Those of you that have coached can tell me whether I'm really off-base, and I'm sure you will : ) I have followed with interest the discussion about the qualifications of Sean Kugler and Al Everest, our new O line and Special Teams coaches. Since both were let go by their previous teams at the end of the season, and since neither the Bills nor the 49ers are teams we wish to emulate, there was some concern that this isn't a step up. Actually, it looks to me like the league just recycles each other's leftovers. But my theory is that this doesn't matter all that much. Even if these two men aren't the most talented to ever coach at their positions, and even if they are in fact a step down from the two coaches we fired, I think that we may see an improvement next year that can be attributed to the coaching, irrespective of any personnel upgrades. (Just to be clear, I'm not actually making any claims about either the previous or new coaches - how would I know? I'm making the statement for the purpose of the following discussion.) (more after the jump)
Why do I think that we may well see an improvement in both the O line and the Special Teams, regardless of the talent of the new coaches? I believe that because teaching is a tricky thing. One would assume that there is a one-to-one relationship between the knowledge level of the teacher and the progress of the pupil, and one would, to a large extent, be wrong. Even those who are considered to be gifted teachers don't always produce the expected progress in a student. The problem is that learning isn't a linear process, especially in something that involves so many elements, both mental and physical, as blocking and tackling. As always I have to bring it back to what I know best, singing, and I do think that there are a number of parallels. Singing is partly about technique, partly about understanding, and partly about what, for lack of a better term, I call instinct. You would assume that there is a "correct" way to sing, and physiologically that is true, but how the correct muscular state is achieved can appear to be radically different between different singers. So for instance if one were to watch a dvd of Kathleen Battle singing without having the sound on, one would assume that the voice you would hear would be appalling. And yet she can do anything with her voice, and the sound is gorgeous, which indicates that the state of her vocal mechanism is very close to ideal, despite her contorted and tense-looking production. Conversely one can see singers that appear to be doing everything 'right' and yet the sound is not beautiful - thus there is some technical problem in the production that doesn't show from the outside.
Over the years I have played for singers from many different studios, and of course I had my opinions about which were the better teachers. Yet when a student switched studios, even from one who I felt was an excellent teacher to one I felt was not particularly good, the student almost always made immediate improvement. After many years of observing this phenomena I have come to the conclusion that, like most of us, voice teachers as a rule (and most likely coaches as well) have only a few ways to say what they want. Then, like Americans in foreign countries so often do, they just repeat what they already said, only louder, expecting that to somehow effect the comprehension of the hapless non-English-speaking person (or the student) at the receiving end. Thus, when a student changes studios, they hear essentially the same things as their previous teacher was saying, since everyone wants the same result, and physiologically speaking there is only one way to achieve that. However, the new teacher hears and sees somewhat different things, and likely has a different way of addressing the problems. This helps the student to understand what the issues are in the first place. In my experience it is a very rare teacher who is capable of connecting with the learning styles of all of their students.
Football might seem rather different than singing. After all, in singing much of what is happening mechanically is not only invisible but is occurring in a mechanism that is by and large not under the conscious control of the singer. What a football player is doing seems to be more visible. But I think that is an illusion. The reaction times and thought processes are occurring in such minute amounts of time that the process has to be essentially instinctive. Yes, the 'technique' can be taught in both cases, but ultimately the execution has to be primarily at a non-intellectual level.
And does it make a difference if the players like their coach, or a singer likes their teacher? Well, I would guess that this might make more difference in football. After all, singing teachers aren't asking their pupils to throw themselves into harm's way. But both coaches and teachers are asking for trust, and ultimately a liking for the coach or teacher is less important than respect for them. The important thing is the coach's ability to convey the necessary information in a way that the players can understand.
I expect somebody is going to give me a hard time because I've made it clear elsewhere that I'm a big fan of the traditional Rooney way of choosing a coach and then sticking with them for the long haul. But I think that the Head Coach/stable of assistants and position coaches allows for the ideal combination. You have a person who develops the overall strategy and can stay the course because their position is "safe." You then have the ground staff, as it were, who are working with the day-to-day development of the players, and if things are not going as well as you had hoped, you can shake things up a bit and give the players a fresh outlook. I'm rather tenderhearted and would never want to fire anyone, but I can see that it would sometimes make sense to start afresh.
So, in the end, if our new coaches are men of character, experience, and reasonable intelligence, I think that we can expect an exciting 'growth spurt' in our younger players in particular. And if the new coaches are actually an upgrade, so much the better!