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Sunday, January 8, 2012

On The New York Jets, Does Wearing The "C" On Your Chest Have Any Meaning? Only Head Coach Ryan Knows...

Quickly, name the word that starts with the letters DIS and can be used to describe the 2011 New York Jets season…DISAPPOINTING – yes, the Jets season was disappointing, especially after finishing the two previous seasons making the playoffs and coming within one game of getting to the Super Bowl.  DISGUSTING – yes, the Jets season was disgusting, especially after starting the season with such hype and hope only to lose the last three games of the season after having control over their destiny as late as  Week 15.   But the word that starts with the letters DIS that I was thinking about was DISARRAY.  Throughout the 2011 season, the New York Jets seemed out of sync and not just on the field, and during last two weeks of the season it all came to the surface.   Confrontations in team meetings, arguing in the huddle, and players being benched, the Jets last two weeks were a reality show's dream come true. One of the key players that seemed to be at the center of the chaos called the New York Jets Football Team was wide receiver and CAPTAIN, Santonio Holmes.  Let me state that again, one of the key players that seemed to be at the center of the chaos was CAPTAIN Santonio Holmes. 

I used to think they gave the “C” to the player who demonstrated the ability to be a team leader. Who understands the concept of  teamwork.  Who led by his work ethic on and off the field and not with his mouth.  And most of all, who pointed the finger only at himself when things went wrong.   Does this sound like Santonio Holmes?  Do you give the responsibility of being a team leader to a guy who couldn’t lead himself out of a forest, even if you gave him a map, a Magellan and left cookie crumbs for him to follow out of the woods? 

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard that Head Coach Rex Ryan, gave the “C” to Holmes, I had to read it twice.  What was Ryan thinking?  How in the world do you use the leadership of a professional team, or any team for that matter, as a “teachable moment?”  Are you expecting Holmes to change his ways?  This was a guy who the Pittsburgh Steelers unloaded only one season after they won the Super Bowl to the Jets for a middle round draft pick.  This was a guy whose arrest record includes domestic violence, assault and marijuana possession.  That’s right, Rex, this guy has TEAM LEADER written all over him!  Yes, Holmes is a former Super  Bowl MVP, who at times can perform brilliantly on the gridiron.  And in 2010, his first year on the NY Jets, Holmes was on his best behavior playing for his contract.   (In 2011, besides making him a team captain, Team Chaos also gave him a five year, $45 million dollar contract.)  Since when is team leadership given out as a reward, and what does that tell you about Coach Ryan and his team building skills. 

I truly believe Coach Ryan felt he could change Santonio Holmes, rehab the bad boy image, and make him into a model citizen.  I can see it now, Rex rocking back and forth in his chair that sits in his office,  his coaching staff leaning forward, eagerly awaiting the next word that comes out their fearless leader’s mouth.   “Yeah, I have an idea…how about we take Holmes and make him one of our captains.  He’s not that bad a guy.  Leave it to me, this will motivate him and show him how much faith we have in him.  He just needs someone to show him some love.”   Obviously, this was a poor decision, and no doubt, Coach Ryan will take responsibility for it, and make amends. He has stated the 2012 Jets will not have any captains.  I guess if you can’t pick the right individual to be the team leader, the best thing to do is not pick anyone!  Rex, admit it - not only can you not predict Super Bowl Champions, but you also are challenged at identifying true leaders.   

Here is one more word that begins with DIS we can use to describe the New York Jets 2011 season…DISASTROUS.     

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's Not Personal...It's Strictly Business! Kyle Orton Faces The Denver Broncos

