Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gundy learns to trust his instincts

Found via @tferriss.

"There's so much growing that goes on that can only happen during experience," Gundy said. "... [There's] the evolution but also the mistakes, making mistakes, and sitting in my office and thinking, 'OK, how can I eliminate that, and what's the solution for the next time?' It was patience and making mistakes."

Coaches don't have a lot of time to sit in their office and think. When Gundy took the job, someone told him to keep a fire extinguisher on his desk, because that's what a head coach does.

"You just put fires out all day and then you get home," Gundy said. "And you continue to do it. And I thought, that doesn't sound right. That doesn't sound like much fun. That is exactly the way it is, for the most part." Gundy remembered what T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire godfather of Oklahoma State athletics, told him when he got hired: (1) take risks, and (2) be unpredictable. So he began to ask questions. Why did Oklahoma State get to the end of the season with more players in the training room than on the field? Why did certain coaching hires click and others not? Gundy asked questions, and he didn't go to the Coaching 101 textbook for his answers.

Take the injury issue. The old-school reaction to not winning enough is to double down, to make a team tougher, to tackle more and hit more. But Gundy saw a team spent physically and emotionally.

"Our guys were losing too much weight during two-a-days," Gundy said. "In August, it's 100 degrees down here, and we practice a lot. We said, OK, why is that happening? Obviously, we're on the field too much. So what's the answer? We've got to back off. How much can you back off?"

Strength coach Rob Glass started trying to quantify what had been done because it had always been done. How many steps can a wide receiver run in August and still be fresh in November? How much pounding can an offensive lineman take before his shoulder needs to be reassembled? If the approach sounds familiar, it should. Brad Pitt made a movie about it.

"Like 'Moneyball,' we do a lot of things, put a lot of thought into formulas," Gundy said.

Gundy didn't back off -- he stopped. Two-a-days?

"We started [compiling] all that about three years ago, and we started putting it in effect really this year," he said. "Last spring, spring ball, we did not scrimmage one time and tackle to the ground. This August, we did not scrimmage one time and tackle to the ground. Nothing."

Two-hour practices? Out. The Cowboys are on the practice field five hours a week. Gundy took the risk. He made the unpredictable decision.

"We were confident in all the research that we've done," he said, "... but there's always a risk because it's still football. My coach [at Oklahoma State] was Pat Jones. He's still around here, does some radio talk shows, and he's a good friend of mine. He told me I was crazy. I said, 'You may be right.' But I guess what I'm saying is, I'm not afraid to take a chance."

Gundy tried hiring assistant coaches in the conventional manner. Needed a recruiter? He hired a guy known for recruiting. Needed a position coach? He hired a guy for that position. "But they weren't great hires for me," Gundy said.

Gundy decided to focus on intelligence and loyalty.