Andrew Greif posted a terrific article yesterday evening at oregonlive.com, talking about the ways new defensive coordinator Don Pellum already has brought new accountability and discipline to the team, insisting that players make a full effort in workouts and be on time. On time means early, Pellum says. Veterans are expected to set the pace in conditioning, and there's a greater sense of competition for starting roles.
Pushing buttons, pulling levers: finding the right mix of discipline and accountability is a constant challenge for a head coach. The game is supposed to be fun, but to succeed, training and practice have to be rigorous and the standards high (Soobum Images, USA Today Sports).
Greif quotes Tony Washington, who says things were allowed to slip last year. Little stuff, Washington says. “Guys missing workouts and guys coming up late, falling asleep in meetings,” Washington said on a recent misty morning after running with teammates inside Autzen Stadium. “If you let it slide it just builds up into just, ‘Oh maybe I can get away with this. Maybe I don’t have to play as hard on this play, maybe I can just show up and win,' and that hurt us in the end.”
That doesn't sound like little stuff. That sounds like a team with a serious discipline issue and an entitled attitude, and suggests that last year's November slide was more than just injuries, bad luck and a momentary lapse in focus.
If Pellum's commitment to organization, with backpacks in a row and everyone making their bed, rubs off on this team as a whole and produces a measurable change in the way the Ducks go about their business, that could be a good thing, but teams like Stanford and Michigan State regard this kind of discipline as a normal part of the work day. The Spartans conduct winter workouts at 5:30 in the morning. The Cardinal attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and they have a 100% graduation rate.
I like what the new DC has had to say so far and have come around to the conclusion that he could do a great job, but the team Washington describes doesn't sound like a Chip Kelly organization.
It's the kind of quote that makes you ask, who is in charge here, and what else is going on?
It could be that Oregon's turnovers, poor tackling, struggles in scoring territory and inopportune penalties in key games last year were symptoms of a team that lacked fundamental discipline in preparation.
After the loss to Arizona that dropped the Ducks out of national title and Rose Bowl contention. costing them a fourth straight trip to a BCS bowl and a chance at a fourth straight 12-win season, Helfrich had to suspend two players for a violation of team rules. Washington's comments make you wonder if the team had any rules.
If you put a group of 18-22-year-olds in a 68 million dollar building with Italian leather seats and a floor-to-ceiling Xbox screen, you had better make sure the adults are setting expectations for effort, commitment and devotion to achieving your potential. The Ducks recruit good kids and give them every tool to succeed, but football is a game that rewards consistency. Organization and discipline have to be woven into the fabric of everything you do.
The Italian marble showers and Brazilian hardwood floors are impressive, but they won't block and tackle anybody.
It's a more complicated time with Social Media and the increasingly intricate web of NCAA regulations, but when Pete Carroll was at USC, he always favored open practices. He felt it got the players competing, and ramped up the energy in drills and scrimmages. While having media and fans on hand could be a distraction and even a potential security risk with cell phone cameras and text messaging, it might improve the effort level also. Athletes live to be noticed and love to compete. Behind the high walls and black facade, it's easier to get too comfortable. Maybe some added transparency would benefit the team and connect it more securely to the Eugene community, help to weed out the laxity that Washington alluded to.