Posts Tagged ‘NFL football

20
Jul
10

Don Coryell: Communications Genius (1924-2010)

Don Coryell (photo courtesy AP)

Don Coryell was a communications genius, although he wasn’t a professional communicator. He was a football coach, a coach who revolutionized how offenses are run in football. Coryell recently passed away at the age of 85, and Sports Illustrated took the occasion to run a major piece on his contribution to the game in their July 12, 2010 edition. Professional communicators, particularly those who design web sites, could learn a lesson from the man.

What made him so unique? Coryell (the communicator) devised a very effective play-calling method for his players (his audience) when he was the head coach at San Diego State for 12 seasons (1961-72). It enabled his offenses to discern and run very intricate plays with a minimum of information. Football players have very little time between plays to process information. When it’s late in the game and the weather is lousy and the fans are loud, those elements can further complicate the ability to communicate. In order to be successful, each of the 11 guys on the field has to understand their individual assignment on each play. One mental mistake by one guy can be the difference in a play that results in a positive net gain or a loss – or even worse, a turnover!

Here’s what he did. Prior to Coryell, offensive plays were referred to by a formation plus a name for the play. For example, “Power I Maverick.” “Power I” referred to the formation and “Maverick” was the play. You certainly hoped your guys had memorized the playbook! The SI article goes on to describe how Coryell’s system was brilliant and why it has stood the test of time. In football, teams often use two wide outs, in football speak referred to as the X and Z receivers. Another receiver, called the split end because he plays close to the line, is often called the slot receiver and is designated by the letter Y. So, you have the X, Y and Z receivers. With me so far?

Coryell devised a numbering system to identify pass routes for those receivers. Let’s use the example of the play here, the 525 F Post Swing (image left). According to Sports Illustrated, “Routes for the outside receivers in a formation (the X and Z receivers) were assigned single digits, from 1 to 9; routes for an inside (or Y) receiver were assigned multiples of 10, from 10 to 90.” The numbers corresponded to different pass routes. For the X and Z receivers, a 1 route is a curl route, a 2 is a basic out, a 3 is a skinny post, etc. The route list for the Y receivers were assigned multiples of 10. And the route descriptions are precise! All a wide receiver had to memorize, however, was what pass patterns 10 digits corresponded to, not memorize a whole playbook the size of a metropolitan phone book.

Getting back to our example, the play called 525 F Post Swing, the X and Z receivers run a 5 route (a 15-yard comeback) and the Y receiver runs a 20 route, a shallow cross. “F Post” just gives the F position, which in this example is a running back, directions to run a post pattern. “Swing” refers to the formation the team should line up in. Not that hard, right? Every play was built from the foundation of the digits.

The key was Coryell’s system was visual, not cognitive. As quarterback Trent Green said in the article, “It was always a great thing for me… The first thing I do when a play comes into my headset is visualize it. In this system, with every play call, you’re actually telling everybody what to do by what you say. Instead of saying, ‘I Right Omaha,’ you’re saying, ‘R 428 H Stop,’ and that tells everybody what to do, instead of relying on their memorization.”

Simply put, Coryell designed a way to make it easy for his audience to understand his message. He had high respect for them and figured out a way for them to get his message easily, with a minimum of effort. He didn’t leave them to figure it out. In his profession, it enabled his football teams to run very complex plays – and win a lot of games! He was way ahead of his peers. Tony Dungy, winner of Super Bowl XLI as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, told SI, “Super Bowls count so much now; that’s all anyone talks about. But if you talk about impact on the game, training other coaches – John Madden, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs to name a few – and influencing how things are done, Don Coryell is probably right up there with Paul Brown. He was a genius.”

Sadly, Coryell isn’t in the NFL Hall of Fame yet. Two coaches who were once his assistants, Madden and Gibbs, already are. The only thing Coryell lacks on his resume is a championship. His contribution to the game is already legendary.

08
May
10

Another Bust Bites the Dust: Raiders Fire Russell

Photo: Associated Press

This just kills me. Sports Illustrated online columnist on Don Banks, a former Minnesota Vikings beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote a post-mortem piece today on the Oakland Raiders releasing, i.e., firing, their starting quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick from 2007, JaMarcus Russell. The apparent cause was a lack of motivation and work ethic by Young Mr. Russell. I’ve heard this before: A player liked the trappings being a pro athlete gave him more than he loved the challenge of excelling at the game which game him the lifestyle in the first place. Now he’s done.

The Raiders committed $39.6(m) for Russell’s first contract, but according to Banks’ piece, the money might as well have been spent in Vegas. As one of his sources said:

“[The Raiders] knew the question about his self-motivation going into the 2007 draft. They gambled, and they lost. I just think he doesn’t really want to be an NFL player. He was a great college football player, but he didn’t want it in the NFL.”

