Building a foundation for success.
Wednesday April 10, 2013 Prague, Czech Republic
We took the very familiar drive down the autobahn to Vienna early Saturday morning. We stopped at the same place for our ‘pre-game’ meal, under the watchful eyes of the castle in Mikulov. Our opponent the Danube Dragons were formerly the Klosterneuburg Mercenaries. The small town, population just under 25,000, is located on the Danube, immediately north of Vienna, from which it is separated by the Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg hills. It has been separated from its twin city of Korneuburg on the other side of the Danube since the river changed its course during the Middle Ages.
They had almost zero success while playing in the top division in Austria and we pretty much hammered them at will. In one game we scored 88 points and could have easily scored 100. They were the champions of the cheap shot and it seemed to me their goal was not to win but to hurt someone. They have new ownership and have cleaned up their act. The head coach, Ivan Zifko, played receiver for me with the Vikings and he has added a few ex-Viking players to his coaching staff. Two years ago they won the league title, their first ever, beating Innsbruck in the final.
This game however was a mirror image of our first game. We got off to a sloppy start and trailed 10-0 with about six minutes left in the first half. We finally got something going offensively and after a nice drive faced fourth and inches on their fifteen yard line. I chose to go for it but our quarterback came up a inch or so short. It didn’t help when the Dragons then proceeded to get another score just before halftime. The 17-0 halftime score was similar to the 24-0 two weeks ago at the Viking game. I could have, of course, opted for a field goal but quickly decided six inches we could make and I really wanted a touchdown. Let the second guessing begin.
Spur of the moment decisions on the sideline always look bad when the action on the filed isn’t what you had hoped. But I’ve never second guessed myself and let me tell you why. I’ve coached well over 500 football games and won more than 70% of them. That would lead most people to believe those ‘spur’ of the moment decisions have been right most of the time. In this case I knew that field goals weren’t going to be enough to win the game and that was the major thought when the decision to go for the first down was made. If the second guessers don’t agree, too bad. I’m no fool when it comes to all that. There are way more afterthought experts sitting in the stands and sometimes standing on the sideline than most might think. They are the same guys who after our Lakeridge team got beat in the state final twice said, “He can’t win the Big one.” And then after my teams won three state titles and six Austrian championships and two Euro Bowls, it was more like, “He’s the cagey veteran.” Sorry, same guy!
We talked about adjustments at halftime and of course there were some disappointed coaches trying to right the ship. I have always tried to stay positive in these aggravating circumstances and fix the problem rather than placing blame. Not everyone understands that philosophy. We kicked off to begin the second half, forced a punt and began another drive. Our American defensive back/running back had played nearly no offense in the first half and both our quarterback and me thought we needed him in the game if we were to have any chance. I didn’t discuss this with anyone as I felt it was my decision as head coach to make. As the head coach I really don’t have to explain my decisions to anyone, and I won’t be pressured into a debate on the sideline.
We started the half with one of the Czech RB’s and made a couple quick first downs. Then wanting a draw play to the RB we sent Andre into the game. Not everyone agreed with that decision be we ran the play and Andre broke a tackle, reversed field and ran fifty yards for our first touchdown. I guess the right RB was in the game. Players need to know and to understand and agree with their role. The fact is there are more role players on a team than stars. It was probably my fault for not communicating this with the player however, this is a team game and if you are more interested in your own agenda than the team we can do without you. To explain this decision to anyone else during the heat of the battle isn’t productive either.
We got the ball back, unfortunately after their excellent American RB broke a long touchdown run, 23-7. But, we answered with a two play touchdown drive of our own to make the score 23-14. Then we got a bad break. We had forced them to punt from around midfield and the snap was low forcing their punter to bend down to field the ball. As he did that he touched his knee down and we were about to get the football on their side of the fifty with a lot of momentum. However, one of our players roughed their center on the play and the result was an automatic first down for our opponents. We never recovered. They added two late fourth quarter scores and the final of 41-14 wasn’t pretty.
I hate the ritual of gathering the team on the field after the game and talking shop. In my opinion it’s never good. If you win, who needs the back slapping and if you lost emotion will dictate a very negative scene. I spoke a few words and turned it over to our captains.
Next week we begin a four week back to back game sequence with the Graz Giants followed by two against the Innsbruck Raiders. Our challenge will be to stay positive and try to get better. We’ll only do that by working together and by sticking together as a staff. Correct mistakes, of course. Work harder, smarter and better, yes. Both the Giants and the Raiders have excellent programs built over a long period of time. We need to remember we are a first year organization and understand Rome wasn’t built in a day. We need to ignore the win/loss record and concentrate on getting better each and every week. That’s a philosophy that in our ‘Instant Gratification’ mind set is hard for some to understand. It’s my job to make our team see the big picture and I’ll try my best to do just that.