WhatIfSports User Interview: pete_61

Bear Bryant could take a few pointers from pete_61, the latest WhatIfSports User Interview subject.

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In Gridiron Dynasty, there are many ways to measure success. When using consecutive championships as the metric (it is called Dynasty, after all), no coach does it better than pete_61. While at DIAA Jacksonville State in the Wilkinson world, pete_61 put together a string of 11 consecutive championships. The run only came to an end when he moved on to another job. With such an impressive feat on his resume, pete_61 was a natural candidate for the latest User Interview.

WIS: Who is pete_61?

pete_61: Pete is my long-time nick name and I’m a retired Nuclear Plant Operator and Journeyman Mechanic. I’m currently serving as a Deacon at an Independent Baptist Church, but over the years I have served in just about every major Church-related ministry except Pastor. I have one grown son who coaches defensive backs at a local High School and who is married to a wonderful lady who is a high school English teacher. I have two grandchildren. Kayla is a junior at LSU who dreams of flying F-35 jets, and Jared is a sophomore in high school who lives only to hunt, fish and play ball.

WIS: How did you find out about WhatIfSports.com?

pete_61: I have played Civilization III on my desktop computer for years and I was looking for a new strategy game online that I might replace it with. I really like strategy, but due to age and life-changing illnesses I have to play things that I have more time to think about and that do not have very limiting time constraints or that require hand-eye coordination. Not finding anything interesting among the regular board style games I decided to search for a football-related strategy game since that is my favorite sport. That search eventually led me to WhatIfSports!

WIS: What are some of your interests and hobbies?

pete_61: I love to fish and just be outdoors tromping through the forest following game or hiking trails. I also like to garden and raise any kind of plant or tree that supplies food for the table or herbal-type medicines. I guess you would say that I am a hunter-gatherer by nature and I often make meals off of the vegetation and wildlife that I find in my yard or on my forays afield.

WIS: Which five people, past or present, sit at your dream roundtable discussion?

pete_61: This list would include all the heroes of the faith out of the Holy Bible, which is way more than five so I guess that they would have to rotate. Adam and Jesus Christ would of course have permanent seats. I would also start out with Enoch, Elijah, and either the prophet Ezekiel or Daniel.

WIS: Did you play any sports growing up?

pete_61: I played football, basketball and I was a long distance runner on the track team specializing in the two-mile race.

WIS: Who are your favorite all-time players?

pete_61: I have never been a big fan of professional sports and have never really had a sports hero that I looked up to or followed closely. I grew up an avid University of Alabama football fan during the Bear Bryant years, the players that starred on those teams would be the closest thing to a sports icon for me. My high school quarterback actually went on to play for Alabama as a halfback in the Wishbone offense. He also was their pooch kicker and when he was in the game to punt, their opponents had to be ready for a trick play. His name is Mark Nix and I’ve always been proud of his accomplishments. Another local boy who I really admired was John Hannah who also played for Alabama and then went on to play for the New England Patriots. Big John was from another local school, but I’ve always considered him to be the greatest offensive lineman that I have ever seen play the game.

WIS: Do you have any sports-related items on your bucket list that you have not yet done?

pete_61: I volunteered and helped with several high school football teams in a variety of different ways, but I have never officially been a paid coach. I have always wanted to be the specials teams coach for a strong high school program. I just think that it would be a blast to devise new special teams plays and reform the way coaches think of what amounts to one third of any football game.

WIS: What is your favorite WIS moment?

pete_61: When all of the frustration ended and I was finally able to win that first National Championship at Jacksonville State University in Wilkinson D1AA, it was a huge relief and it led to a lot of shouting, which caused no small stir in my house since I’m normally a very quiet and reserved person. That was followed almost immediately by another championship at DII Hillsdale in Camp world. But probably the most special moments for me personally are some of the "come from behind" wins and the improbable wins over stronger teams. I started playing this game because I enjoy strategy and the art of warfare, and when I can use my game planning ability to devise a win with something other than pure brute force, then I know that my strategy has prevailed and been justified, which is immensely satisfying for me.

