Raiders Teach Chiefs Winning Strategy

Game Plan / The end of season Raider versus Chiefs game was sold out. In the 4th quarter, on the 4th down with 57 seconds left on the game clock we had one last chance to score the winning touchdown! It was my fourth season as the starting left guard for the Kansas City Chiefs and I had been here before. The Los Angeles Raider defense was anchored by future NFL Hall of Famers and a legion of All-Pro players including, Ted Hendricks, Howie Long, Mike Haynes, Lyle Alzado, Rod Martin, Lester Hayes, and my favorite, world class smart-aleck Matt Millen. As our offensive line dropped to our stance we scanned the field desperately hunting for Raider jersey #83, Ted Hendricks “The Mad Stork.” As a master of chaos, he systematically upended every offensive line he faced that season. Stork would line up and shift moving in front of two to three different Offensive linemen during the snap count and then explode out the millisecond the ball was released from our center’s hands. The Raider legion followed; swarming over the offense birthing offensive linemen nightmares. Whether an NFL coach facing a tough Super Bowl team or a Business manager facing an impossible deadline, it is essential that leaders design a simple strategy, suited to their team’s talents and abilities. Strategy that is too complex to implement under intense pressure and challenge results in failure.

Having lost our first Raiders game early in the season, our coaches determined that the only way to secure a critical AFC victory was to redesign our offensive line blocking strategy. The goal was to neutralize All-Pro Raider, “The Mad Stork.” Since he changed his field position non-stop until the ball was snapped, our coach believed the new schemes would buy time for the linemen to pick him up and prevent him from sacking the quarterback. Normally our offensive line coach gave us clear, set blocking assignments; for this matchup, our blocking assignments were adjusted, giving us choices for each play. Instead of having one way to block “The Mad Stork”, coach broke his protocol and gave us two different ways to block him. Offensive linemen were to make the call based on movement and communicate with each other. While implementing blocking schemes during practice our coach worked out problems, or so he thought, and after our film review sessions, he felt confident his strategy would succeed.

Pay Attention to Warning Signs

During a midweek practice, offensive linemen mixed signals confused by the complex schemes which led to several wrong calls. These incidents served as a warning signs and got my attention. Although the more complex scheme worked in practice, I knew from experience that under game day pressure dealing with uncontrollable variables; our center’s confusion could be lethal. NFL practices are designed to mirror game day scenarios. However, one cannot simulate how a player will deal with the intense pressure. I approached my coach with my concern and requested that, “we keep it simple.” Due to my poor communication style my good intensions failed. Early warning signs in practice were overlooked because our coach believed the strategy would deliver in spite of a few errors in practice with mixed signals and wrong calls. Whether coaching an NFL team or managing a Business team, a leader’s primary responsibility is to remain objective when implementing one’s strategy, keeping focus on team success not on strategy success.

With 57 seconds left, the quarterback screamed “Break.” The increasing volume of a passionate, Chiefs crowd, desperate for a win, made communication difficult as we broke the huddle. Straining to hear the quarterback’s cadence, our line listened and was tracking “The Mad Stork’s” movements as the clock ticked. First he moved to the right side of the ball and just before the snap, he switched lining up to the left of my outside shoulder. Immediately, I knew my assignment and was ready to explode off the line. As the center snapped the ball, much to my horror a lineman screamed the wrong call to me. “Oh Sh_t” was my first thought and, rather than use critical thinking, I responded like a trained seal following his instruction. All hell broke loose as “The Mad Stork” blew through our line making the game winning sack, delivering the Raiders another victory. Failure hit hard as disappointed fans taunted and roared.

My irate offensive line coach was pacing on the sidelines, greeting linemen coming off the field with his own roar, “What the hell happened out there?” One lineman gave an answer I will never forget. “Brad, you knew what I meant when I made that call, why didn’t you do it?” In the heat of battle he was confused and communicated the wrong play and he expected me to know what was in his head and make the right choice. We all failed that day.

In the NFL, objective evaluation of game performance occurs Monday morning during team film reviews. Following the Raider game, every second of our team and personal performance was broken down on the big screen with immediate public feedback. Personal responsibility and change are commanded immediately, no excuses. Yes, this can be a humiliating experience, but it also breeds a selfless attitude because you personally take account for mistakes made and witness the impact your performance has on your team. An urgency to change is created.

The pain of our loss taught me three important lessons: Never respond as a trained seal, critically think, and adjust immediately. “Keep it simple.” When one develops a great strategy in ones head, make sure it is not too complex to execute in reality. Never ignore warning signs. Whether in business or the NFL, if one chooses to learn the hard lessons which failure puts forward, one will not make the same mistake, twice.

One Reply to Raiders Teach Chiefs Winning Strategy

  1. Frank Lieberman, PhD says:

    Brad,a good story. Three learning principles that can be applied to life. The illustrations make your point. One must continue to learn . The key is in the application.

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