Monday, June 22, 2015

Recruit Players with Character, Jim Harbaugh

Back in the late 60s, when coach Bump Elliott was recruiting, there were no star rankings. There were only local and state rankings and an All-American ranking. Once again, player football ability was the most important and only variable measured. Of course it was subjective back then, and these rankings did not have a sophisticated computer logarithm component built in to it. Then, it was up to the coach and his recruiting staff to evaluate potential high school prospects.

Of the eight players interviewed, in Bo’s Warriors, one central character theme dissects each regardless of player position, racial origin, socioeconomic status, or rural versus urban playing environment . Underneath the extraordinary athletic ability [These athletes excelled in many numerous sports], there was an element of insecurity, and doubt about their ability to play on the big stage. These terrific athletes did not have inflated narcissistic egos nor did they believe they were the King of the castle. Did Bump sense this in his recruiting process and thereby recruited only athletes that had an underlying insecurity? I do not know if my sample of eight is representative of his entire career. However, I do know about these wonderful eight U of M super stars.

I will give two examples of some of the things these players told to me during their interviews with me. I’ll begin with Tom Curtis. Tom was a superstar quarterback from Aurora, Ohio, a small rural community near Cleveland, Ohio. Tom didn’t understand and was irritated that Coach Bo Schembechler, then the head coach at Miami of Ohio, didn’t recruit him out of high school. Tom and his father made sure that Bo got his newspaper clippings. The fact that Tom was somewhat unknown [Based on level of competition] contributed to his insecurity. In fact, Brian Healy, the quarterback from Sandusky, Ohio was the Ohio player of the year and he enrolled at Michigan, also. That didn’t help, Tom’s sense of competence, but only doubted his ability to play quarterback at that prestigious level. Also, In Tom’s sophomore season, his position coach asked him to start at a different cornerback position. It was different from the side he was practicing – he was uncomfortable, afraid and insecure, and made sure he didn’t dare admit that to his coach. Even the town crier spread it around the community that Tom, would not even make the traveling squad at the University of Michigan. Tom never challenged or confronted the man.

Mike Keller was a superstar athlete from Grand Rapids, Michigan. According to Mike, his level of football competition ranked about third in the state behind the Detroit public schools and Lansing area schools. Keller in Grand Rapids was the big fish in a little pond. However, at Michigan, he was the little fish in a big pond. He didn’t place football as a first priority, in his thinking, and wondered why Coach Elliott offered him a football scholarship. In fact, Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian did not offer him a scholarship but told him he probably would receive one at a later date. Mike Keller saw himself as a student first and was hoping to get his degree, which would set the stage for things to come in his future by becoming an attorney. He said that he was hoping to at least make the traveling squad. Mike played even though he was not a full physical strength because he knew there was somebody behind him ready to take his place and he was afraid of that happening. He did not miss any playing time.

With doubt and insecurity comes anxiety. Anxiety is not pleasant and something to get rid of or reduce if possible. When the anxiety level gets too high or too much, that can result in psychological paralysis. In sports, it is referred to when a player “chokes” during an important play or event during a significant part of the game. When it comes to taking a school exam, and the student does miserably, it’s called test anxiety. On the other hand, another option is to increase the activity level of something physical. It could be by playing the game of solitaire quickly and over and over. It’s not uncommon today to see individuals with some electronic device in their hands, compulsively being a captive. When it comes to sports, physical activity can reduce anxiety, perfectly. This means compulsive weightlifting, running, and bike riding, being on a rowing machine, etc. works well.

For Mike Keller and Tom Curtis, It was playing all sports at all hours in the night and in the day. There was unlikely a day when either was not practicing, playing or improving their skill. Both played basketball and loved to shoot and compete [Both played in the evening-Mike even played in the dark]. So for these two individuals, they reduced their anxiety through the physical activity of sport. They would come home tired because they extended themselves when they played. They played to win [Competition served a good purpose for them because it reduced their anxiety].

Another way to deal with insecurity and anxiety was their submission to the authoritarian dictator like football coach Bo Schembechler. Bo was a tyrant on the field and disrespected the players verbally and physically. He frequently put them down verbally through the use of his colorful street-gutter language. And, initially they disliked, and some even hated the man. They were angry and resentful. In order to deal with their anger, resentment, they had to unconsciously repress those feelings. And by repressing those feelings, they submitted to Bo and became part of the team. That was their way of dealing with their anger and resentment. They had to become the team, the team, the team. It was Bo’s team, and make no mistake about it. And once that happened [It was the fifth game of the season with Minnesota when it happened-team came together],  played as a unit on offense and defense and began to function as a single dynamism with Bo Schembechler as their leader. The anger and resentment toward Bo got displaced and they took it out on each other during practice and especially game time. In fact, in their next 25 regular-season games, they won 24 of them.

Tom Curtis holds the Michigan record for most interceptions; was All-American; and has two Super Bowl rings. Mike Keller holds the Michigan record for outstanding gameplay for three seasons; played in the college All-Star game against the Dallas Cowboys [The team that drafted him] and has  been connected to  football ever since. These men conquered their anxiety, and are simply good guys. Hopefully, Jim Harbaugh can recruit players that have a similar personality structure as both Curtis and Keller. Don’t forget Jim, that’s a mighty important variable [Fear of failure] to consider. Then, you probably won’t have to worry about suspensions, dismissals or other breaking of the rules.

Meet Mike,  Tom and others from that 1969 team at Sesi Motors  in Ann Arbor from 6 to 8 PM on September 17, for a Bo's  Warriors book signing. Join us.

Go Blue!

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