No-nonsense coaches start strong
The league is being besieged by uber-individualistic, money-grubbing players
Old-school coaches build confidence from an assortment of personalities
Those coaches able to instill discipline are off to a great start
Nice guys may not finish last in the NFL, but already it is looking as if the best "nice" coaches should hope for is the Wild Card.
Let's begin the Thursday Trend. Today's is an easy one: Everything Old School is new again.
No-nonsense is in. NFL coaches making the biggest Week 1 statements were those tough, growling, in-your-face leaders who don't just toss around catchphrases and clichés like "accountability," "teamwork" and "professionalism." They live by those words. They demand those things. And anyone in the organization who doesn't wish to follow suit? Well, can you say, Vernon Davis?
Look at Week 1's biggest winners and losers. Is it coincidence that the nice, unemotional guys struggled, while those known for their feistiness and strong, unwavering personalities found a way to win?
Sure, we all know the quiet, professorial, gentlemanly sorts have risen to the top of the NFL mountain -- most notably Tony Dungy, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren. But in an era of NFL football becoming rife with distractions and ego, it is the jutted-jaw, steely-stare, in-your-face leadership that appears to be a necessary and growing trend.
The league is being besieged by uber-individualistic, money-grubbing players. They think discipline is adhering to the no-Tweet rule at halftime. They think teamwork is knowing the kicker's name. And with so many more venues now available to express selfishness -- Twitter, Facebook, instant-messaging -- show me a "players' coach" in today's NFL and I'll show you someone who tossed the asylum keys to the inmates.
Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson scribbled, "Pay me, Rick" on his football shoes in Sunday's loss to the Jets, in an effort to tweak Texans GM Rick Smith and get a new deal. (Oh, by the way, Robinson will make just shy of $10 million this year.)
San Francisco holdout Michael Crabtree, bless his silly soul, has been acting like a fool, holding out for more than the $16 million guaranteed he's been offered. Cincinnati's Chad Ochocinco has spent more time trying to figure out ways to tweet during games and do the Lambeau Leap in enemy territory, than how to give it up for the team.
Denver's Brandon Marshall was suspended for a game after throwing a schoolyard tantrum in practice, and looked like a player about to check out for the year in an unlikely Week 1 win over the Bengals. The Bears' Jay Cutler whined his way out of Denver, then looked like a spoiled frat boy in his postgame press conference after a four-interception debut.
Even the ever-revered Patriot Tom Brady came off looking big-headed Monday night, as he clearly not only didn't want to kiss sideline reporter Suzy Kobler, he didn't even want to give her 30 seconds of his time to answer a couple of questions. Brady's reasoning for snubbing the network that, in part, pays his salary? He was tired. I suppose he was. He got caught from behind by a woman in low-heels. Brady also said he likes to get home early after Monday night games, presumably because that's Brady's night to run out for pickles and ice cream for Giselle.
Are you catching a trend here? NFL players tend to act like a bunch of babies.
In truth, it's more like pre-schoolers or kindergartners. And like any spoiled children, the NFL's brats always will continue to push the boundaries of discipline -- in this me-first era more than ever -- until someone comes along unafraid to establish firm, definitive rules that cannot be broken, or else.
The first week of the season proved as much, especially in the case of the surprise winners. While laid-back "nice guy" Texans coach Gary Kubiak saw his starting cornerback scribble nonsense on his shoe, with Robinson then proclaiming he was there "to get paid," the Jets epitomized coach Rex Ryan's fearless, attacking, tough approach in a 24-7 win.
Meanwhile, the unemotional and quiet Lovie Smith watched Cutler bomb. Mike Singletary, whose old-school sideline and press conference tirade over Davis' lack of accountability became the stuff of Youtube legend last season, saw his team take out the defending NFC champs with grit and fire that reflected the Hall of Famer's.
The affable Jim Zorn, who has done such off-center things with his Redskins as use Pilates and a Slip-n-Slide in practice, is off to an 0-1 start in a season in which he must win or get fired. Wade Phillips -- he of the "Camp Cupcake" training camps -- got off to a 1-0 start against lowly Tampa Bay, but he's on the same shaky ground as Zorn, largely because he is considered too nice.
Fans enjoy the fiery, demanding coaches for the theater. But this NFL trend toward staunch disciplinarians is about more than the entertainment value of watching Singletary rant, Tom Coughlin fume or Bill Belichick melt snow with his surly stare. It's about building trust and confidence from an assortment of personalities that can be unsure and flaky. It's about making players drawn in a thousand directions want to follow the coach, in whatever direction he points them. It's about becoming a team the old-school way. Out of fear.
When Mike Tomlin inherited the Steelers from Bill Cowher, he rubbed some veterans the wrong way because he did things differently. He opened himself up for criticism by cutting Joey Porter and handling the touchy free-agent departure of Alan Faneca. He demanded more from everybody. He didn't show much of the personality he now shows. But in the end, the Steelers all got in line and got what Tomlin was all about. They believed in him all the way to a Super Bowl title.
The same thing is happening in New York with Ryan's Jets. He arrived boastful, demanding and supremely confident, with veterans unsure what he was all about. After one very impressive week, Ryan boasted on WFAN radio in New York, "I didn't come here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings."
And you get the feeling the Jets will fall perfectly in line behind their coach, giving not an inch to the Pats.
Then there is the Saints' Sean Payton, the "mad visor," as they call him in New Orleans. He spoke volumes to his team in the offseason when he spoke their language. Money. Payton showed so much commitment to his guys and toward winning, he gave up $250,000 of his own money so the Saints could afford to sign defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. No doubt, the Saints, who put forth the most overwhelming offensive performance in Week 1, could not help but notice Payton's commitment.
Vince Lombardi said disciplined wills refuse to give in. In an era of so much lack of discipline, those coaches able to connect and instill old-school discipline are off to a great start.
John P. Lopez can be reached at email@example.com
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