Saturday, January 31, 2009

If your best players are setting an example, it makes everything easier

Spending the summer with some of the world's best players as part of Team USA helped sharpen Dwayne Wade's leadership skills, according to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

As Mitch Lawrence writes in today's NY Daily News, "Put young and immature players with a 38-year old rookie coach and it could have been a disaster. But just as Patrick Ewing ran interference for Jeff Van Gundy when he assumed the helm of the Knicks at the age of 34, Spoelstra, the league's youngest coach, is grateful for Wade's leadership."

"It's been one of his two biggest areas of improvement," said Spoelstra, also citing Wade's defense. "He's much more vocal than he's ever been. He's always pulling guys aside and teaching them. And when he got the guys together, he laid down expectations for the season. What they could expect from me. A lot of these guys didn't know me. But he told them how we do things here with the Miami Heat.

Any coach - a veteran or a rookie coach - wants that. If your best players are setting a tone and setting an example, it makes everything much easier. I don't know if the young guys would have progressed as quickly as they have if we didn't have the leadership from Dwyane, along with Udonis and Shawn (Marion). Every day they see them going hard, so it's easy to fall in line. They look and they see, oh, so this is how it's done."

Tell me I can't do something, I'll show you that I can

Bill Cowher guided PIT to a Super Bowl in 2005. Tomorrow, he'll watch as his successor, Mike Tomlin, tries to do the same.

In the Wall Street Journal today, Coach Cowher talked about mental toughness and what motivates him:

"In hard times the greatest motivation you want to hear is: Tell me I can't do something, I'll show you that I can. To me sports is about mental toughness. When you take a mentally tough individual, someone who is not gonna be deterred by getting knocked down and not gonna be thinking they can walk on water when they have success, that's to me someone who's tough, mentally tough. I want my kids to be able to do that because I think it carries over in life."

[Thanks, Brian, for passing this along!]

When you have a losing team, you go to a winner

In his autobiography, "Stuff It," Dick Motta tells the story of how in 1968 Bulls owner/GM Dick Klein introduced the former Weber State coach to the press after hiring him as head coach of the Bulls, who were 29-53 the previous season:

"We've checked him out thoroughly. From the junior high to high school and college levels of basketball his teams have won over 80 percent of their games. When you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. When you're sick, you go to a doctor. When you have a losing team, you go to a winner. We have a losing team. And we have gone to a winner."

Coach Motta won 50 games or more in four of his eight seasons with the Bulls and later won an NBA title as coach of the Washington Bullets.

If you are going to lead, you try to lead with a servant's heart

At one point this season, Steelers RB Willie Parker became unhappy that the team wasn't giving him more carries.

PIT coach Mike Tomlin had a quick response:

“Every day when I walk into our practice facility,” said the head coach, “I walk past five Lombardi Trophies. I don’t walk past five rushing titles.”

Coach Tomlin describes his first coaching job, as the 23-year-old receivers coach at VMI, as "pure."

“I didn’t have anything else going on in my life, truth be known. I was single, I was broke, I didn’t have cable or long distance calling, and so there was nothing else to do other than immerse yourself in the game. I was with a bunch of guys who were like-minded, and we had a great time.”

Looking back on what he's learned over the last 13 years, from VMI to the Super Bowl, Coach Tomlin says he's thankful for his mentors:

“I’ve been blessed that I have worked with some great people, people who took a stake in my development,” he said this week. “And really, I pull from all of it on a day-to-day basis – lessons learned from leadership. It’s about people. It’s about taking care of the troops. It’s about putting them first. I’ve learned that if you are going to lead, you try to lead with a servant’s heart. I try to do that – try to take care of my men and give them what they need to be great.”

It's the execution of the skills necessary to make the system function

In its Friday edition, the Long Beach Post had a Q&A with 87-year-old Lakers assistant Tex Winter, who's best known for his Triangle/Triple Post Offense and nine NBA championship rings, but who also coached college ball at Long Beach State, Northwestern, Marquette, Kansas State (where he went 261-118 in 15 seasons), and Washington.

