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Learning a Lesson from LeGarrette (Part Three): The Encourager and the Enforcer - a theory of coaching styles

In part three of the article, I set out a theory of coaching based on two broad categories of coaches, and explain why it is important to have a balance of both on a coaching staff, using examples from recent Bucs history; this theory will set up the final parts of the article.


The Encourager and the Enforcer

[NB: Yes, 'encourager' is probably bad (and certainly clumsy) English, but it goes well with 'enforcer' so I'm sticking with it.]

After breaking down what Blount was capable of even on a pretty uneven and inconsistent 2011 team, before Schiano came to town, in part two, you may think it logical that part three will go on to compare his play from that season with the 2012 model. Ah, my friends, that would be far too straightforward; just putting his play from one season side by side with his play from the next would only offer a partial picture of why Blount is seen by many as being on the way out (especially in light of the Brian Leonard signing).

The whole notion of this article is that Blount's poor play in 2012 is primarily a result of, and reaction to, the new coaching staff (not, as I will go on to explain in part four, as an act of subordination, but rather an unfortunate side effect of the "Schiano way"). Why would a change in coaching staff cause a solid, starting-calibre running back (in both 2010 and 2011) to suddenly look like he has no place on an NFL field? Before I answer that question in the final part of this series of articles, I feel a need to preface it with a theory that is applicable not just to football coaches, or sports coaches, but the management of almost any and every organisation.

Two coaching styles

It's a theory that I'm sure has been proposed many times before me, applied to any one of a multitude of different fields or scenarios (in fact, a quick googling tells me I'm not the first one to even use these specific terms in relation to sports - shame!) - and it's one that I'm sure everyone reading this will recognise as being something they will have experienced at some point in their lives, at work, at school or even at home as children. Simply stated, anyone in a position of higher authority over somebody else can be categorised into two broad camps: 'encouragers' and 'enforcers'.

Like I said, this is hardly a new concept. Growing up, how many of you thought of one parent as the 'strict' one, and the other as the 'fun' one (or at least the more lenient, will-let-you-get-away-with-mischief one)? Anecdotally, many people working in smaller-to-midsized companies (i.e. those where they come into semi-regular contact with the company executives) have two such executives overseeing them, typically a CEO or chairman who encourages the employees to think outside the box, to take risks in order to seek new business initiatives, and so on and so forth... and a CFO or managing director, to whom the most important thinks is the bottom line, and will shut down any costly new ventures unless they're convinced the nickels and dimes make sense (and I have no doubt that some of you reading this will either recognise this to be true in your own place of work, or will start to notice is it now). If you're involved in any social organisations, you'll probably know that such societies are driven by just a few core members, and you'll be able to fit them into one of the two groups relatively easily.

The key is that a successful organisation of any type really requires both personality types, working together, in order to be successful. As mentioned above, many companies have this dynamic working at the highest level, making sure they remain both competitive in being innovative, and financially solvent. In the situation of parents, you need a balance between both nurturing the creativity and happiness of the children so that they develop into fully functioning three-dimensional human beings, and the discipline and structure that ensures they know how to put their nose to the grindstone to succeed in life, and don't end up on an MTV programme.

Hell, the requirement of having a balanced relationship between encouragers and enforcers to achieve best outcomes has become one of the most common tropes of all, a hallmark of all television and film procedurals and often used in any context where applicable - that of 'good cop/bad cop'.

But enough tangential ramblings (I tend to do that a lot, huh?); lets bring it back round to sport, since that's what you're here for. Suffice is to say, the encourager and enforcer roles are more than applicable to the sporting world, and if you've ever played organised sports at any level, you'll instantly be able to place any of the coaches you'll have played under into one of the two camps.

There are, of course, a myriad of different coaching styles, each with its own characteristics and nuances; but I ultimately believe that every coach is at their heart either an encourager or an enforcer, and that any of the other traits inherent to each coaching style merely serves to differentiate the many subdivisions that fall into these two phyla.One encourager might be as different from another as he or she is from an enforcer; there are no real hallmarks that are true to every coach in one of the given styles.

The distinction is simply this (and this is applicable to all situations in life where someone has authority over an entity): if faced with an unideal situation, an encourager's subconscious instinct is to incentivize with the rewards of success to improve that situation, whereas an enforcer's subconscious instinct is to motivate with the punishments of failure. More simply: an encourager will naturally offer a carrot; an enforcer will brandish the stick.

Beyond this philosophical stance, there is nothing else that particularly unites all the coaches belonging to one of these camps. The coach that remains calm, measured and collected on the sidelines whether the team is winning or losing is as likely to be an encourager (think Tony Dungy) as an enforcer (Bill Belichick); likewise, the rah-rah high-energy coach comes in both encourager (say, Pete Carroll) and enforcer (Jim Harbaugh) flavours. There are an infinite number of elements in the matrices of coaching characteristics; so why place a special emphasis on the distinction between encourager and enforcer?

