Month: February 2014

Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin and Coach K

The recent relationship as it were between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is a societal and sporting failure on multiple levels, and not the least of which is the leadership of the Miami Dolphins.  Incognito is what he is, a large,  but small minded man with NFL level physical talent and an overwhelming wealth of insecurities masked as toughness.  Martin is a large, fairly intelligent man with NFL level physical talent and considerable insecurities of his own.  Theirs was a perverse, parasitic attraction of opposites.

That this relationship was allowed to fester to it’s public destruction lies at the feet of the Miami Dolphins and their failed attempt at crafting a winning football team.  This week they fired their offensive line coach and head trainer, as head coach Joe Philbin improbably maintained that he was unaware of the details of his team’s culture.  The staff should be fired en masse, but not for moral reasons alone.

The responsibility of the head coach is to assemble a winning football team.  This is never accomplished without the development of individual relationships within the organization and the creation of a collective culture.  If Joe Philbin was unaware of what was going in in his locker room he was negligent in his duties, and if he was, he was incompetent in allowing a player of Incognito’s mentality to lead.

Incognito felt he had license to “toughen”Martin up, but his misguided methods comtributed to “breaking” Martin.

Coach K is a love/hate figure in college basketball, but he is a significant contributor to coaching and leadership.  Coach K is a graduate of West Point, and the United States Military’s “break and build” development model, but the break in the building of troops is not the destruction of the core of who a person is, rather a breaking of the mental barriers between belief and accomplishment.

He speaks of finding the heart of his team, a player who may not be the most talented, but who’s motives are pure and following this heart.  As coaches, it is among our most significant decisions who we allow to lead on our teams.  It is a decision that speaks for us and will define our outcome. 

Philbin failed when he gave Incognito a voice.  Teams can succeed with players like Incognito, but only when they exist insecurely on the periphery of a strong and pure team culture.  The Bulls succeeded with Dennis Rodman because the team was led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.  In the context of a weaker, corrupted culture Rodman proved a divisive distraction.

Championship teams have a heart that leads them on their journey.  Mediocre to bad teams are heartless, purposeless collections of individual.

A Retrospective of Our Anomalous Season

By the grace of God, the sediment of friendship and the whim of good fortune, I was back coaching this season at Lake Howell High School.  I coached the junior varsity Silverhawks.  We finished the year 15-10, but it is the journey that will stay within us as we move ahead with our lives.  This post is a retrospective of that journey.

We opened the season at Seminole High School where I have never lost.  We played well in the first half building a double figure lead midway through the second quarter.  We stumbled a bit before half, but still led 28-20.  I was confident that we were the better team, but the second half was a war.  Seminole pressed and fought us to take a 51-47 lead with under a minute to play.  We pressed, attacked the basket and offensive glass to tie it with under 20 seconds.  Seminole missed, we rebounded and pushed the ball up the floor with the clock winding down.  We took a running half court shot as time expired…..and were fouled.  The Noles defender took a tough angle to challenge the shot and could not avoid contact.  We hit the free throws and won our opener.

Next we traveled to Winter Springs to play my good friend Logan Malmberg.  The game was tight throughout,  but I felt we let ourselves down just before the half, and late in the third quarter when we failed to expand on two possession leads.   Winter Springs pulled in front in the fourth behind some inspired offensive rebounding.  In the closing minute, we hit a three to cut their lead to two, and rebounded a missed free throw with a chance to tie, but couldn’t get a shot up in time falling 54-52.

We played OCP next on the road, and turned a close game in our favor with a sublime 22-0 run to start the second half.  It was the first time in three games that we didn’t have a white-knuckle finish.  I was relieved.

Our first home game was against Lake Mary.  We played an excellent first half and led 28-15.  It felt as though we turned a corner.  We didn’t.   Lake Mary fought back in the second half hitting a 60 foot shot at the buzzer of the third quarter cutting our lead to four.  The game was notable for a clock malfunction that persisted throughout a tense fourth quarter.   Only after the game did we realize the cause of our technical difficulties.  Thankfully, we did just enough to hold on 50-46.  I was proud of the way we fought and played in the closing minutes of tight games, but was becoming increasingly convinced we stood in our own way of controlling these type of games.

