It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Like I said, unfortunately, I did not fail out of grad school last semester and thus I do not have lots of time to appease my Cal Football appetite. But I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing remotely Cal Football related. I’ve been stalking various blogs and Cal chat boards and stuff, monitoring the mental state of the fans and gleaning any information/quotes from news sources.
So yeah, I’ve saved a few quotes which I feel are very interesting and enlightening. These kind of quotes are very revealing of what happened last year (2007).
Anyways, here’s the first one from WR Nyan Boateng:
"Coming from Florida, I saw that there wasn’t a lot of leadership (on the Cal team) this year (2007) … We needed more team captains to pull guys aside and say listen. Standing from a distance I didn’t see that. It was sad … One thing I can say though is that at Florida playing under Coach Meyer we knew how to win … You have to have guys ready to lead and not just saying they are ready … To be honest this team isn’t close … There are a lot of little cliques here. We have to be together."
So. There’s a lot of great stuff in this quote. First off, Boateng admits that a big part of Cal’s problems last year were because of a lack of leadership. This is something which I theorized last year. When I was with the team in 2006, I saw plenty of team leaders and how they affected the team. But one thing I also noticed, was how the players waiting in the wings weren’t the biggest leaders. I didn’t quite realize at the time that it might be a problem next year (2007) because I gave many players more benefit of the doubt and figured they’d step up and be leaders, but it appears as if that didn’t happen.
Now Boateng also sort of touches on the fact that these team leaders have to be proactive and "pull guys aside." This is true, but it does have its own problems. There is a hierarchy on the football team. Usually, the guys who are the most talented are at the top. These guys command respect, can keep other players in check, and lead by example. In 2006, some of Cal’s best leaders were also the most talented ones on the team. But problems arise when your leaders aren’t the most talented on the team, and/or when the most talented players aren’t leaders. What happens is that you have guys who can’t back up their talk and leadership with their playing ability, and trying to tell better players what to do and trying to keep them in line. This goes against that inner football hierarchy where the most talented players are at the top of the pyramid because you have less talented players trying to assert themselves at the top. In most cases, this doesn’t work. On rare occasions it can, but I don’t think it happens most of the time.
But last year, many players didn’t step up into their leadership roles because they weren’t seniors or because they didn’t command the same level of respect as the other players at the top of the football hierarchy. There was great quote on that comment, but I couldn’t find it, unfortunately.
And finally, Boateng says that the team isn’t close and has a lot of little cliques in it. Once again, this is true. When I was with the team, I could see little cliques here and there. Mostly it was offensive guys with other offensive guys, and defensive guys with other defensive guys. The offense and defense didn’t really interact much. I suppose that’s only natural considering that these guys are always adversaries and facing off against each other in practice all day. But even off the field, such as in the locker room and in the training room, there wasn’t a ton of interaction. Now I’m not one to give suggestions to one to Jeff Tedford, but I always felt like there needed to be more bonding between offense and defense. Well, maybe there is more official bonding that happens that I didn’t know about. But the one time I was around for a team bonding session, it was offense versus defense. That’s great for strengthening the bonds between the two sides of the team, but does nothing to bring both sides of the team together as one - to get the players to be closer teammates with the other side of the team.
One anecdote comes to mind. I remember one day at practice, a WR very low on the depth chart beat a DB that was high up on the depth chart. In earshot of the WR, the rest of the DBs ridiculed (but not too maliciously) the DB that got burned because he got beat by a WR who was slow. Well, I suppose comments like that are great for motivating other DB teammates, but saying stuff like that in earshot of the WR is not conducive to team-building. I suppose some people might think that being frank with each other is better than sugar-coating things. But the comment came off much more like "how did you get beat by such a crappy WR?" Coming across like that does nothing but build animosity between offense and defense.
What’s interesting is that there is a great quote from Derrick Hill saying that he thinks the problem last year was not a lack of leadership:
"I don’t think [last year’s problems] was actually a true problem with leadership on this team last year I think it was more to the fact of players not understanding what a true leader is. A lot of people want to be leaders and there are people who are born leaders. For instance, a guy like Anthony Felder didn’t want to step into that limelight and become that so called leader but when you watch him on film, he just does things that standout … He doesn’t specially make it a point to do it his actions just happen naturally. That’s the perfect way of describing who a leader is."
So Hill is saying that the problem wasn’t a lack of leadership but that people weren’t leading by example and performance on the field. Well, Hill may have phrased the problem slightly differently or more concisely, but I still think that the problem was a lack of leadership both on the field and in the players’ minds. Meaning that you have players who either (a) are leaders but can’t back up their leadership abilities with their play on the field, or (b) you have starters who just aren’t leaders.
I think last year, we had plenty of starters who weren’t leaders. They may have been starting, but they weren’t acumulating the stats to really get guys to notice and command respect. These players also weren’t very vocal either. So they couldn’t lead with actions or their voice.
Then there are also leaders who maybe aren’t starters and thus couldn’t back up their talk on the field. This once again relates back to that football hierarchy that I talked about earlier. You’ll have 2nd and 3rd string leaders, maybe seniors on the team, but since they don’t start, it sort of negates their abilities to lead by example.
So the solution? Ideally, we need vocal and lead-by-example leaders who are starters. Thus they can be leaders and extremely visible to the rest of the teammates whom they can influence. Once again, I relate back to the 2006 team. I think we had plenty of great leaders who were also starters. Desmond Bishop. Marshawn Lynch. Daymeion Hughes. Brandon Mebane. If you read my leadership post, you’ll see that I did classify those players as different types of leaders, but nevertheless they were leaders AND starters. The perfect combination because it doesn’t go against that football heirarchy and results in maximum exposure and influential aura of the leaders.
But honestly, the world isn’t perfect and we don’t always get starters who are leaders. Thus we just need leaders. Lots of them. At every position, regardless of seniority. We shouldn’t have great leaders, whether they are sophomores or juniors holding back just because they’re not seniors. This shouldn’t be about underclassmen holding back because they are afraid to step on the toes of seniors. If the seniors aren’t going to be leaders then someone has to, so you might as well let the underclassman be one if he can be and wants to be.