Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Whitey Herzog

With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up, the media, including The New YorkTimes, are looking back at the 1998 draft when Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were the number one and number two draft choices. Peyton was drafted by the Colts, Ryan by the Chargers. The media is questioning why Ryan’s career fizzled and why Peyton’s took off. It’s easy to blame the athlete but we, the public, are almost never privy to what may have gone on behind the scenes between Ryan and his San Diego Coaches that could have caused his career to collapse.

I reside in Springfield, Missouri, where the Missouri State University’s baseball team is often visited by major league scouts. On one such occasion I noticed an African-American man who was scouting for the Atlanta Braves. Walter and I struck up a conversation and he told me he used to use his 6’ 4” frame and 230 lbs to throw 90 mile per hour fastballs. He had a certain style of pitching that had served him well throughout high school and college. After graduating, he was drafted by one of the major league baseball teams and a pitching coach was assigned to help him. Unfortunately, his new pitching coach immediately tried to change his style of throwing, which didn’t sit well with Walter. Instead of standing up to his coach he acquiesced and tried to change his style of pitching but to no avail. Soon, he was released by the team and in retrospect, he now feels it was a mistake not to speak up and attempt to change his coach’s approach to training him. This is a good example of what former major league manager Whitey Herzog once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Very often the team cuts the player when they should have gotten rid of the coach.”

I’ve been following Vince Young’s career since his days at the University of Texas and always thought he would excel in the NFL. So it was quite a surprise to me to see where he had been released by the Buffalo Bills shortly after general manager Buddy Nix completed a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Young was the third overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Tennessee Titans. Since I’m not privy to what’s going on in Young’s personal life it’s possible he has some issues that are affecting his performance. But it’s also possible that he has a problem with one of his coaches, and since coaches seem to always have the last word, Vince’s days with the Bills were numbered. I recall that quote by former MLB manager Whitey Herzog who said that very often a team releases a player when they should have replaced the player’s coach. That’s why I believe the coaching staff with Kansas City Chiefs might be just what the doctor ordered if they were to sign Young as backup quarterback. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see him become the starting quarterback after a short time. He might be just what the Chiefs need.

I recall that famous quote by Whitey Herzog that, in many instances, “the team gets rid of the player, when the manager (or head coach) is the problem all along.” We’re always told how important a head coach can be to the development and performance of his or her athletes, and there’s no better example than Tim Brown, former Notre Dame player and 1987 Heisman Trophy winner, who is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame today. According to Tom Coyne’s Associated Press article, “Tim Brown never considered himself a standout collegiate football player until Lou Holtz convinced him of it. When Holtz took over the Notre Dame reins after the 1985 season, during the second day of spring practice following Brown’s sophomore season, Holtz called him over and asked why he hadn’t been on the field more for the Fighting Irish during his first two seasons. Brown told him it was a decision by the previous coaching staff. Holtz didn’t believe him. ‘He yelled at me, “Son, there’s no way a coach could be so dumb as to not play you.” Brown recalled him saying.’ Holtz told Brown the only way he wasn’t’ going to get the ball during the upcoming season was if the defense intercepted the snap from center. Holtz played Brown often and according to Brown, ‘The more I succeeded the more he kept putting me in that position and the more confidence I got.’”

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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