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18-08-12 Hue Jackson

Image Credit: wikipedia.org

We have our first week of pre-season football. I’ve watched the first episode of Hard Knocks and more importantly I have seen Andrew Luck throw passes in game for the first time since January 1st 2017.

My offseason was dominated by getting a book published so it was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally watched the Dallas Cowboys’ All or Nothing series and when you combine that with Hard Knocks then I have naturally started to think about coaching.

“You get what you demand,
you encourage what you tolerate.”

Tom Landry

This is a quote that I was already familiar with but caught my eye as a reminder in one of the meeting rooms at the Cowboys facility and is one of those things that I think is just as apt for management in a business as it is in sports.

One of the surest things in management is that a player or employee will spot an inauthentic approach from a manager or coach, but there is more than one way to demand what you want or excellence.

There was a really interesting discussion about this week’s Hard Knock on The Ringer’s GM Street podcast as Michael Lombardi explained his problems with Hue Jackson’s approach to getting his team ready. This largely focussed around a coach’s table discussion that had started with the training staff informing Jackson who would and wouldn’t be practising that day. There are several members of that coaching staff with Super Bowl experience who questioning whether players who had not achieved anything in the NFL should be getting days off when there was so much to do, and one coach who was asking for them to be dressed and make it look like the reps decision came from the coach. Jackson listened and was firm about not wanting to get players injured and tried to establish that he understood their position but the view was different from his chair and they moved on.

I can’t give the insight on how it affects the coaching staff having never been in an NFL building yet alone on a football coaching staff so go listen to the pod but it did set me thinking. What Lombardi’s concern was about not only keeping the coaching staff together, but how to breed toughness in a team.

I think there are multiple ways to do this. It doesn’t have to be about shouting and rah-rah speeches. Toughness can be quietly getting on with your job under difficult circumstances. Certainly Hue Jackson was trying to demonstrate that when he told some of his coaches in a film session that his mother had just died and then went straight back to discussing the tape. It was hard to watch him trying to pull himself together after the front office staff had gathered round to support him having lost both his brother and his mother in the space of two weeks. An hour later he is back on the training field and working with his team.

This is where we circle back to how he is coaching. It is undeniable that Bill Belichick is a great football coach and he has a particular way of doing things that is built around a culture of fear and negative reinforcement but that’s not the only way to do it. What Pete Carrol has done in Seattle is still built around competition but there is a completely different approach and presentation with his positivity and encouragement for players to be vocal and themselves. In Hard Knocks you got to see the very different way that Gregg Williams runs his room to Jackson and I’m sure there are players that will thrive with that approach and those on who that approach will grate.

In a lot of ways American football is still a very conservative game but how long coaches can maintain some of the old school approaches in the face of modern training methods and as players change I don’t know.

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored,” Jim Mora told Peter King. “He’s a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

This was Jim Mora talking about the Arizona Cardinals’ rookie quarterback Josh Rosen ahead of the draft and whilst I don’t think the culture of football will change overnight, it has to and will continue to adapt as the game changes and players evolve.

The interesting interaction between Hue Jackson and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is a case in point. Jackson was asking about what time he got in and was comparing it to Tyrod Taylor. It was something that Michael Lombardi commented on that Jackson didn’t demand Mayfield came in at 05:30 and whilst no, he didn’t demand he did set a seed. I don’t know which way would be more effective, it depends on the player and how they feel about their coach. Only time will tell.

Hue Jackson has a 1-31 record in the last two seasons so it is not like he is starting from a position of strength but he has been in the league a long time. He has to be true to his beliefs but in the world of sport, those beliefs get tested against one thing, the results of the football team. It won’t matter that he’s dealing with multiple bereavements, or that he turned a comment about jumping into a lake if his team failed to win a game last season into a cleansing ritual in aid of his foundation that is trying to support efforts to combat human trafficking in Cleveland. What matters as far as the team is concerned is results. He has a new GM that didn’t pick him so if Jackson doesn’t win more games this season it is hard to see him staying on as head coach.

There’s a lot of nuance to coaching and you can only do so much without the right level of talent, but in sports your record is your record despite all the things that go into it. The pre-season is about preparing your team for the regular season, although a lot of coaches are as concerned about getting their team to the start of the season healthy. The ultimate decider on how well you balanced those needs is your record, but that ignores if you quarterback missteps and tears his knees up. There is plenty of luck involved for a team and whilst we build some coaches up and tear others down, they are only human and even in a game as built around coaching as the American football, you can only control so much. However, you have to have a lot of trust or faith in the bank to get you through a rough patch and for Hue Jackson, time is running out for him to get results.