The K.C. Chiefs: Loading For Bear vs. The Wooden Way

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AA staff writer Ladner Morse is having a bit of an identity crisis. You see normally, Ladner is a thoughtful, optimistic fellow. But as we know, there can be no light without the dark. Sometimes, particularly when quality free agents seem to be slipping through KC’s fingers as easily as interceptions roll off the fingers of Bret Favre, his dark side comes out. Here at AA, we call him “Evil Ladner.” Today we have a Double Feature From The Bleachers for you. One, is written by the Good Ladner you all know and love. The other is written by Evil Ladner. At the end, there will be a poll where you can vote for who you side with. Will you vote for Good Ladner and vanquish Evil Ladner? Or will you join the dark side? Be careful. Whatsoever choice you make… could be permanent. -PA

In any normal off season (what’s that?) teams in professional sports make the necessary moves to improve, in order to win a championship.

Changing coaches, general managers, or making wholesale roster moves is all part of the routine.

Every few years, an overly aggressive team, or two, will load up on high priced free agents then, preplan their victory parade, or their trophy trip to Disneyland. This is often motivated by the idea that they’re taking advantage of their… window of opportunity.

It usually doesn’t work.

The Yankees have done this repeatedly. In fact, it’s their M.O. every off season. However, are their many titles really hallowed… or hollow? Many think, the latter. Me thinks me agrees.

The Celtics did it in 2007 and it worked, as Boston won the title that year bringing in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett the same season.

This year, in the NFL, several teams are loading for bear like never before, in hopes of making their run at a Super Bowl. So far, the 2011 NFL season, looks strangely similar to the 2010 NBA season.

The Celtics brought in Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Jeff Green. The Knicks brought in Amare Stoudemire, Carmello Anthony and Chauncey Billups. The Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Kurt Thomas. The Orlando Magic completely played musical roster chairs.

And of course, the three big free agent freebirds took their “talons” to South Beach.

What did all that free agent frenzy get the free agents in the frenzy?

A big splat nothing. Except money.

When the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship, the best team won it all. The best team.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

~John Wooden

Several NFL cities are herding heaps of hired hands.  Philadelphia (DB Asomugha, DB D. R-Cromartie, DL Babin, DL Jenkins, QB Vince Young, OL Ryan Harris & RB Ronnie Brown). New York Jets (WR Santonio Holmes, WR Plaxico, DB Cromartie, LB David Harris) .  Atlanta (traded 5 picks for Julio Jones & signed DE Ray Edwards). Arizona ( QB Kevin Kolb, TE Todd Heap, WR Stuckey, & 2 guards). Chicago (DL Julius Peppers, QB Jay Cutler, S Chris Harris, DL Amobi Okoye & RB Marion Barber) has spent the last year loading for bear.

And… even though each of those teams have done even more than that…

I have the déjà vu feeling that the winner of the next Super Bowl won’t be one of those teams who have been stockpiling stars. Talent is great but, great talent alone, doesn’t make a team great.

The difference between great “teams” and teams that aren’t, can be seen the moment that things begin to go wrong. For the Dallas Mavericks their leaders kept a steady hand and plowed ahead. For that reason it was the best NBA finals in recent memory.

Many of the principles that the Kansas City Chiefs are now incorporating remind me of the same principles John Wooden taught his players. Working hard, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm are all aspects of the Cheifs current personnel that can easily be seen and they are also the ground floor principles that John Wooden preached and exemplified for his players.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think of you.” ~ John Wooden

The challenge for the K.C. Chiefs this season will come when, for example, Dwayne Bowe doesn’t get thrown at as often as another receiver… during a loss. Leadership can take the form of biting your lip. Hopefully, Bowe has learned to do that.

However, leadership is an area that Scott Pioli has planned well for. One advantage of not overpaying for high priced free agents is that it treats everyone on the roster with equanimity, fairness. It also limits the me-first whiners.

I could site several teams in the NFL who may be at an advantage, leadership wise but, I won’t because I’m not interested in them. I’m interested in the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chiefs are in good shape in the leadership department. It hasn’t happened over night.

It’s been a growth process and is still ongoing.

Also, that process is a slow process.

Some fans would like the Chiefs to go out and get free agents to fill all the holes in the roster… right now! Just because you can afford to do that monetarily doesn’t mean you can afford to do that at a relationship level. That’s because the Cheifs are in a growth-mode with all the members of their team… and that takes time.

The time they’re taking is equal to the trust their building. Kind of sounds like a Beatle’s song.

In the field of education these learners are called “emergent” learners. In a football organization I can see that if leadership is asking these younger prospects to come in and “work hard”, “grow”, and “learn” but, then suddenly replaces them with high priced free agents… then the learning and growth process… is sold short… interrupted… and the trust factor fails. At that point players begin to give up and stop trying because they know that no matter what they do to improve they will likely be replaced with a high priced proven veteran.

That’s why I’m not sure that what New England has done this off-season will be effective.

In keeping an eye on the daily video posts on the Chiefs main web site I’ve noticed that Coach Haley’s demeanor this season “At the Podium” in the first 3 days of camp, is very different from his first two years. In 2009, I wasn’t sure I liked Todd Haley. Looking back now, I can see that he needed to be a hard-nosed taskmaster and establish his own way of running a football ship. In 2010, Coach Haley was more accessible, still stoic but, smiling was not part in his daily lexicon.

This year he goes out of his way to joke with reporters. He carries on conversations with those who ask him questions and he actually laughs out loud.

There is a reason for this.

Todd is happy.

Why is Todd happy?

That stems from a much improved roster. Not just the talent on the roster but, the quality of the players he gets to work with. The difference in the past two and a half years… is night and day.

This season the integrity of the men Coach Haley is working with is so well constructed that players now “want” to play for him. “Building From Within”: take three.

The Chiefs have a “team.” Coach Haley might not call it a great team yet but, it’s one that the players are proud to be a part of and the fans can’t wait to watch.

I know this fan can’t.

You can load up with all the free agents you want but, it won’t necessarily win you a championship. In the meantime, what the Chiefs are building is a team that is gratifying on many levels. One that is built on definite principles. Principles that will last a long time.

Long live the Chiefs!

Only 9 more days until kickoff.

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