A couple of highlights from the interview:

~~~~~~~~~~

"[The Triangle Offense] evolves all the time. Phil [Jackson] had put in some of his wrinkles, tweaking it here and there. But basically our concepts, the principles of the offense have remained the same over the years. They don’t change. What matters is not the system so much, it’s the execution of the skills necessary to make the system function – that’s really the key to it. So we’ve always spent a lot of time on the fundamental skills, basic skills of the game. My methodology is such that everything sort of works itself out.

If you have time to teach it, I think it’s better suited for college. They’re at the stage where they really need development, and work on their fundamental skills. If they can learn to execute the skills necessary to make it function, they can be reasonably successful with it. I think it’s a very sound offense, that’s the reason we’ve stuck to it all these years. I still preach that.

[Over the years] they’ve bastardized it – that’s the way I put it. They use parts of it, but they don’t use the total system of play or philosophy of play. Because I don’t think they know how. If they’re going to be successful with it, you have to spend a lot more time on the drills necessary and sometimes I think – particularly in pro ball – coaches don’t feel like that’s necessary. And to an extent, it’s not. These players have so much natural ability, they more or less like to just run the screen and rolls, something very simple and forget the execution.

Seems to me that an awful lot of [teams], in the NBA anyway and I notice it in the college games I’m watching, we’re all playing pretty much with the same thing. Spacing the floor and running a side screen and roll out of it or a top screen and roll out of it, that’s got to be the most common thing I see. They’ve become very stereotyped in my mind, that’s one reason I think we’ve had the kind of success we’ve had with the Triangle. It’s different. It’s not stereotyped. It’s continuity. We try to react to the defense a little bit more. You have to read the defense. Some players can do that a lot better than others."

Very rarely do you get a chance to be a part of something special

Brian Scalabrine's quotes in a post by Peter May on Hoops Hype recently are another indication of why the Celtics won an NBA title last year.

It wasn't so much about what he did on the court for BOS. It was his attitude.

As the author describes, "last year, Scalabrine was almost an afterthought for the Celtics’ juggernaut. He played in only 48 games and his minutes haul (512) was the fewest since his rookie year of 2001-02."

"I felt just as important last year as I do this year,’’ says Scallie, who averaged 19 minutes a game for BOS in 2006-07. “I was ready for the call last year when Kevin (Garnett) got hurt and I started all nine games. We won seven. Sure, on the whole, it feels better to contribute. But as long as we’re winning, that’s what matters the most.

Sure, it was difficult not to play. But everyone has a role and I just didn’t fit in at that particular time. Very rarely do you get a chance to do something special or be a part of something special and this was it. Accepting your role is very important in all of that. Sometimes, it takes a while for people to recognize that and understand that. To recognize that it’s bigger than you. You need time to grow up."

Friday, January 30, 2009

The 33 Elements of Toughnesss

ESPN's Jay Bilas, a great player at Duke in the '80s who also served as an assistant to Coach K in the early '90s, says that when he'd come up against a "a tough opponent, I wasn't worried that I would get hit -- I was concerned that I would get sealed on ball reversal by a tough post man, or that I would get boxed out on every play, or that my assignment would sprint the floor on every possession and get something easy on me. The toughest guys I had to guard were the ones who made it tough on me."

Toughness has nothing to do with size, physical strength or athleticism. Some players may be born tough, but I believe that toughness is a skill, and it is a skill that can be developed and improved. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo always says, "Players play, but tough players win."

When I was playing, the players I respected most were not the best or most talented players. The players I respected most were the toughest players. I don't remember anything about the players who talked a good game or blocked a shot and acted like a fool. I remember the players who were tough to play against.

Here are Jay's 33 elements of toughness:

1. Set a good screen: The toughest players to guard are the players who set good screens. When you set a good screen, you are improving the chances for a teammate to get open, and you are greatly improving your chances of getting open. A good screen can force the defense to make a mistake. A lazy or bad screen is a waste of everyone's time and energy.

2. Set up your cut: The toughest players make hard cuts, and set up their cuts. Basketball is about deception. Take your defender one way, and then plant the foot opposite of the direction you want to go and cut hard. A hard cut may get you a basket, but it may also get a teammate a basket. If you do not make a hard cut, you will not get anyone open. Setting up your cut, making the proper read of the defense, and making a hard cut require alertness, good conditioning and good concentration. Davidson's Stephen Curry is hardly a physical muscle-man, but he is a tough player because he is in constant motion, he changes speeds, he sets up his cuts, and he cuts hard. Curry is hard to guard, and he is a tough player.

3. Talk on defense: The toughest players talk on defense, and communicate with their teammates. It is almost impossible to talk on defense and not be in a stance, down and ready, with a vision of man and ball. If you talk, you let your teammates know you are there, and make them and yourself better defenders. It also lets your opponent know that you are fully engaged.

4. Jump to the ball: When on defense, the tough defenders move as the ball moves. The toughest players move on the flight of the ball, not when it gets to its destination. And the toughest players jump to the ball and take away the ball side of the cut. Tough players don't let cutters cut across their face -- they make the cutter change his path.

5. Don't get screened: No coach can give a player the proper footwork to get through every screen. Tough players have a sense of urgency not to get screened and to get through screens so that the cutter cannot catch the ball where he wants to. A tough player makes the catch difficult.

6. Get your hands up: A pass discouraged is just as good as a pass denied. Tough players play with their hands up to take away vision, get deflections and to discourage a pass in order to allow a teammate to cover up. Cutters and post players will get open, if only for a count. If your hands are up, you can keep the passer from seeing a momentary opening.

7. Play the ball, see your man: Most defenders see the ball and hug their man, because they are afraid to get beat. A tough defender plays the ball and sees his man. There is a difference.

8. Get on the floor: In my first road game as a freshman, there was a loose ball that I thought I could pick up and take the other way for an easy one. While I was bending over at the waist, one of my opponents dived on the floor and got possession of the ball. My coach was livid. We lost possession of the ball because I wasn't tough enough to get on the floor for it. I tried like hell never to get out-toughed like that again.

9. Close out under control: It is too easy to fly at a shooter and think you are a tough defender. A tough defender closes out under control, takes away a straight line drive and takes away the shot. A tough player has a sense of urgency but has the discipline to do it the right way.

10. Post your man, not a spot: Most post players just blindly run to the low block and get into a shoving match for a spot on the floor. The toughest post players are posting their defensive man. A tough post player is always open, and working to get the ball to the proper angle to get a post feed. Tough post players seal on ball reversal and call for the ball, and they continue to post strong even if their teammates miss them.

11. Run the floor: Tough players sprint the floor, which drags the defense and opens up things for others. Tough players run hard and get "easy" baskets, even though there is nothing easy about them. Easy baskets are hard to get. Tough players don't take tough shots -- they work hard to make them easy.

12. Play so hard, your coach has to take you out: I was a really hard worker in high school and college. But I worked and trained exceptionally hard to make playing easier. I was wrong. I once read that Bob Knight had criticized a player of his by saying, "You just want to be comfortable out there!" Well, that was me, and when I read that, it clicked with me. I needed to work to increase my capacity for work, not to make it easier to play. I needed to work in order to be more productive in my time on the floor. Tough players play so hard that their coaches have to take them out to get rest so they can put them back in. The toughest players don't pace themselves.

13. Get to your teammate first: When your teammate lays his body on the line to dive on the floor or take a charge, the tough players get to him first to help him back up. If your teammate misses a free throw, tough players get to him right away. Tough players are also great teammates.

14. Take responsibility for your teammates: Tough players expect a lot from their teammates, but they also put them first. When the bus leaves at 9 a.m., tough players not only get themselves there, but they also make sure their teammates are up and get there, too. Tough players take responsibility for others in addition to themselves. They make sure their teammates eat first, and they give credit to their teammates before taking it themselves.

15. Take a charge: Tough players are in a stance, playing the ball, and alert in coming over from the weak side and taking a charge. Tough players understand the difference between being in the right spot and being in the right spot with the intention of stopping somebody. Some players will look puzzled and say, "But I was in the right spot." Tough players know that they have to get to the right spot with the sense of urgency to stop someone.