For Kyle Orton, starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday’s contest against the Denver Broncos is more than just another football game…more than just a game against a AFC West Division opponent…more than just a game that could decide the fate of a rival’s playoff hopes…for Kyle Orton, this game is PERSONAL!  Make no mistake, yes, Orton wants to win because it’s his job…because he is very competitive…because he could be auditioning for a starting job in 2012…but most of all, Kyle Orton wants to win to show the Denver Broncos that they made a mistake in cutting him earlier in the season and replacing him with Tim Tebow!  
Imagine for a minute you are Kyle Orton.  Right before the beginning of the 2011 NFL Season, your team for the past two years, the Denver Broncos, tries to trade you to the Miami Dolphins, but the deal falls thru.  In training camp, first year head coach, John Fox, declares that the starting quarterback job is wide open, even though you have been the starter since 2009.  You easily win the job over the prodigal son, Tim Tebow, who proves he is not ready to take over the reigns as the Broncos' quarterback.  You start the 2011 season 1 and 4 turning over the ball nine times during the five game run.  On October 9, you hit rock bottom, when you go 6 for 13 for a total of 34 yards in the first half of the game against the San Diego Chargers, throwing your seventh interception of the season.  You start the second half of the game on the bench and watch Tebow and his awkward style take the Broncos within a last gasp pass of coming back to beat the Chargers.  By the beginning of next week, the writing is on the wall - you are now demoted to THIRD on the depth chart behind starter, Tim Tebow, and back up quarterback Brady Quinn.  Your career as a Denver Bronco is over - it’s just a matter of time until you are released.  (Which comes six weeks later)   Fast forward to Week #17 of the 2011 NFL season:  you are now starting for the last place team in the AFC West Division while the quarterback who took your spot has led your former team to a chance at the AFC West Division title, and is the feel good story of the NFL.  How would you feel?  Go ahead, it’s okay to say it...let it out, you’ll feel much better for it…A little bitter!   

For all those people who have been fired from one company and landed at the competition…for all those individuals who were pushed out of their position by some young kid with an MBA…for all those veteran salespeople who have been taken off the company’s big account and see it handed over to someone with less experience…this Sunday, Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Kyle Orton is your knight in shining armor, getting ready like a waiter at your favorite restaurant to serve a meal called REVENGE.   

Now, I understand how some people will say “it’s strictly business – it’s not personal,” just like Michael Corleone stated with a straight face in The GODFATHER.  Kyle Orton has a job to do and as quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, his job is to lead the offense to victory.  I’m sure that is first and foremost on Orton’s mind.  However, towards the end of the game this weekend between the Chiefs and the Broncos, with seconds left, if the Chiefs are winning, and it appears that the outcome has all but been determined, take a look at the Chiefs’ sidelines.  If you see a smile appearing on Orton’s face, I’ll bet that he is thinking - REVENGE, How Sweet The Sound!!! 

It’s Strictly Business – It’s Not Personal!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Talent Versus Attitude - A Coach's Dilemma

Talent Gets You Access To The Game…Attitudes Separates The Great From The Good...
Bob Marsh, Sales Playbook

We all have witnessed that explosive wide receiver who can outrun any defensive back or the defensive lineman who can push through a double team, and get in the backfield before the quarterback has a chance to drop back…What about the quarterback who stands 6’5” in the pocket and has a rifle for an arm…Come draft day in the NFL, scouts, coaches, and general managers get together looking for the players with the best talent, who can run the 60 the fastest, who can bench press the most.  I think it’s safe to say that in the NFL, and probably most professional sports, head coaches live by the motto Talent Trumps Attitude.  Have you ever heard a top draft pick in any league selected solely because he is extremely coachable…has a winning attitude…is highly competitive…most likely, the answer is NO. 

No matter how tough the player can be to coach, how disruptive he can be in the locker room, or how many times he shows up in the headlines for saying something outrageous, if his skills can put points on the board more than likely he will find a team desperate enough to welcome him with open arms and an open wallet.   But is there a steep price to pay (that goes beyond their paycheck) that costs the team dearly in the long run?  As a coach, do you want a team filled with prima donnas, egos, and a laundry list of reasons why they can’t practice, or would you prefer to surround yourself with a group of players who are willing to go through walls to get “it” done, understand that no player is bigger than the team, and give 100% on every play?   

In the office, how many times have you seen a coworker strut their stuff, boasting about their past accomplishments, holding court by the water cooler, and pounding their chest in sales meetings, only to fall horribly short when they are given a responsibility or asked to take the lead on a project.  The moment the individual faces a road block, they are lost.  Sure, when they were first hired, everyone heard about their tremendous upside and how their hiring is going to put the entire staff on alert, but in the end, all you got was a lot of hot air.  The individuals that are consistently at the top of their profession are the ones sitting in front of “the class," engaged and actively contributing to the team’s goal.  They stimulate discussion, and are willing to put their own success aside for the betterment of the team.  They are part of the “assembly line,” coming to work every day and playing their role in the company’s success.  

