a Be An 11 attitude, brought new life to Falcons football.
The next year the Falcons finished with a 7-3 record, winning their last five games, and just missed the playoffs by one-tenth of a point (on a power rating system) in a competitive conference. This tied the school record (over a 41-year period) of wins during the regular season and consecutive wins. The Falcons led the team district in rushing, and four players earned First Team All District, the most in school history.
Especially noteworthy was Andre Boone, a sophomore who rushed for 1,398 yards, a 6.2 average, and scored 15 touchdowns. Allosso was voted unanimously as Coach of the Year by fellow Beach District coaches. Not to be outdone by his father’s great season, Allosso’s son Dakota Allosso, a sophomore with a 3.9 GPA, earned Honorable Mention All District as a quarterback and linebacker.
Allosso says BFS enabled his team to do things they could not have done otherwise. “In one game we had a 19-play scoring drive without a hiccup – without an offsides and without a mistake. That has to be some type of national record for a high school, and it’s all due to BFS.” He’s serious.
“We’re BFS purists. Other football programs that use BFS might have athletes or coaches or school tradition leading the charge, but we had BFS in that role,” says Allosso. “Think about it – you play only 10 games in a football season, a few more if you’re in the playoffs, which means the off-season is much longer than the season. BFS is our off-season program, and the whole concept that Dr. Shepard put together leads our charge. That’s our catalyst.”
Planning for the Future
When asked if he thinks the team’s recent success could result in a complacent attitude next season, Allosso replied, “We won five games by less than a touchdown – we came from behind to win. We know we cannot be complacent. There are always exceptions and kids are kids, but we feel good about next year because we have the