So much of coaching great players involves managing their personalities. Coaches need to determine what kind of animal they're dealing with before they know how to domesticate them. Some guys need a kick in the pants, some a pat on the butt, and some merely need to be left alone.
I think Miami's Eric Spoelstra has figured out how to coach LeBron James now that he has become King James.
"His motor is limitless. I don't want to take that for granted. I don't just want to assume that he can play 40-plus minutes, but he had to do it on both ends," Spoelstra said. "Couldn't get him out in the fourth quarter and if I would have tried, he probably would have strangled me."
Spoelstra is displaying how he has changed in regard to coaching the best player on the planet.
"He was strong and was at his strongest after 40 minutes of basketball," he said.
This kind of speech eluded Spoelstra last year but has now become a ritual for the Miami Heat coach.
King James has taken over the person of LeBron but Spoelstra still knows the person of LeBron James is the soul of his alter ego. And LeBron James feeds off positive reinforcement, especially when he takes one for the team by regularly playing 40-plus minutes.
And who among us doesn't love and respect a human being that has unspeakable talent but is willing to be martyred for his team?
Mike Allen (@Mjallen728) made a suggestion via Twitter that hit me in the face like Harry Carson's (Google it, My Young Crunks) bucket head on an iso: The Cardinals should move Sam Acho from OLB to Mike backer.
I like the idea knowing Mike backer is an area Big Red needs to address. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent and 35 years of age. Lenon is one of my favorite Cardinals: tough, fierce and smart. But the Cards need to get younger at the position and they may not try to re-sign Lenon.
Playing Mike in the National Football League is 60 minutes of bull-in-the-ring. It is a brutal position and many Mike backers wake the next morning looking like the surface of the moon. Defensively, Mike is the nerve center of the line of scrimmage. Many times, he is responsible for aligning the front and making sure people are in their proper gaps. He needs to be capable of taking on blocks, holding up at the point of attack, getting off blocks and making tackles. He needs to run from sideline to sideline and be one of the best tacklers on the team. In short, playing Mike requires a player to be smart, tough, athletic and physical.
Sam Acho is a 6-3, 250-pound linebacker that runs the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds. He might be the smartest player on the team and has the acumen to shine at Mike.
But a Mike backer also needs to hold up in space.
And this is where my enthusiasm wanes in regard to moving a productive player like Acho to Mike. I don't know if Sam would hold up well in the open field. Mike backers need to be capable of covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends down the seam; they need the foot speed to cover option routes, the technique to jam and run with big guys and the experience to decipher route combinations.
Sam Acho would be learning all of this at the highest level. Then again, you could always move him back to the outside…
Yeah, I officially like the idea again: Move Sam Acho to Mike.
Wes Johnson is an unknown commodity for the Phoenix Suns but he's making a case that he is in the process of filling his considerable potential.
The three he hit against San Antonio to tie the game up in regulation and send it into OT could become the shot heard ‘round Planet Purple. Jermaine O'Neal's awesome outlet pass gave Johnson an opportunity to shine, and he delivered.
I believe Johnson lacks confidence; I believe it's one of the reasons he smiles as much as he does. Those smiles are how he copes with the pressures of trying to become something, a nervous chuckle that releases anxiety. But knowing he lacks confidence makes me wonder what this shot will do for his career?
Seriously, everybody needs to see themselves acknowledge, confront and overcome obstacles in order to grow as a person. If you lack any of the three -- if you don't employ all three variables (acknowledging, confronting and overcoming that which opposes you) -- you will not sustain lasting growth. It's impossible.
Wes Johnson acknowledged the Suns were in trouble, Wes Johnson confronted the obstacle by getting himself into position to take a shot and Wes Johnson did what many thought was impossible, overcoming the Suns' 3-point deficit with an incredible, athletic three.
This could be the Shot Heard ‘Round the World for Wes Johnson; I hope he heard it.
Martin Prado is making an impact on the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they've just started Spring Training. Kevin Towers, the D-backs' GM, is raving about Prado's weight-room antics, work ethic and his competitive fire. Towers told us D-backs players are having a hard time beating Prado into work in the morning, an easy time leaving before him, and that he doesn't know if he's seen Prado smile.