WIS: What is your strategy for recruiting?

pete_61: There is no hard and fast recruiting strategy for me. I try to stay flexible while also being somewhat predictable. I want my local rivals to understand what I am trying to do enough so that, if they so choose, they can avoid unnecessary battles with me. But I also want to be flexible enough to adjust to the strategy that those same rival coaches are using to build their own teams. If they are aggressive then I know that I must become more aggressive. If they recruit more to the north, then I look more towards the south, etc. My goal is simply to keep my depth charts filled with good recruits who fit into my overall scheme and playing philosophy. I don’t set out to recruit a superstar player, just the best that I have a reasonable chance of landing. If that player happens to be rated five star then great, but no matter what he is rated by WIS or by GUESS, if I need him and he is the best available to me then I recruit him. If I have a five star recruit living right outside the gate of my school and I don’t need him, then I will never even look his way. But if I do need him I will defend my right to have him with every dollar of recruiting money that I have. If there is anything that I have learned it’s that you must defend your own territory against your rivals if you want to win. It also means that if you go out looking for trouble in other rival coaches’ territories, you are probably going to get it and you might get burned! It is best to avoid battles whenever possible and to choose your battles wisely when they are needed to fill the holes in your depth chart. I try not to let things like pride or greed cloud my judgment and get me into a lot of fights that I can’t win.

WIS: What is your strategy for game planning?

pete_61: I could literally write a book on game planning, and I may just do that one day. I continuously have experiments going on that test out new game planning strategies and ideas. I have tested every offense and every defense in the game, and I have not just played the game using them, I have done every crazy thing that I could think up with them. I ask myself a lot of "What if?" questions and then go out and look for the answers. If some coach is having a lot of success, then I want to find out why! I want to analyze his team, and play him if possible.

I have mostly a plug-and-play offense. I have a playbook that is specifically designed to take advantage of my opponent’s defense of choice, or I have playbooks that work for multiple defenses. I also have situational playbooks. I have even been known to develop and save a playbook designed to use against a specific coach. My game planning at one time was an intense and time-consuming ordeal. Today it just amounts to glancing over my opponent’s games and getting a feel for what basic philosophy he is using. Then I plug in the most suitable offensive playbook that I feel has the highest probability of success. On defense I rarely change much. I have found that for the most part it is better to design a defense that works and then just leave it alone. But when facing those great game planners that come out throwing wicked curveballs, I sometimes have to sit down and spend a little time making a few tweaks here and there in order to make the game a little more interesting.

WIS: Your six active teams include one DIA school, three DIAA schools and two DII schools. Is there a level that you prefer?

pete_61: I like aspects of every level except DIII, which I pretty much hate. I enjoy the slightly slower pace and competing against some of the best coaches that the game has to offer at the D1A level. I thought that I would hate recruiting at that level, but once I adjusted to it and learned a few basic rules of etiquette, which are more common sense than rules, I found it to be a lot of fun. Not having a playoff system at D1A is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it is what slows things down just a little and allows you to take a breather, but on the other it locks some really good teams out of the chance for a championship.

I like to test new ideas at the DII level. You can change out a roster and recruit players with specific attributes or traits much faster and easier at that level. Also at the DII level you usually have both really good teams on your schedule to give your idea a sound test, and some very bad teams that you can launch an idea and just see what happens. You have all of the tools and little of the pressure, so DII is mainly my testing grounds.

D1AA is my favorite overall level to play Gridiron Dynasty, and as of right now Wilkinson world is the ultimate place for the all-out strategist in this game. The level of competition at the D1AA level in some worlds is so great that it causes good coaches to want to quit, and some of the best and brightest coaches in the game get frustrated to the point that they just have to vent somehow and somewhere.  At D1AA the recruiting is tricky and unpredictable. The game planning can be extremely inventive, with new strategy arriving from DII coaches almost every season. At D1A you can do pretty well by recruiting a good team, setting your depth charts and plugging in a tried and proven game plan, and then kicking back and letting the team ride the entire season with little or no input from you. At DII you can go crazy and do what you want, it’s all fun and games and who really cares anyway. But at D1AA you are facing mostly seasoned coaches with proven game plans, well-evolved philosophies, and a huge ego drive to win it all. Some of the game’s most experienced coaches are sitting at the D1AA level having never won a championship there, and they are very very hungry! D1AA can be a lot like an old west shootout at times, those bat wing saloon doors fly open and some hombre of a coach steps in with a gun in each hand belching flames. It’s loud and smoky and there’s lead flying all around. Someone’s trying to knock you off so you better be quick on the draw and ready to return fire if you want to have a chance of surviving the onslaught.

WIS: You’ve won two championships at Florida State. How does that challenge compare to your DIAA and DII championships?

pete_61: Winning the championship at Florida State was like getting a monkey off of my back. I was never sure that I was good enough as a coach to compete at that level with some of the game’s most legendary coaches, and the truth is that when I first arrived at the Naval Academy to begin my career with the all-time greats, I wasn’t good enough to win it all. In fact, even after winning several D1AA championships, I would not have been able to seriously compete at the D1A level without some help from those great coaches that we all admire and respect. Ez37, mcbethbr and cebrake among several others took the time and were gracious enough to give me a helping hand and to supply an ample amount of encouragement, which eventually catapulted me into a position to win a championship. Every championship is special, and there are higher overall career goals that you can set for yourself, but the single greatest accomplishment that you can attain in Gridiron Dynasty is winning a D1A Championship.

