Leading the way
Leading the way
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
By BOB LABRIOLA
It happens in different places all over the NFL at this time every year.
An individual player gives up on the season, or a bunch of players on a team give up on a season, or a coach who figures he?s going to get fired gives up on a season, or an entire franchise gives up on a season. Mentally, and sometimes physically, they quit. On themselves, on the team, on their teammates.
But that stuff doesn?t happen with the Steelers.
It starts with ownership, where Dan and Art Rooney II perceive themselves to be in the football business, and to them the object of being in the football business is to win games.
That sentiment is shared by Coach Bill Cowher, who always says he makes decisions solely on the basis of what gives the team the best chance to win a particular game during a particular week. Remember, in 2003, with the Steelers headed toward a 6-10 finish, Cowher refused to treat the final games of that season as an experiment to evaluate his young players; he tried to win every week, and the Steelers took the division champion Ravens to overtime in the finale before losing by a field goal.
But even though ownership and the coaching staff might feel this way, it?s not going to take hold in the locker room unless the players buy into it as well. That?s where the veteran players are critical.
?We?ve had good veteran leadership. I can?t say enough about it on both sides of the ball, the kicking game as well,? said Cowher. ?A good football team is going to have that. You?re going to count on young players to make certain plays and to play certain roles but the veterans are the ones who set the tone with how you deal with adversity, how you deal with success, how you deal with the circumstances you?re dealing with week in and week out.?
There certainly are circumstances with which the players must deal when it comes to opponents, or their own aches and pains, or other things pertaining to week-to-week life in the NFL. Other circumstances are unique to a particular franchise, like the Steelers, for example.
?Our standards are high around here,? said Cowher. ?Our expectations are high so it?s a very natural for people to overreact when something bad happens. So it?s very important for the guys who have been here to understand that goes with where you?re playing football. Don?t overreact, but you have to address it and understand that certain things can?t continue to take place.?
The Steelers believe in drafting players, teaching them the Steelers way and then doing what they can to keep them here through the bulk of their careers. Those young players learn from the veterans, and then once they become the veterans they in turn teach the next generation of young players.
Some examples: Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen with Brett Keisel. Alan Faneca with Chris Kemoeatu. Jerome Bettis with Willie Parker. Marvel Smith with Trai Essex. And on and on it goes.
?You?re banking on experience; you?re banking on veterans and you?re banking on just making sure you send the right message to your football team about what it takes to win,? said Cowher. ?Try to be objective with them and try to be a realist with them as well. I just try to be honest and try to hold people accountable.?
And in the NFL, just as in real life, leaders are born and not made.
?You can?t tell someone how to lead,? said Cowher. ?Leaders come naturally. It?s not something you teach someone to do. People do it in different ways.
?When you have success and have people who have been here and been a part of that, they understand what is being expected sometimes without having to say something. You want it to permeate down through the team. When you have people who have been around, they understand what the message is.?
That?s why the Steelers didn?t quit on this season after they lost three straight games and became a long-shot to make the playoffs. That?s why Cowher?s dual messages of confidence and desperation were so well received in the days leading up to the game against the Chicago Bears. And maybe, just maybe, that?s the main reason they played so well and beat the Bears.
?There are leaders on this team, and guys do it differently,? said Cowher. ?Leaders are the ones who are accountable week in and week out. You don?t see them going up and down. They have the same business-like approach. Not that their standards have changed or the expectations have changed, but their focus at times may have to be greater than it?s been before. It varies week to week. But that?s what good leaders will do. They?re very consistent; they?re very focused and they hold themselves accountable.?
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