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The Truth Behind Coaching

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Some people believe coaching is all about the “x’s and o’s,” but let’s examine some of the more complicated concepts involved.

As I sat at home monitoring the Twitterverse for updates on the Bears’ coaching search, an article came to my attention that sparked inspiration for this topic. This well written piece from our sister-site “Pride of Detroit” had me reflecting on my own experiences with coaching. Not only did the author hit the figurative nail on the head, it reminded me of how coaching actually works.

Over the years, I along with many fans have seen plenty of coaching searches take place, in all levels of football. It matters not if it is high school, college, or even the NFL; people are fired and hired based solely on their team’s performance. That final part of the previous sentence is what makes the sports industry so unique.

I, myself, have recently experienced a first hand opportunity to learn more on coaching football. Granted, my level of experience is nowhere near as accomplished as some of the members in our own audience. Yet, the lessons I’ve learned will last for the rest of my life. The experiences, excitement, and even stress are unlike what one would experience in any other field of work. It’s not nearly as simple as calling plays and expecting wins. The job comes with a ton of responsibilities.

In essence, it’s time for people to learn the truth about coaching. This article will detail my opinions on what values a new coaching staff should prioritize, and how those values existed during previous eras.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive, with Injuries

One of the very first lessons I’ve learned, is that you are ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of your players. No, it’s never just the training staff’s problem. Nay, it’s not even the strength and conditioning staff’s fault. When players are injured, which will always be guaranteed with the sport of football, it’s on the coaching staff to ensure all the proper protocols are adhered and enforced.

A prime example of this, is when the Seahawks failed to follow the NFL’s standardized concussion protocol. Another example, is when Seattle violated the rules enforcing contact during practice. You cannot ever, ever, place your players in a position of endangerment intentionally. Rules exist for a reason. And, injuries have constantly happened in Chicago over the past three years.

Following a complete change in the strength and conditioning staff, as well as the training staff, season-ending injuries to key players have become a frequent event for the Bears. The Loop created an excellent article detailing the dramatic rise of injuries in Chicago, and noted that mass injuries have followed John Fox with every stop as Head Coach. A likely culprit of this phenomena, is the weekly preparations for games. Whoever becomes the next Head Coach of the Chicago Bears needs to adopt a new philosophy regarding injury/health management.

Be Adaptable

Every coach will have their personal preferences and philosophies. That will always remain a constant factor, especially in football. However, to stubbornly force square pegs into round holes while ignoring the results, is how most people get themselves fired. No two offseasons will ever be identical, and as a result your roster will always look different. And, no, it’s not just on the General Manager to fix the roster. You as a coaching staff have to formulate both sound contingency plans, and sound developmental plans.

You have to be realistic with your expectations and philosophies. Most importantly, you have to adapt your tactics as the seasons progress. These past two seasons in Chicago have displayed a common problem in that regard.

Too many times, the plan on offense would resemble “run, run, pass, punt.” It would only be at the end of the game, when the lead is generally insurmountable that the passing game suddenly opens up. Mitchell Trubisky saw a ton of long third down situations his rookie season, and a majority of those third down conversion attempts went unsuccessful. Additionally, young players weren’t given much of a chance on offense to be featured in their game plans.

It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, or how much you love your philosophy. Once your opponents have figured out your playcalling, on either side of the ball, it’s generally game over. And, you will always have to deal with risky situations. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, yet don’t make decisions solely to avoid risks altogether. Maintain a proper balance between conservatism, and aggressiveness. Our future coaching staff, at least on offense, would be wise to be innovators.

Be Firm, yet Fair, with Discipline

We’ve all seen this happen; players committing dumb acts on and off the field that result in league suspensions. It’s always great to be a players’ coach, and John Fox was highly respected by his players to that aspect. With that said, as a coaching staff you must constantly enforce discipline for the entire team.

Fortunately for the Bears in recent years, the locker room has been a tight brotherhood that hasn’t displayed major drama issues. Most of those problems occurred under Marc Trestman. That became a huge reason why his career is the shortest lived — he lasted just two seasons with the Bears — as players constantly made the news with reports of fights and verbal altercations.

Unfortunately, the Bears haven’t been spotless with suspensions over the past three years. Players like Alshon Jeffery, Jerrell Freeman, and Ego Ferguson were suspended for violating the league’s policy on PEDs. This has also happened to John Fox while in Denver, with Von Miller’s six-game suspension being a prime example. It even happened while he was the Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers, as both Julius Peppers and Brentson Buckner were found guilty of violating the same policy.

This isn’t a coincidence, it’s a problem. The player will always receive the most blame for violating any league policies. Yet, when such an issue travels with the same coach in every stop he’s made, there’s likely an issue with how they attempted to manage the situation. Hopefully, our next Head Coach will take all actions to prevent further suspensions for the Chicago Bears.

Be Straight Forward, Motivating, and Have Conviction in your Assessments

Yes, you never want to give away all of your plans and details completely. Yes, there will always be gamesmanship when answering questions from the media. To be completely vague and dance around tough topics, i.e. Quarterback controversies and injuries, is a completely different story. Seeing this first-hand, when players suspect you’re not being honest with them, they will not fully buy into your attempts to sell a story. Neither will the media, especially the Chicago-based media.

There’s nothing wrong with telling a player that they need to improve their performance; they should expect such transparency. Just don’t pull a Ben McAdoo, and utilize your press conferences only as daily roasting sessions on players. There’s a difference between accountability, and being a jerk. Also, take the opportunity to praise your players in public! Don’t go overboard and gush all over them needlessly, just offer up words of encouragement for their play, and have their backs when needed.

When you stand before the media, make no commitments to player xyz, and essentially forbid them to practice, that’s not how you address an issue. That was the case with Jay Cutler in 2016, with over half the media speculating a secret competition was underway between him and Brian Hoyer. Fox never made a commitment to either player, until after Brian Hoyer broke his arm at Green Bay, then Jay Cutler “magically” returned to beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football. Of course, the usual “day to day” updates on players injuries got old quickly.

None of us will ever forget when Aaron Kromer went behind Cutler’s back and sold him out to the national media. One thing many people appreciated about Lovie Smith was his complete honesty. We may have disagreed — strongly if I may add — with his tactics, but there was rarely a time when dishonesty was suspected. That hasn’t been the case in recent years, to the dismay of many Bears fans.

One of my all-time favorite sayings for handling situations like these, “the strongest antidote for controversies, is common sense.” It truly is that simple.

In Summary

Being a Head Coach, or any coach to that extent, is never as simple as calling plays and hoping for wins. That’s why plenty of notable coordinators fail to become successful head coaches; you can’t just expect brilliant play calling to perform the jobs for you. Play calling is a rather minor part of the equation, a stepping stone if you may.

You’re expected to positively motivate your players at all times. You’re expected to constantly watch out for your players, in both discipline and health-related issues. You’re expected to stay ahead of the game, and be less predictable than your opponent. And, you’re expected to lead by example, showing full integrity and transparency with your decisions.

One major positive about the John Fox era, is he restored order and pride within the Bears’ franchise. He’s made plenty of egregious mistakes, and has been fired as a result. I will respect his work ethic, though, and find plenty to be optimistic about when the next Head Coach takes over for the Bears.

Now, let us all sit back, and hope that Ryan Pace finds the right guy.