WIS: Do you use the same playbooks, recruiting and game planning strategies across each of your teams or do you have different philosophies for each?

pete_61: Under my pete_61 username my game planning and basic philosophy, as well as the playbooks that I use, are the same for all four of my teams, but the recruiting strategy varies. My DII team in Camp world also utilizes a different depth chart philosophy. That idea came from a previous experiment that I initially ended, but later I began to miss it and when an opportunity arose to get it back I latched hold of it again. I only conduct minor experiments as pete_61 now. My other username (pistol76) is the one that I utilize for all of my crazy ideas now. If you are playing against one of those teams, especially at the DII level, then watch out because you may come up against something idiotic looking that you have never seen before.

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WIS: While at Jacksonville State in the Wilkinson world, you won 11 consecutive championships, with a 207-2 record during the stretch. How were you able to accomplish your run of success? Were there any close calls in the playoffs that nearly jeopardized the streak?

pete_61: I think that was just a freak event that will be very hard to repeat. Everything just seemed to go right at just the right time to give me good opportunities to win those games. Once my team became dominant, it was hard for anyone else from outside my conference to break the streak. I always had extra recruiting money and the highest recruiting vision, so unless I just flubbed an entire class I was always going to have a team capable of winning the championship. Those wins did prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that my philosophy was sound, and without it there is no way that I could have continued to win that many games. But even with a good philosophy, pretty good game plans and above average recruiting classes, there were still a lot of key games that I should have lost. In fact if I had not been there and seen it myself I would have thought that the system had been rigged! It just seemed like if I could get my team past the third round of the playoffs then they were going to win, even if I put the wrong game plan in, or forgot to change some setting back after tweaking for the previous game. In other words during that series I made terrible errors and still managed to win the game. I’m not sure how it all happened, but it was a lot of fun!

WIS: After your 11th straight title at Jacksonville State, you abruptly left for Eastern Kentucky, a DIAA program coming off a 5-8 season that hadn’t been coached by a human in 31 seasons. What prompted the move? Why Eastern Kentucky?

pete_61: Jacksonville State was poised to continue winning championships into the foreseeable future, and they did continue to win under their new and very talented head coach. I had several reasons for stopping it when I did. The first one was because of the number 11. I wanted to at least have a feasible chance of breaking that record streak at another school, and I wanted other coaches to have a realistic and clear goal of consecutive wins to shoot for in order to top my run. I decided that an even dozen was the best goal to set the bar at. If you want to beat Pete’s run then you must win a dozen championships in a row. It was the goal that I set for myself when I left. To attain it I must build a team from the ground up and then win 12 championships in a row with it. Impossible right? Well how many games do you think that I would have to have won at Jacksonville State in order to put it out of reach? I didn’t know and I didn’t want for it to be out of reach, I just wanted the bar to be set very high. I sincerely doubt that I will ever be able to do it, but someone will and I’m already cheering for them.

I chose Eastern Kentucky simply because it was an available Ohio Valley Conference team and it was in a reasonably good recruiting area. I wanted to stay with my friends in the OVC and I wanted to prove to myself that I could build another team using the same philosophy that I used at JSU and win another championship, and possibly even one day attaining that lofty goal of winning a dozen in a row.

WIS: Do you have any favorite players from any of your GD teams?

pete_61: I don’t even keep up with my players or know their names. Ha ha they are not real people you know. I do check on the stats occasionally to see if I need to make some adjustments, but for me the players are just a number holding a position on a grand imaginary playing board. Actually just a sequence of ones and zeros that show up on my computer screen with some photo of a goofy looking kid beside a name, neither of which I even look at most of the time.

WIS: How much time do you spend on your Gridiron Dynasty teams? How much do you think is necessary to be competitive?

pete_61: I am slow and forgetful, so I have to check and double, scratch that, triple check everything every day. So I spend a couple of hours every morning, afternoon and evening going over everything and replying to any messages. It takes me 1-2 hours to prepare for recruiting, and I do that sometimes at the last minute on the day that recruiting starts. According to what type of strategy I’ve decided to employ while recruiting, my time expenditure can range from almost none to very intensive. Most of the time I’ve completed the bulk of my recruiting work before the last cycle of the first real day of recruiting, after my initial scouts have given their reports.