We hosted Orange County’s Timber Creek the next night, again spoiling a first half lead and pulling things out right at the end.   We were living dangerously,  and I was concerned that we were mentally accepting that this is how our games would play out.  Almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that prevented us from seeing the game as something that we could dominate or at the least control.

At Lake Brantley,  we led by five at the half and I gave the “s… happens” speech.  If we accepted that our games would be decided in the final minute, we must also accept that the outcome is random.  With one play separating the teams anything can happen, but by playing well enough to build a two possession lead, we can mimimize chance and manage the game.  Lake Brantley hit a tough shot with 4.3 seconds left, and we couldn’t get a shot up before time expired losing 61-59.  So much for fancy speeches.  On the whole, I was proud of how we competed.  The game featured some excellent individual performances and tangible progress in our ability to attack full court pressure.

We built a 49-37 lead against East Ridge with 6:36 to play, and then played some of our worst basketball of the season up to that point.  We hurried on offense forcing plays that didn’t exist, while the Knights patiently ran their sets and clawed to within one with 2:44 to play.  The teams combined for one basket the rest of the way, and we won 54-51.  It felt like a loss…..almost.

At Oviedo, we played the great Ray Ridenour, he of two hall of fame inductions.  We jumped out early to a 15-8 lead, and led 22-19 at the half.  I felt comfortable, but I shouldn’t have.  The Lions out-scored us by ten in the third.  I struggled to find a combination of guys that could bring us back, but we got there leading by one with 19.7 seconds left.  Oviedo called time-out, and we had four fouls to give so I instructed my team to foul before Oviedo could advance the ball and take a shot.  I later learned, Ray had prepared his players to be fouled upon getting the ball inbounds.  For reasons that remain unknown,  we did not foul and Oviedo, surprised, dribbled around for several seconds without a clear plan.  Finally, with one second left, we fouled trying for a steal.  Oviedo inbounded near midcourt and missed a deep three at the buzzer.  Another escape.

Lyman was a game I did not anticipate.  We were lethargic defensively most of the night, but kept the game close until the fourth quarter, when Lyman went on a vital run.  We were down 11 with just under two minutes to play and close to dead.  Full credit to the resilience of our guys who cut the lead to one with under ten seconds to play.  Lyman inbounded full court against our press and found a guy over the top for a three point lead, but with four seconds left we pushed the ball bacl up the floor and hit a three….just after the buzzer.  Tough loss.

We bounced back and played a good half of basketball against Wekiva to lead 30-29 at the half.  I had great respect for Wekiva’s length and athleticism, but was thrilled with we competed and played within our game plan.  We endured a brutal offensive drought I’m the second half and fell by 11.  I was upbeat because we were competing and coachable.

The Lake Mary Prep Holiday Tourney pitted us against our old adversary Winter Springs.  We again produced a strong first half to lead by six, and had a back door lay up to start the second half.  It would be our final highlight in a back to back 11 point loss.  Our third loss in three games.  Worse for me was that fact we had spoiled strong first halves and failed to keep either game competitive in the final minute.  Crisis was upon us.

We stumbled back with an ugly win over Hagerty’s freshman team playing up for the weekend, and trounced an overmatched Windermere Prep team before taking a break for the Holidays.  We were 8-5, but a fragile team struggling to find it’s identity.  Our first game back would be against Hagery’s JV, and my friend Wes Below, who scouted us during the Lake Mary Prep Tourney.

We played our best game of the season against the Huskies winning 63-39.  I was thrilled.  We played well in every phase, and experienced what domination against a credible opponent felt like.

The feeling was short-lived as Winter Park took us to the woodshed in a 69-42 loss that was truly the low point of the season for me.

