From the FanPosts. -Chris
Malcolm Gladwell's latest work, the fantastic Outliers, examines and propagates the basic idea that the overachievers and heroes we celebrate so often aren't always that, well, over, for lack of a better term. In other words, the greatest athletes we hold so high as "best in sport" are often products of their environment. Someone comes along with the right skill set, finds the perfect coaching system, in the ideal era within that particular sport, etc. Sure there might be a few in sports history extraordinarily gifted - Dwight Howard and Lebron James come to mind - but that mostly these All-Stars are great athletes who also got a leg up with a bit of luck and environment to help.
Alas, that's the case in all of society, so our beloved football team is no less immune or susceptible to such surrounding factors. Simply put: the Kansas City Chiefs won't win or lose in a bubble in 2009. League scheduling. Officiating. Division rivals. Weather. League-wide tendencies. Staff chemistry. Locker room issues (or non-issues). Health concerns. Training staff. Field conditions. They all play into the 22 guys who stare opposite each other on the sideline 16 games each year.
With that said, one thing becomes obvious: so much is simply out of a team's control. You can't do anything about weather. Some teams just seem ridiculously "cursed" each year by outrageous injuries (Big Ben's motorcycle, staph infection in a locker room?!). Poor officiating can definitely affect an entire division race or playoff push. Schedules ebb and flow from easy to difficult. A tragedy befalls a player or coach and becomes a distraction or, better yet, a rallying cry. Hurricane Katrina, for crying out loud, ruined an entire Saints season.
What's a team to do, then? With so many X-factors, I contend that the best thing a team can do is actually fairly simple:
Those few things a team can control, do them extremely well.
This may sound simple or even stupid to have to say. But look around the league (and especially the AFC West) and you realize that even guys bright enough to ascend to the top of front offices or to make millions of dollars outside the NFL world can't understand this simple fact. While you cannot do a thing about rain clouds that ruin your running strategy or which division you will play next year, you can certainly control a few certainly have every bit of say in certain things that, luckily the Chiefs seem to understand.
1. Commitment - Once the Scott Pioli seal of approval was created in Kansas City, everyone immediately got on board to stamp it everywhere. Absolutely everyone from the owner of the entire team to Mr. Irrelevant is expected to be in line with a very specific set of philosophies concerning media discussion, privacy and team direction and chemistry. Those who aren't in will be out. And there's a strong sense of "trust us, you will want to be in." Whether or not these things eventually lead to wins isn't the key concern, since, as previously discussed, so much else plays into it. But controlling this from the outset will prove to be quite important.
2. Communication - So much of the NFL is about communication. If a player speaks to the media himself and demands certain things, that affects a locker room. Then if the team communicates that they can (or cannot) be held hostage by such approaches, that also affects the locker room. And in a sport where heart and passion and motivation are key elements on-field, it's absolutely devastating for a team to have multiple mouthpieces and multiple messages. But when a team communicates well - that is, a unified mouthpiece and message - the results are often exciting.
3. Consistency - This is easiest to understand. Pick a direction. Stick to it. If we've learned anything in this modern NFL era where parity reigns, it's the fact that there are multiple ways to win a Super Bowl. You need a superstar QB (Manning). You only need a serviceable quarterback (Dilfer). You need to win in the trenches (Giants). You can get by with mediocrity in the trenches (Steelers O-line). Experienced, smart head coach (Pats). Young, smart head coach (Steelers). High-powered offense (Rams). Relentless defense (Bucs, Ravens).
So there's no guarantee that the one direction you choose will work or not work. There are 32 teams vying for that one coveted position of hoisting the Lombardi trophy overhead, so 31 philosophies will not work in a given year. But the consistency theme is the one found in each and every Super Bowl champion. It's the teams that have chosen their one direction and absolutely see it through to the end that remain the most impressive. And it's the teams that change schemes and directions like outfits that become the NFL's laughingstock(s).
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I'm sure there are more and maybe we'll get to those in future parts of this series. But over the next couple weeks, I'll be diving into this further by looking at teams that do these things well, teams that refuse to believe in these values and how the Chiefs look to fare in the meantime.