When I was the head coach of the Colts, during the 2006 training camp, I explained our strategy to the players. “We’re going to be fine,” I said, “as long as we think we’re fine. If we don’t, we’re going to have problems. We’re going to do what we do. Stay the course. Our biggest temptation will be to think we need to do something different.”
That year, my word picture for the players was from a story Denny Green had shared with me about quarterback Joe Montana.
Joe had been with the San Francisco 49ers for a number of years, helping them win several Super Bowls. Year after year, the team ran head coach Bill Walsh’s same offense. At the beginning of each season, Bill installed the offense the same way, with the plays installed in the same order. The first play he installed—every year—was “22 Z In.” Joe Montana could run “22 Z In” in his sleep.
When Paul Hackett became offensive coordinator for the 49ers, he installed “22 Z In” just as Bill Walsh instructed him. Paul realized that Joe knew more about “22 Z In” better than he did, but when the meeting was over, Paul saw that Joe had taken three pages of notes. He’d documented exactly how Paul wanted to run the play, as well as all of the basics of “22 Z In” and its details. That’s what a professional does.
“That’s what we need to do this season,” I told the Colts. “You’ll think you’ve heard it all before, but you can’t get mentally lazy. We have to stay sharp and continue to work to improve—all through camp and all through the season. We are going to do the same things over and over—that’s how we are going to win.” Then I ran through the same list of goals.
- Top 5 in the NFL in giveaway/takeaway ratio
- Top 5 in the NFL in fewest penalties
- Top 5 in overall special teams
- Make big plays
- Don’t give up big plays
I talked about what we have done in 2005—things we had done well and areas where we could improve. Then I gave them a copy of an article I had read in the Houston Chronicle. They had often heard me paraphrase Matthew 16:26, my favorite Bible verse: “What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?” To me, one of the implications of that verse is that Christ not only promises us eternal life but also a life that’s more abundant here and now. But according to the Houston Chronicle article, many NFL players weren’t finding that abundant life as evidenced by the following statistics:
- Sixty-five percent of NFL players leave the game with permanent injuries.
- Twenty-five percent of NFL players report financial difficulties within the first year of retirement.
- Fifty percent of failed NFL marriages occur in the first year after retirement.
- Seventy-eight percent of NFL players are unemployed, bankrupt, or divorced within two years of retirement.
- The suicide rate for retired NFL players is six times greater than the national average.
“Guys, please keep this in mind: football is a temporary job. We are going to do everything we can to win, but we’re not going to ruin the rest of our lives over football.”
Then I gave them a handout I’ve given every team that I’ve coached, entitled “Five Things That May Get You in USA Today.” I had listed the five things in large print to grab their attention:
- Alcohol or illegal druge.
- Being our after 1:00 A.M.
- Driving more than 20 MPH over the speed limit.
- Women you don’t know well enough (or that you know too well).
I have always believed that if our players were careful in these five areas, they wouldn’t have many off-field problems.
During training camp, I read another article suggesting that the regular season didn’t matter to the Colts, that only the playoffs were important. The author said he didn’t care if we went 16-0 because it was meaningless. The playoffs were all that mattered. I held the article up in front of the team.
“Don’t buy into this trash. Everything we do matters. This kind of thinking will destroy us. We cannot have the impression that we will glide through the regular season and into the playoffs, that our wins along the way don’t matter. That is the perfect prescription for not making the playoffs. This is the kind of thinking that destroys talented teams.” Be faithful in the little things and big things will happen.