Apparently Prado's intensity button is stuck in the "ON" position.
This is the beating heart of the clubhouse chemistry question: can a human being inspire others to do better, work harder and be more prepared…every day? And, more importantly, can they do it over the course of 162 games?
But intensity without production is not leadership; it's the definition of a ticking time-bomb. If Martin Prado struggles, he will not be pleasant to be around and his leadership qualities will suffer; if he produces, his greatest gift to the D-backs will be the impact his person will have on his teammates. After all, a high tide floats all boats.
This time of year always fills me with anticipation, fascination and speculation, but I put my trust in no man. The NFL Scouting Combine in still underway in Indianapolis and reports are starting to trickle into the matrix and hysteria is mounting.
I love the combine but I hate the fact that it kicks off the most volatile dispensation of the league year. Information is the currency of talk radio. We sell, barter and trade information and listeners purchase that information by listening. But when it comes to sources -- whether anonymous or those close to the situation -- and other reports, I believe very few of them.
Like the report that says Matt Barkley blew away the Arizona Cardinals during the interview process. I believe it's misinformation; somebody got the report wrong or talked to a minion that was blown away but didn't hear it from the man's mouth.
Why would a person in authority tell anybody what he's thinking? Why should I work so hard at evaluating a player, spend so much time and money and resources to determine the value of a prospect, and then tell you what I believe about that kid one way or the other?
I can use it as a smokescreen, where the other team doesn't know whether I'm being sincere or not. And this is why the NFL Combine and the weeks leading up to the draft is the most unsettling time of the league year. The great Dance of Deception has begun in earnest.
The NFL Scouting Combine is getting ready to start this weekend in Indianapolis, but the most important part of it has already begun. The interview process -- where prospects sit down and speak with front office luminaries, has become more important than the 40-yard dash.
Most scouts can look at a prospective player on film and know whether or not the kid will be able to play in the league. Running 40s, darting through cones, benching the world, these will only reinforce what most NFL evaluators already believe about the player coming into the combine.
But the interview process is where combine gold is found. It is the best way for evaluators to get a feel for the intellect, emotional state and general character of a player, and these are the things that divide and separate one young man from the other. What lies within has become the most anticipated drill in Indianapolis. How a young player answers critical questions helps evaluators determine if the kid will hold up mentally and emotionally when the best opposes the best.
The salary cap and free agency have redefined the game of football. General managers, pro personnel men and scouts are weighed, measured and, sometimes, found wanting based on whom they hitch their wagon to; it's how careers are forged. Repeated mistakes that cost owners money are not tolerated very well and punishment usually involves banishment from the byways, hallways and thoroughfares of security-laced offices.
The problem with the interview process is that agents get ahold of these college prospects and train them, teach them and coach them what to say. A young man that may have had problems off the field but on campus suddenly turns into Eddie Haskell (Google it, My Young Crunks). Players that have had run-ins with their college coaches need to be closely examined, but many coaches know their program's prestige (not to mention future recruiting prowess) is directly tied to putting butts in the National Football League. Many times the truth about a kid gets lost in translation of personal interests and agendas.
But coaches in college programs are not the only violators of fudging a kid's character for the betterment of personal interest. Even NFL evaluators will tell you they think a spotty prospect is, "A bad kid in the first round, a troubled kid in the second round, and a misunderstood kid in the third round."
Character matters to most teams and the best way to determine whether or not a kid has character involves conversations with campus police, checking police blotters, monitoring security cameras in dorms, speaking with ex-girlfriends and water-boarding the kid's parents. Unfortunately, since there are only 24 hours in the day and resources at a premium, this degree of scrutiny is never employed.
And that's why NFL evaluators cherish the interview at the combine. This is where they make their money. Will this kid turn into a perennial Pro Bowl player or will he be a perennial Punk Bowl player? I know one GM from the NFC North that told me he won't draft a guy that is mentally or emotionally troubled in any way, shape or form. He told me they, "Put him in a box," and won't touch him no matter how far he plummets down draft boards.
