With the collapse of this season, there has come much speculation about as to what the hell happened.
Some say it was defense. Some say it was offense. Some say it was defensive coaching. Some bravely even say it was offensive coaching. Some say it was something else. Something more. Mr. Daniel K at Dank Down wrote about most recently and carefully touched on a few possibilities which can be seen here. Keep in mind it’s still pure speculation and rumor. [And in the two to three days that I’ve taken to casually write up this post, I’ve just now found out that Daniel K.’s post over on Dank Down has blown up all over on BearInsider and the cause for much discussion.]
While I would be surprised if the reasons for Cal’s second half season collapse was because of some of the possibilities mentioned over on Dank Down, I think there is another possible reason: lack of leadership. Keep in mind this is pure speculation. But if there is a divided or disfunctional locker room and/or delinquent players, then I think a root cause is lack of leadership (both in the locker room and on the field but for now though, I’m just going to talk about leadership on the field).
I don’t think I’m the only one thinking this either. I’ve heard this explanation thrown around here and there on a few football forums. But what sort of bothers me is how people carelessly throw out names of former players instantly naming them as leaders. Most of the time, the players who are mentioned are those in the NFL. While I think many of our former players that did make the NFL are leaders, I don’t think NFL potential is a prerequisite for leadership which seems to be the common misconception. Or at least just because the player is good does not automatically means he’s a "leader" and locker room type of influence.
Anyways, I do think the lack of leadership could be a root problem. Well, maybe I should say the lack of firey leadership on the field. Because there are leaders on the team this year, but not the same type of leaders we had on the team last year. So this leads me to my next point: there are different types of leaders. Below I’ve described a few.
The Non-Threatening Boss - this type of leader is the kind of guy that always tells you what to do. He reminds you. He keeps on you on track. These leaders are the ones that are great for keeping people’s attention on the task at hand but lack a firey aura or the threatening attitude that keeps guys in line because of respect. An example of such a player on last year’s team comes to mind but I will refrain from naming him since this isn’t the most flattering description.
The Firey Emotional Cocky Leader - this type of leader has that firey aura to him. He walks the walk AND he talks the talk. Don’t get these guys wrong, they’re not inherently a bad thing. They can be a good thing. It depends on the player. But these guys are the types of guys that get fired up after they’ve just made a big play. Big time fired up. They pump their fist. They yell and scream and talk trash. Their actions and emotions inspire teammates with confidence and energy. An example of this type of leader from last year’s team would be Dante Hughes and Andrew Cameron.
The Firey Emotional and Vocally Inspiring Leader - this type of leader is emotional. He’ll also have big time emotional celebrations after a big play, inspiring his teammates with confidence and energy. But what makes this type of leader different from the Firey Emotional Cocky Leader is his ability to emotionally pick up his players. He’s the one prowling the benches, screaming, and inspiring his teammates with words and speaches to find the heart within them to play harder and not quit. An example of this type of leader from last year’s team would be Desmond Bishop.
The Field General - These are the quieter ones. They don’t really have flashy big emotional celebrations after big plays. They’re more reserved. It’s usually a quite pumping of the fist and that’s about it. But these are the ones that are well respected by their teammates for their play. Teammates listen to them, rely on them, and are directed by them. The Field Generals know the offense or defense well and thus teammates look to them for guidance. An example of this type of leader form last year’s team would probably be Brandon Mebane and Ma’afala.
The Silent Leaders - these guys are the ones that don’t talk and if they do, rarely. They lead by actions but they don’t quite have that aura, or confidence and energy inspiring personality or emotion that gets teammates going.
The Actions Speak Louder than Words Leaders - these guys are similar to Silent Leaders. They don’t trash talk. They don’t make eloquent speeches to teammates to pick them up. They lead by actions but unlike the Silent Leaders, their actions DO have that aura of emotional leadership that inspires teammates to play their heart out and play with confidence and swagger. These players do their own thing. They’ll be off in the corner of the locker room or on the bench doing their own thing but teammates will notice and be inspired. An example of this type of player from last year’s team would be Marshawn Lynch and Mickey Pimentel.
Last year’s team had a lot of different types of leaders. I saw that first hand each day I was at work. I could see which leaders inspired teammates and those who didn’t. Like I said earlier, I don’t think the problem with this year’s team is lack of leadership. I can think of many leaders on the team. But what might be the problem, is that we don’t have enough of a certain type of leader. Specifically, I think we lack the Firey Emotional Cocky Leaders, the Firey Emotional Vocally Inspiring Leaders, and the Actions Speak Louder than Words type of leaders - all the types that inspire teammates with energy, confidence, and swagger.
As for this year’s team, I think Zach Follett can fall into the Firey Emotional Cocky Leader, so does Desean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins. But do we have any Firey Emotional Vocally Inspiring Leaders? Based on what I saw last year from the players on our team this year, I can’t really think of anyone. Do we have any Actions Speak Louder than Words type of leaders? Decoud somewhat. He’ll come in with big hits every once in a while, or log 10+ tackles a game, and he’ll provide some inspiration, but nothing quite to the level as Marshawn Lynch did (will anyone?).
Going back to the players I’ve already mentioned… Desean Jackson, he can definitely inspire teammates with his abilities, but being double teamed all the time makes it much harder to break off a big play to fire up that awe-inspiring aura. So while he has tons of potential to inspire teammates, it sort of goes to waste with his lack of production (by no fault of his own other than being really really good). And as for Hawkins, when he’s hot he can inspire teammates just as well as anyone else. But when he goes through a cold streak, which does happen occasionally, it almost has a negative effect. It’s deflating. Not to pile on the Hawk since I love him and he’s from my home-town, but the critical drops in Big Game is an example of times when that cold streak can kill that aura and momentum. As for Follett, he might be our most inspiring player right now because not only is he that type of player, and personality, but his excellent playmaking skills have been more consistent and visual than Jackson and Hawkins.
As for other key players on this year’s team, I think Forsett is a silent leader. He’s a quieter one that just leads by example. There is nothing wrong with this because other players follow his example, but it doesn’t quite fire up the team.
And Alex Mack, I think he is more of a Field General type of leader. He leads the offensive line, is the best among them, and is well respected for his high energy and hard work. But does he have that same inspirational aura as previous Cal players? A little bit not to the degree that previous Cal players did.
So while I think we do have some potential performance inspiring leaders on the team, it’s just that they’re not getting the chances to get on fire and spark that inspiring aura (i.e. Jackson and Hawkins). Our other leaders are there on the team, but they may not actually be the locker-room type of players that can make a speech like James Bethea did at halftime against U$C in 2003.
So is leadership a problem? I think the answer is yes, but not because we lack leaders. We just don’t have all the energy, performance, and swagger inspiring on the field leaders that we had last year.
One of Cal’s more inspiriational players from the ‘06 squad.
And of course, perhaps the most performance-inspiring players of the Tedford Era.