16. Get in a stance: Tough players don't play straight up and down and put themselves in the position of having to get ready to get ready. Tough players are down in a stance on both ends of the floor, with feet staggered and ready to move. Tough players are the aggressor, and the aggressor is in a stance.

17. Finish plays: Tough players don't just get fouled, they get fouled and complete the play. They don't give up on a play or assume that a teammate will do it. A tough player plays through to the end of the play and works to finish every play.

18. Work on your pass: A tough player doesn't have his passes deflected. A tough player gets down, pivots, pass-fakes, and works to get the proper angle to pass away from the defense and deliver the ball.

19. Throw yourself into your team's defense: A tough player fills his tank on the defensive end, not on offense. A tough player is not deterred by a missed shot. A tough player values his performance first by how well he defended.

20. Take and give criticism the right way: Tough players can take criticism without feeling the need to answer back or give excuses. They are open to getting better and expect to be challenged and hear tough things. You will never again in your life have the opportunity you have now at the college level: a coaching staff that is totally and completely dedicated to making you and your team better. Tough players listen and are not afraid to say what other teammates may not want to hear, but need to hear.

21. Show strength in your body language: Tough players project confidence and security with their body language. They do not hang their heads, do not react negatively to a mistake of a teammate, and do not whine and complain to officials. Tough players project strength, and do not cause their teammates to worry about them. Tough players do their jobs, and their body language communicates that to their teammates -- and to their opponents.

22. Catch and face: Teams that press and trap are banking on the receiver's falling apart and making a mistake. When pressed, tough players set up their cuts, cut hard to an open area and present themselves as a receiver to the passer. Tough players catch, face the defense, and make the right read and play, and they do it with poise. Tough players do not just catch and dribble; they catch and face.

23. Don't get split: If you trap, a tough player gets shoulder-to-shoulder with his teammate and does not allow the handler to split the trap and gain an advantage on the back side of the trap.

24. Be alert: Tough players are not "cool." Tough players are alert and active, and tough players communicate with teammates so that they are alert, too. Tough players echo commands until everyone is on the same page. They understand the best teams play five as one. Tough players are alert in transition and get back to protect the basket and the 3-point line. Tough players don't just run back to find their man, they run back to stop the ball and protect the basket.

25. Concentrate, and encourage your teammates to concentrate: Concentration is a skill, and tough players work hard to concentrate on every play. Tough players go as hard as they can for as long as they can.

26. It's not your shot; it's our shot: Tough players don't take bad shots, and they certainly don't worry about getting "my" shots. Tough players work for good shots and understand that it is not "my" shot, it is "our" shot. Tough players celebrate when "we" score.

27. Box out and go to the glass every time: Tough players are disciplined enough to lay a body on someone. They make first contact and go after the ball. And tough players do it on every possession, not just when they feel like it. They understand defense is not complete until they secure the ball.

28. Take responsibility for your actions: Tough players make no excuses. They take responsibility for their actions. Take James Johnson for example. With 17 seconds to go in Wake's game against Duke on Wednesday, Jon Scheyer missed a 3-pointer that bounced right to Johnson.

But instead of aggressively pursuing the ball with a sense of urgency, Johnson stood there and waited for the ball to come to him. It never did. Scheyer grabbed it, called a timeout and the Blue Devils hit a game-tying shot on a possession they never should've had. Going after the loose ball is toughness -- and Johnson didn't show it on that play.

But what happened next? He re-focused, slipped a screen for the winning basket, and after the game -- when he could've been basking only in the glow of victory -- manned up to the mistake that could've cost his team the win. "That was my responsibility -- I should have had that," Johnson said of the goof. No excuses. Shouldering the responsibility. That's toughness.

29. Look your coaches and teammates in the eye: Tough players never drop their heads. They always look coaches and teammates in the eye, because if they are talking, it is important to them and to you.

30. Move on to the next play: Tough players don't waste time celebrating a good play or lamenting a bad one. They understand that basketball is too fast a game to waste time and opportunities with celebratory gestures or angry reactions. Tough players move on to the next play. They know that the most important play in any game is the next one.

31. Be hard to play against, and easy to play with: Tough players make their teammates' jobs easier, and their opponents' jobs tougher.

32. Make every game important: Tough players don't categorize opponents and games. They know that if they are playing, it is important. Tough players understand that if they want to play in championship games, they must treat every game as a championship game.

33. Make getting better every day your goal: Tough players come to work every day to get better, and keep their horizons short. They meet victory and defeat the same way: They get up the next day and go to work to be better than they were the day before. Tough players hate losing but are not shaken or deterred by a loss. Tough players enjoy winning but are never satisfied. For tough players, a championship or a trophy is not a goal; it is a destination. The goal is to get better every day.

Everybody wants to have a purpose in life

In the early 1970s, when my father coached at the University of Minnesota, there was a point guard he recruited. He was my Dad's kind of player: An intense, no-nonsense guy who worked hard on the defensive end.

His name was Lionel Hollins.

And while he never played for my Dad, I've watched his career for nearly 40 years -- from his time at Arizona State to his NBA playing days to coaching stops in Phoenix, Vancouver, SLC, and the minor leagues.

As this article describes, until he was hired last week as head coach of the Griz, he'd questioned whether "it was time to move on, to find something else to do with his life. He wondered whether all the doors had closed, whether his best opportunities had vanished."

"There are times when you say, 'Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?'" Hollins said last weekend. "I talk to my family all the time and my friends about, 'Is this my destiny, or is it something else?' Because everybody wants to have a purpose in life. And there have been times when I thought it was something different."

When he took the MEM job, Coach Hollins made it clear that "the process would require patience and perseverance, that this would not be an overnight fixer-upper. And patience and perseverance are what he does best, qualities he adopted as a player and honed as a coach."

Coach Hollins has an interesting life story. Despite starring at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, "he never intended to pursue a basketball career. He was going to finish high school and find a job."

He ended up at Dixie JC in Utah where, in the conference championship, and with four fouls, the coach moved the 6-foot-3 Hollins to the post.

"Hollins played foul-free basketball the rest of the way, grabbed 16 rebounds and led Dixie to the victory."

After junior college, he moved to Arizona State, then onto the Trailblazers where he won an NBA title in 1977 with coach Jack Ramsay, whom Hollins called "the greatest coach ever."

With that championship team, Ramsay created a sense of teamwork that bordered on brotherhood. And there were four basic principles that Hollins strove to emulate as he began his own coaching career: Be tough. Be demanding. Be fair. Be flexible.

According to Coach Ramsay, who now works as ESPN Radio analyst, some NBA assistants simply "go through the motions, satisfied to be sitting on an NBA bench. Others are always working and encouraging, always hands-on and vocal." Coach Hollins was in the second group.

Said a friend of Coach Hollins:

"Everybody was born with a gift. Some of us, we take that gift and nurture it. Others, we let it fall by the wayside. He's nurtured that gift."

Turning a routine practice session into a team-building exercise

Loved this story in today's Washington Post about how the Caps took "a welcome break from the 82-game regular season grind" by splitting the players into two teams for a full scrimmage on the outdoor rink at a Maryland country club.

The "hotly contested intrasquad, three-on-three scrimmage" brought back memories for a lot of the players who grew up playing on "frozen lakes and ponds."

"It was awesome," Brooks Laich said. "If you looked at the guy's faces, every time someone made a play or a goal was scored, guys were hooting and hollering."

According to the Post article, "the idea to scrimmage rather than run through drills was hatched by Coach Bruce Boudreau, who also served as the linesman and referee. Boudreau has a long history of spicing up otherwise routine practice sessions and turning them into team-building exercises."

Last night's scrimmage, which consisted of two 15-minute periods, was another Boudreau special. [The team's goalies] "drafted" their teams after Wednesday's practice, and by the time the 30 minutes were over, the players were doubled over in laughter as they argued over the final score.

At one point during the scrimmage, Coach Boudreau "halted the scrimmage, called the players over to the bench and implored them to lighten up."

Said one player: "It was a nice break from the strenuous practicing and the businesslike atmosphere. Tonight we had a lot of fun."

There is a problem, let's fix it

Four interesting points from the book "Hard Facts," a book from the Harvard Business School Press:

