Monday, February 2, 2009

Once you start winning, you don't want to go back

In the week leading up to yesterday's Super Bowl, the Phoenix paper had a story about how, in two years, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt took a team with "a legacy of losing perhaps un- rivaled by any team in sports" to the NFL's championship game.

In the simplest terms, Whisenhunt was trying to change the Cardinals from a team that lost more than it should to one that won as much as it could.

In short, he had to re-work the team's culture.

In a business, or on a football team, he said it boils down to one thing: "Getting people who are talented to work together as a team." But talking about it is easy. Actually doing it is difficult.

Says Coach Whisenhunt: "I think a lot of people want to say culture change. It's really about getting people to believe. Raise the expectations. Be prepared to work. It has to be everything. Practices, off-season workouts, preparation, accountability. It's got to be every day."

According to one management expert, "there was another important factor that led the team to change under Whisenhunt's leadership."

In his words, "Don't laugh when I say this. Winning culture depends a lot on winning" because it makes people willing to work even harder.

"A team gets into a rhythm of winning," the expert said. "It shows that effort leads to reward."

Another important note is that all of Arizona's coaches are on the same page.

Special-teams player Sean Morey, a 10-year veteran in the league, says the coaches are always on the players about how to do things. "They are consistent in holding players accountable," Morey said in the locker room. "Watching tape, sometimes you have this voice, you can hear it in your head, when things go wrong, saying: 'It's not OK. It's not OK.' "

Says Arizona offensive lineman Reggie Wells, who has played for three head coaches in his career with the team, "Whisenhunt's vision just sounded a little bit different."

"You can tell they believe it," Wells said. "They are sincere in how they think we should approach the game. It's not just words. Winning is habitual, just like losing. But once you start winning, you don't want to go back."