Give me the player who has the raw skills and is a sponge in practice soaking up all he can to improve his game…Show me the player who might not have all the talent in the world, but knows how to get the job done…Get me the teammate that will pass up the accolades and the highlight reel, instead hinging their own success on the team’s record.  Equally important, is the effect a player with this mindset and commitment has on his teammates.  Look at many of the underdog success stories in sports, the David who slays Goliath, certainly you will find the team filled with players who have the “never say die” attitude and win at all costs spirit.    

Yes, everyone loves the one handed acrobatic catch, the ESPN play of the day, and the sprint to the end zone that brings the crowd to their feet, without the super athlete the game would be boring – I get it.  But looking to build a championship team, a team that competes day in and day out…I’ll take Attitude over Talent any day of the week – especially on Sundays!   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Sports, Enough is NEVER Enough...

There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game and that is first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay and I never want to finish second again. Vince Lombardi

As a boy growing up with parents who were strict disciplinarians, I can remember one of my father’s favorite phrases… “Steven, Enough is Enough!”  He usually stated this demand when his patience had been tested, and he was at his boiling point.  The next wrong move, would get me a swift slap from a man who stood about six foot two, with hands the size of frying pans.  (Back then it was called TOUGH LOVE!) 

I have come to realize that my dad’s phrase, while still applicable in the new millennium, doesn’t really apply to two areas – Business and Sports.  I am quite certain...strike that,    I’m positive, that in those two industries, my dad’s calling card statement does not apply – in fact, I’ll go one step further, those two industries live by a different code, and that code is… “ENOUGH Is NEVER ENOUGH!

How many times in business, have you developed a great idea that solved a lingering problem, or hit your monthly sales quota, or closed a monster deal, and after a few slaps on the back, a hearty handshake, and the obligatory email to the staff alerting them of your achievement,  your boss comes up to you and says… “So, what do you have for me next?”  

Heaven forbid, you should come up empty…you’ll start to hear things like... “You lost your hunger…The business has passed you by…You got complacent…” 

In today’s sports environment where the owners, fans, and media’s thirst for a championship are insatiable, the Vince Lombardi mantra of “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” has never been so dead on. 

I remember hearing about a starting pitcher, who consistently won 15 to 17 games a year, when asked why he never reached 20 wins in a season, he quickly replied, “once you win 20 games, they expect you to win 20 games every year.  Otherwise, you’re a bum.”  Talking about managing expectations.  But has the fear of rejection or retribution over not reaching a goal year after year, month after month, intimidated us to the point where we hold back?  Has it driven us to take risks that are more harmful to ourselves, and the organization, than the glory of the rewards?   Will it entice us to make decisions that will provide short team gain only to face long term regret?   Think about some of the managers and head coaches in professional sports who have taken their teams to the brink of ultimate success only to fall prey to the Enough is Never Enough philosophy that is prevalent in sports today, and shown a hasty exit from the team.  And how about those teams who have made it to the promised land…are they now expected to climb that mountain year after year, otherwise, they are a one hit wonder…A “Boy Band” that hit puberty too soon too fast. 

Can an organization truly build consistency, purpose, and a team atmosphere when management is so quick to pull the trigger?  Look at some of your greatest dynasties in sports, what is the one consistent presence on that team?  Most likely, it’s the leader.  The coach that set the tone, creates the standard, and builds the foundation for success where it counts – in the “field.”  Sure, upper management/general managers/ownership all play a role, but the majority of the real work is done out in the field.  Where every decision, every play, every mistake is watched and scrutinized over and over again.

Whether it’s because of bosses who need to justify their existence and leadership style, owners that want to show “something” for their investment, obsessed fans who somehow equate fulfillment in their life with how many championships their team has won, or the media whose sole purpose is bringing down those on top so they can build them up again, the patience for bringing home a “championship” is extremely short and not very sweet. 

Is this drive to achieve greatness more of a burden than a motivation? At a time when immediate satisfaction is at the top of everyone’s to do list, does our desire for perfection trump our need for patience…

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ignorance Is...Penn State University's Version

Reader Beware:  
This post is more a rant than a fan’s take on a sports story…
More a question of human behavior than describing an athletic accomplishment on the gridiron.

