Quote: "In the face of adversity and personal pain, we continue to strive to achieve our ideals … to provide comfort and hope to those we care about … by converting our collective hopes, dreams and aspirations into reality."
– Boris M. Struk
I wrote several weeks ago about the trials and tribulations that awaited the Super Bowl loser Arizona Cardinals this whole offseason. I focused on the "Disease of Me" from Pat Riley, the former NBA coach. Riley explains that winning is harder to deal with from a team standpoint than losing. Everyone in the organization wants the credit, wants new contracts, wants to feel loved, and they have, in essence, over-evaluated their true net worth. Losing the Super Bowl is one of the hardest challenges for any leader because you must deal with the same problems as the champions, but you don't have the ring or the trophy.
Some of those problems are off the field, but many of them are on the gridiron. It's my belief that a football team breaks down in three areas: players, coaching and schemes. So if the Cards are to compete once again for the NFC West title, they must be solid in all three. Despite the recent proclamation by Darnell Dockett(notes), words will not win the NFC West; quality in all three areas of football will.
Here's my checklist to avoiding the "Super Bowl Losers Curse":
(Side note: Since I was part of a team that lost a Super Bowl, then responded the next year with an astounding 12 losses, the Cards might want to consider my advice cautiously).
1. Fire the defensive coordinator (Clancy Pendergast) who could never settle on a scheme he liked and changed everything each week. Check.
2. Get the head coach more involved with the offense. Ken Whisenhunt is a very good offensive coach; in fact, he's the head coach of the Cardinals because of this ability to call a game. Losing offensive coordinator Todd Haley will not be difficult to overcome as long as Whisenhunt assumes a larger role. This will help the team adopt more of the head coach's personality, which it will need to be successful.
3. Don't talk about getting back to the Super Bowl. Focus only on winning the division. Spend all of camp thinking about Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis. You must win the NFC West first. San Francisco is the opener, so this should be easy to do.
4. Adhere to the S.M.A.R.T. acronym with regard to setting goals for the team: specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, timely. The most important goal is to have a good practice the next day – not beat the Giants in Week 7. Timely goals are critical.
5. Change the depth chart constantly. Make players feel they have to earn the right to play, not expect to play. Promote competition. Always remember, "Fear does the work of reason."
6. Expect to deal with unhappy players – embrace conflict. Never lose sight of what is truly urgent and important. A player missing OTAs is not urgent. It might be important, but it does not warrant attention.
1. Replace left tackle Mike Gandy(notes). I admire Gandy; he's been a very good player for eight NFL seasons (almost every doctor in the NFL failed him on his physical because of knee and shoulder problems, although he keeps playing), but he was never meant to play left tackle. He has always been a fill-in and has filled in decently at left tackle (I give my man Bobby "Babe" DePaul of the Bears credit for thinking he could be a left tackle). Gandy cost them in big games, especially the Super Bowl. They must improve here.
3. Find a big-time runner. Check (drafted my man Chris "Beanie" Wells, who will be huge this year).
4. Give some love to Anquan Boldin(notes), but if he doesn't give it back (I'm not talking about a new contract, I'm talking about a relationship on the field), apply the "Law of Threes" to him. Using it on anyone who wants to be different will be the key to success for the Cardinals.
5. Put pressure on Alan Branch(notes), Gabe Watson(notes) and Calais Campbell(notes) to become players now. If they don't respond soon, think about signing Kevin Carter(notes) to add depth to the defensive line.
7. If anyone has matching luggage on road trips, start worrying about their commitment to winning because they've gone Hollywood. I have a pet peeve when it comes to players with matching luggage. NFP's Matt Bowen(notes) never had matching luggage – he just brought his toothbrush and a change of clothes; he understood it was a business trip. If Branch, Watson or Campbell have matching luggage, cut them on the spot because you're wasting your time thinking they will be players.
1. Cut down the amount of schemes you run on defense and have a scheme that you know can stand the test of time. Work on improving the fundamentals and techniques of the players; don't add more plays. Don't forget, you gave up the fifth most points (26.6 per game) last season.
2. Work on areas of strength on both sides of the ball. Practice longer on your red zone schemes – on offense and defense. Don't practice longer or with more contact; practice smarter. The strong points of your team must stay strong.
3. Expect people to prepare for your offense with new ideas about slowing down your attack. Have new wrinkles, new ideas, but never lose the core of what you are as an offense.
4. Expect more people (college coaches, media, friends) at your training camp. Expect more attention from the national media. Be careful not to let other coaches observe your schemes. Trust no one.
5. Don't be afraid to make unpopular choices. Status quo only promotes the same, and the whole theme of the offseason is to move forward.
6. Work one day at a time, and never think of the future. Keep bad practices in the context of the day, time and place. Never forget that the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint.
That's my "Super Bowl Curse" checklist. I hope the Cards don't suffer my pain of 12 losses.
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