General managers, everybody sitting in that room need to be pseudo-psychologists. They need to be able to read people and not always words. Questions need to be worded in a specific way and have deeper meaning. Many times the answer a prospect gives may fill said prospect with certitude, knowing he nailed the question, when his answer filled his inquisitors with disdain.
If I'm an NFL evaluator, I want a kid that takes personal responsibility for his actions and his character and his play on the field. I want a kid that makes the game personal by taking his performance personally. I want a kid that believes he can only control his performance on the field. I want a player that plays for no one or nothing else than the standard he has set for himself. I want a young man that can inspire others by showing them what a self-starter looks like and how a self-motivated individual prepares and works at his craft. I want a prospect that couldn't care less what the down-and-distance is, what quarter it is, what the score is or what week of the season it is; I want a player that only sees the next play as an opportunity to prove he is worthy of playing this great game -- and doing it with all he possesses. I want a kid that is his harshest critic, evaluates himself honestly, focuses on his minuses and is consumed with belly-fire when he watches himself get his face kicked in on the grid. I want a young man that understands this is a business, that he is a mercenary in the biggest mercenary league humans have conceived, and is driven by the need to support his family and provide a better way for his offspring. I want a kid that will tell his agent to shut his face and stop telling him what to say in the interview room because he doesn't need to be coached and knows it's about him and nobody else.
I want that kid.
I want a kid to care more about Pro Bowls than Super Bowls. If you get enough of those guys on your roster, Super Bowls will be your reward.
When LeBron James transformed himself last season and became the competitor he needed to be and won a championship because of how well he played, he became King James and the sky was the limit.
The demons were excised and LeBron's house was clean, figuratively speaking. And it was clean because he found The Button, the place where every athlete goes when they are in the zone. If you're going to compete at the highest level you better craft yourself the intensity-button and know where it is and when to push it, and that's exactly what LeBron did last post-season.
The Button turns LeBron James into King James and the difference in demeanor is significant. No more smiling, no more laughing, and his eyes look long and hard at those opposing him. He turns into a different human being and he's doing it again.
People now dare to mention King James' greatness in the same breath as MJ's, which is so premature. Yes, Michael had the button too; the only difference was Michael's button was stuck in the "On" position…and he has five more rings.
The Phoenix Coyotes beat people not by having better talent, but by being more disciplined, having a great goaltender, and generating scoring opportunities from being buttoned up in their zone.
The Coyotes Way is a defense-first system that demands discipline with the puck as well as getting a body on somebody. As soon as the Coyotes don't adhere to the rules of their system they're at the mercy of their opponent's talent level.
Monday night's game against the Avalanche (3-2, OT) was an impressive win, but the Coyotes looked really bad in their end. They were turning it over, not controlling the slot, people were in front of Mike Smith, they were getting caught on the fly, and this translated into multiple scoring opportunities for the Colorado. They just looked sloppy, and we're not used to seeing Dave Tippett's team play anything but buttoned up hockey.
They allowed 16 shots on goal in the first period and 32 after two periods. That's just way too many pucks being thrown at the net for a Tippett team. This game could have been out of control if Mike Smith wasn't playing well.
I believe they're in the process of turning it around but have a long way to go before they resemble the team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season.
The Paterno family is trying to restore the legacy of Joe Paterno and have responded to the Freeh Report by former FBI Director, Louis Freeh. The family conducted their own investigation and maintains that Joe Pa was not complicit in a cover-up of child sexual abuse by former assistant Jerry Sandusky.
"The Freeh Report reflects an improper 'rush to injustice,'" the Paterno family critique says. "There is no evidence that Joe Paterno deliberately covered up known incidents of child molestation by Jerry Sandusky to protect Penn State football or for any other reason; the contrary statements in the Freeh report are unsupported and unworthy of belief."
Unworthy of belief, indeed.
I have great compassion for the Paterno family because they must be confused themselves. They know and believe Joe Pa would never do anything like cover up and suppress evidence with such serious implications as the rape of a child or abuse of other children. I have compassion for them because they want to remember their father for all the good he did and not for what he did; or, in this case, what he didn't do.