I was deeply concerned about our mentality as we faced Winter Springs for the third and final time of the season.  Having lost twice already and coming off our worst performance of the season, it was a must win.  It turned out to be an extraordinary and memorable game.  We were tied at 15 after won, and then played each other to a dreadful 4-2 second quarter.  Neither team ever lead by more than four after the first eight minutes.  We trailed by two with 21.7 seconds left, but were fouled and hit two free throws to tie.  Winter Springs responded with a huge basket to go up two with four seconds left.  After a time-out we pushed the ball up the floor and hit a three at the buzzer to win.  It was the best moment of the season.

We played East Ridge on the road and hit a three at the buzzer of the first half to lead 27-19.  The second half became a borderline insufferable tractor pull.  We lost the lead, got it back and stood eight seconds from victory.   East Ridge advanced the ball, but on the most uneven of nights, we were perfect when it mattered most blocking a potential game tying shot.

3-1 since the break, but playing unevenly at best, I was struggling to get a handle on the team tactically and emotionally.   I went all in and decided we would press Wekiva, fall back to zone and take the game to them.  We trailed 13-1 90 seconds into the game, and I called a rare first quarter time-out.  Slowly, we hit a few shots and found the rhythm of the game.  We trailed by two at the half, but gained valuable confidence.   Early in the fourth, I felt we had them.  They were out of sorts, we believed and went up 48-41.  One of my guys got hurt on a foul, and with a sub at the table to get him, missed a free throw.  We took a foul to get him out.  Wekiva hit the first free throw, missed the second, but got a put back to cut the lead to four.  It started a 13-0 run, and we trailed by 6. 

We kept fighting and finding a way forcing overtime…and a second overtime…and a third.  It was surreal right to the final second when our last shot rattled out and we fell 71-70.  Fall isn’t quite right as beyond the final score I will always remember the resolve, playmaking and pride I had in my guys that night.

A few times every season, I ask my players to think about what someone who had never seen them play would say after watching them.  Would they respect you?  When this game ended, everyone in the gym respected my guys.  Our home fans gave the team a standing ovation as they entered the gym during the varsity game.

The night before our triple overtime game, Wekiva beat Oviedo by 30.  Ray Ridenour spent the freshman game blow smoke up our rear end, then took the court and put us in a 15-0 hole.  It was inexplicable and embarassing.  We pulled even by half-time, and won on the last play of the game when another Oviedo three pointer went astray. 

Somewhere in this run of games, I accepted that this team was an unbroken, crazy colt that would not be tamed or even figured out.

We trailed 22-2 at Lake Mary before picking up full court man, and grinding our way back into the game before
falling 47-41.

Lake Brantley fielded only eight players, but foiled my plans to press and run them into the ground with timely three point shooting.  Both teams stood toe to toe down the stretch and separated by a buzzer beating put back…in our favor.

I had high hopes for our return game with Lyman,  but they built a 12 point half-time lead that could have been bigger, but for a buzzer beating three.  We picked up full court and clawed back to tie the game at 44.  Then I hurt us bad, by switching to zone thinking I could change the game.  Lyman went on a run and we lost by double figures.

Seminole beat us by 10 in a game we just never got a hold of.  We were 13-10, but limping to the finish.  We welcomed Cornerstone to our place for our final home game, and played fitfully in the first half before pulling away in the second.

Our final game was on the road at Hagerty, and I was desperate to win.  We played well and won by eight in a complete performance to reach 15-10.

I am thankful for every player that shared this journey, and hope the memories linger long beyond our final night together.

Philosophical Notes From Arrigo Sacchi

I am in the final third of Jonathan Wilson’s “Inverting the Pyramid”, and came across a chapter on Arrigo Sacchi’s great Milan team.  I was not yet a soccer fan at the time his team ruled Europe, and remember him primarily as the joy-sucking,  old fart who pulled Roberto Baggio from a World Cup game in 1994.  Turns out there is more to the man than this twenty year old singular act of dueche-baggery.

“Great clubs have had one thing in common throughout history, regardless of era amd tactics.  They owned the pitch and they owned the ball.  That means when you have the ball, you dictate play and when you are defending,  you control the space.”

On his shortcomings as a player impacting his ability to manage: “A jockey doesn’t have to have been born a horse.”

