Keith Brooking: A Leader Emerges

Gene StrotherCorrespondent IIIOctober 25, 2009

IRVING, TX - 2009:  Keith Brooking of the Dallas Cowboys poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Irving, Texas. (Photo by NFL Photos)

A leaderless locker room is a rudderless ship.

The Dallas Cowboys are a team needing compensation. The absence of sideline leadership under Wade Phillips has led to frequent chaos. The Patrick Clayton flap is just the most recent evidence that there is poor communication between the coaching staff and the men in the trenches. Crayton said he did not even know he had been demoted. No one told him.

I believe him.

A weak head coach heightens the need for players to step forward and become the vocal and spiritual leaders of the team. What exists in the Cowboys' organization today is not unlike the Barry Switzer era. That team managed to overcome the absence of a strong head coach, primarily because there were established leaders on both sides of the ball.

Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Darren Woodson did what Switzer could not—would not—do: They inspired their teammates to rise to every challenge, to meet adversity with single-minded determination, to excel, to exceed expectations.

It didn't hurt that they happened to be stacked with talented players at practically every position. But history has proved that the most talented team is not always the last team standing. Winning a Super Bowl takes more than talent.

It takes a team.

And a team needs leadership. It needs people confident and strong enough to stand up and say, "Follow me. I know the way."

It is a mistake to assume that a great soldier will automatically make a great General. The current crop of Cowboys have some great performers. DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff and others have proved they have the talent to do their jobs at the highest level. They have yet to prove they can inspire their teammates to do the same.

Enter Keith Brooking.

Brooking is proving himself to be the best offseason move the Cowboys have made in some time...and it isn't just the quality of his play on the field. Watch him in the defensive huddle. Keep an eye on him when he is on the sideline. Listen to him in interviews. The man has assumed a leadership role on a team in desperate need of a natural born leader.

Brooking hasn't bullied his way into his newfound role. Nor has he been officially appointed to be the leader of the Dallas defense. He has just been himself. Leaders lead. It is inherent in their nature. Born leaders are the most effective kind.

The idea that a professional football team doesn't require on-field leaders is just wrong. It is more important at that level than any other. In college, high school, or Pop Warner, the leadership is almost always provided by the coaching staff. But these are grown men, playing their game at the highest level in the world.

The rah-rah coach may inspire them, sure. The intellectual football genius coach may instruct them. But it takes a peer with skins on the wall, with a proven track record of his own, and with the innate ability to lead men to truly galvanize them on the field.

Otherwise, you have fifty-four individuals performing. One team will always trump fifty-four individuals.

The Cowboys are just another Brooking or two away from finding themselves in spite of their milk toast head coach.