The family is focusing on the wrong thing.
It's not the Freeh Report. When it comes to the legacy of Joe Paterno you can take everything in that report and throw it out the window. None of it matters to me.
Joe Pa's legacy was destroyed the moment he made the decision to pursue justice by not going directly to the police, the proper authorities. Joe Pa had a sobbing Mike McQueary in his office, recounting what he had seen Sandusky do to a boy in the showers. That's where this story begins and ends.
What do rational, intelligent, unencumbered human beings do when somebody tells them they witnessed a man murdering a boy's heart in the showers?
The first thing they do is say, "What!" The second thing they do is pick the phone up and call police -- the real police! You don't tell your superiors and expect them to handle the situation. You immediately call the police and hand the phone to McQueary. Immediately!!
And this is why Joe Pa will always be respected in the Wolfley Compound as a football coach that made a tragic mistake but not revered as a man: if it was his grandson being sodomized in the showers that day, would he have said, "What!" and then called the police?
If Joe Paterno answered that question by saying, "no, I would have handled it exactly the same way" he is the Devil incarnate.
Although I will never understand getting together with tens of people under one roof to watch the Super Bowl, staggering through the hallways and rooms of another's house as though you were a peasant roaming the streets of 17th century London, I do understand that tens of millions of Americans engage in the revelry, pageantry and tradition of gathering in the name of the Bloodsport's paragon game.
You get it; I don't.
The Super Bowl is a hallowed day in the Wolfley Compound, where doors are locked, windows covered and communications severed. This is the very best football our species can offer, played in a pristine environment conducive to making perfect pivots on a 5-route, setting up a deuce-block on the tackle zone or stuffing an ace-block as a 1-technique. It is the game of games, the game to end all games in the most football frenzied fraternity of people this side of the pond.
I get this; you don't.
But there's one thing we all want to know: Who will win the game?
Sorry, I hold predictions with little regard and view them with disdain. But I am willing to offer up some things that you and your Super Bowl party brethren might enjoy.
How far outside the box is the Baltimore Ravens defense willing to think? Colin Kaepernick and the read-option has pierced the offensive darkness of the NFL and appears to be gaining in strength. The play is more about math than scheme, bodies than names, deception than prowess and defensive coordinators have not figured out a way to slow it down...yet.
The Ravens defense has always been progressive in the realm of game-plans. Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan and current DC Dean Pees were, and are, never afraid to do something schematically that made other coaches say, "You can't do that."
In the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Pees adopted a cover-0 strategy every time Tom Brady and the Patriots were inside the 5-yard-line, lining all his players up on the line-of-scrimmage, playing press man across the board and either blitzing or bailing on the snap of the ball. The Patriots lost the game largely because the Ravens defense allowed them to score but a single touchdown in four trips into the red zone.
Expect Pees and the Ravens to show the 49ers something out of the ordinary in run down situations from the pistol, including cover-0. Drastic times call for drastic measures and I could easily see Ray Lewis and company try to execute a scheme designed to attack the read-option.
Stopping the read-option and the plays that come off it is a pivotal variable to any equation that has the Ravens winning the Super Bowl.
Can the Ravens offense control the middle of the field (MOF)? This has been the hallmark of the Ravens during their playoff run. Jim Caldwell's calling card has included attacking the seams and everything in between the numbers and goes all the way back to being Peyton Manning's QB coach in 2002.
Although the Ravens do like to take shots down the field (especially to the right) with Torrey Smith, they have refocused their attack between the numbers and this is why Anquan Boldin has resurfaced as a force in the Ravens offense. The AFC Championship Game speaks to the success the Ravens have had down the middle. Boldin caught two touchdowns running a post route and a skinny post and tight end Dennis Pitta scored on a simple option route.
And it's not just about Joe Flacco throwing the ball. When Caldwell was with the Colts, they basically had three running plays: the inside zone, tackle zone and outside zone or stretch play. The inside zone attacks the middle of a defensive front, the tackle-zone appears to be a perimeter play but is really meant to attack the middle of a defense, and even the stretch play isn't as much a perimeter play as most people think.
