Saturday, May 12, 2012

Players leading just as important as coaches leading, if not more so

According to a Lincoln Journal Star blog, Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis was one of the featured speakers at the Big Red Academy's Leadership 101 seminar.

Papuchis emphasized how leadership is important but cultivating and developing better leadership has been the Huskers’ biggest objective within the program this offseason. Papuchis went on to say this offseason has been about breaking players into smaller groups, not just necessarily by positions groups, but even groups within the position group. Within those groups, qualified players were picked by coaches to lead:

“For example, the defensive backs, if one of their members is late to a weightlifting session, I’m going to have my say, and Bo’s going to have his say. But what I’d love to have happen is one of the other DBs grab the guy by the shirt and say, ‘That’s not OK. It’s not OK at Nebraska to be late to your weightlifting.’ Because that message resonates a lot longer than me saying, ‘I don’t want this happening.’ … Because players want the respect of their teammates. They want the guys on their team to know that they’re working hard, that they believe in what they’re doing. So giving that responsibility to a teammate to enforce a little bit of discipline that goes a long way.”

The Unity Council was a staple of the Tom Osborne era, particularly the National Championship years of the 1990s. While it still exists, it is no longer decided on a team vote.

“Because whatever you vote on, there’s certain elements of popularity or seniority that goes into it,” Papuchis said. “And that doesn’t necessarily reflect true leadership. It just kind of reflects who's been there the longest or who’s the funniest or whatever. What we’ve kind of gone to is a Unity Council, but a Unity Council that is fluid in its membership. And one that it's a little harder club to get into.”

What Papuchis is saying is very true. Husker head coach Bo Pelini has a persuasive personality but at some point players tune out the coach. I’m not suggesting that Nebraska players have done that to Pelini but if you have vocal leaders that are preaching the same message as the coach, then the coach’s message carries that much more weight as Papuchis suggested.

You can’t help but think back to the Osborne days and the constants that were the heart of the program, this gives me hope that this staff realizes what is lacking today. Osborne said himself that having that upperclassman leadership was vital when playing on the road. When keeping a team sharp after big wins. Paraphrasing, he said to Bob Costas, it was what was missing before that run in the 1990s. Having special players that took control was as big a reason as any why Nebraska went 60-3 from 1993-1997 with three National Championships.

Having the same offense and coaches intact back then, was a much easier proposition than the past decade’s attempts. Osborne always said it was those little things that tripped you up. Starting a freshman at quarterback and underclassmen in the lines meant that the little things were bypassed for expediency. It showed in the penalties and missed assignments too often. Teaching the underclassman was a problem, but having to teach a young coaching staff a new system every season wasn’t a recipe for excellence.

I realize that feel good stories are nice this time of year because this team has far to go. However, at least they are trying to figure out how to get better. That cannot hurt.

Peer accountability, in my opinion, is always one of the most important facets for any team. Coaches will always have a loud say, but you have to have guys within the locker room that aren’t afraid to have their voice heard when in a tight spot or a teammate is stepping out of line.

The officers (coaches) are definitely in charge but a reminder from a Sargent (player) is sometimes needed when in the heat of battle or when a private is shirking his responsibility. Obviously, if it continues the Sargent reports it to the officers and they deal with it but problems can be stopped before they become problems.

You’re not going to have the coach there every second, so it’s another set of eyes and another set of people holding you accountable. Second, the players spend more time with each other than with the coaches and they will relate to each other more than they relate to the coaches as individuals. You expect a coach to ride you on occasion and may discount some of the guidance as them just setting a tone for the whole group and not being directed at you. The people you want to let down least are your peers and if one of them calls you out, you will take it more personally.

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