~~~~~~~~~~

Talent or ability... depends on what happens to people and how they are coached, not just their innate skill or motivation.

A study by Lawrence Kahn examined the effect of baseball managers on team and player performance. Kahn measured player ability by the average of their performance over their entire carers, a reliable indicator of player talent.

He found that some managers inspired players to perform above their ability, and other managers stymied players, consistently driving players to perform below their ability.

Ability or talent did not explain all of a player's performance in a given year. How the player was managed or coached mattered, too.

~~~~~~~~~~

What is true for individuals is also true for organizations, groups, and teams. Exceptional performance depends heavily on experience and effort. No matter how gifted (or ordinary) team members are to start out, the more experience they have working together, the better their teams do.

Think of the U.S. women's national soccer team, which has won numerous championships, including two of the four women's World Cups and two of the three Olympic women's tournaments held to date.

The team certainly has had enormously talented players. Yet every team member will tell you that the most important factors in their success were the communication, mutual understanding, respect, and ability to work together tha tdeveloped in the dozen or so years that the stable core group played together.

Quantitative research on team effectiveness has demonstrated the power of such joint experience in every setting examined, including string quartets, surgical teams, student groups, top management teams, and airplane cockpit crews.

Experienced teams perform better because over time members come to trust each other more, communicate more effectively, and learn to blend each other's diverse skills, strengths, and weaknesses.

~~~~~~~~~~

The "talent mind-set" is dangerous because it treats talent as something fixed. This mind-set causes people to believe that it just isn't worth trying hard because they -- or the people they lead -- are naturally smart or not, and therer is little if anything anyone can do about it.

A seires of studies by Columbia University's Carol Dweck shows that when people believe their IQ is unchangeable, "they become too focused on being smart and looking smart rather than on challenging themselves, stretching and expanding their skills, becoming smarter."

Dweck concludes that:

When people believe they are born with natural and unchangeable smarts, it causes them to learn less over time. They don't bother learning new things and improving old skills.

~~~~~~~~~~

Given all the evidence on the importance of systems, why do so many companies place so much emphasis on getting and keeping great people [or players] and so little on building and sustaining great systems?

A big part of that is Western countries, like the United States, glorify rugged individualism so much that we make a cognitive error. We forget that history, organizational goals, rewards are potent causes of what people and organizations do. We give too much credit to individual heroes when organizations [or teams] do things right and too much blame on individual scapegoats when things go wrong.

[In successful organizations] managers consciously fought their natural tendency to focus on who deserved credit and blame, and instead worked on strengthening the system.

A supervisor explained:

"There are two theories. One says 'there is a problem, let's fix it.' The other says 'we've got a problem, someone is screwing up, let's go beat them up.' To make improvement, we could no longer embrace the second theory. We had to use the first."

A good offense is an offense that gets to the free throw line

After starting the season at 11-3, Doc Sadler's Nebraska team has lost four of its last five games and is 2-4 in Big 12 play.

The Huskers' lone win in that five-game stretch came against Kansas State, who Nebraska beat by 22.

After the game, KSU coach Frank Martin complemented Coach Sadler's team:

"Last year when people would want to talk about our league I'd always say: Nebraska. And people always said, 'Why do you always say Nebraska?' Because I have to prepare to play them and Doc Sadler's teams play as hard as anyone in the country."

That level of preparation is a reflection of the work Coach Sadler, his staff, and their players invest.

In 2006-07, his first season at NU after going 48-18 in two seasons at UTEP, the Huskers were 11-4 heading into a road game against Oklahoma. According to this article, "the Cornhuskers allowed the Sooners to bust open the game with a 13-0 run that included a number of easy, transition baskets." NU lost the game, 70-53.

Coach Sadler "offered his disapproval with a grueling punishment: A two-hour practice at 5:30 the next morning. In other words – the minute the Huskers got off the bus in Lincoln. Then Nebraska had its regular afternoon practice later that day."

“I’ll never forget that,” said NU guard Sek Henry, who was a true freshman on the 2006-07 team. “It woke us up to the way he wanted to play, how bad he wanted to win. He was really disappointed in us. That was a shout out to the team.”

The message? If you think you’re out of a game on the road, don’t bother playing at Nebraska. It was a turning point, Henry said. NU has been blown out a couple times since then – especially by Kansas – but not because of a lack of effort.

Coach Sadler's starting lineup is small (5-7, 5-11, 6-3, 6-5, and 6-8), so his system emphasizes getting to the basket.

"A good offense is an offense that gets to the free throw line," he said. "It's going to give us an opportunity to drive the basketball. We do have some guys that can shoot, but we've also got some guys that their strength is not necessarily the 3-point shot but driving. I will not anticipate shooting any more 3s than we normally have."

As this article points out, "Nebraska also will try to increase defensive intensity, even though it allowed a Big 12-low 60.7 points a game last season. Sadler said he'll use the press more often, with the hope of converting turnovers into easy baskets."

"It's going to give us a chance to be competitive with our size," he said.

Your message should be constant

Went back through Nick Saban's 2005 book "How Good Do You Want to Be" last night and came across this passage:

~~~~~~~~~~~

Let me let you in on a little secret about football coaches: Very few of us have the skill, experience, and education necessary to motivate a group of eighty men merely with a pregame speech. Contrary to what you have seen on television or in the movies or read in books, Knute Rockne was doing something out of the ordinary in rallying the troops with a few words before kickoff.

The truth is, if you have been sending the message all week, then two minutes before kickoff doesn't matter much.

At our level, if your players are not ready to play on their own, then there's something wrong. Of course, all coaches and leaders like to give a few reminders and will occasionally play to the emotion of the game, but sometimes saying little or nothing can be as powerful as saying a lot. It's the repetitive motivating message given daily over the course of the week that has a real effect -- not a few words before kickoff.

