Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Maturation of Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys

"Truthfully, before the season even started, we felt different, The biggest thing is, we stay together, we play together. We're more of a family. We respect one another and we try to bring out the best in each other. That's the difference."--Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver, who scored three touchdowns and 114 yards on six receptions against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

After three consecutive mediocre, non-playoff 8-8 seasons (and much criticism from fans and the media), the Dallas Cowboys are back on top of the NFC East after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday night. The Cowboys are 10-4 and in solid playoff contention with two regular season games to go.

What are the keys to the Cowboys success this season?

1.  Making solid personnel decisions based on football needs rather than marketing needs.

The Cowboys came very close to drafting Johnny Manziel this off-season.  While Manziel could still develop into an excellent NFL quarterback, the Cowboys resisted that splashy, sexy move. The drafting of Manziel would have created a media circus and disrupted a team that needed a quiet, focused off-season to prepare for 2014.  The move would also have created the quarterback controversy that has plagued the Cleveland Browns, who did draft Manziel, the entire season.

Instead, the Cowboys have found talent in unexpected places.  The Cowboys' quarterback, Tony Romo, was an undrafted rookie, when he signed with them.  DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher this season, was drafted in the third round out of Oklahoma.  Jason Witten, their veteran tight end, was also drafted in the third round out of Tennessee.

The Cowboys also stayed true to their long-term strategy of building a strong offensive line to take advantage of their talented skill position players. Rather than focusing on getting more star players, they continued to draft and sign quality linemen to protect Romo and open holes for their running backs.    

2.  Learning the lesson of continuity and patience.

The Cowboys resisted the temptation of making wholesale changes to pacify frustrated fans. They stuck with Jason Garrett as their head coach.  There are not many teams that would have shown the patience, confidence and loyalty to their head coach that the current regime in Dallas did.  This patience is paying dividends this season and, probably, beyond.

The Cowboys have also stuck with their talented but aging stars like Romo and Witten. Romo is one of the most criticized and polarizing players in the NFL.  Romo has been criticized and questioned for his talent as well as his ability to deal with pressure situations for years, yet the Cowboys have always had extreme confidence in his play and his leadership, as well as his mental toughness.   Witten, always a solid citizen in the locker room, continues to prove his NFL Hall of Fame credentials with his blocking and pass catching.

Despite off-field problems early in his career, Bryant has also matured and the Cowboys have stuck with him as well.  His performance this year as been crucial to their success.

There is much football yet to be played this season, but the Dallas Cowboys are in the thick of things due to their maturity, patience, and sound decision-making at the top.

For more on Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, get the book:  Razor Thin:  The Difference Between Winning and Losing.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Team Virus: Have You Caught It?

How quickly can a coach lose his influence on the team?   When teams lose, we tend to blame the coach.   Is it fair?

Yes and no.  Peer pressure can destroy a team.   Team culture will dictate the outcome.  Culture and work ethic are viral. When you have individual players that negatively influence the team, you lose the team.  Do you have a team virus?

As a coach, you want your players to talk, to communicate, to give each other information and feedback about the situation at hand. However, you don't want players to "throw each other under the bus" during the game.  

For example, watch out for players who call out, blame and berate other players during the game. When things go wrong, do you have a player who will yell at other players for mistakes, blown assignments, bad passes, lack of hustle, etc.?   Often if a player is yelling at his/her teammates, they have lost focus on their own responsibilities, even for a split second.  If he/she yells at a teammate, after the fact, you now have two unfocused players (maybe more, if the other players hear it and start to worry about their mistakes and whether they will be blamed and ridiculed, too).

The other team will pick up on this and will smell blood.  They are more likely to go on the attack and take advantage of this negative dynamic.  

Watch for body language and non-verbal behavior in your players for evidence of the team virus.

A missed assignment, a mistake, or a blown coverage is for the coach to address and correct. Make sure your team understands this. If a teammate gets involved in the coaching (especially during play), that may not be what you want.  In fact, if you are a player in the game, on the court, in the field, you want to quickly forget the mistake and move on.  Instructions are better given before play, not after a play when players can do nothing about it anyway.

Coaches should coach and players should play.  Don't give your opponent the advantage by letting your players coach themselves and negatively affect team cohesion.

Don't let negativity and player influence go viral.  Don't let your season get away from you due to a team virus.