This is bigger than football, college athletics or the illustrious career of a football coach that has spanned over 60 years.  It’s bigger than a state university that on football game day becomes one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania, and the sports program that literally put the city, “Happy Valley” on the map. 

The sex abuse scandal that is shocking the entire college community that supports Penn State University is much bigger than sports.

This is about the young boys who were taken advantage of because, well they were young.  This is about an incredibly selfish act of one sick man who some how felt he could get away with the heinous crime, and didn’t care who got hurt, whose lives were destroyed or who was left picking up the pieces.  This is about incredibly poor judgment by individuals who put friendship, the fraternity of coaching or their own short sighted needs ahead of what is the right thing to do.  Plain and simple, this is not about college sports, the legacy of a football coach, or a university football program that turned out NFL caliber athletes (Penn State is known as Linebacker U.) Anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly mistaken. 

What truly amazes me about this scandal is how one person, Jerry Sandusky (he doesn’t even deserve to be called a coach – the names he deserves are unprintable), can justify what he is doing, and where he is doing it, and not for one second seek help?  I mean, did Sandusky not know what he was doing was wrong? (He founded Second Mile, dedicated to helping children with absent or dysfunctional families.)  Did he not think about the consequences – obviously, not.  And this is probably a bigger question about mankind in general – a question we will never know the answer to, and certainly not one I am going to even attempt to tackle!  I will leave it to Dr. Phil. 

Finally, what does this say about the “Fraternity of Coaches” – the “what happens here stays here” mentality (So that’s where Sin City – Las Vegas, got that slogan!)  Can coaches, athletic directors, and anyone else who is a part of Penn State football program and vaguely had an idea about this crime be that loyal to Sandusky that they would turn away from a blatant and horrible crime against kids in order to live by some code of sports conduct?  To think, a week ago, before this case went public, Penn State University allowed this soon-to-be-charged-felon on campus and having use of the athletic facilities. This action goes way beyond Hear No Evil – See No Evil and Ignorance Is Bliss

In this case, Ignorance is Selfish, Irresponsible, and more importantly, Harmful.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

For The Texas Rangers and Their Fans It's The Morning After That Hurts The Most

The “day after” is when it all sinks in.  Think about it…You’ve been dismissed from your job - the day after is when you really begin to reflect on what happened.  Sure, as soon as you are let go, anger, rage, and a few choice words are all that are running through your head, but it’s the day after that you begin to understand what just happened, and start to think about what you are going to do next for work.

You’ve been dumped after a long relationship, and after a night of sobbing, and crying on your best friend’s shoulder, you spend the next day reliving the time you spent together, and where it all went wrong.  You ask yourself, “Was it really me?  If I had only done (Fill In The Blank), we would still be together…” 

You’ve just lost the 7th game of the World Series and at first you’re stunned – you can’t believe what just happened.  You take that long walk into the locker room, and slowly begin to take off your uniform.  Your head is hung low, more from emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue than from what just happened.  It’s the next day when it all finally sinks in.  You are bombarded with analysis on ESPN,, and any other so called sports expert giving their opinion on what went wrong.

If you’re a Texas Ranger or a fan of the team, you are experiencing that “Day After” feeling.  Last night, the St. Louis Cardinals finished their incredible run that started on September 1st when they found themselves 10 and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves for the National League Wild Card spot, and finished with beating the Texas Rangers 6 to 2, winning the World Series for the 11th time in Cardinals franchise history.  

Sure, it’s the second year in a row that Texas has been to the World Series, losing to the San Francisco Giants in five games in 2010, but after you lose a best of seven series like this one, where your team was up 3 games to 2, where you were one strike away from winning the championship not once but twice in an epic Game 6, you will spend time going over and over each play wondering what could have been done differently.  I am sure you’ll be thinking about the World Series record 41 walks (including nine intentional walks) issued by the Texas Rangers pitchers.  (The record was 40 held by the 1997 Florida Marlins pitching staff.)  Perhaps you will dwell on the fact that the Texas Rangers bullpen had a 7.43 ERA and the Cardinals had a .311 batting average in the Series against the relief staff.  (During the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Rangers’ relievers held their opponents to a .193 batting average and had a 2.34 ERA.) 