WIS: If you were to give one piece of advice to a new user, what would it be?

pete_61: Don’t take every piece of advice that you get as gospel, and develop your own unique style of playing the game. There are a limited number of basic game philosophies to choose from, but there are a multitude of styles and I love to see a coach add his own flare and quirks. That means that you must take the formations that will work in your chosen philosophy of play, and then you learn those formations forwards and backwards until you know what you are going to get when you make an adjustment or when you analyze what your opponent is likely to throw at you. Once you know what to expect out of your chosen formations you can begin to develop a unique style and playbooks that cause an opponent to actually have to work for a win. If you try to live with the standard game playbooks, or if you copy another coach’s failed playing style, then you will never become one of the game’s elite coaches. And if you try to copy some other successful coach without knowing the foundational reasons why his system works so well, then you can never attain the level that he has reached. You will always just be a poor imitation. You must learn the game from the foundation up. If you try to take every shortcut along the way, you will cheat yourself out of the basic skills that are necessary to form the foundation of your future dynasty.

WIS: What is your favorite aspect of Gridiron Dynasty?

pete_61: I love team building. There is great satisfaction in taking a team that has been sim coached for more than five seasons and building it up until you win a championship with them. The hardest part of the game for me is maintaining a dynasty once you have reached that status. I’m going to have to learn to enjoy that aspect a little more so that I can have some long-lived dynasties one day. The best aspect has to be both the long-lived friendships and the great rivalries. Some of my greatest rivals are also some of my best friends in the game. They help to keep me very humble!

WIS: Least favorite?

pete_61: The least favorite part is dealing with the petty jealousies, mean spirited and obnoxious coaches, and those who just want to tear down other coaches and the game in general. I have made some great friends in this game, there are men here that I have met and confide in for not only things dealing with this game, but life in general. Through playing Gridiron Dynasty I have met a wide variety of people from different walks of life and made some improbable friendships. Why some coaches have to act so rude and unfriendly is beyond me.

WIS: What is one feature you want to see implemented in a future update?

pete_61: Honestly, I am an ideas kind of guy and I have lots of them. My imagination works in overdrive most of the time and I daydream more than any other person that I’ve ever known. The problem is that my discernment factor concerning what is cost-effective, technically feasible or that would be good for the game is very low, so I get lots of ideas, but few are probably any good. That is why I spend so much time testing things out in this game. I probably have about a 90% flop rate.

I’m an X’s and O’s kind of guy because I love game planning and strategy. I would like to see the X’s and O’s for a play at the start, middle and end of the play. I want the players numbered and the stats and the play-by-play organized in such a way that I can easily download them and see what happened in a game and who did what when. As it is right now, I just have to imagine what is going on on the field and guess at what happened on each play. I realize that we can be given too much information such that we could learn ways to beat the game engine and not our opposing coach, so I don’t want that. But I would like more details that are easier to use than what we now receive.

WIS: Who are the users you respect and/or enjoy the most?

pete_61: I have a large number of friends and people that I respect in this game. I have met some really great people over the years of playing Gridiron Dynasty. Babcick and ozzzball19 are my two longest lasting friendships, the wizard (Ozz) mentored both babcick and I in the early days. Ez37 is my good friend and the person that I talk to the most. We are both old school and we are able to get the same jokes and understand the same sports stories and terminologies. We share many of the same philosophies in life and just enjoy each other’s company and companionship. By the way, so far all of these guys are some of my biggest rivals who push me to get better and who will not allow me to sluff off and get content or lazy.

I respect and admire cebrake, mcbethbr, cardsrunner, orangepace, tampafla, husker111, cfbfan18, robby_p, cjsweat, bama2448, awags, impala1995ss, yatzr, janeway, macdee…and way too many others to even list and count. I really appreciate all of the coaches who add content to the game and would love to see them recognized and helped in their efforts. I have much respect for any coach who takes the time and has the patience to build a team from nothing and turn them into a contender. And I appreciate the large number of coaches that I have become friends with, corresponded with often, who have exchanged information and ideas with me and who have encouraged and helped me along. I wish that I could keep naming them and recognize them all because they are all very important to me and have played a big part in my Gridiron Dynasty career.

WIS: If you were in one of our games, what sport would you play, at what position, and what would you be rated?

pete_61: Football is all that I ever wanted to play and I played both offense and defense in high school. If I had gone on to play in college I would probably have either been an outside linebacker or a tight end. I had no scholarship offers but several teams wanted me to walk on and try out including one D1A school. But because of my size and limited natural athletic ability, I would likely have only been able to play at the DIII or DII level. My very aggressive nature would have earned me the label of head hunter among the fans and my peers. My coaches would have had some other choice names for me. So I suppose I would be a not-so-talented but mean looking linebacker, probably one of those wearing an eye patch. I would surely have performed above my level of ability according to the GUESS report, but I would have made a lot of mistakes and caused a lot penalty flags to hit the turf.

WIS: Thanks to pete_61 for taking the time to share with the WhatIfSports and Gridiron Dynasty communities!