Five leadership stories from NFL training camp
NFL training camps around the country are gearing up for another season, and fans of every team can afford to be hopeful. 2010 is still a blank canvas, but as we look forward to the upcoming season there are a few leadership stories worth highlighting.
1. A turn-around in Washington?
Since Daniel Snyder became the owner of the Washington Redskins in 1999, a distinct pattern has emerged. The Redskins pay top dollar for marquee free agents, but typically flame out and miss the playoffs. In fact, the Skins have only made the playoffs three times since 1999 (1999, 2005, and 2007), demonstrating that it takes more than money to develop a winner. The dysfunction last year in Washington was well chronicled, but then a funny thing happened. The moves they made for 2010 actually made sense. Snyder brought in established leaders, such as Mike Shanahan as the Head Coach and Executive Vice President of Football Operations. More importantly, Snyder is giving Shanahan the controls, and the time he needs to build the franchise back up. Not only did the Redskins upgrade leadership on the sidelines, but they also brought in Donovan McNabb to shore up things on the field. Initial accounts are that he has injected confidence into the franchise.
2. The behavior of Big Ben
While "Big Ben" has used good decision making (and a stellar defense) to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to two championships on the field, he has demonstrated atrocious decision making off the field. From a 2006 motorcycle accident where he wasn't wearing a helmet, sexual assault allegations in 2008 and 2010, and a Sports Illustrated expose detailing numerous accounts of Big Ben acting like a Big Jerk, Roethlisberger's popularity in Pittsburgh has plummeted. While police failed to file charges for the latest sexual assault allegation, commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for six games for violating the league's conduct policy. As the on-field leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it will be interesting to see how Ben reacts, and where his suspension leaves the Steelers in the standings. Initial reports point to Ben being a model citizen, but let's wait and see whether Big Ben has really broken out of his self-destructive cycle.
3. The looming lockout
An 18 game schedule. Expanded rosters. A blood test for human growth hormone. A "legacy fund" to support retired players. A rookie wage scale. All of these will be on the table as leaders representing the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and league owners try to negotiate terms for the next collective bargaining agreement. The primary issue at stake is, as always, money. The current salary cap is set to expire, and if that happens large market teams will continually outbid smaller market teams. More importantly, players' salaries will skyrocket, and none of the owners want that. Owners want revenue distributions to be closer to 50/50. Fans will watch how leaders of both sides - the players and the owners - position themselves over the next year. And the posturing has already started: NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said of the chance that football will not be played in 2011, "on a scale from 1 to 10, it's a 14." Even the owners have started saving their money. Hopefully, leaders of both sides won't forget the lessons from the league's last strike in 1987, and will realize that everyone stands to gain if they come to an agreement before the 2011 season.
4. Stafon Johnson keeps striving
While Broken Bells' James Mercer and Danger Mouse may not have had football on their minds when penning the song October, Tennessee Titans' rookie, Stafon Johnson, continues to personify the lyrics: There's no shortcut to a dream. Johnson fought his way onto an NFL preseason roster as an undrafted free agent less than a year after his larynx was crushed during a weightlifting accident at USC. The resilient running back embraced a painstaking regiment of physical therapy re-learning how to talk and then training himself back into football shape. While some were considering Johnson a roster spot longshot, his grit and hustle were beginning to turn heads. After amassing 35 total yards in his first NFL contest, Johnson suffered a devastating ankle injury that required immediate surgery. While his NFL future is in doubt, Johnson Tweets it's nothing more than a bump in the round. It's hard to believe that there won't be at least one locker-room that could use a player with as much drive and courage as Johnson's, and some team leaders may be savvy in looking to a guy like Johnson to contribute his guts and desire to the organization.
5. Coffee's calling
After only one season of professional football, third-round draft pick Glenn Coffee has retired. The once San Francisco 49er has called it quits, saying that he has found a higher calling through religion and plans to return to school to finish his undergraduate degree and pursue a master's. In spite of his reasons, Coffee has made an intriguing decision. Simply put, he's turning aside an economically fruitful gig as a pro baller to get back to the books and serve mankind - certainly not a typical choice. Regardless of what some will think of his path, give credit to a guy who has enough conviction to turn aside a celebrity lifestyle in pursuit of bettering himself and his world. He may be someone to keep tabs on moving forward, as history has often proven that great leaders sometimes choose the less obvious paths.
These are five stories we'll be following this season. We'd love to hear about the stories that have captured your attention - what did we miss?
August 17, 2010; 3:23 PM ET
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