“Many believe that football is about the players expressing themselves, but that’s not the case.  Or, rather, it’s not the case in and of itself.  The player needs to express himself within the parameters laid out by the manager.  And that’s why the manager has to fill his head with as many scenarios, tools, movements, with as much information as possible. Then the player makes decisions based on that.  And it’s about being a player.  Not just being skillful or being athletic.  I didn’t want robots or individualists.  I wanted people with the intelligence to understand me, and the spirit to put that intelligence to the service of the team.  In short, I wanted people who knew how to play.”

“Football has a script.   The actors, if they are great actors, can interpret the script amd their lines according to their creativity,  but they still have to follow the script.  I was the only one who could guide them and get them to develop a collective game which would maximize their potential as a unit.   My philosophy was teaching players as much as I could, so they would know as much as possible.  This would then enable them to make the right decision – and to do so quickly – based on every possible scenario.”

Finally, on the craft of pressing:

“Every player had to be in the right place.  In the defensive phase, all of our players always had four reference points: the ball, the space, the opponent and his teammates.   Every movement had to be a function of those four reference points.  Each player had to decode which of the four reference points should determine his movement.

Pressing is not about running and it’s not about working hard.  It’s about controlling space.  I wanted my players to feel strong and the opponents to feel weak.  If we let our opponents play in a way they were accustomed to, they would grow in confidence.  But if we stopped them, it would hurt their confidence.  Our pressing was psychological as much as physical.   Our pressing was always collective.  I wanted all eleven players to be in an “active” position,  effecting and influencing the opposition when we did not have the ball.”

My First 5k

My employers, Mitch and Teresa Silver, were moved by a 60 Minutes special on homeless children in Seminole County two years ago, and committed themselves to help by starting the FIT 5k.  The inaugural event was held at the Winter Springs Town Center before I joined the Firm, and this year’s race was moved to Altamonte Springs where I made my debut as a 5k runner.

It was, for the record, my goal to run 5k.  I increased my weekend elliptical work from 30 to 45 minutes, continued playing basketball, mixed in a rigorous futsal session and prepared for 30 minutes of discomfort.  The basketball scheduling Gods undermined my efforts with games on Thursday and Friday night before the race, and I made matters worse by eating 8-10 slices of pizza over the course of two meals Friday.

I rose early Saturday morning in competitive spirits and felt good during a light jog from my car to the starting line.  Confidence swelled as most of the people I saw on the way did not appear to be natural runners, and I placed my starting position in the first third of the field.  Thoughts of a surprisingly impressive finish to flight in my mind.

The race started at 7:31 am, and I found what I thought was a modest and sustainable pace while the field spread out.  I found a female runner to pace myself, but within two hundred yards she started walking leaving me adrift.  I saw a friendly guy I spoke with on the way to the race a few hundred yards ahead, and thought if I could get closer, I could adapt to his pace.

Things began to deteriorate as I could not close ground on the friendly guy, felt increasing pain in my right foot and encountered….the one mile mark.  Crap….I gotta do this two more times.  Several runners that I had passed when they decided to walk now caught and passed me.  I began to fight myself to keep running or to walk briefly.  At the 1.5 mile mark, I gave in and began to walk which somehow increased the pain in my feet and lower legs.  It seemed possible that I may not be able to resume running.  More out of curiosity than competitive drive, I started to run.  It would last for a few hundred yards before I was a pedestrian.

I grabbed a cup of water from a course marshal and resumed running, but walked again.  A wave of shamed disappointment prevented me from makong eye contact with the next court marshal I encountered.  My walk became a trudge on a long up hill.  We entered a parking lot on the back side of Crane’s Roost and I picked up the pace for a decent stretch.

I reached strategic survival mode with a brief, deliberate walk just before leaving the parking lot and re-entering the roadway.  I followed with a strong run aided by seeing back markers walking up hill in the opposite direction.  Near the bottom of the hill, I was cheered on by Teresa Silver.  As I turned back  on to the mall property, I slowed to a walk in anticipation of my push to the finish. 

I went all in when I reached the cobblestones of Crane’s Roost park and sprinted the last quarter mile to the line. 
33:00 on the dot.