Sunday, July 6, 2008

Filling the shoes of Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, or Brett Favre

Does the name Phil Bengston ring a bell? He's the coach who succeeded Vince Lombardi as coach of the Green Bay Packers in the late 1960s.

How'd you like to be the coach who followed Vince Lombardi? Or John Wooden (as Gene Bartow did) or Phil Jackson in Chicago (Tim Floyd) or Bear Bryant (Ray Perkins) at Alabama?

How'd you like to be the guy who follows Coach K at Duke or Joe Paterno at Penn State?

Or, as Chris Ballard points out in this week's Sports Illustrated, how tough would it be to succeed Brett Favre as QB of the Packers as Aaron Rodgers is?

Taking over from a legend like Lombardi or Wooden or Favre is tough. But even succeeding someone who has been successful is difficult, regardless of the profession.

As an assistant with the Hawks, I saw how hard it was for Lon Kruger to follow Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkins in Atlanta, where Coach Wilkins had won more than 300 games.

It's great to work for a legend (as I did in Orlando with Chuck Daly), but following one is a different story.

There wasn't a lot of pressure in Oakland when we took over as a coaching staff. The franchise had been through some lean years, so I don't think people expected us to do much. We had high expectations for our staff and team, but the bar was pretty low.

In SAC, the expectations were considerably higher. Following Rick Adelman, who'd spent eight seasons with the Kings and is a great coach, winning 50 or more games in five of those seasons, was significantly more difficult.  The fans, owners, sponsors, and press were used to winning.

As for Rodgers, according to the SI article:

Rodgers focuses on the positives. He says he embraces the opportunity, that there are "zero negatives." He keeps a diary, because as an "internal processor" (his words) he finds it a good release. "I'm someone who likes to churn on things and analyze," he said last Friday, "and I find if you don't get stuff out, it will tear you up."

It's a great idea to keep a diary.   For coaches, this is something you can refer back to for ideas and benchmarks.  I've kept notes from every day I've ever coached -- all the way back to the late 1980s.

Speaking of journals, I have a coaching friend who has kept a daily diary for his two sons as they grow up. What a wonderful gift to give them some day.