Truth be told, we know exactly how you turn around a sack-sack football program and construct a champion. It has been done plenty of times over the course of the past 51 years. Several of the greatest figures in football history have employed very similar tactics to accomplish this objective. They have shown us the pattern. We know how it is done. The real question is this: Who has the iron will to execute this program? It is an excruciating plan to put into action.
Paul William "Bear" Bryant takes over Alabama in 1958. Truth be told, Alabama was pretty terrible at the time. He runs brutal, grueling, lethal force training camps and practices. A bunch of guys quit. He cuts a few more. Bear flushes the toilet. Only those who love the game remain. He attracts only the toughest, nastiest, most ambitious men with chips on their shoulders and something to prove. It takes him till 1961 to complete the turn around, but he wins six national championships over the next 20 years. During the 1960s, Alabama is the toughest team on your schedule. They were what Miami was in the 1980s and what USC has been in the 2000s.
Glen Edward "Bo" Schembechler takes over at the University of Michigan in 1969. Michigan had a glorious past, and a dreadful present. He runs brutal, grueling, lethal force training camps and practices. Bo cuts a few more. Bo flushes the toilet. Only those who love the game remain. A bunch of guys quit. Bo nails a big sign over the exit of the locker room. It says "Those who stay will be champions." It's still there. Nobody touches that sign. That is Bo's emblem and mark on the program. He attracts only the toughest, nastiest, most ambitious men with chips on their shoulders and something to prove. He wins 13 Big 10 conference championships. He should have had a couple of national championships.
James William 'Jimmy' Johnson takes over the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. They are the worst team in the NFL. They are drafting first, and not because they made a trade. He runs brutal, grueling, lethal force training camps and practices. A bunch of guys quit. He cuts a bunch more. Jimmy flushes the toilet. Guys who don't love the sport and who are just collecting their large paychecks are thrown out on their faces. He attracts only the toughest, nastiest, most ambitious men with chips on their shoulders and something to prove. Jimmy's Cowboys win three Super Bowls, despite tremendous competition from the Redskins, 49ers, Giants, Packers and Bills. They win the third one without Jimmy... in spite of pretty terrible coaching.
Richard Albert 'Dick' Vermeil takes over the Rams in 1997. They were considered the worst team of the decade by many. The Bengals would eventually win that dreadful distinction because the Rams would win the Super Bowl in 1999.
In 1997, the Rams draft first, and not because they made a trade. Vermeil runs brutal, grueling, lethal force training camps and practices. He holds two, three hour full-contact practices in full pads each day. A bunch of guys quit. He cuts a bunch more. Dick flushes the toilet. Guys who don't love the sport and who are just collecting their large paychecks are thrown out on their faces. He attracts only the toughest, nastiest, most ambitious men with chips on their shoulders and something to prove.
It takes him two years to do it. Only eight men from the 1997 roster are left on 1999 roster. Guys like Issac Bruce, Kevin Carter, DeMarco Farr, and Todd Lyght are a few of the survivors. The 1999 Rams are voted the greatest turn-around story in NFL history by a distinguished panel of experts at NFL films. The turn around only lasts four years (1999-2003) but during this period we are The Greatest Show on Turf. This epoch could have been better, but we screwed up and forced Vermeil into a retirement that only lasted a few months.
These history lessons all demonstrate that there is a clear-cut path to pay-dirt. There is a well established, proven methodology for turning a team around. It has been used by most the of great coaches who triggered great turn arounds. Vince Lombardi didn't exactly flush the toilet, but he ran lethal force practices. He just had more survivors and champions on the roster than he thought he did when he started.
To the best of my knowledge, Bill Walsh is the only guy ever to turn around a team without flushing the toilet. According to rumor, he did not crush the souls of the weak in training camp. He focused on teaching & preaching precision execution. He had many of the same bums he started with on the team when he won SB16 with the 1981 49ers. Don't follow the Walsh model, as compelling as it might be. Walsh is the exception, not the rule. Follow the rule, not the exception.
College or Pro, the story is fundamentally the same. You have to get rid of the posers. You have to get rid of the fashion models who like to look good in the uniform. You have to weed out the guys like Barry Foster, who once said that he liked football but would never play for free. You have to get rid of the JaMarcus Russell types, who collect their $39 million and lie down on the job.
Tim Kutsarits published a piece this morning in which he discussed the massive roster turnover the Rams have experienced since the end of 2008. With the Barron trade about to become final, there are only seven remaining starters from the 2008 squad: Three on offense, four on defense. If O.J. Atogwe does not return, that number will be six.
Kutsarits correctly points out that this is now Devaney & Spagnuolo's team. The Rams are no longer a Jay Zygmunt & Scott Linehan production. I totally agree with Tim's call for accountability on that point.
I would just like to point out that there is a method to this madness. The process has been excruciating at times. I have disagreed with the elimination of several guys swept away in the toilet-flush. I still don't know why we gave up on Brian Leonard and Adam Carriker. I hope we will settle with O.J. Atogwe.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the Rams are flushing the toilet. Devaney has purged most of the Zygmunt/Linehan picks, and the last of the classic Rams from the Vermeil era.
Only time will tell if these new men are better. We all hope so.
Last year, Spagnuolo ran some pretty tough practices. They were not as tough as the ones Vermeil ran. Spagnuolo did not order up a pair of three hour full-contact drills per day, the reports held that Ram practices were much tougher than they ever were under Linehan.
I hope the intensity will increase in 2010, we can finish the weed-out process, and then make some progress.
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