Parents will get their message about the dangers of underaged drinking through to their children better with constant reminders than with a speech the night before prom.

Your message should be constant. A well-developed message is more effective than one motivational talk.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lessons of competition and compassion

There's been so much written about the 100-0 high school girls game in Texas that I wasn't planning on posting about it.

But as the father of two young kids, and as a coach, it's hard to let it go.

To put it plainly, it's disgraceful. Even at the professional level, as a courtesy, coaches typically "take their foot off the accelerator" when they have a big lead late in the game.

In this case, at halftime, when the score was 59-0, couldn't the coach with the lead have gone over to the opposing coach and had a private conversation about how he'd like to proceed? After all, these are high school kids in a private school game.

At the least, why not switch off the scoreboard? Did he really think his team might blow a 59-point lead? Could he not see that his opponent was completely overmatched? Was his team actually getting better by playing a team so much weaker than his? Wouldn't a crisp 90-minute practice have served his team better?

From what I've read, the winning team's players and an assistant coach were cheering increasingly louder as the score approached the magical "100."

Really? Why? Was this a big victory? Had they really been challenged in the game?

That kind of behavior in a 100-0 win reminds me of something Ben Franklin said once:

“You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or insulting expression, nor show too much pleasure, but endeavor to console your adversary, and make him less dissatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression, that may be.”

I've seen youth league coaches with 25-point leads call a timeout with a minute left in the game. It's silly and, if done unintentionally, it's thoughtless.

Recently, I watched a youth league coach lead his team in prayer before a game, then proceed to leave on his full-court press until the final buzzer even though his team was up by 25 points. It's not only hypocritical, it's completely unnecessary.

In this article, Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute for Youth Ethics, asks, "What is the ultimate goal of coaching [kids]? It should be teaching good life skills. When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100, he did it against a professional team. It's a huge difference when you're dealing with children. It's a terrible black eye to believe that people are defending the proposition that there is anything worthwhile about that type of game."

I remember 20 years ago when SMU played at No. 1-ranked Notre Dame in SMU's first season back from the "Death Penalty." Led by coach Forrest Gregg, SMU's roster was made up of mostly freshmen players.

On the other sideline was Lou Holtz, who out of respect for Coach Gregg and empathy for his team's situation, directed his team to go easy on the young Mustangs. The final score was 59-6, though it could have been 40 points worse if not for Notre Dame's repeated intentional delay-of-game penalties.

At one point, a Notre Dame ballcarrier had a clear path to the endzone, but stepped out of bounds rather than score. According to one Irish player, "What was said was, 'If anyone scores, they'll be kicked off the team.'"

"These things happen when you're outmanned," Coach Gregg said after the game.

To say that the girl's team on the losing end of a 100-0 score was "outmanned" would be an understatement. Winning and losing are important lessons for kids, but it's hard to find a lesson in a 100-point loss.

Coach Holtz was criticized by many for ordering his players not to score, writing that "athletics are meant to be a test of competition."

I understand the importance of competition. I also understand the definition of "compassion."

"Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it."

Less is more

Thanks to Coach Petrino for forwarding this article from the Portland paper. It's about one of the lessons Oregon State coach Craig Robinson learned playing for Pete Carril at Princeton in the early 1980s:

"Being from the South Side of Chicago, my identity (as a basketball player) was killing guys with my offense," Robinson said. "You get it in your head that in order to be good, you've got to have the ball in your hands and destroy a guy. Coach Carril taught me that less is more, that passing and cutting and giving yourself up for the other guy makes everybody a better player. It took me awhile to understand."

Putting a premium on shot selection

After taking an average of more than 22 three-pointers in its first 15 games of the season, Bruce Pearl's Tennessee team has averaged 11 in its last four games.

This article asks, "Why didn't Pearl pull the plug on the 3-ball a few weeks earlier, instead of letting the Vols continue firing and falling?"

"They had to learn for themselves," Pearl said. "When we shoot too many 3 balls – not making the percentages we were (in the past) – it leads to transitions (for the opponent).

Long shots (equal) long rebounds and long rebounds (equal) fast-break opportunities. Not only do we not shoot the 3-ball as well [as in the past], we don't get back as well. The more you shoot it, the more you miss it, the more they (opponents) run out.

We have put a greater premium on shot selection. It's something that, if I'd done it a month ago, we would've had a revolt on our hands because the players would feel like they were handcuffed offensively. Now they feel like, 'OK, I've got to turn down the 3-shot to get a better shot because this is how we can win.'"

An appreciation for preparation and persuasion

Mark Johnson's name might be familiar.

In 1980, he scored twice in Team USA's historic win over the Soviets at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid (aka the "Miracle on Ice"). He went on to play 11 seasons in the NHL, retiring in 1990.

Since his playing career ended, he's been coaching women's hockey at the University of Wisconsin, winning back to back national titles in 2006 and 2007.

Earlier this week, he was named head coach of the U.S. Women's Hockey Team.

At the press conference earlier this week announcing him as head coach of the U.S. women's hockey team, he talked about what he learned from two of his former coaches: His father, the late "Badger" Bob Johnson, who won three NCAA championships at Wisconsin and an NHL Stanley Cup with the Pens, and Hall of Famer Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.

"What I saw first-hand [with my father] was that ability to create a culture, where you give your players the best opportunity, your teams the best opportunity to be successful, and how you create that culture to me is so vital," he said. "[My dad's] enthusiasm was always there, his love for going to the rink to try and work with players and improve them on and off the ice was always there. When you're around that as long as I was, you're going to take a lot of that into your coaching philosophy."

From the late Coach Brooks, "Johnson said he had gained an appreciation for preparation and persuasion."

"He really took us out of our comfort zone and trained us like no other coach had trained us," Johnson said. "At first, there was resistance. Nobody could understand it. If you've seen the movie 'Miracle,' it actually made him out to be a pretty nice guy.

Our toughest practice probably of the season as a group was the day after we beat the Russians. We came to the rink on Saturday, and we were strutting. We thought we were a pretty good group and feeling our oats. We thought we had the gold medal in the back of our pockets. But he caught our attention right when we stepped on the ice and we had one of our most challenging practices.

He knew the opportunity that was going to be presented the next day, and he didn't want us to screw it up. As he mentioned, you screw that last game up against Finland, you'll take it to your graves."

A belief that when the team flourishes, the individual flourishes

How many times have you read where a veteran player -- a former All-Pro -- is benched late in his career and becomes a distraction from the team's goals?

