My mother is an avid football fan and watches the Redskins every weekend in the fall. She knows a lot about the players, coaches, rules, and strategies that make up an NFL game. My only quarrel with her sports knowledge is that she credits every result, good or bad, to unmeasurable things like “teamwork,” “confidence,” and “swagger.” You know the kind of person I’m talking about? Sure, confidence and togetherness are components of any game, but too often these ideas are conflated to justify results after the fact. Teams that win had “good chemistry”, while teams that lost had a “toxic locker room.” Today in The Washington Times, Rich Campbell (usually one of the most insightful writers in the area) writes an article that seems custom fit for my mother. Look no further than a recent bowling trip to show how far the Redskins culture has changed:
“There’s much love among the Washington Redskins this spring. So much, in fact, that it spreads all the way to Dallas.”
I’m already skeptical of his thesis.
“Winning has a way of proliferating good vibes. (As do ongoing positive results of a certain quarterback’s knee rehabilitation.) The Redskins finally are realizing that.”
Scientists at MIT confirmed again Wednesday that winning evokes positive emotional responses in athletes and fans. The team of doctors will now resume their research on whether the moon continues to affect ocean tides.
“This is what owner Daniel Snyder had in mind when he hired general manager Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan little more than three years ago. The process of building the franchise into a winner had to start with a culture change.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. The Redskins were in desperate need of a culture change. An owner more concerned with finances and headlines than winning made poor personnel decisions that led to a lack of talent. Coaches without proper NFL experience like Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier were hired and thrown to the wolves. Albert Haynesworth was given a really expensive spot on the defensive line. All these mistakes are representative of a dysfunctional Redskins “culture.”
“The wood was rotted. Also, there were termites behind it.”
Imagine how much wood Haynesworth could knock back in one sitting!
“The organization lacked skilled coaching in some areas and competent stewardship from the GM’s office. Player insubordination and dissent occasionally were toxic.
“Culture change is difficult to quantify, but eventually it becomes evident in the standings. The Redskins‘ 10 wins last year and their first division championship in 13 seasons indicate the infestation is gone now and new boards are in place.”
You’ve sold me, Rich. With a franchise QB and a division championship in hand, I need no further proof that the ship has been righted with high-quality wood.
“More proof exists, though;”
Oh. I’m sold already though so you really don’t have to…
“proof that’s as important as wins because it indicates sustainability.”
Something in football more important than wins? The Vince Lombardi theorem has been disproved!
“The scene Saturday night at Lucky Strike, a bowling alley adjacent to Verizon Center, depicted the core of the Redskins‘ turnaround.”
…oh. So, the thing more important than wins to a football team took place at a bowling alley? Not on a football field, draft room, or Dr. Andrews’ operating table.
Now granted, the bowling excursion was to raise money for charity devoted to Stephen Bowen’s deceased child. That’s a great cause and I’m very glad that the event was held and successful. But athletes do this kind of thing all the time. Teams do this all the time. This event does not prove the Redskins will have long term success. Remember, that’s Campbell’s original thesis: this event is representative proof that the team will have “sustainability.”
“Shanahan finished one particular frame with more than a few pins standing. The coach smiled as he retreated and gave out high fives, including one to Allen’s wife, Kiersten. The group laughed and savored the fellowship.”
I’m not surprised at all that Mike Shanahan is terrible at bowling. That makes so much sense to me.
“Of course, the Redskins‘ turnaround is ongoing because of the talent they have assembled during the past three offseasons. No night of bowling trumps that.”
Exactly my point. Unfortunately, that undermines Campbell’s point of saying that bowling parties are “as important as wins.” So, why are we talking about bowling again?
“But the bowling alley scene shows what makes the process work over the long term.”
Cold nachos, awkward teenagers, and black lighting?
“Culture change is about people. So is assembling the roster. The two are so interconnected that an organization’s survival can depend on it. Snyder, Allen and Shanahan share the same goals, and Shanahan, who has final say in roster decisions, has their respect. So when there was an opportunity to trade three first-round picks and a second rounder to acquire a franchise quarterback last year, they seized it. In contrast to the Vinny Cerrato-Jim Zorn era, there is working harmony in the offices at Redskins Park these days.”
Shanny is throwing gutterballs for the good of the team! Campbell goes on to talk about the roster and other non-bowling related activities, so I’ll spare (pun way intended!) you the extra words, but feel free to read it if it strikes (!!!!) your fancy.
I don’t really mean to be a curmudgeon about this. I am glad that the players and coaches like each other enough to hang out after hours and raise money for a good cause. Still, if I was to make a list of the reasons the Redskins were successful last season compared to the previous 4-12 record in 2011, my list would go something like this:
1) RGIII being awesome
2) Implementing a zone read scheme that NFL defenses weren’t accustomed to seeing
3) Maintaining a healthy offensive line
4) Finding a great tailback in the late rounds of the draft
5) The Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys being worse than expected
6) Kirk Cousins making that one throw against the Ravens
7) Kai Forbath having the greatest “rookie” season in NFL history
491) Fun times at Lucky Strike
Let’s make sure we put the fluff in proper perspective.