Experience Is A Must For Mad Rush To Prepare

Coaches who are former players – especially those who experienced work stoppages during their careers – could prove especially beneficial with teams facing a truncated period to prepare for the 2011 season.

One of the consensus assumptions of the NFL lockout has been that franchises featuring a healthy dose of stability, perhaps an incumbent coaching staff or the same starting quarterback as a year ago, will significantly benefit when the work stoppage finally ends and teams return to the field.

Given the amount of preparation that figures to be shoe-horned into a condensed period both on and off the field, and the increased premium placed on continuity, it's probably a pretty valid theory.

But there are two sides to the familiarity equation: The first, as articulated above, is obvious. The second is probably less so, but possibly still critical.

Johnson and R. Bailey
Former NY Giant great, Pepper Johnson now  coaches the Patriots' Defensive line.
Those teams with coaches on their staff who have been NFL players before moving to the sidelines, and maybe even experienced the work stoppages of the 1980s, might have some firsthand knowledge of what their charges are experiencing. And that ability to connect could prove to be beneficial as well.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, for instance, was a third-year linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1987 strike. Carolina first-year coach Ron Rivera was with the Chicago Bears the same year. The rookie campaign of Tennessee first-year head coach and Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak was interrupted in Houston by the 1982 strike that cost teams seven games. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier, who was a cornerback with the Bears, also suffered through the '82 strike. San Francisco rookie coach Jim Harbaugh was in his first season with the Bears in '87. Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt was an Atlanta tight end during the '87 strike.

Coaches, of course, are deemed by definition as part of the NFL's white-collar gang. And, as such, they are aligned with management. But they are also sensitive, by nature, to the plight of players. Those who have been players in the league probably are even more attuned to what the rank-and-file is experiencing right now. And as such, they likely possess some insight into what lies ahead for players in terms of getting ready for the season minus the benefits of minicamps and OTAs.

"No matter the circumstance, you don't like being away," Del Rio said at the annual league meetings in March, speaking generally about removal from the game. "It may not (define) you, but it's a big chuck of your life."

There are nine current head coaches who played in the NFL for various tenures. The NFL also includes nearly 10 dozen assistant coaches who played in the league, and more than 40 percent of them have experienced a work stoppage. The roles of those assistants in preparing teams to play, and the familiarity of some of them in dealing with a hiatus from the game as players, figure to also play a role in getting clubs back up to speed for 2011.

Continuity likely can't be trumped by a coaching staff's commiseration. But the latter might help some.

"You'd like to think if you've walked in those shoes, you know what it's like to have to flip the switch and start football again," said one assistant coach who as a player in the league experienced the strikes of both 1982 and '87. "Having been through it ... you know a little better what to expect and you can (coach) accordingly."

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.


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