Now, consider Cardinals RB Edgerrin James, a guy who has had more than 300 carries in seven of his 10 seasons in the league, rushing for more than 1,100 yards in each of those seasons.

When he was benched for rookie RB Tim Hightower, James wasn't happy about it, but he "never sulked, never pouted. He worked hard and practiced as if he were starting."

As this story from the NY Times puts it, "James is especially compelling at a time when we have become used to seeing sports stars complain about playing time and statistics, team be damned."

This article contends that "if James had chosen to become a negative influence in the locker room, he might have done irreparable damage to the Cardinals' postseason hopes. Instead, he helped drive them to the franchise's first division title since 1975 by showing how much he cared about the team."

In a situation where some players would have held contempt for the player who replaced them, "James turned his attention to helping Hightower through a complex situation for both of them."

"Our relationship got even better, and that's the funny part of it. The more I played, the more he was talking to me," Hightower says. "Every single time I'd come to the sideline, he'd point out things that he saw. He showed me how to watch film. He was calling me every day to make sure I was putting the right things in my body. It just blows my mind away that somebody could be so selfless."

James' team-first attitude is unusual in today's pro game, and it shows that he takes seriously "the core values that carried him from Immokalee, Fla., to the Super Bowl: hard work and a dedication to doing what is required to help the team, a belief that when the team flourishes, the individual flourishes."

“Some guys focus on the business side more than the football side, and it doesn’t work out,” James said Tuesday. “Whenever I talk to a young guy, I always say: ‘Make sure you put football first, do everything the right way, as far as being a football player. Everything else is going to come.’ You understand that it’s not personal, it’s business,” he said. “This is business, regardless of what anyone may say or think, the N.F.L. is a business, and that’s the approach I’ve always taken.”

A star basketball surgeon who can diagnose and fix basketball illnesses

Last month, Jim Souhan, a columnist for the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, described Kevin McHale as "great NBA player who considers coaching a hobby that impinges on his lifestyle."

In December, SI's Chris Mannix wrote that "McHale hates travel. He doesn't like late nights or the beating it puts on his body."

Coach McHale, who moved from VP of basketball ops to the bench in early December, has said he's resisted coaching because, "I don't enjoy the wins, and the losses just kill me. I don't know why I should [coach] , unless you go 82-0."

But Jim Petersen, who like McHale played at the University of Minnesota and had an eight-year NBA career, contends that Coach McHale is built for coaching.

"McHale's humor and intelligence are best suited for coaching. I equate it to being a physician. Some are great at research or diagnosing disease. Some are great at lecturing, teaching, surgery. The key to being a great GM is similar to being great at research. You have to be a grinder, a basketball junkie willing to travel, talk and dig. That is not (McHale's) strength.

He is a star basketball surgeon who can diagnose and fix basketball illness. He adjusts, supports, encourages and motivates during games," Petersen said. "He builds, demands, fixes and develops during practice. He has his priorities straight. He commands respect and encourages calmness during tight in-game situations."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When it comes to discipline, it's more important to be right than consistent

Brad Adler's book "Coaching Matters" has a good passage with Bill Parcells and his approach to consistency as it relates to discipline.

It describes Coach Parcells' instense "desire for and commitment to consistency."

According to the author, "he required it in every aspect of the game. You had to practice consistently, play consistently, even rehab consistently. Indeed, as coach of the team, Parcells believed that even he had to be consistent, at least with most aspects of his leadership routine."

"The only thing you don't have to be consistent in is your discipline," Coach Parcells said of his coaching methods. "I know that sounds crazy, but what's important with discipline is to be right. I don't want to be consistent there, I want to be right."

It reminds me of a story a coaching friend told me recently about a high school coach who'd led his team to the state title game.

The night before the game, a group of his players had gone to dinner. On their way back to the team's hotel, one player -- the team's star player and a good kid who'd never had any problems -- realized that he'd left his wallet on the table, and had to run back to the restaurant to get it. He made it back to the hotel a few minutes later, but missed curfew.

According to the coach's rules, any player who missed curfew couldn't play in the next game. So, feeling like he had to be consistent with his discipline, the coach benched him. At the next day's championship game, with his best player in street clothes, they lost the game.

I've searched far and wide for this story online and haven't been able to find it. Regardless, even as a parable, it supports Coach Parcells' point about how when it comes to discipline, it's better to be right than consistent.

The nature of a routine

Saw where Sports Illustrated polled 190 NBA players, asking them to name the best pure shooter they'd ever seen.

Ray Allen topped the list, earning more than a quarter of the votes. Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Jason Kapono, and Peja round out the top five.

According to this column in the Boston Globe, Allen's shooting skills can be traced back to when he was a kid:

"The routine doesn't change much. That is the nature of a routine. Ray Allen will shoot in an empty gym. Got to make 10 threes from this spot. Got to make five midrange jumpers from this spot. In between, go to the line and make five. It goes back to when he was an 8-year-old kid in England. Allen's parents were ballers and when they gave up the floor to little Ray, he'd pledge to make five straight lefty layups, then five straight righty layups. They couldn't leave 'til he did it."

Injuries never lower expectations for a coach

Hoopsworld's Jason Fleming had a good piece recently about how injuries impact a team.

But as DEN coach George Karl points out, "injuries never lower expectations for a coach."

"For the last three years we've had NenĂª and Kenyon (Martin) out, but the expectations remained the same. Coaches also don't get praised for handling injuries well. 'Oh, that's what they are supposed to do.' It's not always as easy as people seem to think it is. The special organizations work together on how to construct a roster to prepare for injuries. Do you put three prospects on the end of your bench or do you put two prospects and one insurance policy on the end of your bench? Sometimes you don't use them for 50 games. And then something happens and you use them for 25 straight games and they become a part of your playoff personality. Usually veteran players understand that better."

It's not the Cub Scouts

On January 10, Notre Dame was 12-3, ranked 12th in the AP Top 25, just one vote behind 11th-ranked Texas.

Since then, the Irish has lost four straight, with all four losses coming against ranked teams, including two on the road.

ND coach Mike Brey contends that situations like this force a team to grow:

"It's not Cub Scouts. We signed up for the Big East, it's tough. I'm not holding any hands. Either grow up and deliver or don't play. Our backs are against the wall. When your backs are against the wall you've only got one choice, you've got to fight out of it. Right now that's our only choice."

With victory comes responsibility

Good story out of Orlando where Stan Van Gundy's team has "been good regardless of where they have played, going 17-4 at home and 17-6 on the road. They have smashed teams from the rugged Western Conference going 18-4 with first-ever season sweeps of both the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs."

