Lombardi: Discipline in practice

With two mini-camps in the books in Green Bay, PackerReport.com's John Lombardi provides his take on Mike McCarthy's philosophy toward practice. Lombardi explains the pros and cons of tight and flexible practices, and the approach he has noticed with McCarthy and his staff.

I saw the following note in the Green Bay Press Gazette on Monday:

The morning practices, which began at 10:15, ended Friday at 11:47 a.m., Saturday at 11:47 a.m. and Sunday at 11:49 a.m.

Their purpose in reporting this was to point out that Coach McCarthy appears to be very precise in the pacing of practice. While this may mean nothing, it does suggest that the head football coach is disciplined in his manner and possesses amazing attention to detail.

Some coaches run a tight practice and some are a little more flexible. I have seen both kinds. I have seen coaches who give a period in practice 10 minutes for completion and when the 10 minutes is up, the horn blows and everyone moves on to the next drill even if the previous drills are not completed. Other coaches will let the period run until the drills are done, no matter how long it takes. I see the logic of both sides of this difference. It is necessary to get the work in. They need to run the play and get it right, no matter how long it takes. On the other side of the debate, holding tight to the time constraints does breed accountability. If the team only has a certain time to get it done, they will get it done. They are two separate problems. One is a problem of execution and the other is a problem of implementation. Running the play right and running it right efficiently are not the same thing. Most people and teams can eventually run a play right, good teams run it right, right from the get-go. If players know that they can always get it right next time, they lose focus and there is the potential for slacking. The sense of urgency that a deadline creates is very productive.

There is a long history of coaches who rule with an iron hand flaming out in failure. Former Viking Coach Les Steckel is just one example. Steckel, a former Marine, tried to run training camp like Parris Island and his team quit on him. They were physically worn out and it showed on the field. He was fired after one 3-13 season. I worked with him in Tennessee and he was a very nice man, quite different than I would have expected him to be after hearing all the media stories. Tom Coughlin, coach of the Giants is another example of a hard-nosed coach. He has had some success, principally in Jacksonville, but eventually it appeared that his hard ways wore out his team. Ultimately he lost the confidence of the team. It did not help that the talent on the Jaguars took a turn for the worse near the end of his tenure.

It was reported that during the 60's, one player said that if my grandfather had lost, players would have hated him. They only tolerated him because he won. I am sure for some that that was true. But he was able to get more out of his players than previously believed. One thing people forget about Vince Lombardi was that he was more than a yeller and screamer. He did use fear and intimidation to coach, but he did so much more than that. He would cajole, praise, ridicule, ignore and flatter his players. He did whatever it took to get the desired performance. People and players are different and it takes different methods and techniques to break through.

So it is definitely not a bad thing that Coach McCarthy has a keen attention to detail and is probably a good thing. It is preferable to the opposite. He did bench Donnell Washington for being a fat slob during the first mini-camp. That is a good thing, but he was back on the field for the second mini-camp. It will be interesting to see if there is follow though. Will the message get through to Washington, or will Coach McCarthy be forced to address the issue down the line? All of these things are encouraging but it does not predict anything unfortunately. Maybe he is just compulsive about time and realizes that benching an underachieving backup lineman could garner him some credibility. It still remains to be seen if he can take a hard line with his star players on other issues which are a little more sensitive. Will he take short term hit to set a long term example?

Discipline and time management are great if they are consistent and fair. It will not be the most important component in determining the difference between winning and losing, but it is a good start.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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