Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Coach Al Saunders

I have a theory why the Kansas City Chiefs are winning. It’s true they have excellent talent and an excellent quarterback, but the same goes for other NFL teams as well. And as many of you who read my column know, I’m a big advocate of sports teams becoming support groups, allowing athletes to talk about problems they may be experiencing in their personal lives. When this happens team members not only become more healthy psychologically because the sessions enhance their feelings of self work, but also results in their performing close to their skill levels on a consistent basis.

My theory is (and I have no inside information to prove this) that when KC Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins last year and then took his own life, the Chiefs front office decided to put into place an internal program to head off the possibility of similar tragedies in the future and created a system of internal support groups to allow players to talk about their issues. And then, along came the perfect coaching fit, Andy Reid, who also had a 29-year old son who committed suicide last year. So if you combine the support group concept with a head coach who is in total agreement and has great empathy for his players, then you have a formula for success. When the Chiefs decided to follow a program of this type (assuming they have) their primary focus was on the well-being and the mental health of their players, and probably had no idea at the time the positive effect it would have on team performance.
The only other NFL coach who I’ve ever met who is in complete agreement with the concept of team support groups is Coach Al Saunders of the Oakland Raiders.


It seems to me that the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, could take a few pointers from the team’s offensive coordinator, Al Saunders. That is, take advantage of a player’s personal belief system and don’t ask him to perform at a position that he feels he’s weak at. The Kansas City Chiefs realized this half-way through this season when the coaching staff was finally convinced by some of the players, including Kyle Turley and Brian Waters, that Jordan Black belonged at the left tackle position, not right tackle. And as soon as the change was made, Black’s level of performance increased considerably. According to an article that appeared in the Kansas City Star, November 11, 2006: “He’s been phenomenal,” Turley said of Black, “he should have been at left tackle from the start.” The same article quoted Black as saying that left tackle was his natural position: “Getting back in one spot is big” Black said. “A lot of people think there’s no difference in playing right tackle or left tackle. But there’s a difference. I always knew I could play. I just needed the opportunity to play one position.”

Which brings us to situation involving Adam Archuleta and the Redskins. According to an article in December 29, 2006 issue of USA Today, Archuleta has been in the doghouse all season.

adam-archuletaArguably the best linebacker in the NFL when he played for the Rams, Archuleta hasn’t played a snap on defense in seven weeks. “It became immediately apparent in training camp that Williams wanted to use Archuleta in different ways than the Rams did. Archuleta, a hard-hitting converted linebacker, was asked to play more coverage, not his strong suit.

He started the first seven games only because Pierson Prioleau was out for the season with a knee injury, and Archuleta’s liabilities are one of the reasons the Redskins lead the league in allowing passes of 20 yards or more. Now Archuleta is used only on special teams. Archuleta wouldn’t go into details but indicated the coaches have not been upfront with him. ‘I’m a grown man. I don’t like getting lied to’ Archuleta said. ‘I don’t mind if somebody says to my face what my flaws are and what I’m doing wrong. I welcome those because an honest assessment is all anybody wants in this business.'” One of the biggest complaints I’ve often heard from NFL players is when they felt their coaches weren’t upfront and honest with them. And if other defensive players for the Redskins feel the same, and are not speaking up, it’s no small wonder that the Redskins are having defense problems. By not speaking up about issues and keeping them bottled up inside themselves they are negatively affecting their own performance. Good coaches know this instinctively.

I think a quote from former major league baseball manager Whitey Herzog is appropriate here. In his book, “You’re Missin’ A Great Game,” Herzog points out that in major league baseball, in many instances, “the team gets rid of the player, when the manager (coach) is the problem all along.”

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