But, as the saying goes, with victory comes responsibility.

"It's been an adjustment for us because before when we felt like we were the underdogs, we were out there trying to prove a point versus the really good teams," said [Rashard] Lewis, who hit four 3-pointers to add to his NBA-leading total of 129. "Now that we're an elite team, other teams are looking at us thinking they can make a statement by beating us. It's taught us that we have to come ready to play every night."

ORL center Dwight Howard said the team has learned from past lessons:

"We must stay humble and not get satisfied," said Howard. "I remember a couple of years ago we were the No. 1 team for a while, but we got lazy in practice and things went down from there. We've learned our lesson. To stay successful, we have to stay humble, positive and level-headed. We understand all of this stuff can be taken away at any time."

Making the complex simple and the irregular regular

At 71, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the NFL's oldest coach, just finished his 50th year in the league.

[In the 1960s, playing alongside guys like Night Train Lane, Earl Morrall, and Alex Karras, he was one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.]

As this article describes, "LeBeau may be the most beloved coach in the game. He's also one of the most accomplished. The Steelers' defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2008, allowing more than 300 yards just once in 18 games, counting playoffs."

PIT head coach Mike Tomlin says Coach LeBeau's strength is keeping things simple, but not simplistic:

"Dick is a fundamentalist, I'm a fundamentalist," Tomlin said. "Things that he does schematically are geared toward putting his players in position to play. He's a unique teacher that way. He makes the complex simple. He makes the irregular regular."

The things you teach don't necessarily apply to everyone in every situation

A few years ago, Coach K wrote a book (with his daughter) titled "Beyond Basketball."

In a chapter about learning, he tells a story about Tommy Amaker, who he describes as "the first great point guard I ever had at Duke."

He had incredible instincts about the game, particularly on the defensive end. In his first two practices as a freshman, I remember teaching a defensive stance, specifically used when putting pressure on the opponent with the ball.

At the time, Coach K was in his nearly a decade into his head coaching career. He'd been taught -- and he'd taught his players the same -- that the proper way to guard the ball was with your palms up. But that's not how Amaker did it. Amaker was playing excellent defense, but he had his palms down.

Despite the terrific job he was doing on the ball, that Amaker didn't have his palms up bothered Coach K, so he stopped the drill, explained to Amaker that he should put his palms up.

What happened next surprised Coach K.

Amaker asked, "Why?"

"I was stumped," recalls Coach K, before explaining that "with your palms up, you have less of a chance of being called for a reaching foul."

Amaker assured his coach that he wouldn't reach. According to Coach K, "Tommy had better balance with his palms down. He instinctively did not reach where others may have had a tendency to do so. So why not let him do what was more natural to him."

[In 1987, as a senior, Amaker won national defensive player of the year honors.]

As a result, I examined with more scrutiny the way I taught other parts of the game. The lesson I learned was that, with great players, it pays to be flexible. There isn't just one way to do things. From that day at practice, I learned the things that you teach do not necessarily apply to everyone in every situation. And it was a lesson I'd learned from an eighteen-year-old freshman point guard.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The importance of staff continuity

At Maryland, Gary Williams' Terrapins have lost four of six, including a nationally-televised 41-point loss to Duke on Saturday.

In searching for answers, this article touches on the value of keeping a staff together over many years.

Before leaving for other coaching opportunities, Jimmy Patsos, Billy Hahn, and Dave Dickerson had been with Coach Williams for 13, 12, and nine years, respectively, which helped to solidify the program's cohesiveness.

According to Coach Hahn, now an assistant at WVU, when longtime assistants leave, it takes time to recreate the chemistry.

"When you can keep a staff together for a long time, there is continuity and everybody knows their roles and their strengths and weaknesses. I think staff continuity is very important. If you see turnovers in staffs, you usually see a drop-off. Duke had a drop-off when they lost Mike Brey and Quin Snyder."

As a side note, one AAU coach quoted in the article contends that head coaches must play a more active role in recruiting today than in the past instead of delegating to his assistants.

"Once upon a time, you could rely on your assistants going out and building relationships. Today, [kids] want to have a relationship with a head coach who is calling the shots."

Jumping out there and getting after people

Utah coach Jerry Sloan, whose team has struggled with slow starts recently, on the importance of coming out strong early in the game:

"If you want to play in this league, you've got to jump out there and get after people," Sloan said. "You can't let people bring it to you all the time. Young guys have a tendency to not realize that. They think, 'Get me some shots and worry about the other stuff later.'"

You can't talk your way out of something you behaved your way into

Open the pantry in just about any home in America and it's likely there's a can of Campbell's Soup in there somewhere.

In fact, according to this article, "the typical American home has six cans of Campbell's in the pantry."

But when Douglas Conant took over as CEO of Campbell's in 2001, "it had no clear direction."

So Conant set a goal to "take a 'bad' company and lift its performance to 'extraordinary' by the end of one decade — that's by 2011."

His plan was focused on action. As Conant puts it:

"You can't talk your way out of something you behaved your way into."

He began by clearing his roster. "In his first three years, 300 of the company's top 350 leaders were replaced — 150 from within and 150 from outside."

This article from BusinessWeek describes Conant's penchant for reading:

"A devout reader of leadership tomes, Conant has scores of books in his office on shelves and piled up in corners. He keeps extra copies on hand to share with colleagues, and he started an executive book club for top brass. The cerebral Conant devours the words of everyone from President Abraham Lincoln to World War II General George S. Patton to management guru Stephen Covey. And he drops Leo Tolstoy quotes into conversations.

"I'm obsessed with getting new insights," he says. "I recently read a book about Patton, and he was an obsessive reader. It's really the only way to learn."

So how's he done?

According to the article, "turning Campbell around has not been simple, and is not a done deal. Last year, Campbell far outperformed the stock market."

BusinessWeek put it this way:

"Conant... has transformed Campbell from a beleaguered old brand rumored to be on the auction block to one of the food industry's best performers."

Lift weights if you want to be competitive on the basketball court

A story in today's Des Moines paper begins with this line:

Lift weights if you want to be competitive on the basketball court.

"It's that simple," said Rick Wanamaker, a long and lanky member of the Drake basketball team that reached the NCAA Final Four in 1969. "Everybody was skinny, scrawny and mostly weak back when I was playing, but in comparison, when I watch games today, everybody's muscular and strong. It's one of those good evolutions of the game. The typical thought among basketball coaches back then was that you'd get so muscle-bound that you couldn't make a basket."