Maybe you will question some of the moves from Texas manager Ron Washington. Should he have waited to use Derek Holland in Game Seven instead of bringing him in to help close out Game Six?  Should Rangers Closer, Neftali Perez been left in to face the bottom of the Cardinals order in the 10th inning of Game 6 instead of bringing in lefthander Darren Oliver?  Should Albert Puljos been intentionally walked in favor of pitching to Lance Berkman in the 10th inning of Game 6?  And what if Nelson Cruz got a better read on the ball hit by Cardinals' David Freese in the 9th inning – (we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation!)  

In the end, nothing will change what has occurred…when you wake up, you’ll still be out of a job…your Plus One will no longer be at your side…and the your team will still be in search of its first World Series Championship – but time heals all pain, and there is always next time.  For the Rangers and their fans, next time can’t come soon enough.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Failure To Communicate - Game 5 of The 2011 World Series

Communication…funny thing about it is, you never know how important it is until you don’t have it.   Arguably, two of the greatest inventions that have propelled mankind through the years have been the telephone and the internet.  Both technological breakthroughs that have changed the way we live.  At the core of our existence is the ability to communicate a message, a directive, an emotion to someone.  How many times have you heard a relationship end, and the reason… “We Just Don’t Seem To Communicate Anymore!” In every Business Strategy brief there is a section on the importance for CLEAR and CONCISE COMMUNICATION.  Think about how many times you have said to a co-worker, “I wish there was better communication between the departments,” or “if only my boss had told me exactly what they wanted, it would have saved a lot of time and energy.”    

The 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers has seen its share of strong pitching – see Rangers’ starting pitcher Derek Holland in Game 4…Record Tying Hitting - see Cardinals first baseman Albert Puljos in Game 3…and clutch performances – see Rangers’ catcher Mike Napoli in Game 4 and Game 5.  Yet, the 2011 Fall Classic might be remembered best for Game 5 and the breakdown in communication between a manager and his bullpen.  By now, we have all heard the story about the Cardinals bullpen’s inability to hear the instructions from manager Tony LaRussa (twice LaRussa called the bullpen and instructed them to get closer Jason Motte ready to come in) resulting in the manager’s decision to stick with relief pitcher, lefthander Marc Rzepczynski to face the hot hitting (and Series MVP candidate) Ranger Mike Napoli with the winning runs on in the 8th inning.  Napoli, a righty hitter, took Rzepczynski deep to right field and drove in two runs.  Texas won 4 to 2 and are one game away from winning the franchises first World Series title.  (For the record, lefty hitters batted .165 against Rzepczynski in 2011 regular season.  Righty hitters batted .275).  Would you want Rzepczynski facing the hottest hitting righty in the Rangers lineup with the game and possibly the series on the line?

Could the noise from the Texas Ranger’s fans be so loud that the bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist  didn’t hear LaRussa say “get Jason Motte ready” and instead, heard “get Lance Lynn ready."   Could the bullpen coach be so focused that he is not watching the game situation unfold before him, and understand the match up between left hander Rzepczynski and right hand hitter Napoli.  Wouldn’t one think that LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, and bullpen coach Lilliquist  go over who would they want pitching in certain game situations during their pregame meeting?  (According to LaRussa, it had been determined prior to Game 5 that relief pitcher Lance Lynn would not be pitching in the game due to his workload in Game 4.) 

It’s been stated that some of the pitchers in the Cardinals bullpen were aware of the situation that was unfolding, yet didn’t feel it was their place to say anything.  LaRussa does the thinking, and the players do the playing.  Sometimes not being able to communicate is just as bad as the wrong communication.

Whatever the reason…the noise from a home team crowd that is starving for a World Series championship, a bullpen coach who can’t understand the difference between the names Motte and Lynn, a misunderstanding between a manager and his relievers or a mental lapse from a manager who is known for his focus and discipline…Game 5 and the 2011 World Series may be the first Fall Classic that was decided not because of one team’s sub par pitching or lack of hitting, but because of poor communication.  And if you're a Cardinals fan, that's got to be tough to hear.