There’s an accompanying photo gallery featuring some superb photos (none are mine, however) of Russell from his college days at LSU and as a pro along with comments from 12 football experts giving their prognosis on his skills and his future as an NFL QB.  Only one of the experts wondered about his work ethic. One. “It (his pre-draft work out) just blew me away. If I had the first, second, third, fourth, fifth pick in that draft, I would be tearing apart his personal life trying to figure out whether or not I could trust this kid with $10-million …,” said NFL Networks analyst Mike Maycock.

Apparently, the Raiders didn’t do enough homework. Now here’s my point: If you were spending that kind of money on a rookie, wouldn’t you want to be sold on his work ethic and leadership abilities? I would. It goes without saying that you can have the most talent in the world, but if you have little work ethic or are a high maintenance person (needing a lot of attention to get you going), you won’t amount to much. One of my mentors as a young guy was Ron Woodey, general manager of the St. Paul Vulcans and a scout for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Mr. Woodey always wanted to know whether a player was an “overachiever.” Whether for the Vulcans or the Flyers, a player’s work ethic was a question he wanted to have answered sufficiently. Years later, that has stuck with me.

Good luck, JaMarcus Russell. I hope you saved your money.

01
May
10

Yahoo! says former Lions player a bust. Really?!

Photo by Vince Muzik

Left over thoughts from the NFL Draft. Yahoo! sports blogger Doug Farrar wrote this in his Shutdown Corner column “Draft Busts of the 2000s: Where are they now?”

LB Ernie Sims, Florida State: Recently traded to the Eagles, Sims was yet another (former Lions GM) Matt Millen overdraft – he was taken ninth overall despite serious concussion issues in college. So far, he’s been most noted in the NFL as a rangy but undisciplined player who tends to whiff mightily in space.

Click the link to Ernie Sims stats and you’ll notice he’s listed as six feet tall. Ernie Sims is NOT six feet tall! If he is six feet tall, I am Michael Jackson.

Back in 2007, I covered a Lions game at Ford Field. At one point as I was standing on the sideline, I found myself standing only a few feet away from Sims. I’m not particularly tall, and Sims was shorter than I am. He’s about 5-foot-8 (at the most). Scouts will often show up to see a player and give him the “eye ball test.” In other words they’ll show up to see the guy in person just to make sure they really are as advertised. Sims should have flunked the test. Combine that with his concussion issues, and it’s likely Sims should have never been rated a first rounder by anyone.

As former Iowa Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry used to say, “Big fast people beat little fast people.” The constant in Fry’s equation is the word fast, i.e., speed. Being 6-foot4, 220 lbs. doesn’t automatically make one an athlete. There’s more to it than that. You must be able to move. And if a guy has a head for the game and he can play, then he’s a player no matter his height.

Sims a “Millen overdraft”? As a first rounder, yes. Sims is a terrific athlete, and he still could blossom into the next Sam Mills, another “short” linebacker who had tremendous success in the NFL. But taking a guy who’s undersized that much leaves you open for heaps of criticism if the guy flops. I liken it to what famous Fidelity Fund manager Peter Lynch once said about picking stocks: If you buy IBM and it goes down, people wonder, “What’s wrong with IBM?” If you buy a small growth stock of a company few have ever of before (like Pep Boys Manny, Moe and Jack) and it goes down, people will say, “What’s the matter with YOU!” Same applies here.

Ernie Sims has been well compensated financially for whatever trauma there was to being an “overdraft.” Hopefully, things will work for him in Philly.

 

08
Sep
09

An Open Letter to Michael Vick

Dear Michael:

Thanks for giving me one of your autographed rookie cards back in 2001 at the rookie shoot in Orlando. I’m sure you remember me. But I’m really disappointed the value of your card has plummeted, from $1400 to about ten bucks and change now. I’m out some net worth here!

Dog fighting and the way you treated those animals is not cool. It was immoral. And you deserved to go to jail. Besides, you weren’t a very good criminal. Why didn’t you just give the money to one of your stupid homies, have the property put in their name instead of yours so you could maintain some sort of plausible deniability. I know “plausible deniability” is a big phrase for a guy who never completed college, but I think you get the idea.

I did buy your remorseful interview on 60 Minutes with James Brown. What sold me were your opening remarks about hearing the door slam behind you the magnitude of your decision-making finally hit you. It’s sad that for some people it takes getting to the bottom of the barrel before they realize they need to change their lives. I suppose we’ve all been there in some way, shape or form. Leonard Little resumed his career with the St. Louis Rams without much protest after killing a woman while driving intoxicated in 1998. He got only 90 days in jail. The difference between your situation and his is that a lot of people have driven while intoxicated — and made it home. They know deep down on another night they may have wound up like Leonard Little. But killing a dog? Most people can’t relate to that mind set.

Vick2A

Good luck on your second chance with the Eagles. Thanks, again, for the card.

Vince