Pioneer Press, Grand Forks Herald – Oct 9, 2005 – Sean Jensen – MIKE TICE – The reeling Vikings sought professional help this week, recruiting consultants Jerry Rhome and Foge Fazio to help address their misfiring offense and inconsistent defense.
Because the team is on the couch today, enjoying its bye, the Pioneer Press decided it was a good time for a football intervention.
We put together a panel that includes a Hall of Fame coach, a pair of psychologists, a local sports analyst and a leadership consultant to gain insight into what ails the Purple. Our panel will use word association to dissect what prompted the Vikings’ 1-3 start and how the team can rebound to win the wacky NFC North.
Our group of therapists includes:
Marv Levy â€? NFL coach for 17 seasons. Helped the Buffalo Bills to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowl appearances (all losses) and some of the NFL’s most impressive comebacks.
Jeff Janssen â€? Provides leadership advice to college programs such as Arizona, North Carolina, Stanford and Duke.
Dr. Charlie Maher â€? Has been involved with the NFL as a sports psychologist for 15 years. Currently works with the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Dr. John F. Murray â€? A sports performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla.
Greg Cylkowski â€? The St. Paul native is a sports analyst for Athletic Achievements based in Little Canada.
Now, let our session begin Levy said the difference between NFL clubs is minute, which is why he
empathizes with Tice.
“Every coach has been in that situation,” Levy said of the Vikings’ disappointing start. “Honestly, there were times in Buffalo where we went on a bad stretch, and fans wonder, ‘Is he over the hill? Has the game passed him by?’ Then you win a couple, and everyone forgets and it’s wonderful again.”
Levy said the solution is simple.
“Just persist. Don’t start shaking up the Coca-Cola bottle,” he said. “Then, you really are going to foul things up.”
Levy offered a template for turning the team around: Mourn. Own up to mistakes. Recognize the good. Make a plan. Then go to work.
Levy said finger pointing can’t occur and that the head coach should privately meet with any players or coaches who are problematic.
During rough stretches, Levy said he and his assistant coaches would identify “one thing” that he wanted the players to hone in on.
“Identify one factor that really impacts the outcome, and convince them that’s true, and really go after that,” Levy said. “Then when you first succeed in that area, drive home the point.”
Janssen said Tice made a poor decision, albeit an understandable one, when he told the players during a meeting Monday that he contemplated resigning hours after a 30-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
“Where he might have been coming from is, leaders have to be human too and admit that they’re frustrated,” Janssen said. “But they have to be careful how they show that to the rest of the team because the players take their cues from their leader.”
Cylkowski said this year’s team was doomed to fail because a championship drive cannot be orchestrated by a coach “who is on the job training.”
“He’s breaking all the leadership rules,” Cylkowski said. “The holes in the dam are coming apart. When guys don’t buy into what you’re doing, that’s the first step to failure.”
Murray said Tice must convince his players and coaches not to get ahead of themselves and sell them on the team’s direction.
“Having one voice, which comes from the head coach, is essential to establishing the mindset of the team,” Murray said. “It’s like a company. What are you as a company? What do you represent?”
Levy said the NFL has an equitable scheduling system in place.
“You play eight games at home and eight on the road, just like every other team,” Levy said. “If you lose eight and win eight, you’re not going anywhere. Part of the fun is overcoming the odds.”
That’s not the attitude the Vikings embrace when they leave the Twin Cities.
Under Tice, they are a woeful 8-18 away from the Metrodome.
Levy said the discomfort and the inconveniences of traveling are disconcerting, and the noise at opposing stadiums lessens the visiting team’s chances of winning.
“Nevertheless, if you’re going to be a champion, you’d better win on the road,” Levy said.
In Levy’s first season with the Bills, the team’s road losing streak grew to 22 games. Before the team’s first road game that year, Levy told his players a story about World War II.
