The Big Interview – Richard ‘Grizz’ Batty

Posted: September 26, 2011 in Sport
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Head Coach Richard ‘Grizz’ Batty – on the training field Photography: Peter Spencer

Three years ago they were on the brink of folding, now they’re National semi-finalists; Head Coach Richard Batty tells ‘Inside American Football’ the secrets behind the transformation at Sheffield Hallam Warriors and about his transition into coaching.

Like many of the players in the UK who take up American Football, Head Coach Richard ‘Grizz’ Batty had his roots in Rugby.

The 45 year old Policeman from South Yorkshire had previously played rugby for De La Salle and represented Great Britain at Karate so ‘contact was always on the cards’.

He took up American Football in 1991, but with many teams around South Yorkshire struggling for numbers at that time, Batty found himself moving from club to club, staying no longer than two years at each.

“Barnsley Bears to start with in 1991, then Don Valley Bears, Donny Jaguars, Doncaster Mustangs mainly the South Yorkshire teams. I also went down to the Yorkshire Rams,” he recalled.

In 2004, Batty was part of the Doncaster Mustangs’ side which won the BSL Division Two Northern Conference in only their second season. After finishing the regular season 8-0-1, the team defeated Glasgow Tigers (46-22) in the quarter-finals, edged past Dundee Hurricanes (13-12) in the semi-finals and on the back of Paul Tiggadene’s 155 yards won the final 32-16 against Chiltern Cheetahs.

“After the Brit Bowl title at Don Valley Stadium, I hung up my boots as a player, you want to finish on a high and I had already started coaching at Hallam at that point so I decided that was the nail in the coffin for my playing career,” the coach said.

“An opportunity came up to coach at Sheffield Hallam University, initially starting out as a line backer coach, but I got moved to defensive co-ordinator quite quickly.”

Batty was also involved with GB Bulldogs as a Linebacker Coach in 2004. Photography: Courtesy of Richard Batty

Batty took over the running of the Sheffield Hallam Warriors in 2009 after the team almost folded when former Head Coach Paul Wake left the club in limbo, moving instead to local rivals Leeds Carnegie. Batty had the last laugh though, recording a recent 50-0 victory this season in the teams’ first meeting since the split.

“The coaching staff that you see now with Leeds Carnegie were all at Hallam. They were the complete offensive coaching unit. At the end of the season three years ago they came and told us that they were all going lock, stock and barrel to Carnegie, which left us in a bit of a position.

“We had no offensive coaches, no offensive game plan and we could have just rolled over, but we didn’t, we re-grouped, got tighter as a unit and got new coaches in to understand and install a very simple, but effective system,” said Batty.

A true pupil of the game Batty took almost a year out of coaching before taking up the Head Coach position to immerse himself in the technical side of the game and fully understand his new secret weapon – the Double Wing Formation.

“I didn’t coach in the summer that year I invested all my time understanding this new offence getting to understand the plays, getting to understand how the plays are countered. Basically, watching every piece of film available on the system and reading every book available,” he said.

The ‘Double Wing’ formation takes the traditional Wing T offence and combines it with the new ‘wing bone’ system, sometimes referred to as the ‘Flexbone’, seen in America at Georgia Tech and previously at Navy with Coach Paul Johnson.

The philosophy of the system is pulling the backside guard and tackle and having double teams on the point of attack on the play side, but the power is mixed with misdirection and you have to worry about which player has the football, before you even think about the throw.

Essentially there are 10 blockers on the field with one guy running.

“It’s about getting more players to the point of attack than the defence has got, you’re basically employing everyone on the offence as a blocker, including the quarterback, so you’ve got ten guys blocking, one guy running.

“That then obviously led to the upturn in fortunes for Hallam,” explained Batty.

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The offensive line practices the Double Wing formation. Photography: Peter Spencer

Since taking the helm, Batty has led the Warriors to almost two perfect seasons (8-0 and 7-1), two Divisional titles and two playoff trips, including one this season to the BUAFL National Semi-Finals, where they lost to eventual competition winners Portsmouth Destroyers (8-0) after a hard fought defensive contest.

“It was a very successful season, we improved on the year before and had a couple of running backs set some really good records, including one who got 1,200 yards in an eight game regular season, which is really, really impressive!

“All things considered if we lose to the eventual winners in an eight-nil game and get stopped inside the 3-yard line twice, it says a lot about our programme. That’s how far we have come from three years ago,” he said.

Batty is now the Head Coach of junior side Sheffield Tomahawks, Sheffield Hallam Warriors and senior side Sheffield Predators, making him almost single-handedly responsible for the production line of American Football players in Sheffield starting from youth all the way through to adult level.

David Saul is an example of one such player, former GB Lion, league MVP. Saul has played for Batty since 2007.

But Batty admits the three teams are in very different stages of development. While the Warriors are on the cusp of a National title, the Sheffield Predators are striving to achieve a winning record.

“This is my first year with the Predators, so there’s a learning curve, offensively we’re scoring two or three times plus per game, but we’re conceding too many times as the guys get used to a system.

“They’ll get better through coaching and you’ll be able to add those aspects, which are in the playbook, but I’m not a great believer in running before you can walk,” he explained.

This year Coach Batty’s success was finally recognised when he was awarded Coach of the Year by the Sports Union at Sheffield Hallam University and quarterback David Saul was awarded Player of the Year.

“I was very, very pleased, but I actually thought, we as a coaching unit deserved that accolade, for turning round a team and taking them this year to the National semi-finals,” he said.

Batty recieves his Coach of the Year award from Sheffield boxer Richard Towers and members of the Sports Union at the Hallam Sports Ball. Photography: Steve Pugh

Batty has managed to established a certain mentality within all the programmes he overseas, a mentality which many coaches often preach, but fail to convince their players to buy into – the rhetoric of the team first and of no excuses – taking responsibility for your actions within a team. A great life lesson to our young people and while the coach would clearly be suitable for coaching at a higher level, he remains perfectly content with his lot.

“I don’t think I want to achieve anything personally as a coach, I would like as a team to take a team to the final and win. Not for me, but for the players around us, Batty said.

“I like to consider myself as part of the bigger team, not just part of the coaching staff and winning as a team in a National Final would be better than any personal accolade. It would mean more to me that the team achieved a National title.”

Written: 9th July 2011 Not Published

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