A Coach's Instinct
If winning in professional football depended only on selecting quarterbacks, we could all be pro coaches. Bringing a team like the Cardinals to the Super Bowl involves decision on individual players for sure. But those decisions represent a subset of a complex and grueling process of the building and managing of a team that starts in February with the draft and grinds into its last hard hitting weeks of the season after Thanksgiving.
The way the NFL shares television income and manages salary caps helps to maintain a level of competition in which any team can win on game day. The margins of victory in important games usually depend on shades of difference - fingers slipping from a passed ball, bad footing on a running back's cut, a half step missed by an offensive lineman attempting to block a blitzing linebacker, a quarterback forcing a pass that becomes an interception. As in business, politics, and military affairs, winning consistently means the tightest variation in individual performance play after play, the fewest mistakes at key points in the game, occasional instances of electrifying individual initiative, and luck.
A coach does not get all the blue chip players he wants. So, along with that selection of his quarterback go a number of equally important dilemmas on other positions, on players old and young. After observing performance in practice, assessing feedback from fellow coaches, and going over all the statistics, selection of starters and future stars becomes a gut call. In these critical decisions a sense of players' maturity, athletic potential and physical endurance come together with the coaches instincts. The intuition that allows one coach to see potential where others do not depends on experience, a nose for character, and a gift of insight that in the aftermath of decision defies explanation. In winning though, making the right choice about talent is only part of the story.
Bringing a team to coalesce around key players must be one the most difficult things coaches, CEO's, presidents, and military leaders do. In a long season like the one the Cardinals experienced this year, building cohesion and confidence and a sense of initiative under pressure, played a central part in generating the momentum which carried them to Sunday. By the coaches he picked for his staff, marshaling their efforts, and personally influencing situations on the practice and playing fields, Coach Whisenhut provided the intangibles that helped his team find its rhythm and reach its potential. Week after week, this coaching staff, no matter how frustrated after tough losses, had to build game plans that made a difference and motivate and instruct players how to perform their parts effectively. Winning depends on planning and preparation. But luck also intrudes in many ways. Teams with multiple injured starters don't often get to Super Bowls.
After the game next Sunday, win or lose, coach Whisenhut will look back on a season in which success depended fundamentally on his effort, instincts, and gut calls. But there will also be turning points, instances of team performance good and bad, and that occasional decision on a player, that he will not be able to explain. Leading well does involve technique, practice, and even science, but in the tough spots, intangibles based on scar-tissue-learning, character, and self-discipline separate the great leaders from the good ones.
Posted by: RetiredSoldier | January 28, 2009 10:07 AM
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