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January 23, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Game for the super coaches

Maybe you’ll be watching the matchup of Manning vs. the mouth, the flawless quarterback of the Broncos testing the trash-talking cornerback for the Seahawks.

Both epitomize their teams in personality as well as play. And this will be a classic between the best offense and best defense in the league, meeting for the first time in the Super Bowl.

I love Peyton Manning’s cool perfectionism against the wild abandon of Richard Sherman. Manning always choosing his words carefully and amiably, and Sherman seeming to have no sense of what he just said. Isn’t that just like a quarterback and a cornerback? A chess player and a peacock?

It’s just part of what makes football such a rich game, America’s favorite by far.

I’m as fascinated with the head coaches. These tough guys who prowl the sidelines, mutter into their hands or laminated cards summarizing game plans, get in players’ and assistant coaches’ faces, cheer and slap butts, whine more plaintively at the refs than an 8-year-old sent to bed on a school night, cross their arms and just stare straight ahead after making a fourth down decision that might cost them their careers.

They preside over not so much a team as an army of 53 players, 15 coaches and who knows how many trainers, water boys and other camp employees, not to mention the general manager and staff, along with a typically very, very interested owner.

No wonder these guys — they’re still always guys — build legends of working 20-hour days, keeping cots in the office, ferreting out secrets deep in game tapes, being tough with fundamentals and challenging players to perform at their best.

Those of us who grew up playing team sports eat this stuff up. I’m sure it’s mostly true, too. I mean, my high school coaches were taskmasters. They had that same core drive propelling them even with such weak clay as us. Gotta start somewhere. That’s where Vince Lombardi began, after all. Now the winner of the Super Bowl wins the trophy named after him. Dream big.

No one celebrated more than our head coaches when we played great, and no one got after us more when we did things wrong, lacked effort or failed in the fundamentals. At least it was that way with my teams.

Coach cared, you know? As a mistake-prone and way too feisty little basketball player, I consoled myself with this knowledge while doing bear crawls out on the football field, extra suicide drills in the gym or the worst, sitting on the bench after being pulled (again!) for erratic play.

Broncos head coach John Fox and Seahawks coach Peter Carroll are two of the best, and each has been to the Super Bowl before. They both were college defensive backs who grew up in California and came up through the defensive side of the coaching ranks.

In a tough business favoring tough guys, each of these coaches has an interesting extra quality — this genial likeability, at least in public.

No question they light into their players when they think that is deserved, but everything I see suggests that their teams love playing for them, too. They and the rest of the league share an almost holy quest that at root is clear, and the Broncos and Seahawks alone have arrived at the hallowed ground. We’ll celebrate the winner, but the team that loses this game is right there, too, whatever platitudes and hung heads follow the game.

It’s no wonder that those who attempt to capture business leadership into an academic discipline study football coaching for clues and metaphors to better guide the diluted, often foggy environment at the office.

“Coach” at the workplace is this New Age character seeking to empower you and develop you for greatness later in your career. There’s some debate about whether it’s appropriate to break from “Home on the Range” while coaching you, lest your tender psyche can’t bear some “negativity” about gaps in your fundamentals and your fundamental commitment.

This is in contrast to that mean old-school “manager” who commands and controls you like a checkers piece (chess allows too much flexibility), couldn’t care any less what a knucklehead like you could possibly think, since it’s what he or she thinks that matters. All that’s required is you pay enough attention to follow instructions properly.

These stereotypes come to a head at the Super Bowl, too. The legend dictates that the great coaches reach the great game. So strict micromanagers like Tom Coughlin are celebrated in their turn. Control freaks like Bill Belichick. Occasionally angry wild men like Bill Parcells and Mike Ditka. Motivators like Bill Cowher. X-and-O geniuses like Bill Walsh. Every detail accounted for, including hair, with Jimmy Johnson. Sheer intensity with Jim Harbaugh.

And fundamentally nice, enthusiastic guys like Pete Carroll and John Fox, whose hallmarks are letting their players play. These two seem to understand more than most that for all that coaching stuff and style, the game is won or lost on the field.

The central lesson more than one great coach has admitted: The coach never wins a game. The players do. The coach can only lose games, generally well before they ever are played.

That’s really why they work so hard.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2920.


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The VailDaily Updated Jan 23, 2014 07:43PM Published Jan 23, 2014 03:57PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.