Because coaching staffs can be made up of many different types of coach; but almost all successful coaching staffs have a mixture of encouragers and enforcers. You can have any combination of high-energy coaches, calm and placid coaches, coaches who joke with their players and coaches who yell at them instead - as long as there is a balance between the two styles. The same combination of specific styles, but with the ratio weighted too heavily to enforcers or encouragers, can at best lead to a difficult environment impossible to sustain without regular winning to tide over the locker room, and at worst complete and utter disaster.

It is a mistake to assume that a player's style of play is a constant, as long as his physical attributes (specifically strength and weight) remain the same - whereas in reality, their mental state holds as much, if not (as often is the case) more importance to a player's production than his physical tools. While in baseball, much mention is made of whether a pitcher or batter is 'in the zone', it seems the only time people consider a football player's psychological readiness is if their play is off (as seen in a large majority of off-season articles, discussions and posts on both traditional and online media when it comes to the subject of #5).

Why is it not brought up more often when a player is doing well, that they clearly are in a place where they feel mentally comfortable and psychologically confident? It's a factor that is often dismissed when things go right, yet is arguably the most important contributing factor to things going right in the first place. Pursuant to that notion, it should be recognised that the coaching staff plays a huge role in getting players to that mental state most conducive to on-field production. Yet, players are not all the same, and are motivated - or demotivated - by different approaches and environments.

Some players respond to the carrot where others are made complacent or cocky by it; others need the stick to drive them, but others still will react badly. Short of winning early, winning regularly and winning often (as winning is the best motivator of all), an environment that caters to all psychological profiles a player may have, or at least as wide a range of psyches as possible, is as important to a team's success as a strategically sound gameplan and tactically innovative playbook, or comprehensive strength and conditioning programme to ensure players can physically execute on the field.

To illustrate the point, I hold up the example of two coaching staffs from the Bucs' recent history - the previously-mentioned Dungy, and the ill-fated Raheem Morris tenure.

Tony Dungy vs. Raheem Morris

Tony Dungy is definitely someone who got that balance right in his coaching staff. His turning around of the Buccaneers' fortunes is known to all Bucs fans; likewise is the fatherly role he held for many of the team's players, with an emphasis on instruction and teaching rather than the stereotypical 'hard-ass coach'. This stemmed not just from Dungy's faith, which has of course been well-documented both during his coaching career and subsequently, but in his own words was molded by the coaching style of legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll.

Having served under Noll both as a player and as a coach, Dungy frequently brings up Noll as one of his greatest inspirations as a coach - not just schematically (the Tampa Two was the direct descendent of the 'Steel Curtain' Cover-2 defense) but in terms of personal coaching philosophy (Buccaneers who played under Dungy, such as Derrick Brooks, talk about how it was Dungy who inspired them to always keep family before football; and in turn, Dungy learnt that lesson himself from Noll).

It is important to note, though, that Noll did not singlehandedly turn the Steelers from the joke of the league into a feared force (as Dungy would do later in Tampa); rather, he did it together with Bud Carson. Carson, DB coach in his first year with Noll, and then DC for the remainder of his tenure in Pittsburgh, was arguably more important than Noll in bringing the Cover-2 to fruition - but as well as his importance in the development of the defense, he served as a foil to the more humble, 'instruction'-orientated Noll. Carson was a tough-minded, demanding coach, shaped by his time in the Marines. Between the two of them, Noll and Carson created arguably the greatest defense in NFL history.

When Dungy got his first shot as a head coach, he took over a terrible Buccaneer team. He already had a good reputation among certain players, and brought the defensive principles he learnt as a Steeler, modifying them for the modern NFL together with Monte Kiffin, and transformed a team coming off thirteen straight losing seasons (twelve of which had been double-digit loss campaigns) into a perennial contender that made the playoffs four times in five years. Kiffin of course preached disciplined play within his scheme, and in many ways the discipline aspect was brought to that defense by the team's defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli, who later became assistant head coach to Dungy's successor, Jon Gruden.

Like Carson, Marinelli took a tough-minded approach to coaching that, at least according to Simeon Rice (who racked up five consecutive double-digit sack seasons under Marinelli's tutelage) was attributable to his own service in the Marines. Warren Sapp recounts on his very first meeting with Dungy, the then-new Bucs head coach immediately introduced #99 to Marinelli, who immediately told Sapp that it was time to get to work. Between Kiffin and Marinelli and a premium on toughness and discipline, the Bucs struck a good balance between encouragers (Dungy, 'player's coach' and assistant head coach for most of Dungy's Buccaneer regime Herm Edwards, and linebackers coach Lovie Smith) and enforcers (Kiffin, Marinelli, and in Dungy's final season with the team, Mike Tomlin.

Tomlin, of course, coached the team's defensive backs between 2001 and 2005, leaving to co-ordinate the Vikings defense - with his assistant, Raheem Morris, taking over in Tampa... and that neat little segue takes us to a prime example of when a coaching staff consists mostly, or entirely, of only one of these two schools of coaching.