” ‘You know why Hitler lost the war?’ ” Levy asked his players. ” ‘He couldn’t win on the road.’ ”
Cylkowski said the Vikings’ issues are mental.
“It’s their belief system,” Cylkowski said. “They do not struggle at Lambeau, because they really believe they can win there. The rest of the time, you never hear that (same confidence).
“You’ve got to enjoy being there (on the road),” Cylkowski said. “You’ve got to want to be in that situation and be prepared to be in that situation. When I see them at Lambeau, they have that type of mentality. You don’t hear them talk that way heading into any other stadium.”
This season’s Vikings have been road worriers. They have compounded errors with more errors after falling behind quickly in Cincinnati and Atlanta.
In Buffalo, Levy coached some of the greatest comebacks, although two of them were at Rich Stadium. But the Bills also pulled out an overtime victory in Miami after falling behind 21-0.
“First of all, you’re not going to do it often,” Levy said, “but it can be done. It has been done. You take some risks, and you have to have players of character who make plays.”
Cylkowski said the Vikings, present and past, lack playmakers.
“The team has been plagued with a lot of great athletes and a lot of wins but no championships because we haven’t had a go-to player or a real championship performer,” Cylkowski said. “We haven’t had those clutch guys.”
Cylkowski said former receiver Randy Moss is emblematic of the Vikings, failing to step up in the key games.
“Against Chicago (on Dec. 14, 2003), he makes a little fade catch in the end zone, and we make the playoffs,” Cylkowski said of Moss, who failed to make the catch. “That play epitomizes his career. In a situation where he has to make a catch, he didn’t.”
In addition to players, though, Maher said the head coaches must instill confidence throughout the team to overcome deficits in games and funks during a season.
“That comes from the top on down,” said Maher, who has worked with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. “Take it play to play, series to series, game to game. The players have to believe in that. The only way they believe in that is if they believe in the coach.”
Last season, Culpepper was an NFL most valuable player candidate with 39 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. Through four games this season, Culpepper is one interception short of last year’s total, with just four TD passes. He is the 29th-rated passer in the NFL heading into today’s games.
Before next Sunday’s game in Chicago, Maher suggested the coaching staff have Culpepper watch game tape of his dominant play last season.
“It’s always important to get the player back to the time he was doing well, to recapture that feeling,” Maher said.
Added Janssen, “Let him know that the same talented player is still inside.”
Then, Maher said, the coaches must stress to Culpepper the importance of focusing on the process rather than the outcome. In other words, Culpepper cannot press when the Vikings fall behind or the offense makes a mistake.
Levy downplayed Culpepper’s struggles, noting the quarterback played well against the New Orleans Saints.
“No one is just going to be just absolutely dominant all the time,” Levy said. “The competition is too good. There are going to be some bad days. But you have to fight through the discouragement that comes.”
When one of his key players was struggling, Levy said he would watch film with him and review pros and cons.
“Teaching rather than ranting,” Levy said.
Cylkowski, though, is not convinced Culpepper will ever lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl.
“The minute you get him into a tight situation, he folds like an accordion,” Cylkowski said. “He will not be the reason the Vikings go to the Super Bowl. He’ll be a complementing reason a team goes to the Super Bowl.”
Cylkowski pointed out that Culpepper has only led the Vikings to nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his five NFL seasons. Although he’s played 11 fewer games, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has led his team to 18 fourth-quarter comebacks.
“Is Daunte a great human being? Is he a great athlete? Yes,” Cylkowski said.
“But where does he show that he’s a bona fide leader? Where is the example that he’s a bona fide playmaker? It’s not there. Daunte has all the tools. But I like Tom Brady because he’s a proven commodity.”
With 12 games remaining, Levy said the Vikings have plenty of time and opportunities to bounce back this season. But he offered another thought if more adversity comes their way.
“When you’re going through hell, keep on going,” Levy said. “Don’t wither up, and don’t lie in the fetal position.”
Time to get off the couch.
Sean Jensen covers the Vikings and the NFL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.