With the 2011 season starting this week there have been all kinds of articles and predictions about this year's Auburn team. A common theme is the youth. From the more knowledgeable observers, there is a second theme with this team about its talent.
Experience and talent are critical to a team's success, but there have been countless examples of teams that had both that were mediocre or worse than that because of a lack of chemistry.
How the chemistry develops with the 2011 Auburn team will go a long way towards determining its final record. There aren't a lot of seniors on the roster and, even among the juniors and sophomores who have played, many of those guys have very little college game experience. Plus, the Tigers are counting on major help from true freshmen and redshirt freshmen so there is no doubt this a young team.
Team chemistry helped send the 2010 Auburn football team to the BCS Championship. In this photo running back Michael Dyer is receiving the BCS Championship Game Offensive MVP Trophy.
With the inexperience factor being huge for the Tigers this year, that makes trying building strong team chemistry even more important. You can coach and coach and keep coaching technique and fundamentals day after day, and week after week, but for a team to reach its potential to be championship caliber there has got to be chemistry there. I've seen it on football teams here at Auburn since I got out of coaching, and it was a big part of the 2010 national championship team's success.
Every season I was a head coach, whether it was at East Carolina, Wyoming or Auburn, at the end of the year when I looked back at what had taken place I knew chemistry was a very important factor in how we played. As a head coach I considered it one of the most important parts of my job each day to do everything I could to make good chemistry happen, but coaches can only do so much. The players themselves have to want to make it happen.
In my 20 years as a college head coach, I had teams where the coaches really had to provide the early leadership due to youth and inexperience. Also, when you take a new job and you and your staff are in a different setting and you don't know the players or what the chemistry is going to be, as a head coach you go to extra lengths to make sure it develops. In those situations it is important to get really close to your new players so you know what they are thinking both on and off the field. If you don't, you are damaging your team's chances for success.
You can look back at last year's Auburn team and watch the chemistry of that group grow during the course of the season as the Tigers developed from a team that was fortunate to win a couple of close games early in the year to a team that wasn't going to get beat by the end of the year.
One of the great things about college football is that it changes every year and in a lot of cases it changes a great deal. It is assumed by many that programs with great tradition are going to field strong teams year after year, but that isn't always the case. While those type of programs can have a lot of carryover of their success from year to year or decade to decade, even prominent ones can go backwards without the right chemistry in place and the other factors that make for a winning team.
Last year we had programs that vividly illustrated that point with teams struggling at Florida, Texas, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and Southern Cal just to name a few examples. All of those programs, despite having great tradition and a lot of talented players, fielded 2010 teams that were mediocre with mediocre records. Some of what happened with those teams could certainly be the result of coaching, something that has a way of running in cycles. I do think the coaches create the atmosphere to have a positive or negative impact on how a college team grows or doesn't grow during a season.
When I was a coach we had some teams that struggled early in the year and got stronger and stronger as the season went along. Our 1989 Auburn team is the perfect example of that. When we lost 21-14 to Tennessee at Knoxville in game three, we didn't look like a very good team.
At midseason we still had not put things together when we lost 22-14 to FSU. However, after that the team got better and better. In fact, we didn't lose again that season. By the end of the year we were probably as good as any football team in the country that season.
We didn't get a chance to play for the national championship because we had lost two games early in the year, but that was a heck of a football team we had in 1989 because the team chemistry helped make it strong. It was no surprise to us when we beat an undefeated Alabama team at the end of the regular season and then beat Ohio State in a bowl game.
I saw the effective of team chemistry when I was coaching at East Carolina. I think we won seven games my first year, but to start the second year we had won two and lost three. We were struggling and struggling, but the things changed overnight. We won a game 3-0, and it was a critical game to make our season, and we went on to win 16 in a row. Our success during that streak wasn't because we had so much talent and speed that we were a lot better than the teams we were winning against. Instead, our success was due to the players taking care of all the intangibles involved around the game and learning how to maximum what ability we did have.
As a former football coach I am excited about seeing how this year's young Auburn team develops after losing so many key players from a great 2010 team. I am looking forward to seeing the young talent and physical ability this team is going to show on Saturdays. I am just as interested to see where the leadership is going to come from and if this group can find a way to come together and mature as a team.
I want to see if this ends up being a good, solid all-around football team by the end of the year or one that is going to settle for just being average or less than. To me that's an exciting place to be in, and I'm looking forward to getting the season started.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.