The Buccaneers' collapse

We all know how badly the team collapsed during 2011, going from a 4-2 record and the top spot in the NFC South to an abysmal 4-12, a collapse appearing even more drastic when compared to a 10-6 2010 campaign that left the team filled with optimism. One of the biggest head-scratchers is why the team was able to rebound from losses in 2010, while a few back-to-back poor performances sent the Bucs into a tailspin that it wouldn't recover from. Some have suggested, with fair reason, that the team deciding not to re-sign some of its free agents, such as Cadillac Williams and Barrett Ruud, left a real dearth of veteran leadership once Earnest Graham had his season (and what would turn out to be his career) end abruptly at Wembley Stadium, leaving Ronder Barber the only real seasoned presence in the locker room. Without more experienced players to help the younger guys pull their heads up when the season was beginning to come off the tracks, team morale plunged to the point where they appeared to not even bother trying to play in the final few weeks of the year.

Still, I would argue there was another huge factor in the Bucs' psychological dismantling during the ill-fated 2011 campaign. The Bucs made a conscious decision not to re-sign those key veterans, but there was a small but, to my eyes at least, significant change in the coaching staff too. Famously fiery special teams coordinator and assistant head coach, Rich Bisaccia, was allowed to leave the team to join San Diego - one 'enforcer' mentality gone from the team. Of course, you may say that this was more a result of Bisaccia's contract running out than any active move on the part of the team - but he was not the only enforcer to part ways with the team after 2010.

Offensive line coach Pete Mangurian did a very good job patching holes as the line got battered and bashed about as much, if not more, than the 2012 Bucs' line was: getting rookie post-training camp waiver wire pickup Ted Larsen up to speed to play left guard when Jeremy Zuttah had to play center when the oft-injured Jeff Faine was, well, injured, playing well enough to keep the LG spot once Faine returned to the lineup; likewise working wonders with undrafted rookie Derek Hardman at right guard when Davin Joseph went on injured reserve in December of that season; and taking career back up James Lee, who had only one appearance in his first two years in the league, and coaching him well enough not only to cover for Jeremy Trueblood when he missed two games through injury, but to keep hold of that starting spot once Trueblood was once again healthy (though I'm sure some of you are thinking: "yeah, but how hard can that honestly be?")

Mangurian did a fine job in 2010 in the face of the multitude of injuries he had to deal with; and yet, his reward was a pink slip the following January. Why was he fired from the team? OK, the Bucs' line was hardly the best in 2010, but again, very few line coaches could have done better faced with that many injuries (yes, Bob Bostad arguably did a better job in a similar situation this past season, but you need only look at how key injuries affected the Eagles' O-line last year despite having one of the most seasoned and important coaches of the modern era, Howard Mudd, to see that this was by far the exception rather than the norm). Rather, the specific reason that Mangurian was fired was his coaching style - too hard-nosed, old-school, abrasive, not fitting the player-friendly buddy-buddy approach Morris wanted on his staff. Another enforcer gone, leaving the Bucs to head into the 2011 season with a staff full of encouragers.

We all know now how successful that turned out. Yet, there is a need for enforcers alongside encouragers on coaching staffs, and where there are none, it will leave a vacuum that has to be filled, consciously or unconsciously. In the case of Raheem's final season with the Bucs, it was Morris himself who had to step into the enforcer role, one that is ostensibly unnatural to him if his coaching style before and since is anything to go by. As Dungy mentioned in the video linked-to above, the most important thing for any coach is to be true to themselves - extrapolated, if they are an encourager, encourage; if an enforcer, enforce.

Morris not being a born enforcer, his attempts at discipline did not rein in the collective team psyche from the verge of implosion, but rather seemed arbitrary and petty, lashing out at players who should have been held up as examples to be copied by the rest of the team (specifically, when Brian Brice struggled through injury to be fit enough to fill a much-needed spot on a banged up defensive line and, yes, committed a penalty, Raheem threw him out the game. Fair enough, it was a needless penalty, but the rest of the team were drawing flags left right and center - why pick on the one guy actually busting his hump to see the field when the rest of the team have quit on you?). Unsurprisingly, this only resulted in Morris losing the locker room, to the point where even his close friends felt it was time for him to move on.

Any football team is made up of players with different psychological makeups, different keys for motivation and different buttons that need to be pushed. Dungy had a healthy mixture of encouragers and enforcers, and as such players of all stripes were served by the coaching staff as a whole. Morris, in his final season, made a conscious decision to have a staff only consisting of encouragers, and as a result the Bucs not only became a clearly ill-disciplined team across the board, on and off the field, but it of necessity forced someone to attempt to bring the structure and focus when they were ill-suited by nature to do so, resulting in an ugly season and a complete overhaul of the entire coaching staff.

In the final parts of this series, I will be making the case that Coach Schiano was closer to Morris than Dungy in 2012, to the detriment of specific players, and arguably to the team as a whole; proposing a theory based on gamefilm that explains why LeGarrette Blount so barely resembled the player he was in 2010 and 2011, the unintended consequences of the way Schiano established his regime at the Bucs last season, and the possible ramifications that his style (and the construction of his staff) could have for the Bucs in 2013 and beyond.