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Without discipline, teams are just a group of guys

January 13, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

Take a step back and look at the big picture of sports.

It's one wonderful, crazy landscape to behold, even if it is one big contradiction at times.

Right now, it's easy to get swept up in the drama of competition of events like the NFL Playoffs. While fans backing teams still in the Super Bowl mix are thumping their chests, the less fortunates (Redskins?) can be less critical with a more general view of the sport.

Then there are the impacts of the politics of sports. There is always a huge buzz over the hiring of coaches - like Joe Gibbs - to be fired later. Or the anticipation of signing a free agent - like Vladimir Gurrero - just to complain he's overpaid in the future. And the ever popular battle of good vs. evil - the Pete Rose saga - to have fans and pundits drawing battle lines.

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It's a matter of every action leading to an opposite reaction down the line. And sports has that tendency to swing from one side to the other like a grandfather clock's pendulum.

The one that always seems intriguing, especially in the more contemporary circle of sports, is the role and perception of coaches, especially on the big-time college and pro levels.

Take notice. Every time a coach is fired, it seems like team officials look for the polar opposite to fill the job. Tick is the highly organized guy who is a stickler for discipline. Tock is the "players' coach," who treats the athletes like men and trusts their judgments.

Nowadays, sports is full of ticks.

Tick, Gibbs. Tock, Steve Spurrier.

Tick, who knows in Oakland. Tock, Bill Callahan.

Tick, Nebraska football coach Frank Solich. Tock, Bill Callahan.

Tick, Mike Hargrove. Tock, Ray Miller.

Tick, Mike Hargrove. Tock, Lee Mazilli.

The list goes on and on.

Today, discipline is en vogue again. And it should be.

Washington and Oakland players complained they were losing because there was little discipline in the framework of their teams. (In Oakland, wasn't that the same coach that led the Raiders to the Super Bowl last year.)

That's why coaches like Tom Coughlin, Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, Tony Dungy and Gibbs are consistently recycled (By the way, when Parcells was hired in Dallas, whatever happened to Jerry Jones?).

In other sports, it never seems like Phil Jackson and Paul Silas, Tony LaRussa and Lou Piniella, Mike Kennan and Scotty Bowman go long without being mentioned for a job opening. They all have proven methods and track records.

The coaches who are the most successful are the ones who tick and tock. Dick Vermeil acts like a grandfather on the surface, the players know where he draws the lines of constraint. Here in Maryland, Ralph Friedgen is able to pat his players on the back and kick them in the rear at the same time to get positive results.

It's all proving once again that that is the most important intangible in sports, followed closely by athleticism. Even in individual sports, like running, the most disciplined athletes are usually the most successful.

It's interesting to watch how certain athletes rebel against playing under a rigid framework of rules. The sad truth remains that a number of today's athletes have all the talent, but no championships, because they have a hard time abiding by someone else's rules.

Someone tell me why it's so hard to understand that cell phones don't belong in team meetings or why it's so difficult to abide by "team rules." Probably the same reason why Individualism starts with a capital I.

That capital I usually becomes the downfall of many pro, college, high school and even recreational sports teams, at one time or another during a season. And on every level, it's getting more and more difficult to find good coaches who possess those needed attributes.

That being said, finding Indianapolis, New England, Philadelphia and Carolina pictured in the NFL playoffs' Final Four frame isn't so amazing. All four teams have strong coaching personalities.

Nor is it surprising why most of the same college teams vie yearly for national football and basketball championships. Or even why the New York Yankees consistently make the playoffs but fail to win the World Series.

The best talent gets you to the stage, but the best teams usually earn the ultimate spotlight. When teams are "ticking" like Swiss watches, the big picture comes into better focus.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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