After suffering through his first losing season in 2008, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino realized that a handful of players needed to be taught the proper way to lead a football team. That's when he came up with idea for the Wednesday morning leadership seminars.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino volunteered to run the hour-long sessions over the summer, and more than a dozen players and assistant coaches followed along. They read a motivational book, studied chapters and talked about the qualities needed to be a leader.
"You always talk about (how) you've got to have leaders," Paul Petrino said. "We just tried to work hard on teaching them how to be leaders."
As odd as it sounds, the Razorbacks were looking for another way to build team chemistry, get more out of their veteran players and avoid the internal problems that contributed to a 5-7 season in 2008. The seminars helped.
"I think we got a lot out of it," said Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette, who was among 14 Arkansas players who attended the weekly sessions. "You can never have too much leadership on a team, and that's one thing (the coaches) were trying to promote, was leadership from within."
As the Razorbacks prepare for Saturday's season opener against Missouri State in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, the talk amongst coaches and players is that the team no longer has the same chemistry problems that marred Bobby Petrino's first season at Arkansas.
Running back Michael Smith said the team has bought into Petrino's philosophy, which wasn't necessarily the case a year ago when some players took issue with the way things were being run by the new coach.
"There was a lot of complaining, a lot of guys disgruntled about things and not wanting to maybe go to work out or worried about a two-hour practice," Smith said. "Right now, it comes second nature to us to know that we're going to have a two-hour practice."
Smith was among the players who spent an hour a week talking with Paul Petrino and his teammates about leadership skills. He said the seminars brought the players together and created "a support system" for everyone else on the team.
"There were a lot of guys last year who may not have totally bought into the system. That's not the case this year," Smith said. "I think pretty much everybody has bought into the system, believes in it (and) knows that we can be successful in it."
Bobby Petrino isn't a coach necessarily known for being in touch with his feelings, but the leadership seminars were among the unconventional strategies he has used to shake things up following a disappointing 2008. He also took his assistants on a coaches retreat in late July, giving them a chance to share ideas and philosophies.
"I think (the leadership seminars) helped some guys become better leaders. I think it helped some guys become better followers," Paul Petrino said. "Not everybody can be a leader, but it also taught them how to act and how to go out there and prepare.
"I think it's been a good thing. I think our team chemistry right now is 100 times better than it was last year."
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