Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Coaching is getting at truth

Charley Rosen:
But there was another factor that contributed to Cheeks being dismissed — a personality quirk that I've been pointing out for lo these many years: Succeeding in the command seat demands much more than a mastery of Xs and Os, and Cheeks simply lacks the dynamic presence, the charisma, to be a consistently effective head coach.

That's too bad, because he's really a nice guy. Perhaps he's too nice.
Are Rosen's words true? Maybe.

I don't know if Charley Rosen is connecting "dynamic presence" and "charisma" to personal flamboyance. All personality styles have, at one time or another, succeeded as coaches. In the matter of personality, what's important is for a coach to be genuine and true to his own personality style.

Rabbi Rabinowitz is a type of coach. He says: "When I die, G-d will not ask 'Why were you not Moses? G-d will ask 'Why were you not Rabinowitz?!'"

Austin Murphy chronicled a football season at Minnesota's Div III St. John's University (The Sweet Season), where Coach John Gagliardi, born in Trinidad, CO, resides as college football's career coaching victories leader with 453 wins, and has coached 4 national championship teams. The Johnnies do no hitting in practice (players come to the team already knowing how to hit), no tackling practice (players already know how to tackle), no calisthenics (waste of time), and do not practice longer than 80 to 90 minutes (can't stand the mosquitoes any longer than that). Gagliardi doesn't wear a whistle. Players call him John. The Johnnies do take the practice field and run repetitions of their plays and schemes for 80 minutes. Then they shower and go to dinner. Gagliardi often plays 40 to 60 kids in a game, and has a Div III reputation for running up scores (St. Johns runs what it's players are trained to run; players are not trained to run a succession of dives). Gagliardi attracts football players from all over the Midwest who are eager to play for him. Div III schools offer no athletic scholarships. Gagliardi attracts some players who turn down scholarships elsewhere to attend St. Johns. In 2003, when Murphy chronicled them, the Johnnies squad had over 100 players. St. John's Clemens Stadium (1,2) is renowned as one of the most beautiful venues in America.

I've read many coaching books. This is what I take away from them: a coach must cut through the horse manure and communicate truth to his players.

Players want to know truth. They want to know truth even when it's painful. They want to know even when truth is "Your career is over", or "You are currently not much better than the waterboy", or "We've no time to spare; we must work right now", or "We must embrace a little pain if we are to progress, and as evidence of our progress". It's necessary that a coach to be ruthless with the truth.

I hope Charley Rosen is speaking of having the dynamic presence to refuse to indulge player fantasy, and of having the charisma to insist players squarely face truths. I hope Rosen is speaking of the assertive toughness which an excellent coach truly needs. If he is, he is onto something.

If Maurice Cheeks is truly "too nice" to coach, I read "too nice" like this: "Maurice Cheeks, for whatever misguided reason, is unwilling to be assertive and ruthless about truth."

I have little personal knowledge of Maurice Cheeks as a coach. From afar, I've admired his playing days and his personal character. It's possible he simply hasn't found the right head coaching situation, and will succeed if he does find it.

I cry every time I watch Maurice Cheeks' and Natalie Gilbert's National Anthem. I like that Cheeks directed the entire arena in singing with Natalie. Singing fans needed direction so as to synchronize their pace. Note this eclectic group: Nick Van Exel, Don Nelson, Raja Bell, George Gervin. These gentlemen have impatiently endured literally thousands of National Anthems, yet they willingly lift their voices for Mo Cheeks and Natalie Gilbert:


Anonymous said...

Greg...I asked Jeff Fisher @ Frank Ditta's wedding...why do the players love Buddy Ryan so much? " Because he tells them the truth..even when they dont want to hear it. During the Super Bowl run of '85 I stepped on a down box pole and broke my ankle. I watched film and helped with the defensive game plans. Buddy tells me, he is going to be the next head coach of the Eagles, "you need to come coach defensive backs for me." 'NO..I say I have rehabbed to hard..I want get back on the field' "You cant RUN anymore Jeff to play in this league...you can run to stay healthy..you can run and play with your kids...but you cant run well enough to play in the NFL"...Buddy Ryan turned and walked away

gcotharn said...

Good story.