Leadership on the 4th

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. Having pretty much used all of my ideas last week, I took a break from posting to let the juices renew themselves. Other than an observation about exhausted chickens I pretty much took a break from reading about all things Cowboys. Oh, I did want to explain to Chia that, if he wants to post pictures, he can take lessons from fs65. Or maybe he's just going with what he likes. But other than that, I let it be.

Anyway, I got caught up on my BTB reading today. Did some different reading over the weekend. Both seem to discuss leadership a lot.

I finished a book by Jeff Sharra called The Rising Tide. I read of lot of military history, actually. Sharra's book is a novel rather than "real" history, but it stands out for how he tries to get into the heads of people, using their writings and contemporary accounts as a jumping off point. But I digress. There was one thing that leapt out in this book, and I think it stood out because of the discussions and arguments I have been reading (and sometimes contributing to) on BTB lately. It was about what can happen when you see a unit failing, and you change the leadership.

Now, I will admit, as a retired military guy, I tend to shy away from the casual comparisons of football and war. Especially today of all days. The sacrifices of men and women in combat are so far beyond those of a bunch of highly paid men with extreme physical skills playing a game, they make the militant cliches of TV announcers laughable. But that does not mean that all such comparisons are invalid.

So let me see if I can make my case here about how a change in leadership can mean all the difference.

There are numerous examples, not just from the Second World War, when men who had done a superb job of organizing and training a military force fell totally apart when they had to actually lead their troops into battle. The units suffered horrible defeat and terrible losses. But those units could not be taken out of the war. They had to continue. They could be reinforced and refit, but they had to continue to fight. There was only one real remedy, to put a new commander in place. Now, this did not always work, but sometimes, it worked incredibly well.

One example. At the Battle of the Kasserine Pass (this was early in the war, in North Africa, and the first major battle between US and German forces), the American units were commanded by Lloyd Fredendall. General Fredendall had an excellent reputation as an administrator and a trainer, but when he had to lead the forces, he just failed. It was a rout, and left the US Army hanging on by it's fingernails. Unless you are as much a military geek as I am, I am willing to bet you never heard of Lloyd Fredendall until now. But I bet you've heard of the man who replaced him: George S. Patton.

Patton took essentially the same divisions, the same men, the same equipment, and established his reputation as the best American armored force commander of the war, possibly the best in any army. Because he led differently. He planned differently. He saw the mission differently. He turned the defeated American units into victors, and went on to crushing triumphs in Sicily and France. He was hardly the perfect leader, but when you needed someone to kick ass and take names, he was one of the best ever. Most of all, he convinced his troops that they were unbeatable. And as it turned out, he was right.

I could list other examples, but for now, I just ask you to accept the fact that a change of leadership is often the key difference in military settings. And it applies in many, many other situations as well.

And that is my argument for the Cowboys. This is largely the same team it was (gulp) ten months ago. WIth the accursed, hated, plague-caused-by-Satan that we call the lockout gumming up the works, it is pretty certain that there are not going to be any wholesale personnel changes. Like it or not, the 2011 season is going to hinge on two people, Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan.

Some argue that the issue is Tony Romo, and his inability to win when it matters most, or his leadership or lack of it. Those who think the OL is the Achille's heel of the team will insist that the season will turn on signing Doug Free and figuring out who to keep and what to change on the rest of the line. And there is the DB situation. And Almost Anthony. And what to do with Barber, and Williams, and Brooking.

Nope. You are wrong. Oh, those are all parts of the puzzle, but the big picture, whether this team will be a success or not, is going to be determined by the head coach and the defensive coordinator. Period.

I know there are other people on this site who have done time in the service. I think all of them know what I mean, how a unit can take its cue from the top. Sometimes, you need a leader who respects the skills and abilities of his team, and lets them have a lot of input into how they get the mission done. Sometimes, you need someone who takes complete charge. Always, you need someone who can get the whole team bought into the mission and the way to get it done. If you have that kind of leadership, it spreads everywhere. And if the leadership is bad, if it is unfocused or incompetent, well, that spreads as well, maybe even faster.

I don't think there is any question that Garrett has done an excellent job of getting the Cowboys to buy into his vision for the team. From RKG to the Cowboy Way, he is setting out a clear roadmap that he believes will take this team back to the glory days. And the feedback coming from the team is that they are all in on this bet, that they like what was happening to the team the last half of the 2010 season, and they want it to continue.

Ryan is a bigger question mark at this time, but so far he shows every indication that he is capable of inspiring and leading the defense within the structure Garrett is building. Players who he coached in other organizations seem to think so. Both these coaches seem almost prototypical for their roles, Garrett the calculating but coldly determined offensive general, Ryan the firey, high energy defensive guru who hides his scheme under the illusion of chaos.

Consider this, just to show you what I mean. What exactly was the mission of the Wade Phillips coached Cowboys? Get a bye week in the playoffs and count that as win? Make sure everyone was happy and healthy coming out of camp, if maybe not quite ready to go full speed in a real game? Go out and expect the other team to roll over and quit because the Cowboys were so ridiculously talented? Just do whatever JJ wants, without of course hurting the feelings of any players along the way? I can't say. I doubt any of the players could.

Wade is not the first, and won't be the last, successful NFL assistant coach who never makes it as the HMFIC. That is short for Head MF in Charge, in case you aren't sure. (If you need the MF part spelled out, you are either too young or a troll who needs to go back to the sites that cater to your intelligence level). And there does come a time as a head coach you do have to have that hard, ruthless place inside you. You don't have to be a yeller and a screamer to be an NFL head coach. But you need to have the steel in your spine to look a 320 lb. lineman in the eye and tell him he ain't cuttin' it, and he either gets with your program now, or he gets to retire and/or test the free agent market. All those who can envision Wade doing that, and the player believing him, raise your hands.

Yeah. Didn't think so.

Now I don't know if that was all Wade. I think most of us strongly suspect that there were some clear conditions put on his job involving where the real decision making was going to be, and that pretty much guaranteed that his position was weakened. We don't know exactly what the boundaries are between Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones, but from the outside looking in, it appears that JG can show a player the door and not have to worry about being overruled. And no matter how well you inspire the team, you have to have that last resort to back things up. Having the team respect you is vital. Having them fear your wrath is the same, only more so. I believe that JG has the authority, the ability, and the skill to lead this team to success.

There are, of course, different levels of success. For some, the only thing that matters is another Lombardi Trophy. While I would love to see that, and don't dismiss it out of hand as being totally impossible, I am more interested in an intermediate goal.

Last year, I watched my beloved Dallas Cowboys, the team I have followed longer than any other organization in the world, become a joke. Even though I am just a fan, it hurt. And everything I have seen in the media indicates that the players felt it far worse than some armchair analyst like me can. Their pride is wounded. They want some vindication.

Now, Jason Garrett has shown them a plan. It has two very seductive features: 1. It tells them that they are better than the way they played the first half of 2010. 2. It ain't Wade's way.

That can be powerful. You start to believe in the leadership, then you start to believe in their plan. That leads to belief in yourself, and in the guys next to you.

I don't expect the Cowboys to be in the Superbowl. (I wouldn't complain, mind you, just don't plan on it. Yet.) I don't know if they can get into the playoffs.

I do expect them to put up a fight. I expect them to become a team the opponents worry about.

Yes, there are some parts to be fixed. But the big one, the main one, has been changed. We still need to see how the RHG and the Big Robowski perform over the course of a season, but the indications are pretty favorable. The Dallas Cowboys have that one thing they need, that all teams need over the long run, to be successful.


Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.