Today, coaches understand how critical weight-training is to a player's success.

"It's really important," Drake coach Mark Phelps said of basketball weight-training. "Guys can get stronger. They can get leaner. They can gain flexibility. They can gain explosiveness. They can gain power - and they can still be the graceful athlete, our game calls for."

Iowa State coach Gregg McDermott agrees:

"Strength training improves your quickness," McDermott said. "It can improve your ability to have balance and strength, especially if you're playing on the interior, but I think one thing it does more than anything is it improves your confidence. Just having the strength and the confidence to be able to battle with somebody one-on-one and not get knocked off your spot because you're not strong enough, does a lot for the rest of your game."

Bobby Hansen, a 6-foot-6, 190-pound guard who helped Lute Olson's Iowa team to the 1980 Final Four before going on to play for nearly a decade in the NBA, said his introduction to weight training came when he reached the pros:

"When I got into the NBA, that's when it became a big part of my workouts. [Hall of Famer] Adrian Dantley lifted all the time. We'd watch him lift, and no one could keep up with him. [Two-time league MVP] Karl Malone was just country strong - he was a big ol' country guy, but he took weight-lifting to a different level. Michael Jordan lifted weights all the time, relentlessly. So did Scottie Pippen. Sometimes I woke up in the morning and it felt like I had 450 pounds on my shoulders, but it increased my vertical jump, maybe by 8 inches."

The challenge of coaching on an interim basis

When Johnny Davis (pictured here) was named interim head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies late last week, he described his role this way:

"You just try to keep the team focused. Obviously, we're in transition, and there's uncertainty surrounding the team right now. The former coach is gone. The new head coach has not arrived. There's trepidation there, angst, there's uncertainty. All I'm trying to do is hold things together."

Last month, Spurs beat writer Mike Monroe wrote that "nothing in sports is more difficult than turning around the mentality that infests losing situations that have become chronic. Little wonder that few interim coaches end up getting the job on a permanent basis."

As quarterback father-son duo Archie and Peyton Manning write in their book "Manning," "interim coaches are the equivalent of substitute teachers, unlikely to get the allegiance they deserve." [Interestingly, between 1960-December 2004, interim NFL coaches were 16-43 in their debut games.]

According to Alvin Gentry, who served as interim head coach in Miami and Detroit:

"It's a tough life. Interims are coaching teams that failed to live up to expectations. They have only a limited amount of time to audition for the permanent job, fully flesh out their own philosophy and make changes in strategy and style. Interims can also face authority and communication issues, since players don't expect them to be around long-term."

As this article points out, one challenge is that "an interim coach doesn't have much time to implement his own philosophy and style. The players are accustomed to the system of the previous coach, who used training camp, preseason and regular season games to establish his own approach. It's hard to make radical changes during the season, with a tight game schedule and few opportunities to practice. What an interim coach can do is attempt to communicate with and motivate the players."

Says DEN coach George Karl:

"The toughest thing is you'd like to try to make some changes and try to do some different things. Time just won't allow you to do that. I don't think you ever get your system in place until the next year. You move in that direction, but you don't philosophically get your stuff completely in until your training camp next year."

The Cowboys played the 49ers about a month after SF had promoted Mike Singletary to interim head coach. Before the game, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips talked about how "for interim coaches, motivating players is the basic challenge."

"It's a tough situation when you go in as an interim, because a lot of things are already in place. First off - and this is really important - you have to get the players to play for you," Phillips said. "That's a lot harder than it sounds. There are some technical things you can do to get better. But once (a team) has put in all the hours of training camp and all the things that are done in the offseason, there isn't a whole lot of impact that you can make."

In 1998, June Jones stepped into the interim role as head coach of the Chargers, going 3-7 with the team.

"It's always hard for whoever is named (interim head coach) because his loyalty has been to that person who was just fired so sometimes it's hard to step in," said Jones, who now coaches at SMU after nine seasons at Hawaii. "We changed practice times and started practicing in the morning and did some things like that differently. You can change up the routine but the main thing is you try to find different ways to put the players in more of a leadership role, to try to get them to take ownership of the team."

Monday, January 26, 2009

His whole game is predicated on players playing for each other

Just a quick note:

Came across a Gregg Popovich quote from 2005 about Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who was coaching the Pistons at that time (and won an NBA title in 2004).

"I just think that Larry loves the pure part of the game. His whole game is predicated on players playing for each other, feeling the responsibility they have toward each other."

A reminder written on a crumpled piece of paper

Interesting excerpt from the book "Real Dream Teams" by Bob Fisher and Bo Thomas:

~~~~~~~~~~

A story about Paul "Bear" Bryant, the late coach of the University of Alabama's football team, demonstrates his belief in relentless attention to detail.

One day during a practice, a visitor observed Coach Bryant doing something that aroused his curiosity. From time to time during practice, the coach would reach into his pocket, pull out a crumpled little piece of paper, read it, and then put it back in his pocket.

The visitor watched him do this several times during practice, and then finally mustered up the courage to ask the coach what was written on the paper.

Coach Bryant simply smiled, pulled out the paper, and let the visitor read it himself.

It said:

"It's the itty bitty, teeny tiny things that get you beat."

Taking players out of their comfort zone

With the Super Bowl this Sunday, there's been plenty written about both head coaches who are leading their teams into the game.

So far, the best one I've come across about PIT coach Mike Tomlin is this one from today's NY Times, titled "Secret to Steelers Coach Tomlin's Success: Take Notes."

The article describes Coach Tomlin as a "reluctant intellectual," how he hid his good grades from his friends until his junior year in high school when they finally found out he'd made straight A's.

After attending and playing football at William & Mary, one of the top 50 schools in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report and Forbes, he considered attending law school, but instead took a $12,000 a year coaching job.

The article in the NY Times tells a story of how Coach Tomlin, two weeks into his job as a 28-year-old assistant with Tampa Bay, put together a tape of 75 plays from John Lynch's previous season. Accompanying the tape was a play-by-play description of how Coach Tomlin thought Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowl safety, could get better.

“At first, I thought, What’s up with this guy?” Lynch said. “But then I started reading the detail. He’d show a play, then have a long paragraph about what he thought I could do better. I learned a lot from him right away. That sold me on him.”

According to Coach Tomlin:

"I’ve always been extremely competitive. I’m a big dreamer, I guess. I’ve been known to be pushy. I go out of my way to not put [my players] at ease. There’s nothing wrong with being in a permanent state of arousal and not finding a comfort zone."