The Ravens will try to use Ray Rice often and have become much more balanced since Caldwell took over for Cam Cameron. Rice runs between the tackles extremely well, is built low to the ground and is very powerful. Moreover, Bernard Pierce gives the Ravens a whole new dimension at the running back position. He runs the zone scheme very well, is deceptively strong and faster than most defenders think. The combination of Rice and Pierce attacking the MOF will be an integral part of the Ravens' game plan, opening up play-action seam routes to Boldin and Smith.
How does Colin Kaepernick respond to the biggest stage of all? Kaepernick has defied all logic in demonstrating the poise and control of a ten-year veteran. His march through December was impressive and what he has done in the postseason has been nothing short of remarkable. But this is the Super Bowl and anybody that says this game is "just another game" is not telling the truth or a sociopath.
Kaepernick has done a great job with the read-option but he will need to throw the ball like he has this season if the 49ers are going to win this game. He doesn't have to be perfect, he doesn't even need to play great; Kaepernick needs to protect the ball, make good reads (especially off play-action) and continue to deliver the ball accurately when opportunities present themselves.
The NFC Championship Game is a good example. Kaepernick wasn't perfect but he was accurate, made big plays down the field to Vernon Davis, Randy Moss and Delanie Walker and took advantage of opportunities. Kaepernick didn't leave any plays on the field for San Francisco and more than this, didn't throw an interception.
Cliché though it be, what team protects the ball the best and doesn't turn it over? This is always important but I see it being even more important in this game because turning the ball over in this game will have a psychological impact on the team that does it.
These teams don't turn the ball over. There was only one team in the NFL that turned the ball over less than the Ravens and the 49ers (Washington). The Ravens and the 49ers each had 16 giveaways on the season; they just don't give it up to their opponent.
What's more, both teams had 25 takeaways on the season, giving them the same plus-minus in the turnover margin (+9).
Turning the ball over when it's not been part of a team's winning formula all season long can drain a sideline, doing it on the biggest stage, in the biggest game of the year can be downright crippling and sends negative messages to every player on that team.
Finally, do you believe in sibling rivalry? I do. Although I have never experienced this myself, it seems only natural to me. The psychology behind it seems solid and although life is not about absolutes I think it will play a part in Super Bowl XLVII.
Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or animosity among children of the same family. According to most child psychologists, sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age, of the same gender, or where one child is intellectually gifted.
Enter the Harbaughs. Jim Harbaugh is the younger brother to John Harbaugh -- 15 months younger. And although both these men profess their love and respect for each other, make no mistake, they want to beat the other's butt - in anything they do!
Although winning the Super Bowl is all that matters in the end to both Harbaughs, I think Jim would like to beat his older brother for reasons that have nothing to do with the Lombardi trophy, especially in an ultra-competitive clan like the Harbaugh family.
And this brings up an interesting dynamic: we know they want to win but do they want to look like a genius doing it?
With John, I don't think so; with Jim, I think it matters. I could be dead wrong on this, and my opinion is biased due to encounters I've had with "Jimmy" through the years, but I think it's important to him that he beats his older brother John -- and looks like a genius doing it. I think he wants to "out-coach" his brother John or at least appear to out-coach his brother.
How do you do that? Use the Chi, the extraordinary, not the Chung, the norm.
Expect some trick plays from the 49ers. A fake punt or field goal early in the game, a double-reverse pass, a throw back to Colin Kaepernick, something out of the ordinary. These kind of plays have a way of sticking out in our collective consciousness and sometimes define Super Bowls. Just ask Ken Whisenhunt.
Sunday is going to be a blast. This game will be bloody. So while you're quieting everyone down at your compound so you can hear the next commercial, enjoy the game, have fun and think of psychology and how it might impact the game to end all games.
I'll be on a ridge somewhere, miles away from paved roads, and the only sound I'll hear are the echoes through the canyon as I shout at the flatscreen matrix, "Get out of cover-2! You can't keep playing cover-2 in run down! Get out of it! Get...out! Nooooooo!"